ST. GEORGE — Officials of the Diocese of South Carolina said Friday that they filed a lawsuit against The Episcopal Church, saying it needs to protect its property from the national body.
A statement from the diocese said the lawsuit was filed in South Carolina Circuit Court. It also seeks to prevent The Episcopal Church from infringing on the protected marks of the diocese, including its seal and its historical names.
The diocese says The Episcopal Church has already tried to adopt the Diocese of South Carolina’s identity by calling for a convention to identify new leadership for the diocese, and creating a website and other material using the diocesan seal.
“The Episcopal Church has every right to have a presence in the area served by our Diocese — but it does not have a right to use our identity. The Episcopal Church must create a new entity,” the Rev. Jim Lewis said in a statement.
Spokesman Neva Rae Fox said Friday that The Episcopal Church has not received the lawsuit and cannot comment.
The Diocese of South Carolina is made up of 71 parishes with approximately 30,000 members. It says the parishes participating in the suit, along with the other supporting parishes, represent 74 percent of the members in the diocese.
Orangeburg’s Church of the Redeemer is one of the parishes that has signed on to the lawsuit.
“In 1857, the parishioners of the Church of the Redeemer built our first building on Boulevard across from the railroad tracks. In 1891, they put the church on logs and rolled it to its present site on Russell Street,” said the Rev. Dr. Frank E. Larisey, rector of the Church of the Redeemer.
“Over the years, they bricked it in and added other buildings and improvements. In all of these efforts, the Episcopal Church never gave them a dime. And they claim that they own our property now? No way!”
According to its statement, the Diocese of South Carolina was established in 1785 as an independent, voluntary association that grew from the missionary work of the Church of England. It was one of nine dioceses that, in October 1789, voluntarily formed The Episcopal Church, which eventually became an American province in the worldwide Anglican Communion, also a voluntary association.
The Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003, upsetting conservative Episcopalians. In 2006, the Diocese of South Carolina voted to reject the authority of the national church’s presiding bishop, but stopped short of a full break with the church.
The schism reached a critical point late last year. The church’s national bishop issued a pastoral letter in October saying the Diocese of South Carolina can’t leave the mother church of its own accord. The diocese then made its break, although 14 churches have decided not to follow the diocese away from the national church.
A disciplinary board said diocesan bishop Mark Lawrence allowed language in the diocesan corporate charter last year to be changed, saying it would operate under the constitution and canons of the diocese, not the national church.
“Like our colonial forefathers, we are pursuing the freedom to practice our faith as we see fit, not as it is dictated to us by a self-proclaimed religious authority who threatens to take our property unless we relinquish our beliefs,” Lawrence said. “The actions taken by TEC make it clear that such freedom of worship is intolerable to them.”
Larisey said, “We in the Diocese of South Carolina, as well as here at the Redeemer, have always practiced a conservative, Bible-believing, traditional, orthodox faith. It is the Episcopal Church which has left the faith in the dust. They have changed, while we have remained faithful.”