COLUMBIA — Conservative South Carolina Episcopalian churches that split with the national church in part over the election of a gay bishop and same-sex marriage are headed to court in a dispute over money.
The national Episcopal church wants about $500 million in land, buildings and other property back after a group of about 50 churches calling itself the Diocese of South Carolina split from the national church in 2012. The churches who split sued to keep the property and the name and seal used when they were part of the national church.
“The buildings and the land are assets for Gospel ministry. They were paid for by members of this parish, past and present. No outside group should determine their usage,” said the Rev. Shay Gaillard, who is rector of The Church of the Good Shepherd in Charleston.
The national church argues the decision by the local churches to split was not properly made.
Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein will decide the case without a jury. Testimony is scheduled to begin today at the Dorchester County Courthouse.
About 50 Episcopal churches in the southern and eastern parts of South Carolina left, saying the national church had become too liberal, especially on the issue of gay marriage and the 2003 election of an openly gay man as a bishop.
The national Episcopal church “has chosen the path of least resistance, opting to bless what the culture wishes to bless and avoiding the harder work of calling God’s children to repentance and amendment of life,” the Diocese of South Carolina said on its website.
About 20 churches stayed with the national Episcopal church. There have been attempts to bring the churches back together, but they haven’t been successful.
The national Episcopal church said the group of South Carolina churches had been planning for years to separate and carefully chose Mark Lawrence as its new bishop in 2006 because he backed their goal, according to retired priest the Rev. Thomas Rickenbaker, who said he was contacted about the South Carolina job during the search.
“The first question posted to me was, ‘What can you do to help us leave The Episcopal Church and take our property with us?”’ Rickenbaker said in a sworn statement. “I said I was not interested in that course of action in any way shape, or form, and that I was greatly disappointed that the question was even being asked.”
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