The Cathedral of Saint Luke and Saint Paul Joins Diocese of South Carolina in Historic Lawsuit to Protect More than $500 Million in Local Property from Episcopal Church ‘Land Grab’
Charleston SC, January 4, 2012 – The Cathedral of Saint Luke and Saint Paul is one of the parishes joining the Diocese of South Carolina and the Trustees of the Diocese in a lawsuit filed today in a South Carolina Circuit Court seeking a declaratory judgment against The Episcopal Church to protect the Diocese’s real and personal property and that of its parishes.
The parishes participating in the suit, along with the other supporting parishes, represent 74 percent of the members in the Diocese.
The suit also asks the court to prevent The Episcopal Church from infringing on the protected marks of the Diocese, including its seal and its historical names, and to prevent The Episcopal Church from assuming the Diocese’s identity, established long before The Episcopal Church’s creation.
“We are guarding our church and parish house, which our ancestors built and maintained quite apart from any financial support from The Episcopal Church,” said Peet Dickinson, Dean of The Cathedral of Saint Luke and Saint Paul. “For nearly 200 years, this church has been gathering in this building to worship the Lord, and going from this building to love and serve, in the name of the Lord, our neighbors in the heart of Charleston. And now The Episcopal Church would take our building from us and hinder this ongoing mission?”
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.
“When the Diocese disassociated from The Episcopal Church we didn’t become a new entity,” explained the Rev. Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary. “We have existed as an association since 1785. We incorporated in 1973; adopted our current legal name, ‘The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina,’ in 1987; and we disassociated from the Episcopal Church in October of 2012. 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.”
Of the Diocese’s 71 parishes and approximately 30,000 members, 22,244 members have chosen to remain with the Diocese, including some of the Lowcountry’s largest and oldest congregations. About 1,900 members are undecided and 5,300 – nearly half of them from a single church in Charleston – say they want to remain with The Episcopal Church. While the Diocese has disassociated from The Episcopal Church, it remains a part of the Anglican Communion.
Though theologically more conservative than the leadership of the national Episcopal Church, Bishop Lawrence has for six years struggled to keep the Diocese intact and a part of The Episcopal Church, even as some 200 parishes and four other dioceses nationwide disassociated. The parishes and dioceses disagreed with The Episcopal Church’s recent interpretation of scripture, which is widely considered to be radical by most of the world’s 80 million Anglicans.
When Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese challenged The Episcopal Church’s direction, the group’s disciplinary board attempted to remove him. In response, the Diocese disassociated from The Episcopal Church.
“We believe The Episcopal Church’s decision to embrace an unorthodox theology separated it from the doctrine our Diocese has followed for centuries, the same doctrine that nearly 80 million Anglicans around the world continue to follow today,” said Bishop Lawrence. “This is an issue of religious freedom. 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. The actions taken by TEC make it clear that such freedom of worship is intolerable to them.”
“We have received the Faith once delivered to the Apostles. It is not ours to alter, but rather to steward, and more importantly, to pass on to generations to come,” said Dean Dickinson. “It seems reasonable to expect that we should be able to do this without the threat of having our property taken from us by The Episcopal Church because we refuse to accept innovations which we find repugnant to the Faith once delivered.”
Since the mid-1960s, membership in The Episcopal Church has declined by more than 37 percent – to about 1,923,046 members. During the same period, the number of members in the Diocese of South Carolina has increased by 48 percent, to 29,531.
The Episcopal Church has spent more than $22 million on legal action, filing at least 75 lawsuits against the four other dioceses and 200 congregations that have disassociated from the church. The suits have sought to seize the property of local parishes. Today’s suit is the second pre-emptively filed by a diocese to protect diocesan and parish property in the wake of a disassociation. The first was the Diocese of Quincy filed in March 2009.
South Carolina state law tends to support the property rights of churches. A recent state Supreme Court decision found that All Saints Church of Pawley’s Island was the true owner of its property and that The Episcopal Church held no interest.
The Episcopal Church has already begun an effort 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 Diocese has established its registered trademarks, seals, buildings and other property through more than 200 years of ministry in South Carolina – beginning before The Episcopal Church even existed,” said the Rev. Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary. “Many of our parishes even pre-date the United States. We take this legal action to protect the legacy of generations of faithful members who embraced the theology and practices that underpin Anglican belief around the world – but now must do so outside The Episcopal Church.”
The Cathedral of Saint Luke and Saint Paul, located at 126 Coming Street, was founded in 1810 as Saint Paul’s Radcliffeboro. It merged with St. Luke’s Wraggsboro in 1949, and it became the Cathedral of the Diocese of South Carolina in 1963.