(By Jennifer Berry Hawes and Adam Parker, The Post and Courier, SC). In a highly anticipated ruling, the South Carolina State Supreme Court decided Wednesday that 29 parishes whose congregations left The Episcopal Church in 2012 can’t take their valuable properties with them, a decision that could set the stage for a massive exchange of historic church capital in the region.
However, seven parishes and a land trust that left can hold on to their properties because they never agreed in writing to let the national church hold them in trust, unlike the others, a majority of justices ruled.
St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center on Seabrook Island is among the properties that are set to return to The Episcopal Church.
Also on the list are Charleston parishes, including St. Michael’s Church, the oldest surviving religious building in the city, and St. Philip’s Church, the oldest congregation in the state according to several sources and notes included in court document.
The ruling presents a dilemma for The Episcopal Church, which though largely victorious Wednesday now must decide what to do with so many reclaimed church properties that might have few congregants filling the pews. Two years ago, The Episcopal Church and Bishop Skip Adams’ diocese offered a settlement that would have allowed 35 breakaway parishes to keep roughly $500 million in church properties. In return, the national church would have kept the diocesan name and identifying marks, along with St. Christopher Camp and other assets.
Bishop Mark Lawrence and his Diocese of South Carolina, which left the national church, rejected the deal.
A spokesman for the Diocese of South Carolina said attorneys are still reviewing the complicated series of opinions. They are certain they will seek a rehearing by the high court.
Related article: South Carolina Court Hands Down Mixed Ruling in Episcopal Dispute, by Jeffrey Walton, Juicy Ecumenism