Sunday, May 4, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History Emeritus

Saturday, May 3, was a glorious day in every sense of the word. Well over 300 people took advantage of a perfect day weather-wise to converge on the most lovely and charming campus of the most gracious hosts at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church in Pawleys Island for a grand day of worship, fellowship, support, and sharing. It was a sort of big family reunion of devoted Episcopalians from every corner of the South Carolina diocese and beyond.

The day started with a magnificent Holy Eucharist celebrated by the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The Rev. William Keith, rector of the church, delivered a lively, upbeat sermon. With the church's beautiful naturalistic Low Country setting revealed in its large, clear windows all around, all felt as one with God, God's people, and God's nature. It was a great festival of rejoicing, thanksgiving and celebration. It was a most uplifting moment that set the atmosphere for the rest of the day of that big family reunion.

Several speakers followed the Eucharist. The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, talked on "The State of the Diocese." In a nutshell, it is good and improving. The good bishop, ever the soul of peaceful reconciliation, exhorted the congregation to resist "artificial polarities": sad or liberated, litigation or rebuilding, progressive or conservative. The very character of the Episcopal Church is "the big tent" and not one view to the exclusion of the other; and certainly never to demonize people with whom we may disagree. He said that the diocese must do things differently in the future while reclaiming its history as one of the oldest and greatest of the dioceses in the Episcopal Church.

The Presiding Bishop next spoke on "Connections." She emphasized the work of healing relationships, that relationships lead to justice, that righteousness is in right relationships, that "restoring creation is God's mission." She continued that "mission is the ground of our being as Christians," that "we are sent to be a life-giving body in the world," that "the mission of the church is to reconcile all to God." She then went into detail about the Episcopal Church's Millenium Development Goals (2000-15) and Five Marks of Mission. She said "the church exists by mission" and holds a "vision of a healed world."

The next speaker was the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church who spoke on "Leadership in Challenging Times." She talked of challenging the boundaries, of being the "church we used to be and the church God is calling us to be." Times are changing and the church we knew is changing too. The challenge is how to lead in this time in a positive and healing way. She emphasized the collegiate nature of the Episcopal Church where power is shared across a broad spectrum of laity, clergy and bishops. This, she said, is a good guide for the future as we try to sort out the best way to proceed.

In the following question and answer period, Jennings responded to a question of whether the Episcopal Church has room for "traditional" views on sexuality. "Our unity is not based on thinking alike," she said. We are the church of diversity and toleration for different views. Bishop vonRosenberg reported on progress in reconciliation. One local church has returned to the Episcopal diocese and at least one clergyperson is in conversation to return to the Episcopal Church. "Reconciliation is our long range goal" he insisted.

Everyone than enjoyed a picnic lunch and fellowship while strolling around the magnificent broad green campus of grand old live oak trees well draped in long Spanish moss gently swaying in the cool breeze.

Afternoon sessions got down to the nuts-and-bolts of  survival and rebuilding after schism. The Rt. Rev. Kenneth Price, Jr., former Provisional Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, spoke of his experiences in rebuilding the fractured old Episcopal diocese of Pittsburgh. That diocese has experienced a marvelous resurrection since its traumatic schism in 2007. Along the way ten local churches and numerous clergy returned to the Episcopal diocese so that today, the Episcopal diocese holds fifty-five percent of the pre-schism diocese and is growing. Price emphasized a positive attitude, always respectful of the opposition, never criticizing its leaders or communicants. These were words that were not lost on the South Carolinians.

After Price's energetic and uplifting talk, the meeting broke out into workshops, one for small churches and one for larger ones. The one for small churches was conducted by representatives from Pittsburgh. The Rev. Kris McInnes is priest at St. David's in suburban Pittsburgh, a church that originally departed then returned to the Episcopal diocese and is growing well. He emphasized the point of simply being the Episcopal Church, of keeping all doors open, of working in love and compassion for the reconciliation of all people without judgment or qualifications. That approach has worked well in healing the schism in numerous places around that diocese.

Rich Creehan is Communications Director of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. He spoke on getting the message out into the public and of doing it in the most positive and constructive ways. He emphasized claiming the identity of the Episcopal Church, its history and nature so that the public understands just which Church is the true Episcopal and Anglican one. He cautioned, though, that this must be done with care and compassion for the other side and he gave practical guidelines on how to do that. He said a long d├ętente exists in Pittsburgh between the two sides of the schism and that this has worked well in the interest of both parties. He exhorted the audience to go out and tell their experiences to their communities. Simply getting their stories out to the people around them will do wonders, as it has in Pittsburgh. The attendees left that meeting encouraged and energized.

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is slowly but surely rebuilding. It is doing so because of thousands of devoted people and because of their many great leaders. It is doing so as the church of the big tent, big enough to encompass all, big enough to heal all wounds, big enough to extend care and compassion to all of God's creation. This was the message of the day. This is the message of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina and far beyond. This has been the story of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina for well over two centuries now. This will remain her message for ages to come.

There is an old saying that you can't go home again. That is not true. One can always go home again. Home is the place where they will always take you in because you are family, no questions asked. One can always go home to that ancient place in South Carolina that sustained generations of faithful Christians in the Episcopal Church.

See also Steve Skardon's report at and many pictures at . For a wonderfully detailed description of the conference see: .