A Light Unto a New PathOld St. Andrew’s Parish Church leaves Episcopal Church
March 25, 2013
by Hannah Dockery, Staff Writer
In a historic vote on Sunday, February 24, Old. St. Andrew’s Parish Church elected to part ways with the Episcopal Church and formerly amend their church constitution to align with the Diocese of South Carolina.
St. Andrews was first established in 1706, making it the oldest church south of Virginia. In the early days, the church operated as a parish of the Church of England. In the wake of the American Revolution, the Diocese of South Carolina formed in 1785. In 1789, the Diocese participated in forming the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, operating as one facet of the American branch of Anglicanism.
Though the history between the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina dates back hundreds of years, the two entities have been on a rocky road for quite some time.
The heart of the issue boils down to the decision of the Episcopal Church to ordain homosexual clergy and bless same-sex marriages.
In 2003, controversy ignited within the Episcopal Church upon the General Convention election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop by the New Hampshire Diocese. “For those with traditional views of the Scripture, this was extremely upsetting and shocking,” explains Father Marshall Huey, of Old St. Andrews. At the next gathering of the General Convention three years later, Katharine Schori was elected to serve as Presiding Bishop. Known for her progressive and liberal views towards issues of homosexuality, the Episcopalian community erupted on a national scale due to Schori’s controversial statements about Jesus in TIME Magazine. When asked, “Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?” the new Presiding Bishop responded, “We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.” Huey explains that the statement limited Jesus’ role as God, and also undermined the importance of scriptural teaching.
Despite the uproar, Schori received no repercussions from the Church on behalf of her statements. The aftermath created a fierce tension between traditionalists, and those with more liberal canonical interpretations. The circumstances were ripening for a split.
In July of last year, the General Convention met and elected to bless same-sex marriages. By November 2012, the Diocese of SC formally disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church.
Local churches were then forced to make a decision: they must choose a side by aligning with either the Episcopal Church or the Diocese of SC. “Would I have gone out on my own to split from the Episcopal Church? No. But we didn’t have a choice. We had to make a decision,” explains Huey. “This is very much a transitional time in the history of our church.”
As one of the last local churches to vote on the decision, St. Andrews began a six-week session in January to discuss the importance decision that had to be made. “We intentionally waited until last minute to vote on this. We wanted to make sure that everyone was informed, and knew the seriousness of the choice we had to make,” says Huey. Formerly Episcopalian churches in the area set the precedent; Church of the Good Shepherd, Holy Trinity, and St. Johns all voted to align with the Diocese.
Before voting, Huey addressed his congregation in the form of a nine-page letter stating his personal beliefs on the issue. Siting four major reasons – theological, canonical, historical, and practical – the Reverend explained that he believed his church should disassociate from the Episcopal Church. “There are no winners in this decision, but we know that Christ wone the ultimate battle for us, and I hold to that truth above all else,” he writes.
“It was an extremely difficult and painful decision,” says Huey. “It’s been heartbreaking.”
On February 24, St. Andrews elected in a vote 285-64 to leave the Episcopal Church.
As a result of the decision, several members in the congregation who wanted to remain affiliated with the Episcopalian tradition left Old St. Andrews. Huey’s close friend and former assistant Jean McGraw left in order to establish the “West Ashley Episcopalians.” McGraw and other Episcopalians met in her home for services the first time last Sunday. “There are no hard feelings. I still love Jean dearly,” Huey says. “It is so, so sad but those that have left leave with my blessing. And I will pray for them as I always have.”
As for the future of Old St. Andrews, and other formerly Episcopalian churches in the area, Huey hopes that the transition will soon settle in.
“Our message has always been one of love, and not exclusion. We are going to hold fast to the Gospel, and we will weather this storm.”