At tale of two churches: Myrtle Beach area’s Episcopal congregations split over gay marriage

In the interest of full disclosure, I should state upfront that I am a confirmed member in good standing of the Episcopal Church. Occasionally, and as an homage to my ex, I take a brief detour into the holidays and observances of Reformed Judaism. However in the true spirit of equality, I really can’t say that I believe any one faith is superior to another. We’re all on a journey.

Since the Episcopalians receive the lion’s share of my attendance time and my charitable donations, I tend to keep a very close watch on the denomination’s local activities. And that’s where we get today’s story: A Tale of Two Churches. Relax, grab a cocktail and enjoy.

It is the best of times and it is the worst of times. It is a time of acceptance and a time of judgment. It is a time of faith and a time of distrust. It is the time of the wise Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori and a time of detractors who rebel against her. In a church that began with a schism, it is a time where that tradition is carried forward.

There are two Episcopal branches in our area. One has remained with the National Church and embraces the message of inclusion for all peoples in all areas of the church. The other has splintered off into a much more conservative camp. The National Church, led by the Most Jefferts-Schori embraces marriage equality. On the other side of that divide, the second group, led by the Right Reverend Mark Lawrence, not so much.

I still receive communications from both groups and I still have treasured friends and colleagues in both churches. The dichotomy comes in the e-mails that I received from both groups during the same week. The first allowed me to feel the joy of my Confirmation all over again. The second reminded me of the reasons my faith was tested as a child when I suddenly realized that a church simply would not accept me for who I am.

The Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg was appointed Bishop of South Carolina in 2013 after the 2012 division. He is continuing the work of the National Church here in our Diocese. On July 8, he wrote to the parishes and members to announce that he is granting permission for the clergy of the churches to officiate at the blessings of same-sex couples. Since marriage equality has not yet reached our fair state, this falls under the very best of times for the LGBTQ community.

Bishop vonRosenberg’s words were very simple, yet remarkably transforming: “By means of this letter, I am granting permission for clergy to officiate at occasions indicated by “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant.” These words endow same-sex couples in the diocese with the right to celebrate publicly their commitment to one another. This also allows them to have that commitment blessed by taking part in the official liturgy that was established by the Episcopal Church in 2012.

This is not an action that is intended to transform the Episcopal Church into a local wedding chapel. It is a sacred step forward intended to extend all of the sacraments to all of the faithful people. Total inclusion in the faith that one chooses is the very core of what seeking and believing is about. A faith that proclaims infinite love and a connection to the Creator of all cannot place a disclaimer on the blessings if offers. Limiting the divine is a creation of the human race and it certainly has no place in a true community of faith.

Now for a mention of the worst of times and then back to the mountain top. The e-mail that I received from the other Episcopalians is a narrative of the trial which started on July 8. The outcome of this trial will decide substantial matters such as who gets to worship where and what symbols and seals can be used. Like any high profile breakup, the details are not pretty.

In short, the feelings of the conservative group is summed up with the words “(This) Diocese has consistently disagreed with (The National Church’s) embrace of what most members of the global Anglican Communion believe to be a radical fringe scriptural interpretation that makes following Christ’s teachings optional for salvation.”

Among those global members are the Ugandan church and I shouldn’t need to remind you about their record on LGBTQ rights. They have this little thing called the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 better known as the "Kill the Gays Bill."

I think the takeaway here is clear. This is a time to rejoice within the LGBTQ community. This decision announced by Bishop vonRosenberg is an act of grace. He didn’t simply wake up on July 8 and decide it was time to make a change. This was the result of 15 months of prayerful contemplation by a dedicated committee, which in the end made the right decision.

My hope is that all Episcopalians in South Carolina can find a place of peace where they can abide together. The weeks ahead will reveal if that is possible. To use the words from our own liturgy:

Let us pray “for the grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and Yours. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.”