Report on the third day of trial from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina
Friday, July 11, 2014 (Day 4)
After another full day of testimony from seven more plaintiff parishes, Judge Diane S. Goodstein ordered attorneys to meet over the weekend and stipulate to some of the evidence being produced by each parish. Thirty-six parishes are suing local Episcopalians and The Episcopal Church in the lawsuit, and only 18 had presented their cases at the end of the trial’s first week.
Following a brief conference, the attorneys informed the judge they will meet on Sunday to work out details of the stipulation and be ready to resume at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
On Friday, the court heard from Trinity, Pinopolis; St. David’s, Cheraw (pictured); St. Helena, Beaufort; St. Bartholomew’s, Hartsville; Trinity, Myrtle Beach; St. Matthew’s, Darlington; and St. James, James Island.
Most of the presentations were similar to those in previous days: recollections of parish meetings, resolutions, and other actions aimed at systematically distancing each parish from The Episcopal Church.
St. Helena’s, which began in 1712, brought bonus material for its presentation, displaying for the court a 1728 prayer book and a letter from Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of Beaufort’s tricentennial.
Issues about names and signs were raised frequently. Throughout the week, parishes have reported removing “Episcopal” from governing documents and from their names, yet keeping it on the signs in front of their building. Some have removed the widely recognized “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” signs, while others have retained them. Many have kept the word “Episcopal” in their names, but decided to remove the Episcopal shield logo, as one witness said, “at some point after the commencement of the present litigation.”
Witnesses also described how they still keep The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer and The Hymnal 1982 in their pews and use them at services. Other testimony explored how parishes sent delegates to conventions of the diocese, who in turn voted on the deputies they sent to General Convention, the governing body of The Episcopal Church.
Some witnesses confirmed that their parishes had received loans from Episcopal Church organizations over the years; made contributions to the Church Pension Fund for their clergy; and paid premiums to the Church Insurance Group, which provides property insurance for Episcopal churches. St. Bartholomew’s in Hartsville was completely lost in a 1987 fire, and a new church was built on the same site with church insurance money, according to testimony.
Yet most of the witnesses testified that they never considered themselves part of The Episcopal Church. “We don’t believe we were ever connected to The Episcopal Church,” the St. Bartholomew’s witness said.
An official from Trinity Myrtle Beach talked about action taken to amend the bylaws and remove “Episcopal” from the church’s name in 2009. He said parishioners were assured that “this in no way changes our denominational affiliation – Trinity will still continue to be an Episcopal church.” But he went on to say that the church had not actually considered itself part of The Episcopal Church, only a part of the diocese.
During the St. Matthew’s Darlington testimony, more bylaws and articles of incorporation were discussed. However, the witness also spoke of growing up as both an Episcopalian and a member of the Diocese. “I never thought about not being part of some wider Episcopal Church,” he said.