Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley shares a word about recent decisions made on behalf of our diocese regarding St. Matthew’s, Fort Motte, and what it means for the future of our diocese.
October 29, 2022
Dear Faithful People in the Diocese of South Carolina,
After prayerful consideration, onsite visits, and in-depth conversations with many to whom St. Matthew’s, Fort Motte is particularly dear, the Standing Committee and I have made the decision to allow the ACNA congregation to purchase the St. Matthew’s church property. While it is very difficult to let this historically Episcopal property go, we believe that it is the best way to care for the needs of the local community, as well as that of the entire Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Our decision also reflects an understanding of the context of the wider Episcopal Church’s struggle with respect to these issues, particularly as we recognize that this season is coming to a close.
As these properties have been returned to us according to the Court’s ruling earlier this year, our first responsibility in all associated negotiations has been to care for individual Episcopalians and the congregations with which they are associated – their unique contexts, particular gifts, hopes, sorrows, and pastoral needs. St. Matthew’s, located in rural Calhoun County, has historically been a very small congregation. Today, the number of people who would hope to have an Episcopal presence is extremely small.
The rural setting of St. Matthew’s also has a bearing. In small, rural, stable communities, relationships are close and memories are long and often have multi-generational impact. While St. Matthew’s was an Episcopal Church until 10 years ago – and while it is true that the South Carolina Supreme Court decided this property should be returned to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina – we recognize that, without a seed congregation ready to reopen as an Episcopal church, the displacement of the ACNA congregation would undermine the healing we seek to foster in this particular community.
Our missional responsibility is to have Episcopal churches across our diocese’s geographic area. With respect to this region, our most thoughtful approach is to plant a church where there is anticipated growth. Given the loss of several Episcopal churches in what was the Orangeburg Deanery, we will prioritize exploring a church plant in that area.
In addition to our focus on the particular needs of Episcopalians in the Ft. Motte region, we have a responsibility for the overall strength and health of the entire diocese.
We are in the midst of visioning a new season of ministry in The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Although we are fortunate to have several strategically located properties returned to us, there are significant areas of the diocese which do not have an Episcopal presence – among these are several new, growing areas. These areas present significant opportunities for new church plants and the development of large, regional resource congregations which can support our common life in a number of ways. We believe that such investments will only make our diocese stronger, allowing important ministries to flourish while spreading the good news of the Gospel to even more people in this state.
Our choice to allow the ACNA congregation at St. Matthew’s to buy this property provides us with resources that may be used to plant a new church that, in time and God willing, can bring strength and gifts to the benefit of the Episcopalians resident in that area and in the entire diocese.
This was not an easy decision, but it is one that provides the best opportunity for the health and future of our diocese, while hopefully allowing for healing across our differences on a path to reconciliation. I am excited about the future of our diocese and our next season of ministry together, focused on the mission of the church to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
The Rt. Reverend Ruth Woodliff-Stanley
Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina