After the split: Former Holy Trinity members slowly build Episcopal worshipping community of their own

loberle@islandpacket.comJanuary 4, 2014 

Eve Pinckney, left, and Nancy Gault, founding members at the Episcopal church of Okatie, stand for a portrait with the Chechessee River behind them on Dec. 30. Pinckney and Gault held their first service at this dock after leaving Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Ridgeland.

THEOPHIL SYSLO — Staff photo Buy Photo

After 52 years, Eve Pinckney left Holy Trinity Church in Ridgeland.

A cradle Episcopalian, the Okatie resident was all but born and raised inside the historic church walls. It's where she was baptized and confirmed, learned the Catechism and the life of Jesus. It's where she was taught the Lord's Prayer and recited it every Sunday.

It's where her parents were married, sitting in the same pew together until her father, deSaussure Pinckney, died 10 years ago. His initials, "DEP," remain in the bell tower where he carved them as a boy.

Nancy Gault also left Holy Trinity. She became Episcopalian when she married her husband more than 40 years ago, and they were married in an Episcopal church in Pennsylvania. There her children were baptized and she served on the vestry.

She and her husband moved to Okatie in the early 2000s, and they had been members of the church for seven years.

Pinckney and Gault left Holy Trinity because they wanted to remain Episcopalian and their church did not.

In October 2012, a schism occurred when the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina withdrew from the national Episcopal Church and each parish within the diocese had to decide what direction it wanted to go in.

At Holy Trinity's annual meeting in January 2013, the congregation voted, roughly 3-2, with a paper ballot to disassociate from the national church and remain in the Diocese of South Carolina.

The Episcopal shield came down, the sign out front was changed and the Episcopal flags were taken out of the ground at the church which was built in 1858.

"After the vote, the church gradually became non-Episcopal," Pinckney said. "And on that note, we left and began our own little church."

THE SPLIT

It happened slowly.

Tension between the Diocese of South Carolina and the national Episcopal Church had been mounting for years, even decades.

There were the issues: Homosexuality, communion of the unbaptized, ordination of a woman or gay person. But the issues were symptoms of the larger problem which came down to an inherent divergence in Biblical interpretation and Christian belief.

As resolutions at the Episcopalian national convention were passed pertaining to those issues, those differences became inescapable for the Diocese of South Carolina.

"I've been in the (South Carolina) diocese almost 20 years, and there have steadily been resolutions of conventions of this diocese to differentiate us from the national church, to make clear the ways we take a different position than the national church has taken on all kinds of issues," said the Rev. Jim Lewis, a canon in the Diocese of South Carolina. "We could no longer agree to disagree."

On Nov. 17, 2012, the Diocese of South Carolina affirmed its disassociation from the national Episcopal Church. Nationally, four other dioceses have split from the national Episcopal Church -- in California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois. They, along with South Carolina, are now dioceses of the Anglican Church of North America, which was founded in 2009.

In Beaufort County, All Saints Episcopal Church on Hilton Head Island and St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Port Royal remain in the national Episcopal Church. The Parish Church of St. Helena in Beaufort, the Church of the Cross in Bluffton, and St. Luke's Church on Hilton Head remain in the Diocese of South Carolina.

They no longer identify themselves as Episcopalian.

With the vote, there was no longer an Episcopal church in Okatie or Ridgeland, so Gault, Pinckney and the other congregants who wanted to remain Episcopalian had to start something new.

"It's one thing when a whole church left. It's another thing for the people who wanted to stay Episcopalian to have to start their own group without any resources," Gault said. "It's an interesting place (to be) because you know you have to move on, but you have no clue where to go or what to do."

'WORSHIPPING COMMUNITY'

What formed is a "worshipping community" -- a church not yet fully established and without a full-time priest. There are eight Episcopal worshipping communities in South Carolina, founded in areas where the formerly Episcopal church remained in the Diocese of South Carolina.

Pinckney and Gault started a worshipping community: The Episcopal Church of Okatie. Many congregants live on the Chechessee River so the first services were held on the docks at their homes.

The first service was on Easter Sunday 2013, a morning prayer service that didn't require a priest and could be led by a lay leader in the church. Attendees wondered if they should collect an offering, but they didn't even have a checking account at that point.

About 30 people attended the inaugural sunrise service on the river.

"It was so well attended, we thought, 'Let's keep doing it,'" Gault said.

After that, supply priests -- priests from churches throughout the state and retired priests from the area -- have come to lead the service and do the Eucharist.

"The priests loved it," Gault said. "Everybody wanted to come preach on the dock."

The physical existence of the Episcopal Church in Okatie stands in stark contrast to what many congregants knew at Holy Trinity. They have no building, no ornaments, no stained glass windows, no pews to claim ownership of.

"At the other church, we had candelabras. Everything was brass and silver and had to be polished," Pinckney said. "We don't have that now, and it's OK. It's just stuff. We have the essentials that we need and we have each other."

A DIFFERENCE OF OPINIONS

Gault emphasizes that there is no malice toward Holy Trinity, no hard feelings, no coercion to stay or go. There is simply a difference of opinions, of Biblical interpretation.

"We're in different places, and we have a little bit different beliefs, or maybe some people are far more sure, I would say, of God's mind than I am about some of these things," Gault said. "I just can't quite take the stand that they do on some of these things."

On both sides, the schism is difficult, but the right thing to have happened.

"The hardest part of explaining your thoughts on all of this to someone else is that so much of it is deep inside. But that is where God talks to you," Gault said. "And so everyone needs to listen to that voice. Then they'll know where they need to go."

For Gault and Pinckney, the inclusiveness of the national Episcopal church resonated with them.

"It seems to me a person is on dangerous ground, trying to say what someone else's relationship with God is or what God intends for someone else's life," Gault said. "I just don't want to be any part of that; and I feel very comfortable that, in the Episcopal Church, I don't have to be."

A HAPPY PLACE

Leaving the church she grew up in was not just emotionally difficult for Pinckney, but also created an uncertain future.

"I'm a little scared at the same time. I know that I can always fall back to St. Mark's or All Saints, but I don't want our church to fail," she said.

Leaving Holy Trinity was never an easy choice, and is one that still weighs on Pinckney nearly a year later.

"It was heart-breaking, and it was the toughest decision I think I've ever had to make in my life to walk away from that church. It still makes me want to cry thinking about it," Pinckney said. "But then I look at what I've got now."

A new level of investment in their church life has reinvigorated Gault and Pinckney spiritually as they experience their faith in the most active way.

"I had gotten to where I was going to Holy Trinity and I was sitting in the pew and it became robotic," Pinckney said. "This, it's nowhere near robotic. It changes minute by minute."

The Episcopal Church in Okatie is now worshipping at St. Luke's Baptist Church in Okatie. The Rev. Renty Kitty allows them to use the church when his congregation isn't. The Episcopal Church in Okatie holds its services at 8:30 a.m. on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month, with 15 to 30 in attendance.

"As sad as we were and as much as we thought we had to keep that church in the (national) Episcopal Church, it was just meant to be. I have to say, I'm not sad about it," Gault said.

"Not anymore," Pinckney adds. "We had to learn that you don't worship a building, you worship God. My daddy's initials are never going to leave that bell tower.

"I can visit them anytime I want."

Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

RELATED CONTENT

The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina website

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina website

The Episcopal Church in Okatie facebook page

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service