The Diocese of South Carolina is ending its affiliation with the Episcopal Church, it was announced Friday on the diocese's website.
The announcement follows a declaration this week that the South Carolina bishop had "abandoned" the national church. Bishop Mark Lawrence has challenged the national church's decisions concerning the ordination of gays, transgender people and other issues.
Leaders of two Beaufort County congregations said they support Lawrence, who was notified Monday that the national church's Disciplinary Board for Bishops certified that he has abandoned the church.
The Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003, upsetting conservative Episcopalians. In 2006, the Diocese of South Carolina voted to reject the authority of the national church's presiding bishop, but stopped short of a full break.
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The diocese, which has called a special convention next month, is composed of 70 congregations in the eastern part of the state.Lawrence, who has been a South Carolina bishop since 2008, has been vocal about his disapproval of the national church's acceptance of gay marriage and approval of gay, lesbian and transgender bishops. Because he approved amendments to the laws of the state diocese that distance it from the national church, the national church has restricted Lawrence from performing duties as bishop until further notice.
The Rev. Gregory Kronz of St. Luke's Church on Hilton Head Island supports Lawrence. He said the bishop did not push the church away; rather the church has strayed from its own laws.
"There's continual fast-and-loose playing with canons with the national church," Kronz said. "In my mind, if anyone has changed, it's the Episcopal Church."
The media focus on policies regarding transgender or homosexual people, but the issue is the national church has adopted changes that violate biblical laws, according to the Rev. Jeff Miller of the Parish Church of St. Helena in Beaufort.
"When all is said and done, the big question is, what is the focus of authority for the life of the church?" he said. "We believe it's the holy Scriptures."
Miller said Lawrence is only adhering to Scriptures, and his church supports that stance.
"We believe Bishop Lawrence is our godly leader," Miller said. "He is still our bishop and the bishop of South Carolina."
Miller said defecting from the national church will not shake the foundation of his congregation.
"It's important to remember, St. Helena has existed longer than the (Episcopal Church)," he said. "We're an Anglican Church."
Kronz said there's still a long road ahead before the national church's final decision on Lawrence and added that litigation between the state and national organizations over church property is likely. Kronz said he knows where he'll stand, but doesn't yet know how it will affect his future at the church he's served for 20 years.
"I will choose to follow the bishop," he said. "The question is, will I be able to continue at St. Luke's? I hope so, but it might cause me some personal angst."
Kronz said he suspects his parishioners will face a similar dilemma.
"People upset with the fighting may leave the church," he said, "and people will have to end up choosing sides, which is really unfortunate."
Attempts this week to reach rectors of Church of the Cross in Bluffton and All Saints Episcopal Church on Hilton Head Island were unsuccessful.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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