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The issues of gay marriage and gay clergy are leading some Episcopal churches in Beaufort County and the state to disassociate or distance themselves from the Episcopal Church.
On Dec. 1, St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Hilton Head Island voted to remove all reference to "the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States, the Diocese of South Carolina, and any Canons associated therewith" from its charter, according to The (Charleston) Post and Courier.
The Rev. Greg Kronz, rector of St. Luke's, declined to comment on the decision.
Earlier this year, St. Luke's, The Parish Church of St. Helena in Beaufort and the Church of the Cross in Bluffton also condemned the national church's decisions on gays in the church. Attempts to reach the rectors of The Parish Church and Church of the Cross were unsuccessful.
In a document entitled, "Where We Stand," clergy and vestries from the three churches said the national church had "overturned the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, and refused to abstain from the ordination of persons whose manner of life violates Christian tenets in practice for almost 2,000 years. These are actions we cannot condone."
Not all of the Episcopal churches in Beaufort County have condemned the national church.
The Rev. Richard Lindsey, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church on Hilton Head, said his church "remains a steadfast part of the Episcopal Church."
The actions to condemn the Episcopal Church come just weeks after the Diocese of South Carolina held a special convention to vote on five resolutions, one of which calls on the bishop and standing committee "to begin withdrawing from all bodies of the Episcopal Church that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture, the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ."
The Vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Myrtle Beach also voted earlier this month to change its bylaws, removing reference to the Episcopal Church.
The Diocese of South Carolina oversees more than 70 parishes throughout the coastal half of the state. The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence, bishop of the diocese, wrote in an e-mail that he will remain open to counsel and conversation.
"I have been in conversation with the priests of St. Luke's Hilton Head and Trinity, Myrtle Beach. They are not seeking to leave the Diocese of South Carolina," he wrote. "We will continue to keep the lines of communication open and clear with both priests and their congregations."
St. Luke's removal of the state diocese and national church from its charter is a strong action, said Barbara Mann, president of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina. "It concerns and saddens me a great deal," she said.
Other churches in South Carolina have taken more dramatic steps to distance themselves from the S.C. diocese and the national church. A congregation at St. Andrew's Church in Mount Pleasant recently voted to align itself with the orthodox Anglican Church and break from the Episcopal Church.
In 2004, All Saints Church on Pawleys Island broke from the Episcopal Church in its charter and aligned itself with the Anglican Church. All Saints Church won an S.C. Supreme Court ruling this year allowing it to retain its property even though it had broken with the diocese.
The Rev. Canon Susan Russell, former president of Integrity USA, a nonprofit organization advocating inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church, hopes the conflict among churches, dioceses and the national church will resolve itself over time.
"It's been a long journey for us in the Episcopal Church," Russell said. "I was born into the church 50 years ago. We went through these same struggles with Episcopal clergy who marched in Selma, (Ala., during the Civil Rights Movement) and again in the '70s when we started accepting the ordination of women."
Russell said Episcopalians have always found ways to compromise.
"Episcopalians ... started out in the 16th century and found a way to be both Catholic and Protestant at the same time," Russell said. "Surely we can find a way to be both gay and straight in the 21st century."
The Episcopal Church has been coping with theological discord for years, but disagreements among Episcopalians heated up after the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire became the first openly gay bishop of the church in 2003.
The Diocese of Los Angeles elected the second openly gay Episcopal bishop Dec. 5: the Rev. Mary Glasspool of Baltimore, who will serve as assistant bishop if a majority of dioceses approve the vote.
Adam Parker of The (Charleston) Post & Courier contributed to this report.