2 Sumter churches among 28 in S.C. that may have to vacate property after Supreme Court denies request

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 6/12/18

After the U.S. Supreme Court denied a state church district's petition for a hearing Monday, it is unknown what the future may hold for two local congregations' properties.

The Rev. Marcus Kaiser, rector of Church of the Holy Comforter, 213 N. …

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2 Sumter churches among 28 in S.C. that may have to vacate property after Supreme Court denies request

Posted

After the U.S. Supreme Court denied a state church district's petition for a hearing Monday, it is unknown what the future may hold for two local congregations' properties.

The Rev. Marcus Kaiser, rector of Church of the Holy Comforter, 213 N. Main St., made his comments after the high court informed The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina that it would deny a request to hear its case to reverse a decision made last year by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Doing so leaves in place a sharply divided ruling from the state's high court from 2017 that could deprive at least 28 parish churches of their right to properties - some of which have been held for more than 300 years.

Kaiser said the local congregation has owned and maintained the property and buildings associated with Church of the Holy Comforter since 1857 and that no money has ever come from the national Episcopal Church, with which Holy Comforter was previously associated.

The local congregation and the majority of the state's diocese split from the national church in 2012, citing numerous concerns about theological issues including the ordination of gay priests. In 2017, The Anglican Church in North America formally admitted all those churches into its denomination, Kaiser said.

However, the National Episcopal Church points to a trust interest it passed in 1979 over its parishes. In the ongoing legal battle in recent years concerning parish properties, the national church says congregations are free to leave the church if they disagree with its laws and rules, but they can't take church property with them, meaning they would have to find another home.

Previously, courts in South Carolina ruled the trust wasn't a legal trust, Kaiser said, until last year.

In a 3-2 vote and fractured ruling, the state Supreme Court ruled the congregation held the property in trust for the national church. That's when the diocese appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kaiser said he and the diocese think the trust is fundamentally unjust.

He said the case will likely go back to the lower courts, which initially ruled in favor of the diocese, but that he doesn't know how long the battle will last.

He said the diocese is going to gather on Thursday for prayer and direction and probably consult with its legal counsel. He said during the next month to two months, the local congregation will need to pray also for direction.

"It's a little unknown what may be next," Kaiser said.

Kaiser said one other diocese parish is in Sumter County - The Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg.