By Kirk Petersen

The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, which has not had a full-time bishop diocesan since 2012, has announced a slate of five candidates to become the XV Bishop of South Carolina. The winner will inherit a diocese of 30 congregations and a protracted lawsuit over the ownership of half a billion dollars in property.

The candidates, in alphabetical order:

Walpole is a priest, despite the archdeacon title. She serves in a role similar to what is known in many dioceses as canon to the ordinary — a title not currently in use in the diocese.

A special election convention is planned for May 1. If pandemic conditions allow, it will be at Grace Church Cathedral in Charleston. “If the Convention is not able to meet in person, the diocese will proceed with a virtual platform,” the announcement said.

In 2012, the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, who was then the XIV Bishop of South Carolina, led a majority of the priests and parishioners out of the Episcopal Church, after the General Convention that year voted to allow priests to bless same-sex unions. The departing group ultimately affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), and Lawrence leads what is now the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina, which lists 52 congregations on its website.

The departure touched off years of litigation over the ownership of property with an estimated value of $500 million — specifically, 29 church buildings and the 314-acre St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center on Seabrook Island. Those properties currently are controlled and used by the ACNA diocese, but ownership is claimed by the Episcopal diocese.

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the property rightfully belongs to the Episcopal diocese, and remanded the case to the state circuit court to oversee the transfer. Each of the five justices wrote a separate opinion, and parts of the case were decided by different 3-2 majorities.

After nearly three years of motions to reverse or enforce that ruling, Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson ruled in June 2020 that under his reading of the Supreme Court opinions, the property actually belongs to the ACNA diocese — essentially overruling the higher court. The Episcopal diocese has asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider, and motions are being traded between the parties.

Since the 2012 split, the Episcopal diocese has been led by two part-time, provisional bishops, Charles G. vonRosenberg, from 2013 to 2016, and Gladstone B. “Skip” Adams III, from 2016 to 2019. Currently the Standing Committee is the ecclesiastical authority in the diocese. The winner of the May 1 election this year will become a full-time diocesan bishop.