[Episcopal Church in South Carolina press release] Episcopal Church in South Carolina Bishop Charles G. vonRosenberg has welcomed another returning priest back into good standing in The Episcopal Church through a new process that provides a path for reconciliation for clergy who left following the 2012 split in eastern South Carolina.
In a brief liturgy led by vonRosenberg in Charleston on March 24, the Rev. H. Jeff Wallace reaffirmed the vows he took at his ordination in 2007 and signed a formal declaration promising to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church.
He is the second priest to return to The Episcopal Church after the 2012 split. In September 2014, the Rev. H. Dagnall Free, Jr., was reinstated through the same process. Wallace now joins Free and the other clergy of The Episcopal Church as a priest in good standing.
Wallace was an associate rector at Christ the King-Waccamaw, Pawley’s Island, when Bishop Mark Lawrence and other officials of the diocese announced they were leaving The Episcopal Church. Wallace said that he loved the parish and his job there; because of those bonds, he stayed at Christ the King-Waccamaw when it voted to follow Lawrence.
But their situation changed suddenly in 2014 when Wallace’s church merged with another breakaway church, leaving him without a parish to serve. He and his wife moved to Texas, where he is serving as pastor at a Lutheran church.
In the months after the split, Wallace was still a priest who remained under vonRosenberg’s authority within The Episcopal Church. Over a five-month period in 2013, the bishop made efforts to contact each breakaway clergy member. As happened in most cases, Wallace did not reply. As required by church canons, in August 2013, with the advice and consent of the Standing Committee, vonRosenberg removed more than 100 priests and deacons from the ordained ministry of The Episcopal Church.
The canons gave the bishop a choice about which disciplinary procedure to follow. One option was to “depose” clergy who did not recognize the church’s authority. VonRosenberg chose instead to “release and remove” the clergy, which left open the hope for reconciliation and eventual reinstatement. That hope was first realized in September 2014, with Free’s reinstatement.
Two months after hearing the news about Free, Wallace wrote to vonRosenberg asking about the path to reinstatement. VonRosenberg replied the same day, laying out the steps that would be necessary and putting Wallace in touch with the people who would help guide him through the process.
Later, explaining why he wanted to return, Wallace wrote that he grieved his loss of connection with The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion and the sacred order of priests, and repented of the decisions that led to his removal. “We are not sure where God will land us, but we are sure of the longing we have in our heart to be back in an Episcopal parish,” he wrote.
Canonically, the only requirement for reinstating a priest is the bishop’s approval. But vonRosenberg has stressed the importance of having a process in place that ensures it will be the right move not only for the priest, but for the entire church.
In consultation with the Standing Committee, Chancellor Tom Tisdale, and Commission on Ministry member Amy Webb, the bishop set forth a reinstatement procedure that required:
- Consulting with the bishop on a regular, ongoing basis;
- Working with a development coach for evaluations and discussions about the person’s spiritual journey;
- Cooperating with the administrative staff in rebuilding a professional file, including background checks, training certificates, references and other documentation. Many of these documents are still controlled by the breakaway group, which has refused to release them to clergy who chose to remain in The Episcopal Church;
- Meeting with the Standing Committee to discuss the desire for reinstatement
Wallace met March 24 with the Standing Committee, which voted its approval immediately.
VonRosenberg said the process has proven to be a good one, and probably will be used again. Discussions are in progress with other clergy who have approached the bishop after learning about the reconciliation process.
The bishop and Tisdale also have been named to serve on the Constitution and Canons Committee of the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church this summer in Salt Lake City, where church officials are expected to consider reinstatement procedures for the entire church.