Episcopalians

May 12, 1785 –

During the antebellum era, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina was dominated by the state’s elite, with its strength concentrated in the lowcountry, especially Charleston, although most large communities in the state had Episcopal congregations.

In all thirteen American colonies those persons later called Episcopalians were members of the Church of England, sometimes called Anglicans. After the Revolutionary War, the Church of England was disestablished in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, and Virginia. On May 12, 1785, the Church of England in South Carolina organized itself as the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina. At the third General Convention at Philadelphia in 1789, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA) was organized when the constitution and canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church were adopted and the Book of Common Prayer (1789) was approved. In 1967 the General Convention approved the alternative name, Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA).

The Episcopal Church affirms the historic creeds of the Christian tradition (for example, the Apostles and Nicene creeds) as the basis for doctrine, which is also summarized in the Thirty-nine Articles of faith of the Church of England. Its worship follows liturgical orders set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. The liturgy offers some flexibility; a congregation following the more formal orders of service is called “high church,” while one following the more simple liturgy is called “low church.” The word “Episcopal” comes from the Greek for “bishop,” indicating that geographic units (called dioceses) are administered by bishops. A diocesan convention of clergy and lay delegates from each congregation meets annually. Bishops and delegates, both clergy and lay, from all dioceses meet every three years in the General Convention, the body that sets broad policy guidelines and recommended programs for dioceses across the nation.

During the antebellum era, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina was dominated by the state’s elite, with its strength concentrated in the lowcountry, especially Charleston, although most large communities in the state had Episcopal congregations. Although most slaves and free blacks belonged to evangelical denominations, by 1860 blacks made up almost half (2,960) of the state’s 6,126 Episcopalians. The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina withdrew from the PECUSA on June 20, 1861, and joined the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States on February 14, 1862. With the collapse of the Confederacy, the Diocese of South Carolina returned to the PECUSA on February 11, 1866.

With the exception of the Civil War years, Episcopalians in South Carolina have been supportive of the national church. At the eleventh General Convention in 1814, a clerical deputy from the Diocese of South Carolina, the Reverend Christopher E. Gadsden, introduced a resolution to establish a general seminary for the whole church. On May 27, 1817, the General Convention adopted resolutions approving the establishment of the General Theological Seminary in New York City, and it opened on May 1, 1819. Because of the developing sectional conflict over slavery, the Diocese of South Carolina opened the Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina at Camden on January 18, 1859. It closed on June 30, 1862, reopened in Spartanburg in October 1866, and then permanently suspended operations in 1868.

Episcopalians in South Carolina also have been committed to education. In 1850 they opened the Episcopal Church Home for Children in Charleston, an orphanage. It moved to York in 1910. The Diocese of South Carolina was one of the founding dioceses of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1857. On December 9, 1867, the Reverend A. Toomer Porter opened the Holy Communion Church Institute in Charleston. In 1886 the name was changed to the Porter Military Academy. In 1897 Elizabeth Evelyn Wright founded a school for blacks in Denmark, South Carolina, which became the Voorhees Industrial School. In 1924 the dioceses of South Carolina and Upper South Carolina took over the operation of the school, which became Voorhees College.

The 1922 General Convention voted to divide the Diocese of South Carolina into the Diocese of South Carolina (bishop in Charleston) and the Diocese of Upper South Carolina (bishop in Columbia). The diocese was divided because it had become too large for one bishop to administer. The new Diocese of Upper South Carolina held its Primary Convention at Trinity Church, Columbia, October 10–11, 1922. On September 20, 1963, the Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, Charleston, became the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul. On January 19, 1977, Trinity Church, Columbia, became Trinity Cathedral. As of January 25, 2001, the Diocese of South Carolina had seventy-six parishes, 26,275 baptized members, and 20,878 confirmed communicants. As of that same date, the Diocese of Upper South Carolina had sixty-two parishes, 26,211 baptized members, and 22,833 confirmed communicants.

Armentrout, Don S., and Robert Boak Slocum, eds. Documents of Witness: A History of the Episcopal Church, 1782–1985. New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1994.

Prichard, Robert W. A History of the Episcopal Church. Rev. ed. Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1999.

Thomas, Albert Sidney. A Historical Account of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina, 1820–1957. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1957.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Episcopalians
  • Coverage May 12, 1785 –
  • Author
  • Keywords Church of England, Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA), Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina, Book of Common Prayer, Greek for “bishop,” Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States, Reverend Christopher E. Gadsden, Reverend A. Toomer Porter
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 10, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update September 20, 2016
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