New SC Episcopal bishop's vision for church centers on justice, racial reconciliation – Charleston Post Courier

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Updated: October 9, 2021 @ 8:28 am
Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley is pictured at  Calvary Episcopal Church on Oct. 1, 2021. She is the first woman to serve as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in the more than 230-year history of the diocese. Lauren Petracca/Staff
Bishop Michael Curry and Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley talk as they get ready to pose for a portrait at Calvary Episcopal Church on Oct. 1, 2021. Bishop Curry was in town to see Woodliff-Stanley become consecrated and ordained as bishop of the historic Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Lauren Petracca/Staff
Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley talks to members of the media on Oct. 1, 2021, ahead of her consecration. She will be the first female to serve as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in the history of the diocese, which is more than 230 years old. Lauren Petracca/Staff
Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley is consecrated Oct. 2 as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina at Grace Church Cathedral in downtown Charleston. Leslie Ryann McKeller/Provided

Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley is pictured at  Calvary Episcopal Church on Oct. 1, 2021. She is the first woman to serve as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in the more than 230-year history of the diocese. Lauren Petracca/Staff
Inside Episcopal Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley’s office hangs a large, framed portrait of Nelson Mandela, the South African revolutionary who fought against apartheid.
The portrait also includes a quote from Mandela: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”
The picture, a gift to Woodliff-Stanley from years back, embodies what she believes should be the core focus of the diocese: promoting justice and racial reconciliation in a state where many African American Episcopal congregations are still working to overcome legacies of discrimination.
“That’s the work,” she said.
Woodliff-Stanley was consecrated Oct. 2 as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, making her the first female to hold the position in the church’s 230-plus years of history. Her vision is to make the church more inclusive. She wants to uplift the voices of the diocese’s Black congregations and begin reaching out to Native American communities.
Woodliff-Stanley will lead 31 churches affiliated with The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in the eastern half of the state. Six churches in the diocese have African American roots.
Promoting the needs of Black congregations will benefit the entire diocese, Woodliff-Stanley told The Post and Courier.
“I want to strengthen our understanding of who we are as a people,” she said.
Woodliff-Stanley, 59, was raised in Mississippi and has served as the rector of a parish, as canon on the staffs of two bishops of the Episcopal Church, and also in churchwide ministry focused on stewardship of finances and property.
It isn’t lost on her the significance of her ascent in ministry as a woman. Woodliff-Stanley hopes she might inspire the next generation of girls who hope to pursue God’s calling on their lives.
Bishop Michael Curry and Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley talk as they get ready to pose for a portrait at Calvary Episcopal Church on Oct. 1, 2021. Bishop Curry was in town to see Woodliff-Stanley become consecrated and ordained as bishop of the historic Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Lauren Petracca/Staff
“That thrills me,” she said.
Woodliff-Stanley’s vision largely aligns with the ideals of the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
Curry, who served as chief consecrator at the consecration held at Grace Church Cathedral, comes from a family of civil rights leaders and often emphasizes the need for building a “beloved community.” The philosophy was popularized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who envisioned a world that rejected oppression and racial segregation.
Woodliff-Stanley has the experience needed to help bring about such a vision for South Carolina, Curry said. Among her work in social justice includes helping establish Denver’s Black Lives Matter chapter while serving in ministry in Colorado.
“This is a bishop who can help us choose community over any chaos,” Curry said.
Others concurred.
Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley is consecrated Oct. 2 as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina at Grace Church Cathedral in downtown Charleston. Leslie Ryann McKeller/Provided
“In the challenging days ahead, you will discover that your new diocesan bishop has a knack for helping others make possible what may initially seem quite impossible,” said the Rev. Deacon Sally Brown of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado.
Woodliff-Stanley, who was elected bishop May 1, has already been traveling throughout the state, meeting with congregations. Some have been displaced, and wanted Woodliff-Stanley’s assistance in discerning the future of their churches.
Throughout the diocese’s history, many Black congregations have been displaced.
Woodliff-Stanley preached Oct. 3 at Calvary Episcopal, a historically African American congregation founded in 1847 as a church for Charleston’s enslaved and free Black people. In 1940, the church was forced to relocate from Beaufain Street after a housing development wanted the land to expand a White neighborhood.
Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley talks to members of the media on Oct. 1, 2021, ahead of her consecration. She will be the first female to serve as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in the history of the diocese, which is more than 230 years old. Lauren Petracca/Staff
The new bishop feels she’s well-equipped to assist the congregations seeking new properties. Woodliff-Stanley has served as senior vice president for strategic change for the Episcopal Church Building Fund, which could offer resources to churches establishing new facilities.
“We have congregations across the diocese where, for different reasons, they’ve experienced a very similar pain,” she said.
Woodliff-Stanley also wants to reach out to Native American communities. The church must recognize the role it has played historically in displacing Native American populations, she said.
“There’s work we have to do in repentance,” she said.
Woodliff-Stanley wants to see concrete changes. She sees an opportunity to help cultivate leaders through the church’s Voorhees College in Denmark.
She also sees a chance for greater ecumenical collaboration.
This will begin with her participation in the Oct. 9 Micah Project peace walk. The project is the result of a collaboration between St. Stephen’s Episcopal and Mt. Zion AME, both in downtown Charleston. The goal is to highlight health care, education, housing and other issues.
Woodliff-Stanley takes the helm of a diocese striving to move forward after the 2012 denominational split. A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 8 to hear the church’s appeal of a 2020 ruling that said breakaway congregations could keep their properties. This came after a 2017 S.C. Supreme Court decision that ruled 29 breakaway parishes be returned to the Episcopal Church.
“We pray the court upholds the 2017 decision,” Woodliff-Stanley said. “Jesus is going to lead us forward no matter what happens in any legal proceedings.”



Reach Rickey Dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.
Rickey Dennis covers North Charleston and the religious community for The Post and Courier.
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