Priest’s Resignation Resonates in Historic City’s Landmark Church
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ Parishioners of a historic Episcopalian church are still in shock over the resignation of their priest, who took off his vestments and left by a side door after announcing in a sermon that a witch had cursed his life.
It was ″like a family breaking up,″ said parishioner Eugene Foxworth Jr. of the resignation of Henry L. Scott from the 326-year-old St. Philip’s Episcopal Church.
And their surprise and sadness has spread beyond the congregation to those who feel for a man who preached forgiveness, but apparently didn’t feel it for himself.
For 2 1/2 years, ″Renny″ Scott served as rector of St. Philip’s, considered by many the mother church for South Carolina Episcopalians. With its green steeple topped by a golden cross, St. Philip’s dominates picturesque Church Street and is one of the most-photographed sights in this port city.
During Scott’s service, the congregation grew from about 1,300 parishioners to 1,600. And he became widely known outside religious circles last year when he organized the Charleston Flight of Mercy in which $190,000 was raised to send food to drought-stricken Ethiopia.
But on May 18, the 41-year-old rector who came to Charleston from a parish in Falls Church, Va., told his congregation that the only way to right a wrong was to resign.
Scott attended Yale and Harvard universities and received his bachelor’s degree in divinity from the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass. He said in his sermon that in 1967, when he was a senior at Yale, he dated a woman from Vassar College.
The woman, who has not been named, later told him she was a witch and had put a curse on his life, he said.
″Now I was a sophisticated New Yorker who had an Ivy League education, and you know that was for Halloween and sort of ridiculous ....
″I just thought it was a joke, but for 14 years issuing from that relationship, a pattern of bondage developed in my life,″ Scott said in his sermon.
″I remember crying out to God for freedom, and nothing I did could I get free. I remember one day just being at the end of my rope. And I said ’Lord, is the only way to keep from dragging your name through the mud to end it all?,″ Scott said.
He compared himself to Jonah being swallowed by a whale, saying he was wrestling with sin and was doing God’s will.
Scott also referred to a lawsuit brought against the Virginia church ″for allowing someone like me to be in the ministry,″ but church officials in Virginia said they know of no such suit.
He has not commented further, declining media interviews and saying anything he had to say was in the sermon.
Scott is no longer rector, although Bishop FitzSimons Allison of the Diocese of South Carolina said he hasn’t accepted Scott’s offer to resign from the priesthood.
The resignation came without warning to church members.
″Everybody was shocked,″ said Foxworth. ″Most of the people were saddened. I don’t believe I ever met a person more sincere in his belief of helping his fellow-man than Rev. Scott.″
But Foxworth said the church will go forward.
″That church has been there a long time and will be there after we’ve all gone to dust,″ he said, adding he’s not sure Scott was speaking literally when he mentioned the witch, but may have been simply alluding to a bad incident.
When asked the church position on witchcraft, Father Bill Dearnley, the news director of the Episcopal Church, said from church headquarters in New York ″the church recognizes the concept that evil can inhabit anyone and there are cleansing rights - confession and penance.″
He said the church generally views ″evil spirits as something we have done wrong and we deal with ourselves.″ He said there are rites of exorcism, but they are used very rarely.
St. Philip’s Assistant Rector Terrell Glenn Jr., who has been holding Sunday services, has declined comment.
The vestry, the elected board of governors of the church, has issued a letter to parishioners, calling for Scott’s work to go forward.
Meanwhile, the resignation sent ripples through the religious community.″ The re was a great sense of shock and bewilderment created by Renny’s resignation,″ said the Rev. Dr. Stuart Arnold, the pastor of the Citadel Square Baptist Church.
Arnold said members of his congregation have inquired about the situation involving ″a man who had very clearly preached forgiveness but hadn’t felt it in his own life.″
Scott’s father said his son was taking a much-needed rest with his wife, Margaret, and three children. Henry L. Scott doesn’t speculate on what happened except to say, he doesn’t understand it. Says Scott, 78, ″it’s between Renny and God.″