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May 9, 2007
Column #1,341
Nigerians Appoint U.S. Missionary Bishop
by Mike McManus

For two centuries the West has sent missionaries to covert the heathen in Africa and Asia.  Last weekend Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola installed Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, a native of England, as the Missionary Bishop of CANA, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

Why would the United States need a Missionary Bishop?

Frankly, Mainline denominations are dying.  In 1965 there were 3.5 million Episcopalians, the American branch of worldwide Anglicanism.  Their number has dwindled to 2.2 million. By contrast there are 18.5 million Anglicans in Nigeria, up from 7 million in 1980.

More important to traditional Episcopalians, leaders of their church have wandered far  from the orthodox Christian faith. The denomination voted to elevate Gene Robinson, who divorced his wife and lives in an open homosexual partnership, to be the Bishop of New Hampshire.

Last summer Episcopalians elected Katherine Jefferts Schori as the Presiding Bishop for a nine-year term.  In her first sermon she declared, "Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation. And you and I are his children." As one critic observed, "Jesus is not a mother who births us; Jesus is a Savior who redeems us."

Greatly outnumbered, orthodox Episcopalians reached out to Anglicans in the "Global South," asking for help and a safe haven from the left-leaning Episcopal Church. One leader who's been traveling to Africa since 1980 was Rev. Martyn Minns, rector (senior pastor) of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, VA, a church that is older than the United States, let alone the Episcopal Church.

I met Martyn three decades ago when we were members of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Darien, CT.  He was a Mobil Oil executive when, inspired by our Rector, Rev. Terry Fullam,  felt called to ministry in his 30's. Our church sent him to seminary.  (It was a sermon by Terry that inspired me to start writing this column in 1981.)

In Northern Virginia, Martyn led 11 Episcopal churches to separate from the national Episcopal Church. However, he did so very carefully and with the cooperation of Virginia Episcopal Bishop Peter Lee who issued a "Protocol for Departing Congregations" that required a 70 percent vote by a church's Vestry (board) and a 70 percent vote by church members. Vestry leaders opposed to the departure and the Diocese had to be allowed to address congregants.

A required 30 day period of "discernment" took place before the final vote. Also, a payment had to be negotiated with the Diocese in order to separate. Apparently, Bishop Lee thought that in such a deliberative process, no one would leave, but Truro voted 9-1 to go, as did others. 

Abruptly, the velvet glove came off to reveal an iron fist. The Diocese sued the churches for their properties, the clergy and individual Vestry members, as did the national Episcopal Church.

The issue surfaced at a world meeting of Anglican Archbishops in Dar-es-Salaam where the heads of 77 million Anglicans urged Canada and the U.S. to resolve disputes amicably and "to suspend all actions in law." Though Jefferts Schori participated, law suits have continued.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, unlike the Pope, cannot demand obedience. Yet he did send a belated letter to Nigeria's Akinola, urging him not to officiate at the installation of Bishop Minns, who had already arrived in America.  In deference, Akinola did not appear at a press conference, nor did he preach at the installation service, which would be normal.

However, he did say in a letter in the service program, "Many of us in the Global South have sought to find a way for the many faithful Anglicans who made their home in North America to live out their faith without compromise."

As Minns summed it up, "We are here to give people a freedom of choice." At present, CANA has 34 parishes and nearly 7,000 members, which is more than 40 Episcopal Dioceses. About a third are ethnic Nigerian churches in America, a third are in Northern Virginia and the others scattered.

Minns was asked if CANA is the seed of a new denomination.  "It is more of a building block," he replied.  Indeed, the entire San Joaquin Episcopal Diocese plans to leave. However, it opposes female ordination, supported by CANA.  And others such as Pittsburgh, Dallas and Albany are considering leaving over that and other issues.

The Convocation of Anglicans in North America is  not necessarily a natural home for dissident dioceses.  About 200 Episcopal churches have left to create other denominations.

Minn's stated goal is "to grow the church.  About 100 million folks are not engaged in church life in this country."

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