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September 19, 2007
Column #1,360
Episcopal Church: Likely To Split
by Mike McManus

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, personally met with America's Episcopal Bishops this week in a last ditch effort to keep the Episcopal Church in the worldwide Anglican Communion. While the results are not known at this writing, the odds look grim.

A Windsor Commission appointed by Williams asked the Episcopal Church to do three things: stop electing and consecrating non-celibate gay priests as bishops, discontinue performing same-gender marital blessings and offer a sincere expression of regret for "tearing the fabric" of the Communion by consecrating V. Gene Robinson, an active gay, as Bishop of New Hampshire
.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church met last year and refused to take a stand on same-sex blessings now performed by hundreds of churches and refused to express regret for Robinson's ordination. It did urge dioceses "to exercise restraint" in consecrating bishops whose "manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church." Yet an active lesbian is currently being considered as Bishop of Chicago.

The Anglican Communion gave the Episcopal Church until September 30 to reverse course, and Williams made a case in person.  Reversal is so unlikely that four conservative Episcopal dioceses have planned meetings within weeks to vote to leave the Episcopal Church.

That is an unprecedented step. Even the Civil War, which split the Presbyterians for a century, did not separate Episcopalians. Nor is leaving the Episcopal Church easy.  Each diocese has to vote twice, a year apart, to exit. San Joaquin Diocese, based in Fresno, with 53 parishes and 10,700 members has already voted to leave and will vote again in December.

Other dioceses expected to vote within weeks are: Fort Worth, with 56 parishes and 19,000 members; Pittsburgh with 70 parishes; and 20,000 members and Quincy, IL with 21 parishes and 2,800 members. Other conservative dioceses are pondering the step: Springfield, IL, 40 parishes, 6,300 people; Orlando where 18 parishes are about to exit; and Albany, NY with 124 churches and 20,000 members.

Orthodox dioceses are also concerned that the denomination has abandoned its commitment to Scripture.  Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman notes, for example, that when a resolution was proposed at the General Convention on the "uniqueness of Christ," it did not even get out of the committee because it was "too controversial."

Ackerman criticizes the denomination's Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, who declares, "There are a variety of ways to God." Yet Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).  Ackerman adds, "I cannot understand how this is different from the heresies for which people gave their lives over the centuries. To this day, people are being killed for their Christian faith, standing up for things the Episcopalians are shy about defending - about the nature of Christ and sexuality."

Not only is the Episcopal Church likely to split apart - but so is the 72 million member  Anglican Communion. Its bishops voted 526-70 to uphold traditional marriage and to oppose same-sex marriage.  Most of those bishops are from Africa and Asia as are most Anglicans.
Although the Communion is based in England, of Britain's 60 million people, only 24 million are baptized and 1.25 million attend services weekly. In Nigeria there are 18.5 million Anglicans, and 95 percent attend weekly. They are orthodox on faith and sexual issues.

By contrast, Archbishop Williams will lead a "secret" gathering of British homosexual, lesbian and bi-sexual clergy, celebrate a service of Holy Communion and give a talk on "Present Realities and Future Possibilities for Lesbians and Gay Men in the Church," reports David Virtue, on his conservative Anglican website, Virtueonline.org.

That will infuriate "Global South" Anglicans of color, while white Anglicans in Britain, North America and Australia, will approve.  The Global South may secede. As Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria puts it, "We do not need to go through Canterbury to get to Jesus."

However, the split is not as racial as it might appear. Scores of orthodox Episcopal churches who have left the denomination, have asked Nigeria's Akinola - plus similar leaders of Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda - for protection and support.  In fact, Africans recently named 18 white U.S."missionary bishops" whose task seems to be to gather up the orthodox Episcopal Churches who want out.

They will be competing with already established spinoffs such as the Reformed Episcopal Church and the newer Anglican Church in America which has 120 churches.

However, many of these leaders will meet in Pittsburgh next week to consider creating an Anglican Church of North America.

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