Conservative N.Va. Priest Installed as Anglican Bishop

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 6, 2007

A powerful Nigerian Anglican archbishop defied top church leaders yesterday by coming to Northern Virginia and installing as one of his bishops a local minister who recently broke with the U.S. church after accusing it of being too liberal.

The festive ceremony thrilled those who believe the U.S. church has become too permissive but highlighted divisions that threaten to crack the Anglican Communion.

Archbishop Peter J. Akinola leads a movement that, among other things, believes the Bible is unequivocally opposed to homosexuality and divorced clergy. Hundreds turned out to watch him install Martyn Minns as "missionary bishop" for an outpost that he created for America.

The worshipers, who have left the U.S. wing -- the Episcopal Church -- applauded and waved their hands in prayer as bishops from Canada, England, the United States, Nigeria and Uganda sat on the stage in white-and-red robes.

The installation, held at a 3,500-seat Christian event center next to the Potomac Mills, was high-profile fuel for the debate in the 70 million-member Anglican Communion over the proper reading of Scripture on homosexuality and other issues. The questions have not only roiled the Episcopal Church but also divided other denominations worldwide over the past decade.

"Our name is now synonymous with discontent," Minns said from a stage lined with large purple-and-yellow banners reading "CANA" -- for his mission, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. "It is a disaster, but it's not the end of the story. God wants to transform this into a celebration, and CANA is a gift."

Episcopal Church leaders maintain that Minns and his ideological peers are trying to oversimplify Jesus's teachings in a complex world.

In the days before yesterday's service, Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and head of the entire communion, and Katharine Jefferts-Schori, head of the U.S. church, asked Akinola not to oversee Minns's installation.

The church leaders said Akinola's appearance would exacerbate tensions. However, the communion is not hierarchical, and leaders do not have the power to make demands or punish.

Minns, longtime rector of the prominent Truro Church in Fairfax City, became a global figure in December when he led 11 Virginia churches out of the Episcopal Church; all placed themselves under the leadership of Akinola. They included some of the largest Episcopal congregations in the country.

The Nigerian church, the largest in the Anglican family, is booming in membership -- unlike the U.S. church. Akinola has emerged in the past few years as one of the most prominent conservative Anglican leaders, but even his loyalists sometimes have concerns about him. Many Episcopalians noted last year that he supported a Nigerian bill that would jail gay men and lesbians who gathered or touched in public. The bill disappeared in the activity surrounding Nigeria's recent presidential election.

Yesterday's installation seemed to elevate a minister already on the rise. Since being picked last year to be a bishop of Nigeria, Minns has sat in the Nigerian House of Bishops, and he is one of a small number of advisers to leaders of growing branches in the developing world. His new group has 34 congregations, up from a dozen in November, including Truro and The Falls Church, as well as congregations in Texas, California and Colorado. A February meeting of communion leaders put forward the possibility of an alternative U.S. structure for conservative parishes.

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