More U.S. Episcopalians Look Abroad Amid Rift
Sunday, June 17, 2007
The Anglican archbishop of Rwanda was first, then his counterpart in Nigeria. Now Kenya's Anglican archbishop is taking a group of U.S. churches under his authority, and Uganda's archbishop may be next.
African and, to a lesser extent, Southeast Asian and Latin American prelates are racing to appoint American bishops and to assume jurisdiction over congregations that are leaving the Episcopal Church, particularly since its consecration of a gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.
So far, the heads, or primates, of Anglican provinces overseas have taken under their wings 200 to 250 of the more than 7,000 congregations in the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism. Among their gains are some large and wealthy congregations -- including several in Northern Virginia -- that bring international prestige and a steady stream of donations.
The foreign influx is a consequence of the rift in the 2.3 million-member U.S. church, and explanations of what it's really all about depend on what side of that divide you're on, said the Rev. Ian T. Douglas, a professor of world mission and global Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.
"It can either be read as the next step in a grand plan to replace the Episcopal Church, or it can be read as a splintering of the conservatives and a competition for who is going to be the real leader of disaffected U.S. congregations," he said.
Bishop Martyn Minns, former rector of Truro Church in Fairfax City, who left the Episcopal Church and was installed last month as a Nigerian bishop, denied that the African prelates are competing for leadership, prestige or donations. He said they are working together to help Americans who want to remain faithful to the church's traditional teachings.
"There's lots of work for all of us," he said. "This is not just one province sticking its nose in. It's the Global South collectively saying 'We've got to do something' because of the crisis in the U.S. church."
But a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, James Naughton, said the proliferation of "offshore" churches "makes it clear how difficult it is going to be for the conservatives to unite, because each of these primates wants a piece of the action, and none is willing to subjugate himself to another."
Rwanda's Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini and the archbishop of Southeast Asia, Moses Tay, were the first to establish a missionary branch in the United States. In 2000, they jointly consecrated two former Episcopal priests as bishops and formed the Anglican Mission in the Americas, or AMIA. It has grown at the rate of one church every three weeks and now numbers about 120 congregations, with five bishops.
Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola followed suit last year, forming the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, or CANA. It is led by Minns and has about 40 congregations in 13 states.
Last week, Kenya's Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi announced plans to consecrate a former Episcopal priest in Texas, Bill Atwood, as a suffragan, or assistant, bishop of his Nairobi diocese. Atwood said in a telephone interview that after the Aug. 30 installation ceremony in Kenya he will look after about 35 U.S. churches.
In addition, three other foreign archbishops -- Henry Orombi of Uganda, Drexel Gomes of the West Indies and Greg Venables of the Southern Cone (a region that includes Argentina and Bolivia -- have taken small numbers of U.S. congregations under their auspices. Orombi is "very seriously and prayerfully" considering appointing an American bishop and setting up a missionary church in the United States, said AMIA Bishop Chuck Murphy.