By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Conservatives from the Episcopal Church voted yesterday to form their own branch of Anglicanism in the United States and said they would seek new recognition in the worldwide church because of their growing disenchantment over the ordination of an openly gay bishop and other liberal developments.
In the past five years, a small but growing number of Episcopal parishes and dioceses have voted to leave the church, but yesterday's vote, at a meeting in Wheaton, Ill., represents the biggest split for Anglicans and presents a new challenge to U.S. church leaders and the denomination's world spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
The conservatives remain upset about the 2003 ordination of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the role of female clergy, the church's definition of salvation and changes to the main book of prayer.
It was unclear how other branches of Anglicanism, a loose affiliation of 77 million people that is the third-largest Christian church in the world, will react.
Bishop Martyn Minns, a Virginia-based conservative leader, said a new constitution and canons approved by conservatives would be reviewed this week by seven like-minded Anglican leaders, mostly in Africa, who were expected to approve it. He said meetings both formal and informal would begin with other branch leaders to seek approval.
But leaders of the 2.2 million-member U.S. church said the Episcopal Church remains the only recognized Anglican church in the country.
We "simply continue to be clear that The Episcopal Church, along with the Anglican Church of Canada and the La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico, comprise the official, recognized presence of the Anglican Communion in North America," the Rev. Charles K. Robertson, an adviser to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, said in a statement. "And we reiterate what has been true of Anglicanism for centuries: that there is room within The Episcopal Church for people with different views, and we regret that some have felt the need to depart from the diversity of our common life in Christ."
Minns said that Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, another conservative leader, had been meeting in recent weeks with Williams and that the archbishop was aware of their plans to declare a second province.
Attempts to reach Williams in London last night were unsuccessful.
In the past year, four U.S. dioceses have broken from the Episcopal Church, citing Robinson's ordination and brewing dissent over issues such as the necessity of Jesus for salvation and the literal truth of the resurrection. In Northern Virginia, more than a dozen churches voted to break from the Episcopal Church. That split has cost millions in legal fees and remains in Fairfax County District Court as the two sides fight over church property.
Although yesterday's votes took some church leaders by surprise, conservatives have been speaking of forming an alternative body for decades. Among the challenges they have faced are internal divisions about issues including the role of laypeople and female clergy. Minns said the new canons allow female deacons and priests in churches that choose them but do not allow female bishops.