A Worldwide Anglican Melee

By Jacqueline L. Salmon and Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 5, 2008

Episcopal Church experts and disaffected conservatives predicted yesterday that intense lobbying would soon begin over dissidents' plans to leave the church and create a new Anglican community in the United States.

The two sides will try to convince Anglican leaders worldwide either of the value or the cost of a second branch of the U.S. church, one that would be based less on geography than on theology.

Bishop Martyn Minns, a Virginia-based leader of the breakaway movement, confidently predicted victory. "I think we've got a good basis of support for what we're doing," he said

But experts on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion said approval is by no means guaranteed.

Many of the church leaders from around the world who would vote on the new province "want to preserve the Anglican Communion, and they don't like the politics surrounding this," said the Rev. William Sachs, director of the Center for Interfaith Reconciliation at St. Stephen's Church in Richmond.

The Anglican Communion, a loose affiliation of 77 million people, has been racked for years by internal strife over the interpretation of the Bible, the role of Jesus as savior and the acceptance of gay men and lesbians.

Matters came to a head five years ago when the Episcopal Church ordained its first openly gay bishop. Since then, a growing number of parishes and dioceses have left the 2.3 million-member U.S. church.

On Wednesday, conservatives meeting in Wheaton, Ill., voted to form a province that would be home to those angered by what they see as the Episcopal Church's increasingly liberal tilt.

A new province could prove dangerous to the fragile worldwide communion, said the Rev. Miranda Hassett, author of the book "Anglican Communion in Crisis."

"If some overseas provinces choose to recognize this new agency as the primary . . . Anglican church in the United States and then other provinces recognize both or continue to primarily recognize the Episcopal Church as the Anglican province in the United States, then it is going to be another step in the direction of a split communion," Hassett said.

Yesterday, church officials and others sketched out routes the new province could take to win approval from the Anglican Communion. The decision most likely rests with the Anglican Consultative Council, a body that includes bishops, other clergy and lay members appointed by the 38 provinces of the communion. It is scheduled to meet in May.

Yesterday, Minns said he thinks that two-thirds of the council would vote to recognize the new North American province. But bishops opposed to the province said they disagree.

"I would be very surprised if it were that large," said Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland. "I do not believe that's the case at all."

Experts warned of a potentially damaging period as bishops and other church leaders jockey to influence the vote and try to persuade the church's spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, to support or oppose the new province.

Communion spokesman Gregory K. Cameron said Williams is unlikely to make a decision personally and is expected to confer with the other primates -- the chief bishops of the communion's provinces -- when they meet early next year or with the Consultative Council in May.

Sachs said it is possible that Williams will try to propose a compromise, perhaps creating a special category for the new province. But if that happened, Sachs said, the Episcopal Church would see it as a capitulation to conservatives. "That would please no one," he said.

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