More than 1,700 disgruntled Episcopalians are assembled here to plan tactics for pulling out of their church, which they feel departed from the true faith a year ago by voting to ordain women and update the Book of Common Prayer.
But the Congress of Concerned Churchmen, as the group here terms itself, will stop short of setting up a schismatic Episcopal Church nation wide, at least at this time.
Nevertheless, such an alternative structure is envisioned by the leaders of this Congress, who take the view that it is not the dissenters who are schismatic but the 2.9 million member denomination itself.
"We are not schismatics," declared Perry Laukhuff, of Amherst, Va., in his opening address to the congress. A layman who heads the committee that organized the meeting here, Laukhuff assured his listeners: "We stand where we have always stood. We believe what we have always believed. We worship as we have always worshiped. Others do not."
Laukhuff hammered home the theme that it was the main body of the church that has strayed from the true faith. "The church which we loved has gone another another way unheeding," he said. "The church has changed doctrine, it has turned its back on those scriptural standards which God gave for our guidance."
Leaders of the church congress here reminded the participants that they were not "delegates or deputies" and in most cases represented "nobody but ourselves" according to a statement handed to all registrants.
That is one reason the formation of the expected national breakaway church will have to await a future constitutional synod called for that purpose.
Nevertheless, the meeting here clearly anticipates such a development. Featured here were how-to-do-it workshops dealing with topics such as pulling dissident parishes out of the present church structure without losing church property, clergy placement, and the development of new congregations symapthetic to the dissident viewpoint.
"We have been conditioned to think that it is wrong to steal sheep," said the Rev. James Mote of Denver, using the churchly slang that refers to one church enticing members from another, a practice considered unethical by most mainline Christian bodies.
"But if you truly believe that we have got to maintain the faith of our father and if you truly believe that faith, than we've got to get every soul out of (the established Episcopal Church) that we can," said Mote. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
A workshop on the legal problems of "separating parishers" from the established church warned dissidents to stay in the Episcopal Church long enough to rewrite the statement of purpose in the parish incorporation paper in such a way as to embody the dissident viewpoint, and then begin legal steps to pull out.
The Rev. George H. Clendenin, Glendale, Calif., chairman of the arrangement committee for the congress, warned the clergy and laymen gathered that "some Episcopal bishops" use terrorist tactics, and "will try to attitudinally blackmail parishes into submission" in efforts to keep churches from pulling out.
The tenor of discussions here reflected the anticipation of prolonged and bitter legal battle ahead over church property.
The viewpoint of those Episcopalians who would rather fight [WORD ILLEGIBLE] switch - those who counseled staying in the church and working to reverse last year's approval of women priests and prayerbook revisions - have been carefully screened out of this meeting. The speeches and statements here support a separate "pure" church.
The request of the Episcopal Church's presiding Bishop John M. Allin to address the meeting was refused, although he was permitted to register and attend sessions. He came, he told reporters, because "a lot of good people in the church are distressed and the only way I can show that I was concerned about that was to come here."
He said the threatened split in the church causes him "lots of heartache . . . I am terribly sad and distressed." He said he would try to keep communications open with the dissidents and pledged that "as long as I am presiding bishop, I am going to be reaching out" to them.