Schismatic Episcopalians are making plans for a convocation sometime next month that is to be the final step in activating their new breakaway denomination. The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
The convocation also is expected to provide the occasion for further bloodletting in the 2.9 million-member Episcopal Church, already severely split after last years' decision to open the priesthood to women, and other issues.
Leaders of the aplinter denimination insist they have lined up at least three bishops consecrated in the Anglican tradition and willing to consecrate newly elected ACNA biships, thus passing on the apostolic succession in the new denomination.
The opostolic succession, a key tenet of churches in the Aglican tradition, links leaderhip of the church in an unbroken line to Christ's original followers who launched the christian church.
A bishop in good standing in the Episcopal Church who ordains leaders of a church such as ACNA that has renounced Episcopal Church authority courts almost certain censure or perhaps unfrocking by fellow Episcopal bishops.
For this reason the identity of the consecrating bishops is being kept secret, according to the Rev. James Mote of Denver, an ACNA bishop-elect.
"The (Episcopal) House of Bishos is like the Mafia," Mote charged> predicting that the House would take harsh disciplinary action against any members who might function as consecrating bishops.
IN a telephone interview, Mote said he was sworn to secrecy about the date of the convocation, although he did say it would he held "before the end of January."
Regional dioceses of the breakaway church have been constituted in San Francisco, Denver and in the southeastern United States. Plans also are under way for an ACNA diocese somewhere in the Midwest.
Mote, first rector of the dissedents in the country to pull his parish out of the Episcopal Church, estimated ACNA now can claim "over 90 congregations," with an estimated total membership of at least 6,000.
Last Saturday, a group of dissidents in Virginia made plans for a convocation Jan. 7 in Charlottesvile to found a statewide diocese that spokesmen said they expected would start with six parishes.
Virginia's three Episcopal dioseses now include 330 parishes.
While the number of Episcopalians who actually have split from the 2.9 million-member church is quite small at this point. Mote and other dissident leaders predict their movement will gain followers after ACNA bishops are consecrated and the church begins to function.
"I doubt that that is true," said Bishop Stanley Atkins of Eau Claire, Wis., who heads the Evangelical and Catholic Mission that stands idelogically between the schismatics and Episcopalians who support last year's controversial actions by their church.
"I can't see a large number of church members leaving the church of their forefathers, a church that it going out into the wilderness," Bishop Atkins said.
While Bishop Atkins and his movement also disapprove of ordaining women, "we intend to stay with (the church) unless we are thrown out," he said, adding that he does not expect to be thrown out.
ECM movement, he said, is "striving to create an atmosphere" within the Episcopal Church that is "truly evangelical, truly catholic and truly human . . . and which obeys the teachings of the New Testament on morality."
Saying he disagrees totally with the church's decision to ordain women, Bishop Atkins indicated that the ECM movement, which includes 28 bishops, is willing to put the issue to the test of time.
"Either the Holy Spirit will show us that this is what He wants the whole church to do . . . or it will wither away, the bisho said.
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Women priests and changes in the Book of Common Prayer are the issues that triggered the current schism in the Episcopal Church. But, in conversations with dissidents, other, long-festering issues invaribaly come to the surface.
Schismatics are quick to denounce the Episcopal Church's aggressive support of civil rights and minority employment efforts of the 1960s, its ecumenical cooperation in councils of churches and church unity ventures and the lifting almost eight years ago of the ban against remarriages after divorce.
Ironically, one of the issues most often cited as a reason to leave the Episcopal Church is ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood - a question on whinh the church as not taken a formal position.