As disgruntled American Episcopalians move to split from their parent church and establish a new, more conservative denomination, the continuing disagreement in Anglicanism over women priests and other issues is taking on international as well as national proportions.
The past week saw these developments:
Representatives of six dissident parishes in Virginia formally constituted themselves last weekend into the Mid-Atlantic Diocese of the breakaway Anglican Church in North America.
The Midwest Diocese of ACNA chose a retired priest, the Rev. Dale Doren, of Pittsburgh, bishop-elect.
Doren, along with three other bishops-elect of the schismatic church, are scheduled to be consecrated in Denver on Jan. 28.
Plans for the consecration struck a hitch yesterday however when one of the bishops who had agreed to take part in the rite withdrew. The Rt. Rev. Charles F. Boynton, retired suffragan bishop of New York City, was "ordered by his doctor," according to Mrs. Boynton, not to participate.
The two other bishops who are expected to be consecrators, according to the Episcopalian, the official journal of the denomination, are retired Bishop Albert Chambers, formerly of Springfield, III, and Bishop Mark Pae of Taejon, Korea.
In the Anglican tradition, a minimum of three bishops who have themselves been validly consecrated are employed in the consecration rite that initiates a new bishop into the apostle succession reaching back to Christ's first followers.
Since, in Anglicanism, a bishop is essential to the sacramental life of the church, the new break-away ACNA cannot begin fully functioning until it has a bishop.
However, since the new church has not been sanctioned by any recognized Anglican body, the bishops who do the consecrating are liable to disciplinary action by their fellow bishops in the recognized church.
In England, meanwhile, where the Anglican Church has not approved women priests, a crisis is building in a Manchester church.In a poignant and dreamatic flounting of Anglican Church canons, the Rev. Alfred Willetts permitted his deaconess wife, who is dying of cancer, to concelebrate holy communion with him at the Church of the Apostles, where he is rector.
The Willetts, who are known for their support of opening the Anglican priesthood to women, defied church law several months ago by inviting an American woman priest, the Rev. Alison Palmer of Washington, D.C., to celebrate holy communion at the church.
In the Jan. 9 husband wife service, observers reported that Mrs. Willetts, in wheel chair, shared the white-decked altar with her husband. Speaking in what was described as a "relaxed, conversational style," the 61-year-old deaconess reaffirmed her belief that the priesthood was given to both women and men as she said: "Christ is waiting for you and me to fulfill that mission."
When he learned of the concelebration, Anglican Bishop Patrick Rodger noted that it was "in all probability, Deaconess Willetts' farewell service in the parish." Under those circumstances, he said. "No Christian . . . would wish to make a hard judgement."
Nevertheless, he continued, the Willetts were "well aware that their action was unlawful and that it was bound to cause distress or perplexity to a good many of their fellow Anglicans and this I very much regret."
The newly created Mid-Atlantic Dionese of ACNA, formed last weekend, includes six Virginia parishes, of which four have been formed in recent months as part of the schismatic movement in the Epsicopal Church.
The Rev. Dale Mekeel of Bridgewater, Va., head of the new diocese's standing committee, said he could not estimate the number of communicants in the diocese but he conceded that only one of the six parishes - Ascenscion Church in Centreville - might have as many as 100 members.
He said the other member parishes were Holy Cross in Bridgewater; St. Andrews in Clifton Forge, Va., Christ the King in Richmond; St. Edward the Confessor in Norfolk, Va., andSt. Margaret of Scotland in Alexandria.