Defying church authorities from the Archbishop of Canterbury down, a national movement of disgruntled Episcopalians yesterday gained the power to function as a church with the elevation of four leaders as validly consecrated bishops.
Consecrated as bishops of the new Anglican Church in North America were the Rt. Rev. James O. Mote of Denver: the Rt. Rev. Peter F. Watterson of West Palm Beach, Fla.: the Rt. Rev. Robert S. Morse of Oakland, Calif.: and the Rev. Dale Doren of Pittsburgh.
"The four - all ordained Episcopal Priests - will preside over a new rebel church that has split from the mother church over current developments ranging from the ordination of women to the church's allowing the remarriage of divorced persons to the church's involvement in social issues such as homosexuality.
Although Anglican tradition, which the new body was created to preserve, calls for three bishops to perform the consecration rights, only two could be found who were willing to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] church laws by participating in yesterday's ceremony. They were the Rt. Rev. Albert W. Chambers, retired bishop of Springfield, Ill., and the Rt. Rev. Francisco J. Pagtakhan, secretary for missions and ecumenical affairs of the Philippine Independent Church. The latter is a body that broke from Roman Catholicism during the Spanish-American War in 1889.
The new church is believed to number no more than 100 parishes across the country, but its backers hope to attract large numbers of other disgruntled Episcopalians.
The conviction by the rebels that they are the wave of the future for Anglicanism was expressed by the Rev. George Rutler of Rosemont, Pa., in his sermon.Noting that "many hesitated to come here today," he predicted that the church would become so popular that "years from now, many will hesitate to say they were not here."
The serious difficulties facing the schismatic movement were reflected in the controversy that swirled around preparations for yesterday's service.
A four-month search of worldwide Anglicanism by leaders of the new church turned up only the two bishops - Chambers and Pagtakhan - willing to participate. A Korean Anglican bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mark Pel of Taijon, was reported dissauded by the Archibishop of Canterbury after he had agreed to participate.
A letter from Pei read at the service expressed regrets that "I cannot come to the United States at this time," but gave "my consent" to the ordination of Doren, who had worked with Pei in Korea.
For consecrating bishops for the rebel church, chambers faces disciplinary charges that could lead to dismissal from the priesthood.
Yesterday's rites breathe life into the nascent rebel church because of the central role of bishops, both practically and theologically, in Anglican churches.
Each consecration rite passes on the authority of Christ's leadership from one generation of bishops to the next in unbroken apostolic succession reaching back to Christ's disciples. For Christians in this tradition, their bishop, who ordains their priests and confirms them into church membership, becomes a sort of living link with Christ through this apostolic succession.
It is for this reason that the church has traditionally demanded three consecrating bishops as a safeguard against a possible breach that may have existed in the line of succession of any of them.
The bishops consecrated here yesterday represent four of the five dioceses - the fifth, in Virginia, has yet to select a bishop - of the new Anglican Church in North America. The church, which intends to be nationwide and include some parts of Canada, will hold a convention to adopt a constitution and bylaws sometime in the next year, a spokesman said yesterday.
The consecration rite was attended by 1,200 persons. The ceremony was capped by a luncheon presided over by the new bishops, garbed in brilliant scarlet and cerise robes.
If the worshipers at the consecration Mass recognized the irony of one portion of their opening hymn they gave no sign of it as they sang in praise of a church ". . . schisms rent asunder/by heresies distressed . . . mid toil and tribulation/and tumult of her war/she waits the consummation of peace forevermore."