An influential Anglican prelate from Nigeria yesterday proposed establishing new U.S. parishes under his jurisdiction to minister to Anglicans upset by last year's elevation of an openly gay Episcopal bishop.
Archbishop Peter Akinola, Nigeria's top Anglican leader, said at a news conference in Fairfax City that his main concern is to offer an alternative for Nigerian Anglicans in the United States who feel they can no longer worship in the American Episcopal Church since it elected V. Gene Robinson bishop of New Hampshire. He said the goal of his two-week visit to the United States is "to begin to explore ways and means of establishing another spiritual home for these people."
Akinola added that any new parishes would be open to all Episcopalians.
The 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church USA is the American branch of the worldwide 77 million-member Anglican Communion, led by the archbishop of Canterbury.
The Nigerian prelate, who is also traveling to New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Oklahoma City and Chicago, said he did not know how many Nigerian Anglicans were in this country but estimated that there might be as many as 250,000.
Akinola held his news conference at Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, a parish that has rejected Robinson's elevation and been active in establishing a network of conservative Episcopal parishes and dioceses within the denomination. This group hopes to change the church's direction from within.
Truro's rector, the Rev. Martyn Minns, said after the news conference that Akinola's proposed new parishes "would be an attractive option" for disaffected Episcopalians. Minns said traditionalist churches such as Truro were "helping but not sponsoring" Akinola's tour.
Lines of authority in the Episcopal Church are generally territorial, with each bishop responsible only for his own diocese. But since Robinson's elevation, the possibility of bishops overseeing far-flung parishes outside their dioceses has been raised by traditionalists who prefer being led by similar-thinking bishops.
In August, three traditionalist parishes in the Diocese of Los Angeles announced that they were aligning with the Anglican Church of Uganda.
Akinola said the church's historical approach to authority was "fractured" by Robinson's elevation and left other Anglican bishops "no choice" but to intervene to help Anglicans upset by it. He accused the American Episcopal Church of creating "a new religion," adding, "We don't want that new religion. What we've got is good enough for us."
Jim Naughton, a spokesman for Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington, said that although some Nigerians in the diocese were upset by the church's decision on Robinson, "we haven't heard of many leaving the church over it."
Akinola may be "attempting to meet a real need," Naughton added, "but it may also be that this is a solution in search of a problem."
Bishop Peter James Lee, who heads the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, was traveling and could not be reached for comment on Akinola's proposal, his spokeswoman said.
The archbishop of Canterbury appointed a top-level commission to look at ways of bridging the theological divide exposed by Robinson's elevation. That commission is to release its recommendations Oct. 18.