- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

DENVER — One would confuse the Anglican Church of the Covenant with Westminster Abbey.
Last month, the church was meeting in a hotel disco. This month, it has graduated to an elementary school gymnasium in the posh southern suburb of Greenwood Village, where 60 parishioners sit on metal folding chairs. The music program is a few singers accompanied by a guitarist. Two teen-age boys in shorts scroll the song lyrics on an overhead projector.
To put it delicately, it's not exactly the type of church where you would expect to find someone with the national reputation of Alexander "Sandy" Greene.
Just a few months ago, the Yale-educated cleric was serving his 11th year as the rector (senior pastor) of Christ Episcopal Church in Denver, an impressive 50-year-old congregation that seats 1,000 and features an organ and a bell tower.
Then the 54-year-old clergyman seemed to throw it all away. In June, he stunned the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado by defecting to the Anglican Mission in America [AMIA], a maverick group of religious traditionalists fed up with what they say is the Episcopal Church's increasingly liberal interpretation of Scripture.
On June 24, he was consecrated an AMIA bishop, a provocative act called schismatic by Episcopal leaders in New York City and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
He lost his church and is now living off retirement funds, receiving no salary as pastor of the Anglican Church of the Covenant. He also lost his standing with the Episcopal Church, which for all its recent struggles is still widely viewed as the church of presidents and the most venerable of the nation's Christian denominations.
But he doesn't regret his decision for a moment.
"I've never been happier," he said in a recent interview. "I suppose we're like the charter-school movement, where people have said, 'Let's not worry about the peripheral stuff; let's concentrate on doing reading, writing and arithmetic.' We're doing the spiritual equivalent of back to basics."
Bishop Greene is hardly alone. Over the past two years, the AMIA movement has lured away about 8,000 disaffected Episcopal parishioners and priests throughout the country with its vision of a more traditional, Gospel-based church.
Nowhere has the impact been felt more deeply than in Colorado, where 13 Episcopal clergy have defected, taking hundreds of parishioners with them. Since January 2000, AMIA has started 10 churches in the Rocky Mountain West, eight in Colorado and two in Wyoming. The denomination now numbers 42 U.S. congregations, said the Rt. Rev. Thaddeus R. Barnum, one of AMIA's six bishops.
Why Colorado? A year ago, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution at its Denver convention declaring that unmarried persons living together in committed relationships are entitled to participate in the ministry. The resolution, widely interpreted as an endorsement of homosexual clergy, was heavily reported in the Denver media. "I think many Episcopalians may not even know this is going on, [but] Denver was the place that it happened," said Bishop Barnum, who was also consecrated at the June ceremony in Denver. "The resolution really struck hard at the soul of evangelicals in the Episcopal Church. Many of those who had held to the authority of the Scriptures then said, 'I can't follow you any longer.'"
Even before the Denver resolution, some Episcopal clergy had begun to worry about the church's liberal drift. Stories about the church leadership trying to force out conservative clerics and refusing to ordain those with traditional views led some Episcopalians to wonder about their standing with the church.
Bishop Greene said he felt no such pressure from the Colorado diocese, but concluded his traditional reading of Scripture and dedication to spreading the Gospel would ultimately place him at odds with the national leadership.
"In other places, people were being persecuted by bishops and other congregations for doing Christianity the way Christianity has always been done," he said. "We could see what was happening out there, and we'd say, 'Thank goodness it's not happening here,' but clearly the trend was in that direction.
"That was the dark future," he said. "Then AMIA provided a bright vision of what the church could be."
About 150 Christ Church parishioners followed him out of the Episcopal Church. Shortly after he was consecrated, Christ Church invited a well-known Episcopal theologian, the Rev. Ephraim Radner, to speak on why AMIA is wrong.
Bishop Greene denies his group is trying to supersede the national Episcopal Church.
"I don't think that's necessarily what we're doing," he said. "The more likely possibility is that with two Anglican bodies, people can look and see which one is more authentically Christian and Christlike. That's the future I see."
Among those who left to join Bishop Greene is the Rev. Elizabeth J. Sausele, who serves as his second-in-command. But AMIA has placed a moratorium on ordaining women while it studies the matter for two years. Women have been ordained in the Episcopal Church since 1976. Miss Sausele is one of just two ordained women priests within the AMIA.
Depending on how the study goes, she could be out of a job.
"If the answer is no [to women priests] then I'd have to prayerfully consider what's my next step," she said. "But the reality is, it's not about me. This is about going back to objective, external truth and the word of God. I love what I do, but if the leadership said no, that's more important than whether I personally proceed as a priest."
As for the church's small but dedicated band of parishioners, people like Tim Hinz of Lakewood don't seem to mind the humble surroundings.
"The Episcopal Church got really liberal and every time you told someone you belonged to them, you almost had to give a disclaimer," Mr. Hinz said. "We never really left the Anglican Church; they left us."
AMIA members point to this weekend's Episcopal diocesan convention, where the Denver diocese will debate a resolution allowing clergy to live openly with a partner outside marriage. The resolution's sponsors include the Rev. Ted Boswell of Denver, who told the Denver Rocky Mountain News: "All people have the right to test their call to ordained ministry."
For now, at least, AMIA is staying out of Episcopal politics and trying to attract a racially diverse congregation. Sixty people a week may not seem like much, but Bishop Greene proudly notes that 43 of them are also coming to midweek discipleship classes.
"It was tough to leave, but it's been incredibly liberating," he said. "You have more time to focus on the people and their spiritual growth. There may come a day when these small churches think about building buildings, but that's not our primary focus right now."

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