Church departs Virginia Diocese

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South Riding Church, a small Episcopal mission of about 150 members in eastern Loudoun County, has become the first church to secede from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

“Our church upholds the authority of Scripture, and the leadership of South Riding Church can no longer compromise our faith by remaining under the spiritual and jurisdictional authority of the Episcopal Church and this diocese,” said the Rev. J. Philip Ashey, pastor of South Riding.

Episcopal Bishop John B. Chane of Washington, who on Monday condemned the “provocation” of a new Anglican church founded in his diocese by conservatives, is seeking advice from the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Members of the church voted Sunday to leave the Virginia Diocese and affiliate with the Diocese of Ruwenzori, Uganda, under Bishop Benezeri Kisembo.

Both the Washington and Virginia dioceses are embroiled in a war of parishes and property that threatens to split the denomination over the 2003 consecration of V. Gene Robinson as the world’s first openly homosexual Episcopal bishop.

Dozens of Episcopal churches have left the 2.2-million-member Episcopal Church over the Robinson consecration to affiliate themselves with overseas Anglican bishops.

The Diocese of Virginia, the nation’s largest at about 90,000 Episcopalians in 195 churches, until now has seen no defections.

Its bishop, the Rt. Rev. Peter Lee, said yesterday he was “saddened that a member of the body has chosen to break with the body and feel that our community is diminished for it.”

While he praised Mr. Ashey for his “forthright manner,” Bishop Lee said the priest remains under his ecclesiastical authority until “disciplinary action is taken, if any.”

Bishop Lee, who supported the Robinson consecration, has maintained an uneasy truce between himself and the conservative congregations in Northern Virginia that oversee some of the nation’s most historic and most valuable church properties.

By May, however, Falls Church Episcopal Church, the largest parish in the Virginia Diocese, had sent its former youth pastor, Bill Haley, across the Potomac River to found St. Brendan’s, an Anglican mission in Northeast.

On Saturday at a conference in Pittsburgh, Mr. Haley, 36, was ordained a deacon, along with three other men, by the Rt. Rev. Frank Lyons, Anglican bishop of Bolivia.

Bishop Lyons said Saturday he grew up in the Washington Diocese and applied to the diocese in 1980 to enter the priesthood. He was rejected, he said, because he had attended two conservative institutions: Wheaton College, just outside of Chicago, and Nashotah House, a seminary in Wisconsin.

A sympathetic Ecuadorean bishop ordained him, and he was assigned to Hispanic parishes in California, Honduras and Ecuador. He was made bishop of Bolivia in 2001.

“As far as I am concerned,” Bishop Lyons said Saturday, “there is not an Anglican representation in the United States. This is one great missionary territory up here,” which means any overseas Anglican bishop can plant churches in the United States.

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