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Episcopal bishop warns of further schism

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ANAHEIM, Calif. | The presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church warned the Church of England not to foment schism in America, responding to a threat made over the possibility that the U.S. church will start ordaining actively gay bishops.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said Sunday, in response to questions from The Washington Times, that calls by conservatives in the Church of England for recognition of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) over gay-related issues would wound her church, already split by the secession of conservative dioceses and congregations to form the ACNA.

She urged Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to remember the "pain of many Episcopalians in several places of being shut out of their traditional worship spaces, and the broken relationships, the damaged relationships between people who have gone and people who have stayed."

"Recognition of something like ACNA is unfortunately likely only to encourage" further secessions, she said, reminding the Church of England that "schism is not a Christian act."

Bishop Jefferts Schori's remarks come amid a fight at the triennial meeting of the General Convention, the Episcopal Church's top legislative body, which began moves over the weekend to overturn the church's 2006 ban on gay bishops.

On Saturday night, the church's World Missions Committee consolidated 13 resolutions into a single bill that opens the door for gays "like any other baptized members, to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church."

The General Convention has a bicameral structure - divided into a House of Deputies and a House of Bishops - and resolutions require approval by both houses.

The committee vote, however, was divided, with the panel's deputies - the clergy and lay members of the General Convention - voting 24-2 in favor of the bill, while the panel's bishops voted 3-2 to reject it.

The Rev. Charlie Holt, a conservative deputy from the Diocese of Central Florida, predicted the deputies would endorse the committee report, noting the numbers were not there to hold the ban. Passing the other hurdle may prove harder.

Washington Bishop John B. Chane, though a longtime supporter of pro-gay causes in the church, told The Times on Sunday that rescinding the ban "will not be helpful," adding that he did not think the "effort to overturn it will be successful."

Bishop Chane said he hoped the Convention would be "respectful of our differences, and that we don't leave" with the degree of rancor the church experienced in 2006 when the ban was enacted.

But pressure to block the bill has come from the church's overseas partners.

On Thursday, Archbishop Williams urged the Convention not to rescind the ban, saying "I hope and pray that there won't be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart."

Archbishop Williams declined to tell the Episcopal Church what the consequences might be if it repudiated the gay ban. But other leaders of the Church of England indicated that possible consequences would be a break with the Episcopal Church or the recognition of its rival, the ACNA.

On Friday, Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham told members of the Church of England's General Synod that their House of Bishops' Theological Committee would study the organizing documents of the ACNA. A resolution has also been proposed for debate in the next session of synod that would recognize the ACNA.

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