- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Several hundred Virginia Episcopalians are so unhappy with their bishop’s support for homosexuality that they are bringing in the retired archbishop of Canterbury to preside over a confirmation ceremony later this month.

The Sept. 15 event will feature a mass choir, confirmation candidates from 11 churches in Northern Virginia and former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who will place his hands on the heads of each person being confirmed as an adult Christian.

Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax will split the confirmations into two evening services to accommodate 200 to 300 confirmands, their guests and dozens of musicians and clergy.

The event is being organized by conservative Episcopalians who split with Bishop Peter J. Lee of Virginia a year ago after he assented to the election of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the denomination’s first openly practicing homosexual prelate.

“This will be an occasion for celebration but also a sign of the serious brokenness of the Episcopal Church and a tragic reminder of our alienation from the ministry of our own bishop,” said the Rev. Martyn Minns, the rector of Truro.

Bishop Lee was one of 62 bishops to approve Bishop Robinson’s election, which has caused huge divisions in the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

In Virginia, the country’s largest diocese at 89,000 members, some of the biggest parishes canceled the usual annual appearances by Bishop Lee or his two assistants, Bishops David Jones and Francis Gray. Bishops typically visit each of the diocese’s 187 congregations at least once a year for confirmations, a rite that only bishops can perform.

Dissenting parishes also staged an economic boycott, causing a $900,000 shortfall in the 2004 diocesan budget. They formed a Virginia branch of the American Anglican Council (AAC), another national Episcopal group that opposed Bishop Robinson’s election.

A year later, local resentment remains so high that Mr. Minns, leader of the Virginia AAC, suggested Archbishop Carey be invited to perform confirmations as a neutral party.

Bishop Lee officially invited the archbishop in May, then issued a statement saying the “supplemental confirmation service” was designed “especially for those congregations that are unhappy with [Bishop Lee’s] consent of the consecration of the bishop of New Hampshire and feel the need for alternate episcopal ministry.”

The Rev. Richard Kirker, general secretary of the London-based Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, criticized the event and former Archbishop Carey’s participation as a disrespectful move to undermine the current archbishop of Canterbury.

“This is an insensitive and provocative trip which will cause dismay to Rowan Williams, just as it would if, when George Carey was archbishop, his predecessor Robert Runcie had” done something similar, Mr. Kirker told the London Telegraph.

“There are plenty of other bishops to conduct confirmations, and George Carey is doing much more. He is trying to turn the service into a needlessly provocative gesture.”

Recently, the Virginia diocese mystified conservatives by issuing its 2005 schedule of bishop visitations, which includes churches that have asked Bishop Lee or his assistants not to come.

“They are continuing on the assumption that business will be as usual,” Mr. Minns said. “This is the mode we’ve come to expect from them. In some ways, I am not surprised. The machine grinds along, and this is the schedule.”

A spokeswoman for the bishop said a bishop may visit a parish for any reason and not necessarily to do confirmations.

Conservative parishes have been bailing out of dioceses around the country, including the Diocese of Los Angeles, which last month lost three conservative parishes, in North Hollywood, Long Beach and Newport Beach.

But the parishes said they wished to remain within the 70-million-member Anglican Communion, the worldwide body of churches of which the Episcopal Church is part, and so have come under the authority of Bishop Evans Kisekka of Luweero, in Uganda.

More Episcopal parishes are contemplating leaving the denomination but their leaders are waiting for the Oct. 18 release of a report from the Lambeth Commission, an 18-member group of scholars and clergy charged with dealing with the fallout from the Robinson election.

“We will wait to see what happens,” Mr. Minns said of the Virginia AAC parishes, “then deliberate together and decide what actions are appropriate.”

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