More than 2,100 Episcopal conservatives meet in Pittsburgh today for a first-ever international conference sponsored by the Anglican Communion Network, a consortium of 10 dioceses, 16 bishops and clergy and laity representing more than 200,000 Episcopalians.
Nine overseas archbishops will attend, along with 26 U.S. Episcopal and Canadian Anglican bishops. They include outspoken Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who has repeatedly told U.S. Episcopalians to “repent” for consecrating V. Gene Robinson as the world’s first openly homosexual Episcopal bishop in 2003.
Called “A Hope and a Future,” the conference mission statement calls itself “a mobilization for the rebirth of a biblical, missionary, and united Anglicanism in North America.” The 2.2-million-member Episcopal Church is part of the 70-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion.
“The logjam is about to break,” says Pittsburgh Episcopal Bishop Bob Duncan, moderator of the ACN. “The way forward for biblical and missionary Anglicans — and Christians — is increasingly clear and involves all of us together.”
A group of liberal church members said they were “perplexed” about some of the non-Episcopalians invited to speak, such as megachurch Baptist pastor the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and Anne Graham Lotz, one of evangelist Billy Graham’s three daughters.
“We believe that it is a positive development that attendees do not have to sign a theological statement to get into it,” said Lionel Deimel, president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh.
Official descriptions of the conference omitted the word “Episcopal,” as relations between liberals and conservatives in the denomination are strained to the point that many parishes are refusing annual visits by their bishops.
Eleven conservative parishes and missions in the Diocese of Virginia are in this position, which is why retired Archbishop of Canterbury George C. Carey will oversee a mass confirmation Nov. 20 at the Falls Church Episcopal Church in Falls Church. He presided over a similar ceremony of 318 candidates a year ago at Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax.
In Pittsburgh, several bishops will perform on-the-spot confirmations during Saturday’s closing ceremony, mostly for conservatives who do not desire the ministrations of liberal bishops in their home dioceses.
ACN spokesman Douglas LeBlanc said confirmands have already been vetted by their pastors and local ACN representatives.
“We realize that some [liberal] bishops may be annoyed by this pastoral care,” he said, “but we did not create the problem that requires it.”
The Rev. Ruth Meyers, professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., said Episcopal conservatives may be unwittingly agreeing with Donatism, a fourth-century heresy.
“It determined that the validity of a liturgical act depends on the minister who administers it,” she said.
The early church refuted Donatism, she said, and St. Augustine, she added, “would have said the unworthiness of a minister does not affect the validity of the sacrament, as the true minister is Christ.”