Tuesday, February 7, 2006

The Church of the Holy Spirit in Ashburn, Va., has become the second congregation to leave the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia over disagreements on biblical authority, church discipline and homosexual clergy.

Meeting after their Sunday morning worship service, adult members of the church voted 88-0 to leave the 90,000-member diocese, the country’s largest, and affiliate with the Anglican Diocese of Ruwenzori in Uganda.

The five-year-old congregation, which has minimal assets and no church building of its own, changed its name to Church of the Holy Spirit, Anglican, and altered its Web site address to www.holyspiritanglican.org. It will continue to meet at Mill Run Elementary in Ashburn’s Broadlands development.

“We’ve been praying about this for a long time,” said the Rev. Clancy Nixon, church pastor. “We sought the Lord. We talked with a variety of people. We sensed this is what God wanted us to do; how He wanted us to align.”

His church holds “fundamentally different ideas” from other Episcopal leaders of what the mission of the Episcopal Church should be, Mr. Nixon said.

“Some say the mission is to accept everyone just as they are and we agree; but we say Jesus loves us too much to leave us as we are,” he said.

Dozens of conservative Episcopal parishes have bolted the 2.2 million-member denomination since the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an active homosexual who left his wife and children and now lives with a male lover. Bishop Peter Lee, leader of the Virginia diocese, which is the largest in the country, was among the bishops who voted in favor of Bishop Robinson.

Until last November, the Diocese of Virginia, the country’s largest Episcopal diocese, had remained intact. Then South Riding Church left the Diocese of Virginia for the Ruwenzori diocese.

Mr. Nixon said he and the Rev. Phil Ashey of South Riding visited Ruwenzori Bishop Benezeri Kisembo in Uganda last summer. Both men, who were lawyers before ordination, apparently made their plans at that time.

The Diocese of Virginia, which was notified Monday of the Church of Holy Spirit’s plans, has now lost two congregations in east Loudoun County, the country’s fastest-growing suburb.

“I am saddened and disappointed by the decision of Clancy Nixon and his congregation,” said the Virginia Suffragan Bishop David Jones yesterday. “I do not believe their departure was necessary. I continue to believe there is room for Clancy Nixon and his congregation in the Diocese of Virginia and in the Episcopal Church.”

The bishop added that the diocese had invested $135,000 in the Church of the Holy Spirit since its founding in 2001.

Mr. Nixon said he asked his congregation a month ago whether they should leave. Bishop Kisembo had visited Holy Spirit and met members during a U.S. trip a year ago.

“We’ve a wonderful new bishop,” Mr. Nixon said. “And we have freedom from the ambiguity and the decline associated with the Episcopal Church.”

Normally, the diocese gets the assets of the departing church. But in this case, the assets go to Truro Church in Fairfax, which also opposes the Robinson congregation and started Holy Spirit as a mission congregation.

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