Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is confronting Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola head-on with a new demand that he not install Truro Church rector Martyn Minns as head of a parallel denomination this coming weekend.

At the ceremony, scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Hylton Memorial Chapel in Woodbridge, Archbishop Akinola and four other Nigerian bishops will make Bishop Minns, 64, the head of the Fairfax-based Convocation of Anglicans in North America. He has headed CANA, in addition to pastoring the 2,300-member Truro, since he was consecrated as a bishop Aug. 20 in Abuja, Nigeria.

“Such action would violate the ancient customs of the church” in terms of the sacrosanct boundaries of individual bishops, the presiding bishop wrote in a letter released yesterday.

Archbishop Akinola does not have the permission to minister within the geographical boundaries of the Diocese of Virginia, which lost 11 parishes about 9,000 people to CANA last winter.

“We share the concerns of the presiding bishop,” said diocesan spokesman Patrick Getlein, adding the diocese still refers to the 11 parishes as “occupied by Nigerian Anglicans.”

The presiding bishop added that “such action would not help the efforts of reconciliation that are taking place in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion as a whole. Such action would display to the world division and disunity that are not part of the mind of Christ, which we must strive to display to all.”

The head of the 2.3-million-member denomination first made her wishes known last week in a request leaked to the New York Times. When that did not produce a response, Bishop Jefferts Schori sent Archbishop Akinola an official letter Monday.

A call to Archbishop Akinola’s headquarters in Nigeria did not get an immediate response.

Bishop Minns called her actions “predictable.”

“The truth of the matter is we are in a broken relationship right now and the normal things,” such as asking a diocesan bishop’s permission to minister, “aren’t working,” he said.

Archbishop Akinola’s pending visit has raised hackles within the diocese ever since the 11 parishes left the diocese in December and January over questions of biblical authority and the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who is openly homosexual.

The diocese retaliated by ejecting about 21 clergy and suing them and several dozen members of each church’s vestry or governing board. The lawsuit is still pending in Virginia Circuit Court.

Bishop Minns pointed out the nondenominational 3,500-seat chapel was selected as the venue for Saturday’s ceremony so as not to antagonize the diocese.

“We delayed this installation for months,” he added, “and we deliberately did not have it in an Episcopal church. I really do want to make this event a positive not a negative witness for Christ.”

Organizers have downplayed Archbishop Akinola’s role at Saturday’s installation. Unlike past visits to Virginia, the archbishop is neither giving the main sermon nor appearing at any press conferences.

However, the archbishop’s mere presence in this country has nettled Episcopal leaders who say Bishop Minns’ installation is the beginning of an effort by the Nigerians to replace the Episcopal Church with a conservative alternative.

The Nigerians added fuel to such suspicions by announcing that they will name more CANA bishops in September. Two other bishops are already assisting CANA retired Albany, N.Y. Suffragan Bishop David Bena and Nigerian Bishop Ben Kwashi of the Diocese of Jos as CANA’s coordinating bishop.

Bishop Minns said CANA has 30 to 35 churches but did not provide more specific information about CANA’s total membership, budget and revenue.

He said his goal is “to give folks who want be Anglicans a place to live out their faith.”

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