Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fifty-one Anglican and Episcopal bishops announced plans yesterday to form a separate Anglican province in North America within 15 months, giving disaffected Episcopalians a chance to flee their increasingly liberal denomination.

The Common Cause partnership, which includes bishops from several Episcopal dioceses and leaders of nine Anglican organizations, met yesterday in Pittsburgh. The leaders represent 600 congregations and more than 100,000 people.

The bishops said they will meet in December to put together an office staff for a 39th province of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion.

“We took some steps in the right direction,” said Bishop Martyn Minns, the former rector of Truro Church in Fairfax who now leads the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a group of 60 former Episcopal churches that have left the denomination. “It was quite a journey but I am pleased with the movement we made.”

A timeline released yesterday said Common Cause leaders will meet once every six months to hammer out the structure of the new province. The members represent a disparate group of U.S. Episcopalians, former Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans, some of which ordain female priests and others that do not. But all of them wish to align with the Anglican Communion rather than the 800,000-member Anglican Church of Canada or the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church.

Conservatives began bolting from the Episcopal Church after the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, a divorced man living with a male lover. Canadian Anglicans narrowly voted in June not to allow same-sex blessings but left the door open for their approval in the near future.

“The goal is to call a constitutional convention within 15 months,” said Peter Frank, spokesman for Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, a group of 10 conservative Episcopal dioceses. “We are going to try to make this happen. The intent of this group is to create enough unity among Orthodox Anglicans for a coherent structure. Then we take this to the worldwide Anglican Communion.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has refused to recognize CANA and similar breakaway Anglican groups as part of the Anglican Communion. However, yesterday’s document did not refer to Archbishop Williams. It did refer to some 20 “Global South” bishops, most from Africa, who in 2006 instructed the North Americans to start forming a “separate ecclesiastical structure.”

Last week, the Episcopal House of Bishops met in New Orleans, and bishops agreed to “exercise restraint” on ordaining future homosexual bishops. Episcopal bishops also said they would not authorize any public same-sex “marriage” rites but did not rule out private “blessing” ceremonies allowed in churches across the country, including in the Diocese of Washington.

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