- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2008

A coalition of conservative Anglican and Episcopal bishops has announced an eight-day conference in Jerusalem in mid-June to register their disenchantment with the liberal direction of the Anglican Communion.

It will be six weeks before the once-per-decade Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, scheduled for July 20-Aug. 3 at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. Although more than 800 bishops are invited to Lambeth, up to one-third may boycott it to protest the 2003 consecration of the openly homosexual New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

Bishop Robinson has not been invited to the Lambeth gathering, but the 18 active bishops who helped consecrate him in November 2003 were invited, sparking furious reactions from Anglican conservatives, who declared they would not attend the same conference.

“The idea is to provide pastoral support for bishops and their wives, who would have normally been expected to go to Lambeth for that, but for reasons of conscience cannot,” said Canon Chris Sugden, one of the Jerusalem organizers and executive director of the Oxford-based Anglican Mainstream.

The estimated cost per person in Jerusalem, he added, is $1,000, far less than the $7,000 per bishop levied by the Lambeth conference. Jerusalem organizers are hoping for at least 250 attendees. Their plans were finalized in mid-December at a Nairobi, Kenya, meeting of 11 Anglican and Episcopal bishops claiming to represent 30 million of the world’s Anglicans.

“There was a genuine effort to seek the mind of the Lord, and this is what happened,” Canon Sugden said.

The alternative event, called the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), is slated for June 15-22. The invitation-only conference will include bishops and their wives, church planters and missionaries, clergy and laity.

It could be the final break between liberals and conservatives in a denomination of 77 million now paralyzed by infighting. Thousands of Episcopalians have fled their U.S. churches for Anglican congregations, and last month an entire diocese — San Joaquin in Fresno, Calif. — voted to leave the Episcopal Church.

The Jerusalem venue — rather than Canterbury — is also a rebuke to the leadership of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

In an open letter dated Oct. 30, nine conservative archbishops meeting in Shanghai asked the archbishop to postpone Lambeth until all bishops “can participate in a spirit of true collegiality and unity in the faith.”

The letter added, “What is at stake is the very nature of Anglicanism — not just about sexuality, but also about the nature of Christ, the truth of the Gospel and the authority of the Bible.”

The Jerusalem event drew immediate opposition from Anglican Bishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem, who said he had not been consulted.

“Regrettably, I have not been consulted about this planned conference,” his Jan. 2 statement read. “The first I learned of it was through a [Dec. 26] press release.”

The conference, he added, “could further inflame tensions here.”

Canon Sugden said two organizers — Archbishop Peter J. Akinola of Nigeria and Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, Australia — will meet directly with Bishop Dawani to allay his fears.

Bishop Dawani’s superior, Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis, Anglican primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, is also unhappy about the GAFCON event. In a letter to Archbishop Akinola, first publicized on the Web site www. virtueonline.org, he suggested conservatives should attend Lambeth.

“It will be a great joy for the liberals if the conservatives boycott the Lambeth Conference,” he wrote. “They will not find any resistance like the one made by the Global South bishops in 1998.”

In a reply, Archbishop Akinola promised GAFCON would not “be in reaction to Lambeth.”

“We must set the agenda of the Gospel first,” he said.

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