Sunday, January 18, 2004

Episcopal conservatives, making good on their threats to form an ecclesiastical and legal shelter for theologically orthodox believers, meet today and tomorrow in a Dallas suburb to hammer out the details.

About 120 people, including bishops and representatives from 12 dioceses, will gather at Christ Episcopal Church in Plano to draw a charter for a “Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes.”

Its founders say the network was suggested by the archbishop of Canterbury in October and that 13 Episcopal bishops originally signed on to take part.

Since then, the bishop of the Diocese of Southwest Florida has dropped out of the gathering. The remaining 12 bishops represent Albany, N.Y.; Pittsburgh; San Joaquin, Calif.; South Carolina; Florida; Rio Grande (New Mexico); central Florida; Dallas; western Kansas; Fort Worth, Texas; and two Illinois dioceses — Quincy and Springfield.

The bishop overseeing the gathering, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, is vice president of the American Anglican Council. The AAC is the lead group opposing the November consecration of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the denomination’s first openly homosexual bishop.

Bishop Duncan has said his group does not intend to leave the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church in the United States but provide leadership to conservatives, many of them attending parishes in liberal dioceses.

The sitting bishop of a diocese usually must give a visiting bishop permission to perform such services. A group of “senior bishops” in the network is prepared to aid dioceses even if permission is not granted, the Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, said last week.

“[The bishops] will visit and teach and confirm and will do so with or without the permission of the local diocesan bishops,” he said to 3,000 Episcopalians at Hylton Memorial Chapel in Woodbridge. “This may well cause more than a little controversy, but that is not the intent.”

An AAC memo leaked to several news organizations revealed the conservative network ultimately wants to replace ECUSA.

“I was very disappointed to read the AAC’s strategy statement, which seems to contemplate disobeying canons, going around bishops and seizing property,” ECUSA spokesman Dan England said. “This is, after all, an Episcopal Church. How a plan to circumvent the authority of diocesan bishops fits into that is quite beyond me.”

However, AAC bishops are taking the place of the Most Rev. Frank Griswold, head of ECUSA, who was disinvited in December to this month’s enthronement of Bishop Henry Orombi as the archbishop of Uganda.

In a Dec. 16 letter, Canon Stanley Ntagali, provincial secretary of the Anglican Church of Uganda, said that “recent statements” by ECUSA staff in New York suggest the American church will cut all financial aid if the Ugandans sever ties with the Americans over Bishop Robinson’s consecration.

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not for sale, even among the poorest of us who have no money. Eternal life, obedience to Jesus Christ and conforming to His Word are more important,” the letter said.

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