Episcopalians aren’t making a mass exodus from their church, but dioceses across the country are doing a slow bleed as members realize that a much-anticipated report released six weeks ago has no teeth and that the denomination’s ordination of a homosexual bishop will go unpunished.
The Windsor Report, which sought to resolve the Anglican Communion’s crisis over authority and homosexuality, criticizes same-sex blessings in U.S. and Canadian churches and the ordination last year of Bishop V. Gene Robinson.
But the report also reprimands Third World bishops who have crossed diocesean lines to help marooned conservative parishes.
Within a few days of the report’s release Oct. 18 in London, two Episcopal parishes in Washington state joined the Anglican Diocese of Recife, Brazil.
Other Episcopalians have departed for the Anglican Mission in America, a breakaway group allied with the Anglican bishop of Rwanda. This makes it part of the 70 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion, bypassing the communion’s U.S. affiliate, the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church.
The Anglican Mission in America (AMIA), based in Pawleys Island, S.C., has created 22 congregations since January. Ten of them include Episcopal clergy who have fled the denomination, along with a “substantial” number of Episcopal congregants, according to AMIA Executive Director Tim Smith.
“We’re busy,” Mr. Smith said. “Phone calls, letters, e-mails, personal visits.”
In its almost five-year history, AMIA has consecrated five new bishops and amassed 72 churches encompassing 15,000 members. Colorado has the most congregations at 12, followed by Florida with nine.
AMIA spokesman Jay Greener says Episcopalians seem to be “in shock.”
“There was an expectation there’d be more in that report,” Mr. Greener said. “People are saying they can’t take it anymore.”
Other Episcopalians await a showdown at the February meeting of the world’s Anglican archbishops in Ulster, Northern Ireland, where they are expected to debate the merits of the Windsor Report.
A conference of 250 African Anglican bishops, which met Oct. 25-Nov. 1 in Nigeria, called on the U.S. Episcopal Church to “repent” for consecrating Bishop Robinson, a divorced man living with a male lover. It also said the Anglican Church of Canada should do likewise for allowing same-sex “marriages” on church property.
Both sides acknowledge that that scenario is unlikely. The Episcopal Church, which on Oct. 1 started an evangelistic Web site, www.comeandgrow.org, and this week premiered a Thanksgiving telecast from the Washington Cathedral on CNN airport channels, seems determined to weather the crisis.
And the Anglican Diocese of Niagara voted 213-106 two weeks ago to approve same-sex blessings in its churches although its bishop, the Rt. Rev. Ralph Spence, negated the vote by withholding his consent.
The Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, who was in Lagos for the October meeting, said the Africans will not back down.
“People like [Ugandan Bishop] Henry Orombi and [Nigerian Archbishop] Peter Akinola are resolute,” he said, in defying the Windsor Report. “In a way, Akinola is a moderate compared with some of those in his House of Bishops.”
Truro Episcopal Church, which has lost 50 families over the 15-month-long crisis among Episcopalians, is active in the Anglican Communion Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes. Crucial to the network is the aid of Third World bishops who are offering oversight to dissenting Episcopal congregations in liberal dioceses.
The Diocese of Maryland is one. In Catonsville, the Rev. Steven R. Randall, pastor of the new Emmaus Anglican Church, was the first Episcopal priest in the country to leave the denomination after Bishop Robinson’s consecration was approved.
Now meeting in the gym of Bishop Cummins Memorial Church in Catonsville, Emmaus is looking for an 8,000-square-foot space for the 120 to 130 believers from five counties who attend Sunday services.
Three-quarters of Mr. Randall’s former congregation at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church left after the Robinson vote; half of whom joined Emmaus. The others scattered, mostly to nondenominational churches.
“I’m pretty much ignored” by other Episcopal priests, even conservative ones, Mr. Randall said. “It’s awkward for them. My leaving weakens the position of those who are staying.
“But you can’t plant churches and preach the Gospel of God when you are getting continually sidelined by the false gospel of the Episcopal Church. I’m not losing sleep over this now.”