Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Nigerian Anglican Bishop Peter J. Akinola, leader of the world’s largest Anglican province with 17 million adherents and growing, announced the formation of a parallel denomination yesterday for an estimated 250,000 Nigerian Anglicans in the United States who find the Episcopal Church too liberal.

Claiming that last year’s consecration of Canon V. Gene Robinson as the world’s first openly homosexual Episcopal bishop had caused too much “pain, agony and a sense of alienation” for Nigerians to remain in the American church, he said the Church of Nigeria in America (CONA) would be “a spiritual home” for his expatriate flock.

“We want to provide a new home for those who want to leave the Episcopal Church,” he said. “A good number” of Nigerians have already fled the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church since Canon Robinson was made bishop of New Hampshire on Nov. 2, he added.

“We want to stem that,” he said.

He likened CONA, which he called a “convocation,” to scattered Episcopal and Anglican churches around Europe that are overseen by American and British bishops.

“The Episcopal Church has created a new religion that says what is sin is not sin,” he said. “It doesn’t take the Gospel seriously. We are not in communion with the Episcopal Church now.”

He said he tried last October to talk Episcopal Bishop Frank Griswold out of allowing the Robinson consecration.

“But Frank said he had no authority to stop it,” Archbishop Akinola recalled. “I told him, ‘For the sake of the rest of the world, you can put it aside.’ He said, ‘No.’ From that moment, I knew the fabric of the Anglican Communion was torn. The consecration was being done deliberately and intentionally.”

Bishop Griswold was the chief consecrator at the Nov. 2 ceremony.

There are concentrations of Anglican Nigerians in Texas, southern Ohio, Michigan and Chicago, according to Episcopal News Service. The Diocese of Washington estimates 500 to 700 Nigerians attend services in its churches, mainly at St. Michael & All Angels in Adelphi, St. John’s in Mount Rainier and St. Christopher’s in New Carrollton.

“We know that some members of the Nigerian community were upset by the actions of General Convention,” diocesan spokesman Jim Naughton said, “but we haven’t heard of many leaving the church over it. It may be that the archbishop is attempting to meet a real need, but it may also be that this is a solution in search of a problem.”

CONA is already part of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, a group of 11 Episcopal dioceses, 1,100 clergy and 735 churches opposed to the Robinson consecration.

The archbishop defended his actions by insisting the Nigerian Anglicans had been planning a parallel church in the United States, with the approval of Episcopal headquarters in New York, for several years. A chaplain to Nigerian expatriates, Canon Gordon Okunsanya, was appointed to minister to them, he added, “but he was sacked by the Episcopal Church,” because his views were too conservative.

Bob Williams, spokesman for the Episcopal Church in New York, said he knew nothing about Canon Okunsanya and that it was unlikely there are 250,000 Nigerian expatriates in Episcopal churches.

“This action does not come as a surprise,” he said of the archbishop’s announcement. “There have been rumors in this regard for some time.”

He deferred further comment until Oct. 18, when a report will be released by the Lambeth Commission, a group of scholars and clergy assessing the aftermath of the Robinson consecration.

At least two London newspapers have cited leaks saying the report will demand the American church rescind its election of Bishop Robinson. Archbishop Akinola said Nigerian bishops recommended to the commission the Americans be given three months to “repent.”

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