Monday, August 7, 2006

The rector of Truro Episcopal Church announced yesterday that he will be consecrated a bishop on Aug. 20 at the Anglican cathedral in Abuja, Nigeria, a move that could lead to further schism among U.S. Episcopalians.

“This is a big deal for all of us,” the Rev. Martyn Minns told parishioners at his downtown Fairfax church, which has lost 75 contributors since the 2003 election of the openly homosexual New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

“So often we preach faith, but we live institutionally,” Mr. Minns said. “Right now, we must practice what we preach.”

The parish is walking a tightrope. Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, has called Mr. Minns’ election “an affront,” adding that it would be “impossible” for Mr. Minns to act simultaneously as rector of Truro and as a bishop for the Nigerian church’s Convocation of Anglican Churches in North America (CANA).

Yet, Mr. Minns intends to do precisely that until his successor at Truro is chosen next year.

Originally set up for expatriate Nigerians, CANA also will shelter displaced church conservatives in ongoing Episcopal battles over issues of Scripture and sexuality. In July, Nigerian bishops released a statement calling the U.S. Episcopal Church a “cancerous lump” that should be “excised” from the worldwide Anglican Communion.

But the Nigerians’ decision to consecrate an American got a cool reception from conservative U.S. bishops. Only Quincy, Ill., Bishop Keith Ackerman applauded the move. Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, president of the Anglican Communion Network, the largest conservative Episcopal group, has refused comment.

“Bishop-elect Minns is a very gifted pastor, teacher and leader,” his communications director, Peter Frank, said recently, while adding that he was not speaking for the bishop. “The Church of Nigeria … has given leadership when no one else was willing to do it.”

Mr. Minns said he will meet this week with Bishop Lee, who has threatened to sue any parish that leaves the 90,000-member diocese.

“We believe God has given us this property,” Mr. Minns said yesterday. “We are stewards of it, and we don’t intend to walk away.”

Truro is one of 25 conservative churches in the area seeking to distance themselves from the denomination. Five of these parishes, all in Northern Virginia, have incorporated since February or announced their intention to do so, according to the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

Incorporation allows a church to retain use of its name if it leaves its parent diocese, preventing the local bishop from establishing a substitute congregation under the same name. Truro, Church of the Apostles in Fairfax and All Saints’ Episcopal in Woodbridge have incorporated.

Falls Church Episcopal and its mission church, Potomac Falls Episcopal in Sterling, have reserved their names, usually a prelude to incorporation, said Ken Schrad, a commission spokesman. Falls Church Episcopal’s name is reserved through Aug. 22, and Potomac Falls’ name is reserved through Sept. 23.

Three of these churches had begun expensive capital-funds campaigns when the Robinson election touched off a massive exodus of conservative Episcopalians.

Falls Church Episcopal, which was trying to raise $20 million for an education wing, and Apostles, which planned a new $9 million sanctuary, saw fundraising grind to a halt. So did All Saints’, which had bought 28 acres next to Hylton Memorial Chapel and one block from the massive Potomac Mills mall for a $10 million church.

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