Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Episcopal Church, which recently lost 15 Virginia congregations over liberal policies, faces a possible expulsion from the worldwide Anglican Communion when the leaders of the communion’s 38 national churches meet in Tanzania later this month, conservative Anglicans say.

A priority for this year’s meeting in Dar es Salaam is dealing with the Episcopal Church, which has clashed with conservatives for decades over biblical authority and sexuality.

The debate reached a boiling point after the church’s 2003 General Convention, where the denomination’s first openly homosexual bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, was elected.

“The Episcopal Church is likely to get spanked at Dar es Salaam,” said the Rev. Leslie Fairfield, professor of church history at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry near Pittsburgh.

The 38 primates, archbishops and other leaders of the Anglican Communion will evaluate the American church’s response to the October 2004 Windsor Report, which was commissioned to address discord within the communion in the wake of the 2003 convention.

The report included a number of recommendations, such as the creation of an “Anglican Covenant” requiring national churches to consult one another for major decisions. The report also called for apologies from those who contributed to disunity.

The Episcopal Church passed several resolutions at its convention last summer in response to the report, including an apology for straining the communion’s unity.

Still, some Anglican leaders say it’s not enough.

“Those presently in control of the Episcopal Church are leading in a direction quite at odds with the rest of the Anglican Communion,” said Bishop Martyn Minns of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) in an interview last weekend at his Fairfax office.

Bishop Minns is rector of Truro Church in Fairfax. He recently was appointed missionary bishop of CANA, established by the conservative Archbishop Peter J. Akinola of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, which has about 15 million members.

Truro is one of 15 Virginia congregations that voted to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican District of Virginia under CANA. The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is suing 11 of the breakaway congregations over millions of dollars of property.

“A major agenda topic [at Dar es Salaam] is whether or not the Episcopal Church should continue to be recognized as fully Anglican or moved to a diminished or separated status,” Bishop Minns wrote last week in a letter to Virginia Episcopal Bishop Peter James Lee.

Episcopal scholars disagree on how much power Anglican primates can wield over one another.

“They do not have jurisdiction over the internal affairs of each other’s provinces, but they have great moral authority and they have the power to say to the archbishop of any other province, ‘You’re not welcome,’ ” Mr. Fairfield said. “In particular, they have the weight of authority to say to the Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘You must not invite so-and-so or I might not come.’ ”

All archbishops and bishops in the communion meet every 10 years for the Lambeth Conference at the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England — the Anglican Communion’s original church. The next meeting is scheduled for summer 2008.

“The money is all in New York [at the Episcopal Church’s headquarters], but the people are below the equator,” Mr. Fairfield said. The majority of Anglicans are found in large African and Asian provinces.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury has to decide whether he listens to the money or the people,” Mr. Fairfield said.

The Rev. Ian T. Douglas, professor of mission and world Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., had a different prediction for the primates’ meeting: “The Anglican Communion is not like a reality TV show where a church can get voted off of the island.”

What happens at Dar es Salaam won’t be a simple “in or out” decision, Mr. Douglas said.

“We’re trying to … figure out how we can learn to live together for the sake of something God wants us to be about that’s greater than any individual church,” he said. “What we’re witnessing are growing pains rather than drives to schism.”

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the Episcopal Church, affirmed her commitment to unity and collaboration at the meeting, scheduled for Feb. 14 to 19.

“There is much we can achieve together in building the reign of God, but it will require us to see that God’s larger purposes transcend our internal differences,” Bishop Jefferts Schori told the Episcopal News Service.

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