Friday, June 15, 2007

The Anglican Province of Kenya has appointed its own bishop to oversee about 30 churches in the United States — the third such effort by conservative African bishops to carve out pieces of the U.S. Episcopal Church.

Canon Bill Atwood, 57, of Carollton, Texas, will be consecrated a suffragan bishop at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi on Aug. 30, joining several other American bishops overseeing former Episcopal parishes now affiliated with the Anglican provinces of Rwanda and Nigeria.

“We are just working as rescuers,” Kenyan Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi said yesterday, referring to conservatives distressed by liberal trends in the Episcopal Church. “We needed someone there [in America] who understands their culture. I am not there for name and fame and to build myself.”

About 10 of the 30 congregations were immigrant groups overseen by a group of Kenyan bishops and never affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The other 20 congregations were mainly Caucasians who left the denomination over disagreements on biblical authority and the denomination’s 2003 consecration of openly homosexual New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

The churches, together with 37 belonging to the Nigerian-affiliated Convocation of Anglicans in America and 116 under the Rwanda-connected Anglican Mission in America, constitute at least 183 houses of worship under African leadership. Several Ugandan bishops also oversee former Episcopal churches.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams — currently on sabbatical at Georgetown University — refuses to recognize the African Anglican offshoots as part of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion. However, this hasn’t stopped overseas archbishops from scooping up disenfranchised Episcopalians who at some point are expected to unite as a separate Anglican province.

“The idea is that all these congregations will come together,” the archbishop said. “Bill Atwood is really a man of God. He’ll be a suffragan bishop in Kenya but our missionary bishop in America.”

The two men have known each other since 2001. Mr. Atwood has been active overseas for years as the head of the Ekklesia Society, a mission and development organization. As chaplain for international affairs for the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, he has been a behind-the-scenes player at gatherings of the world’s Anglican archbishops.

Mr. Atwood said he was told last month during a visit to Nairobi that his name was up for suffragan bishop and informed June 5 that the Kenyan House of Bishops had approved him. He said the 6-million-member Kenyan church decided to establish its own outreach on American soil because of a few differences — it allows the ordination of women — with other Africans.

“These people are currently under Kenyan bishops now and they don’t want to surrender the distinctives of the Kenyan church,” Mr. Atwood said. “It has magnificent liturgies people are loving and using. People are not chess pieces to move around on a board.”

Episcopal officials have complained bitterly about African bishops establishing footholds on their territory. Foreign bishops, however, say they wish to offer sanctuary to beleaguered conservatives.

“We are wasting a lot of time with this,” Archbishop Nzimbi said of the infighting. “We want to preach the Gospel; that’s why Kenya wants someone in the United States.”

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