Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A few notable names were missing in the 850 invitations issued yesterday by the archbishop of Canterbury to the once-every-decade Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops in England.

Openly homosexual New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson was left out, as was Bishop Martyn Minns, installed recently as head of the Virginia-based Convocation of Anglicans in North America and as a missionary bishop for the Anglican Province of Nigeria.

“I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion,” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said in his invitation letter.

Reactions were swift. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori urged U.S. bishops to take a “calm approach” regarding the Robinson rejection, adding, “It is possible that aspects of this matter may change in the next 14 months.”

About 10 hours after invitations to the three-week event were e-mailed at 9 a.m. yesterday London time, Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola announced that if Bishop Minns does not attend, his whole province could boycott Lambeth.

“The withholding of an invitation to a Nigerian bishop, elected and consecrated by other Nigerian bishops, will be viewed as withholding invitation to the entire [122-member] House of Bishops of the Church of Nigeria,” his office said in a press release.

Bishop Minns, who also is rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, was consecrated in August in Abuja as a bishop of CANA, which the Church of Nigeria set up as a mission to beleaguered Episcopalians in the U.S. CANA has 34 congregations, most of which have fled the Episcopal Church because of the Robinson consecration and differences over biblical authority.

Also left off the Lambeth list were six bishops belonging to a similar breakaway group: the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA), which is part of the Anglican Province of Rwanda.

Bishop Robinson released a statement saying Canterbury’s refusal to include him is “an affront to the entire Episcopal Church.”

“At a time when the Anglican Communion is calling for a ‘listening process’ on the issue of homosexuality, it makes no sense to exclude gay and lesbian people from that conversation,” he said. “It is time that the bishops of the Anglican Communion stop talking about gay and lesbian people and start talking with us.”

He also indicated that a boycott may be in the offing.

“This is not about Gene Robinson, nor the Diocese of New Hampshire,” he said. “It is about the American Church and its relationship to the Communion. It is for the Episcopal Church to respond to this challenge, and in due time, I assume we will do so.”

Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, said in an interview that inviting the New Hampshire bishop “would be to ignore the very substantial and very widespread objections in many parts of the Communion to his consecration and to his ministry.”

Bishop Robinson could be invited to the July 16 to Aug. 4 gathering next year as a guest rather than as a participating bishop, Mr. Kearon said. But, he added, the bishop’s partner, Mark Andrew, would not be invited. Bishops’ spouses at Lambeth typically have their own conference, and Bishop Robinson recently announced that he and Mr. Andrew will take advantage of New Hampshire’s soon-to-be-signed civil unions law.

As for Bishop Minns and the AMIA bishops, he said, “The organizations in which they serve are not recognized by the Anglican Communion.”

However, Archbishop Akinola, in a May 6 letter to Archbishop Williams, called CANA “an initiative of the Church of Nigeria and therefore a bona fide branch of the Anglican Communion.”

“If he served in Nigeria, that was fine,” Mr. Kearon said of Bishop Minns. “But there was no reason to consider him. He was not eligible for an invitation.”

Bishop Minns also issued a statement, saying the matter was not so much about him “but about a worldwide Communion that is torn at its deepest level.”

Depending on whether U.S. Episcopal bishops agree in September to an ultimatum by Anglican bishops not to consecrate any more homosexuals, “the situation may become even more complex,” he added. “One thing is clear: A great deal can and will happen before next July.”

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