New Episcopal 'Network': Path to Schism? ; the Latest Fallout from the Ordination of a Gay Bishop: A Church within the Church

Article excerpt

The approval of an openly gay bishop six months ago has brought unprecedented disruption to the US Episcopal Church, its worldwide Anglican community, and its ties with other denominations.

In a move that will be closely watched by other denominations deeply divided over homosexuality, conservative Episcopalians this week formed the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, which they hope will eventually replace the church as the authentic representative of the faith in the US.

Rather than split from the Episcopal church, which they say has broken with traditional Christianity, they are forming a "church within the church." An official split would probably require giving up their properties to the denomination.

"We're acutely conscious that this has never happened before," says the Rev. Kendall Harmon, of the Diocese of South Carolina. "We're trying to create structures where we can encourage and protect each other, and it's up to the international [Anglican] Communion to adjudicate this."

The group met this week in Plano, Texas, to adopt an organizational charter and elect leaders. It is relatively small - 12 dioceses that represent about 10 percent of Episcopalians. But it is vigorously backed by Anglican leaders in the developing world, where the majority of the denomination of 75 million now live.

After a meeting with Anglican leaders last fall designed to calm the crisis, the Archbishop of Canterbury supported the idea of a network to provide "alternative episcopal oversight" for orthodox believers in the US who say they can no longer accept leadership from liberal bishops. But US conservatives rejected the plan for implementing that oversight that was developed by the Episcopal leadership.

African and Asian leaders had threatened a schism if no action were taken against the US leadership. But the body of autonomous churches and provinces tied historically to the Church of England has no formal structure for disciplining members.

To stave off a split, the archbishop created a commission which is to propose a solution by Sept. 30.

Still, Anglican leaders in several regions have already declared "impaired" or broken relationships with the US church. The South East Asia province said that if the US church "refuses to repent, we will commit ourselves to work ... for the realignment of the Anglican Communion."

The church in Uganda said no Episcopal representatives would be welcome this month at the installation of its new archbishop.

Frayed interfaith ties

Ecumenical ties of the Episcopal Church are also fraying. "Clearly, there are indications from both the Catholic and some Orthodox churches that this has caused a new wrinkle, with ecumenical and interfaith implications," says the Rev. …