Magazine article The Christian Century

Episcopal Unity Shaky

Magazine article The Christian Century

Episcopal Unity Shaky

Article excerpt

FOLLOWING the Episcopal Church's triennial General Convention in Denver in July, both conservatives and liberals within the 2.5-million-member denomination claimed a partial victory. Liberals cheered an overwhelming vote to affirm "lifelong committed relationships" other than marriage which merit the church's support. Conservatives blocked a measure that would have created rites to bless such relationships. Taking that step, they said, would open the door to blessing same-sex unions, something conservatives vehemently oppose.

But with both sides claiming a win, it was only a matter of time until the two parties started bumping into each other on the victory lap. A little more than three months after the Denver meeting, the fragile unity--or awkward coexistence--crafted by both sides is beginning to crack in several ways:

* At least four Colorado Episcopal priests and two Florida parishes have left the church and aligned themselves with Charles Murphy and John Rodgers--two American "missionary" bishops ordained in Singapore and sent to shepherd conservative Episcopalians.

* The bishop of Pennsylvania, Charles Bennison, was recently denied communion at a conservative parish in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, that refuses to recognize his oversight and authority.

* Conservative bishops from around the world held a meeting in Nassau, Bahamas, to plot strategy for the future. Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, a moderate, called the move "unhelpful."

* A number of bishops continue to struggle with renegade congregations over property disputes. Bishop Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts is in the midst of a costly legal battle to keep St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Brockton from leaving with church property. The conservative director of the Canon Law Institute in Washington has advised Shaw and others to drop the legal battles.

For some church observers, an exodus by conservatives distressed by the church's pursuit of change was all but inevitable. But for others, it's a sign that the church's liberal leadership has sacrificed biblical truth. "The unity which we seek, and which we enjoy with the rest of the [Anglican] Communion, is a unity in the truth," said Philip Wyman, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church, where Bennison was passed over for communion. "It's often been said that God's unity is never bought at the expense of God's truth."

Many conservatives are frustrated because while they are in the minority in the U.S. church, most of the 70 million Anglicans around the world share their positions. (The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. …

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