Episcopal Break Proves Inspiring; Florida Churches Praised at Pittsburgh Gathering

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

PITTSBURGH -- They are known in the Episcopal and Anglican churches as "the Florida Six."

They are a half-dozen North Florida congregations, including three in Jacksonville and one in Orange Park, that are quitting the Episcopal Church USA because members believe it has progressively abandoned core biblical values.

But it seems that only in the past few days, during an international gathering in Pittsburgh of like-spirited Episcopalians and Anglicans, that it fully dawned on them just how well-known and revered they are in the conservative Anglican movement.

"I've had people come up to me and say, 'I've read about you guys,' " said Rebecca Westbrooke, music director at the Church of the Redeemer in Jacksonville.

She was amazed. After all, Westbrooke and others from the First Coast, Gainesville and Tallahassee had come to Pittsburgh seeking encouragement without realizing they were giving it.

And giving they were, according to conference attendees from Texas to Hawaii to Uganda.

"Their willingness to take a stand, to step out in faith, is an encouragement to the rest of us to be faithful wherever God calls us to be," said the Rev. Ron Jackson, an Episcopal priest from California.

The conference compressed into three days what the Florida Six and thousands of other conservative Episcopalians have endured since their denomination elected the openly gay Gene Robinson as New Hampshire bishop in 2003. It brought up the pain, confusion and hope they have experienced as they try to remain true to their faith.

'A SHOT IN THE ARM'

Encouragement was the buzzword at the Pittsburgh Convention Center during the "Hope and a Future" conference that concluded Saturday.

It was hosted by the Anglican Communion Network, an evangelical movement comprised of 10 dioceses and 16 bishops representing approximately 200,000 Episcopalians. Its mission is to support congregations, like the six in Florida, increasingly at odds with their denomination since electing Robinson and endorsing same-sex blessings in 2003.

"There are people all over this nation who feel they have been abandoned by the Episcopal Church, and they need to come together to support one another," said Bishop Stephen Jecko, a network co-founder and the assistant bishop of the Diocese of Dallas. He is the former bishop of the Jacksonville-based Episcopal Diocese of Florida.

"It's a shot in the arm for them," Jecko said. "They need to know they are not alone."

MAKING CHOICES

They definitely weren't alone.

About 2,400 from 73 dioceses attended the conference, including at least two dozen American and Canadian bishops and nine Anglican archbishops from Africa and Southeast Asia.

The 2.3 million member Episcopal Church is part of the 77 million member worldwide Anglican Communion.

In fiery sermons, quiet conversations and media interviews, bishops, priests and lay people reaffirmed their intention to abandon the Episcopal Church if it does not repent for what they see as its decades-long move away from historic Christianity. …

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