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
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
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. …