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Conservative Episcopalians debate their future in North America

Posted on: January 16, 2004 1:29 PM
Related Categories: USA

A gathering of more than 3,000 conservative Episcopalians from the USA met in Woodbridge, Virginia, January 9-10, to declare their faith and commitment to the traditional teachings of scripture in the Anglican Communion and to prepare for realignment of an orthodox Anglicanism in the United States.

Dubbed the "Plano-East" conference, the event was designed as a follow-up to the "A Place To Stand: Declaring, Preparing" conference that was held in Dallas, Texas, in October 2003 (also known as the "Plano Conference"). Both of these meetings were hosted by the American Anglican Council (AAC), an organisation which commits itself to Anglican orthodoxy within the Episcopal Church.

Impaired communion

Following the November 2 consecration of the Rt Revd V Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion, several provinces issued statements declaring "impaired" or "broken" communion with the Episcopal Church, USA (ECUSA). These provinces have supported the AAC and other conservative Episcopalians in the United States who feel betrayed by the recent actions of their General Convention to endorse Bishop Robinson’s consecration, and its apparent disregard for the traditional teachings of scripture.

The Diocese of New Hampshire, however, believes that it has “faithfully and prayerfully considered and followed a Spirit-led process” for the election of Gene Robinson saying, “[Bishop] Robinson was elected based on his nearly three decades of ministry in the diocese, his considerable pastoral skills, and his vision for ministry. His sexuality was incidental to his call to serve as our bishop.”

Leaked documents

A confidential letter, uncovered by the Washington Post on 14 January, revealed that some conservative Episcopalians in the USA are strategising ways in which to secede from the national church whilst retaining the property which currently accommodates their parishioners. The letter, dated 28 December 2003, explained that the AAC has “clarified its strategy” and is “now moving to implement it.”

In another report released yesterday (15 January) by the Guardian, a British daily newspaper, Stephen Bates discloses that “documents passed to the Guardian show that English evangelicals and American traditionalists, who share many of their biblical and doctrinal views, would prefer to split the church rather than remain in communion with those with whom they disagree.”

The Revd Geoffrey Chapman, Rector of St Stephens Church in Sewickley, PA, who wrote the letter, said, "Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil committed to biblical faith and values, and driven by Gospel mission. We believe in the end this should be a “‘replacement” jurisdiction with confessional standards, maintaining the historic faith of our Communion, closely aligned with the majority of world Anglicanism..."

Mr Chapman’s letter suggests a two-step procedure for adequate episcopal oversight to “beleaguered congregations,” a provision set out in a statement drawn up by the Anglican Primates in October. The second of these steps proposes ways in which conservative parishes may push the national church to resign its property. “During this phase, we will seek, under the guidance of the Primates, negotiated settlements in matters of property, jurisdiction, pastoral succession and communion,” the letter states. “If adequate settlements are not within reach, a faithful disobedience of canon law on a widespread basis may be necessary.”

Maintaining unity

The AAC has hosted a number of meetings and conferences in recent months but has always upheld its pledge to remaining part of the Anglican Communion and finding a way for conservative Anglicans in the Episcopal Church to stay in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The media director for the AAC, Mr Bruce Mason, told the Associated Press that Mr Chapman is not a policy spokesman and denied that the AAC intends to "supplant the current structure” of the Episcopal Church.

In a statement issued on 14 January 2004, the AAC declared that it is "committed to seeking out creative ways to provide episcopal oversight to orthodox congregations that are situated in hostile, revisionist dioceses." The statement expressed an urgency that "congregations are in immediate need of oversight from a theologically orthodox bishop and many are experiencing continuous and often intense harassment from their own diocesan bishops."

The Director of Communications for the Episcopal Church, USA (ECUSA), Mr Dan England, spoke about his disappointment with the AAC's strategy statement saying that it seemed to contemplate disobeying canons, going around bishops and seizing property. “We have said consistently, and openly, that we need all voices in the conversation about how we can best carry out the mission of the church, and that includes the people of the American Anglican Council," Mr England said.

Archbishop of Canterbury's commission

The Chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council, Primate of the New Zealand Church and a member of the Primates' Commission, the Rt Revd John Paterson, said today that he was becoming “increasingly concerned at the intemperate language and the extravagant claims being made about the state of the Anglican Communion at a time when the Archbishop of Canterbury has appealed for restraint and time for the Commission to work carefully and prayerfully through the issues."

Article by Matthew Davies