May 3, 2007 / 6:49 PM / 12 years ago

Episcopal Church faces divisions over gay issues

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A new conservative African-led group will provide a home for members of the splintered U.S. Episcopal Church who are upset over gay issues and looking to leave, the head of the new group said on Thursday.

Worshipers arrive at the All Saints Cathedral Church for a evening mass in the capital Nairobi, November 3, 2003. A new conservative African-led group will provide a home for members of the splintered U.S. Episcopal Church who are upset over gay issues and looking to leave, the head of the new group said on Thursday. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

The body, under the auspices of a Nigerian archbishop, is an alternative for American followers who do not support the 2003 elevation of the first gay Episcopal bishop and other liberal stances.

“We are what the church used to be,” said Bishop Martyn Minns, who on Saturday will be installed — over protests from the Episcopal Church leadership — as head of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

“Our desire is not to interfere with what they’re (the Episcopal Church) doing. We just don’t agree with it,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

The U.S. branch of the 77-million-member worldwide Anglican Church has been splintered since the Americans consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first openly gay bishop in more than 450 years of Anglican church history.

Some parishes in the 2.4-million-member U.S. church have already formed alliances along orthodox lines, and others have placed themselves under the jurisdiction of conservative bishops in Africa.

The group Minns will head was put together by Nigeria’s Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola, who will formally install him as “missionary bishop” of the group in a ceremony on Saturday in Woodbridge, Virginia.

Minns is rector of Truro Church in Virginia, an historic Episcopal congregation which numbers both George Washington, the first U.S. president, and his father as former members of its vestry.

Akinola is a staunch defender of traditional Christianity and a leader of the Anglican Communion’s “Global South,” churches in Africa, Asia and Latin American that now account for half of the global Anglican church membership. He consecrated the British-born Minns a bishop at a ceremony in Nigeria.

Minns said he planned to work closely with other groups of disaffected Episcopalians to end the current fragmentation among them. His group initially has about 30 churches and 50 clergy.

‘BROKEN RELATIONSHIP’

The Episcopal church — the U.S. branch of the Worldwide Anglican Communion — has said only 45 out of its more than 7,400 congregations, 7,200 of which are domestic, have voted to break away from it and put themselves under different oversight. The American Anglican Council, which espouses orthodoxy, has said that number is low. No diocese, which represents multiple churches, has yet left though one in California may.

Minns, asked if there already was a schism, said, “The word

schism sounds kind of ugly but clearly there is a broken relationship ... It has torn the church apart.” For him personally, he added, it has been a “nightmare time.”

His group, he said, will “support the folks who are trying to live out their faith at the grass roost level” and make them once again part of the global Anglican community.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sent Akinola a letter earlier this week asking him to stay away. His visit would, she said, not only show “division and disunity” but violate ancient church customs which prevent one bishop from poaching on another’s territory.

Akinola, in a response published on his church’s Web site, told Jefferts Schori the custom she cited was intended to protect flocks from false outside teachings, not the care and concern of another bishop.

“I also find it curious,” he said, “that you are appealing to the ancient customs of the church when it is your own Province’s deliberate rejection of the biblical and historic teaching of the Church that has prompted our current crisis.”

Minn’s Truro church is one of several in Virginia which have left the Episcopal Church but are trying to take buildings and property worth millions of dollars with them, triggering a number of lawsuits.

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