Conservative Episcopal organization meets

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

PLANO, Texas -- Conservative Episcopalians opposed to a gay bishop's consecration and other liberal trends opened a two-day meeting Monday to establish a "church within a church" -- a move that could pose a serious threat to the denomination.

The closed-door meeting of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes involves conservative bishops, clergy and lay delegates from 12 dioceses with 235,000 members, or a 10th of the nation's Episcopalians.

"You've never had this many dioceses rallying to say a massive corporate mistake has been made," said Canon Kendall Harmon, a South Carolina delegate.

Delegates will adopt an organizational charter, elect leaders and debate how to help conservative parishes in liberal dioceses. Planners insisted the network is not a breakaway denomination or schism, but a "church within a church."

Conservative parishes do not want to officially leave the church because under secular law they would probably have to surrender their properties to the denomination.

"We've got a $12 million facility and we can't just walk away from it," said the Rev. Donald Armstrong of Colorado Springs, Colo., a delegate representing Midwestern and Mountain states.

Broken fellowship

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the international Anglican Communion, consisting of denominations that stem from the Church of England. Many Anglican churches around the world have denounced or broken fellowship with the Episcopal Church over its November consecration of New Hampshire's V. Gene Robinson, who has lived for years with a gay partner.

The Episcopal Church's national leadership had issued no statement about the meeting. The world Anglican leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has named a commission to come up with a solution to the U.S. controversy by Sept. 30.

A leaked memo from a network leader said the meeting's "ultimate goal" is a "replacement" jurisdiction aligned with the conservative majority in world Anglicanism.

The memo, leaked last week, said disobedience of church law "may be necessary" and conservatives should be prepared to risk trials in church or secular courts.

The session's host bishop, James Stanton of Dallas, said he wants a positive tone so the network can gain support among the 43 Episcopal bishops who voted against Robinson's elevation. Sixty-two bishops backed Robinson.


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