The archbishop of Canterbury on Friday summoned the world’s Anglican primates to an extraordinary meeting in London to head off the deepening division in the Anglican Communion over the U.S. Episcopal Church’s approval of the first openly gay bishop.
Meanwhile, a major conservative group that has remained within the Episcopal Church announced that its member churches wanted out. The American Anglican Council said it would petition the archbishop of Canterbury for the creation of a separate Anglican church in the United States and Canada.
With tensions mounting in the U.S. church and the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams called the emergency meeting for Oct. 15-16 of the world’s 38 Anglican primates, including the head of the U.S. Episcopal Church.
“I am clear that the anxieties caused by recent developments have reached the point where we will need to sit down and discuss their consequences,” Williams said in a statement released in London. “I hope that in our deliberations we will find that there are ways forward in this situation which can preserve our respect for one another and for the bonds that unite us.”
The developments came just three days after the Episcopal Church’s highest law-making body consented at its meeting here to the unprecedented election by the Diocese of New Hampshire of an openly gay priest, the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson, as its next bishop. The convention, which ended today, also gave local bishops tacit approval to allow their priests to perform marriage-like ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
Reaction to the votes has been heated.
Archbishop Peter Akinola, primate of the 17.5-million-member Anglican church in Nigeria, condemned Robinson’s election as “a Satanic attack on God’s church.” Other protests were lodged by Anglican bishops in Egypt, Kenya and the Bahamas. Conservative U.S. bishops two days ago called their church’s decision a “pastoral emergency” and called on the archbishop of Canterbury to intervene.
But liberal bishops in the U.S. hailed the church’s controversial stands as a prophetic movement toward full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church. The U.S. church also won support from Archbishop Winston Ndungane of South Africa, and the Rt. Rev. Edward Neufville, bishop of Liberia.
“Who am I to question the people of the United States about how to interpret God’s message?” Ndungane said.
In Minneapolis, the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop and primate of the U.S. church, welcomed the call for a meeting. “I certainly plan to be as available as possible to any number of bishops and others within our church who feel strained by virtue of actions this convention has taken,” Griswold told reporters.
But Griswold also made clear that the U.S. church has its own grievances against some foreign archbishops who he said had, in effect, created a schism in 2000 by improperly ordaining two conservative U.S. priests in Singapore as bishops with missions in the United States. Under Anglican rules a primate of one self-governing national church is not supposed to interfere in the affairs of another.
The mid-October meeting called by Williams is scheduled shortly before Robinson’s scheduled consecration on Nov. 2 in New Hampshire.
It was unclear whether Williams would accede to the request by members of the conservative American Anglican Council for a separate North American province. But the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the group, said in an interview he believed that Williams was willing to discuss it.
The Rev. Susan Russell, executive director of Claiming the Blessing, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, said the call by conservatives for the archbishop of Canterbury to intervene in U.S. affairs went against the way the Anglican Communion is run.
“To ask the primates to intervene in what the American church has done would have been like [asking] the United Nations to intervene in the [2000 presidential] election in Florida,” she said.
The Anglican Communion is made up of 38 independent, self-governing churches, including the U.S. Episcopal Church. They are bound together by common regard for the archbishop of Canterbury, and similar liturgies based on the English Book of Common Prayer. The archbishop of Canterbury is viewed as a spiritual leader and “first among equals,” but he is no Anglican pope.
The Rev. Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and an authority on Anglican governance, said any decision to create an overlapping North American Anglican province in the same geographical regions now covered by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada would be “a unique and new departure for Anglicanism.”
Anglican primates had been asked to closely examine the U.S. church’s positions on homosexuality before, but he said they declined to intervene. “They came to the edge of that precipice, looked over the edge and decided they didn’t want to go there,” Douglas said.
Los Angeles Episcopal Bishop J. Jon Bruno said it was appropriate for the archbishop of Canterbury to summon primates to London. “It’s imprudent of us to think we can go ahead and not be in communication after such a startling act as this,” Bruno said, referring to Robinson’s confirmation.
Anderson said that over a three- or four-year period 25 of the U.S. church’s 110 dioceses might leave the Episcopal Church to join a new North American province. But Griswold, the U.S. primate, said that while some individual parishes or congregations might leave, he doubted that whole dioceses -- regional groupings of parishes headed by a bishop -- would.
Anderson said his council’s decision to seek a separate province was a “startling” turnabout. “The defining moment is when 52 bishops voted to approve Gene Robinson. In our mind that took us out of the mainstream and took us into schematic, false doctrine,” he said.
Liberals at the convention said the U.S. church would not change its mind on Robinson’s ordination as bishop of New Hampshire or on allowing local bishops to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions.
“There’s absolutely no turning back,” said the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon Jr., rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena and a national leader on behalf of gay rights.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Facts on Anglicanism, a major branch of Christianity, and its American branch, the Episcopal Church:
Numbers: 77 million adherents in the 38 Anglican and Episcopal churches around the world. The mother Church of England is the largest branch, but many of its 26 million baptized members are inactive. America’s Episcopal Church reports 2.3 million members. More than half of all Anglicans live in Africa.
Leader: Anglicanism’s spiritual leader is the archbishop of Canterbury, currently Rowan Williams, who also heads the Church of England.
Heritage: Anglicanism originated when the Church of England broke with the papacy under King Henry VIII.
Structure: Each of the 38 branches is self-governing. The 38 primates who head the branches (including U.S. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold) confer annually. Policy guidance comes from the Lambeth Conference, a meeting of all Anglican bishops held once a decade.
Source: Associated Press
Los Angeles Times