Sunday, December 17, 2006

Long Slow Slide To the Bottom Nets New Growth

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, heads an orthodox Episcopalian organization that two Virginia churches joined when they decided to leave the Episcopal Church to form a new Anglican tradition in North America. Image Credit: Richard Drew/AP

Long Slow Slide To The Bottom Nets New Growth In A Recognizable Direction (UPDATED)

In a move to re-affirm tradition, two churches become the cornerstone of a new American Anglican church effort.

This breakaway, which was prompted in reaction to recent events in The Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of global Anglicanism, will be called the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

We at MAXINE trust that this will become a growth of tradition throughout the Americas. This is NOT a vote against women and/or gays in positions of leadership within an organized religion … more, it IS a vote for a centuries old tradition to be upheld in the face of cultural changes in North America which Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria has called a "satanic attack" on the church.

This from Associated Press via Forbes -

2 Episcopal Parishes in Va. Break Away
By MATTHEW BARAKAT - Associated Press - 12.17.06, 1:21 PM ET

Two of the largest Episcopal parishes in Virginia voted overwhelmingly Sunday to break from The Episcopal Church and join fellow Anglican conservatives forming a rival U.S. denomination.

Truro Church in Fairfax and The Falls Church in Falls Church plan to place themselves under the leadership of Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who has called the growing acceptance of gay relationships a "satanic attack" on the church.

The archbishop hopes to create a U.S. alliance of disaffected parishes called the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Truro rector Martyn Minns was consecrated a bishop in the Church of Nigeria earlier this year to lead Akinola's American outreach.


Ninety percent of Falls Church parishioners and 92 percent of Truro members who cast ballots in the last week supported cutting ties with The Episcopal Church, parish leaders said Sunday.

Six other Virginia parishes are voting this month whether to leave.

The Truro and Falls Church break is likely to spark a lengthy, expensive legal fight over the historic properties, which are worth millions of dollars.

The Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of global Anglicanism, has been under pressure from traditionalists at home and abroad since the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Reference Here>>

Additional background from The Washington Post -

Episcopal Churches To Vote on Departure
Fairfax Congregations Dismayed by Direction
By Michelle Boorstein - Washington Post Staff Writer (Staff writer Alan Cooperman, staff researcher Karl Evanzz and graphics editor April Umminger contributed to this report) - Monday, December 4, 2006; Page A01

Two of the country's largest and most historic Episcopal congregations -- both in Fairfax County -- will vote next week on whether to leave the U.S. church on ideological grounds and affiliate instead with a controversial Nigerian archbishop. The decision could lead to a bitter court battle and the loss of $25 million in property.

Many members of The Falls Church and Truro Church, as well as some conservative leaders around the country, hope a split will establish a legal structure that would make it easier for dozens more like-minded congregations to also depart the national denomination.

Some conservatives in the Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of the worldwide Anglican Communion, believe the church abandoned Scripture by installing a gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003, among other things. Those feelings of alienation were strengthened when Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori -- who supports the New Hampshire bishop -- was elected this summer to lead the national church.

Three other churches in the 193-congregation Virginia diocese -- the nation's largest -- are also voting this month. And Saturday, the Associated Press reported that leaders of the San Joaquin, Calif., diocese voted to affirm their membership within the Anglican Communion, a slap to the U.S. church that some see as a first step toward a later vote to separate. That would be the first entire diocese to leave the mother church.

Although some orthodox congregations have been leaving since 2003 -- as some did in the 1970s, when ordinations of women began -- advocates think they are getting closer to creating a new, U.S.-based umbrella organization that would essentially compete with the Episcopal Church. And the two Fairfax churches are on the vanguard of the movement, which could lead to massive changes in the 226-year-old denomination, years of painful litigation or both.

"In one sense there is a sadness because this feels like a death," said Mary Springmann, a soft-spoken stay-at-home mother who worships at Truro and plans to vote to split when a week of voting begins Sunday. "Like someone who has been gravely ill for a long time, you keep hoping there's going to be a recovery. And at some point you realize it's not going to happen. Right now . . . there is a feeling of hope and expectancy about where God is going to lead us next. It's kind of exciting."

If the votes at The Falls Church and Truro succeed, as their leaders predict, the 3,000 active members of the two churches would join a new, Fairfax-based organization that answers to Nigerian Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, leader of the 17 million-member Nigerian church and an advocate of jailing gays. The new group hopes to become a U.S.-based denomination for orthodox Episcopalians.

How many congregations will take this route is unknown, with the likelihood of costly litigation over historic, valuable properties and bitterness infecting a holy space. Even church centrists estimate that 15 percent of U.S. Episcopalians would leave the national church if their congregations could keep their church buildings and remain in the Communion.
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Since the Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who is openly gay, was made a bishop in 2003, dozens of conservative U.S. congregations have dissolved, lost many members or gone to court with their dioceses over property as the congregations sought to leave the national church. But many traditionalists see a new phase since Jefferts Schori was elected national bishop.
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Some members of the two Fairfax churches say they are comfortable with the arrangement because Minns is their "missionary bishop." However, they know there are questions about a suburban Washington congregation technically under the leadership of Akinola, who has supported a new Nigerian law that penalizes gay activity, whether private or "a public show of same sex amorous relationship," with jail time.

Jim Pierobon, a member of The Falls Church serving as a spokesman for both Fairfax churches, said he believes Akinola is trying to ease tensions between Nigerian Anglicans and Muslims by supporting the law. That doesn't mean the leadership issue doesn't weigh on Pierobon's conscience.
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Other religious denominations have been roiled in recent years by the issue of homosexuality, but a major schism would be unprecedented in the Episcopal Church, which remained united even through the Civil War.

"The difference between the Episcopal Church and the others is that Episcopalians are really loath to split about anything," said Diana Butler Bass, a U.S. church historian who believes politics, not theology, has been driving divisions in the Episcopal Church since the 1980s. "What will win now? This politicized culture, or that old Anglican, spiritual way of being in the world?"

The size of the division in the U.S. church is hotly debated on blogs across the spectrum. About 140 dissident churches have joined a splinter group called the Anglican Mission in America, said the Rev. David C. Anderson, an orthodox advocate. After Jefferts Schori's election this summer, seven of the 111 U.S. dioceses rejected her authority. Since 2003, the U.S. church estimates that it lost nearly 115,000 members. Its membership is now about 2.3 million.

As the San Joaquin vote approached, Jefferts Schori announced Thursday she would formalize the creation of a high-ranking position to oversee the seven dissenting dioceses -- a move some saw as conciliatory, others as a last-ditch effort.

"This isn't a fun thing," said Ward LeHardy, 71, whose Northern Neck church, St. Stephens of Heathsville, plans to vote this Sunday whether to join CANA. LeHardy's family has been in the Episcopal Church for 150 years. "But it's our belief that if you believe in the Lord and you believe in what the Bible says, then you better do something. Otherwise, you're complicit."

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UPDATE from Beliefnet, Inc.:

Truro Church rector Martyn Minns, right, addresses fellow clergymen, parishioners and members of the media Sunday, Dec 17, 2006 at the Truro Church in Fairfax, Va. Two of the largest Episcopal parishes in Virginia voted overwhelmingly Sunday to break from The Episcopal Church and join fellow Anglican conservatives forming a rival U.S. denomination. Image Credit: AP Photo/Chris Greenberg

Episcopal Split Accelerates as Va. Parishes Vote to Leave
By Daniel Burke - Religion News Service

Conservative Episcopalians' steady exodus from the Episcopal Church accelerated Sunday (Dec. 17) as eight Virginia congregations -- including two large, historic parishes -- voted to leave the national body.

The Diocese of Virginia has lost 12 congregations and about 18 percent of its average Sunday worship attendance in recent battles over homosexuality and the authority of Scripture, according to figures provided by the diocese.

The size of the breakaway parishes, their historical importance and their success at "planting" new congregations all make tremors of Sunday's split shiver through the Episcopal Church, said the Rev. Kendall Harmon.

"This is terribly significant," said Harmon, an influential conservative theologian from South Carolina. "When you lose large churches, you don't just lose an individual parish, you lose a great big part of the family."

The fight in Virginia will be closely watched by both sides -- by conservatives, to see how hard it is to cut ties with the national church; and by church lawyers, who will fight aggressively to maintain control of property.

Eight Virginia congregations announced their decision to leave Sunday. Three more are considering similar action. A looming legal scrap will determine if the diocese loses more than $27 million in property as well.

A "saddened" Virginia Bishop Peter Lee promised a fight.

"As stewards of this historic trust, we fully intend to assert the Church's canonical and legal rights over these properties," he said in a statement.

The Virginia congregations have thrust themselves to the front line of a conservative movement, in which U.S. parishes are aligning with theological allies in the wider Anglican Communion.

While conservatives make up a minority of the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church, a majority of the world's 37 other Anglican provinces agree with their belief that the Bible trumps cultural accommodations on issues like homosexuality.

Tensions in the U.S. church, mounting since the decision to ordain women three decades ago, exploded after an openly gay man was elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

Since Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports the consecration of gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions, was elected in June, seven dioceses have rejected her authority. One diocese—San Joaquin, Calif.—has taken preliminary steps to leave the Episcopal Church.

Two of the breakaway Virginia parishes—The Falls Church in Falls Church and Truro Church in Fairfax City—have American roots that stretch back to the 18th century. George Washington was on the governing board, or vestry, of the Falls Church.

Now, however, they are both members of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a branch of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. That church is headed by Archbishop Peter Akinola, an outspoken and powerful conservative who has publicly supported Nigeria's strict anti-gay laws.

The U.S. convocation will be headed by the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church, whom Akinola has appointed a "missionary bishop."

"(The Episcopal Church) has been our spiritual home and separating from it is very hard," Minns said in a statement. "But there is also the promise of a new day. A burden is being lifted. There are new possibilities breaking through."

The Virginia situation had been closely watched in the U.S. for several reasons, among them that Bishop Lee is known as a centrist and adept at forging consensus. His failure to do so bodes ill for the Episcopal Church, said Harmon, "If he is not able to find his way through this, it doesn't speak well for the rest of the (U.S. church)," Harmon said.

Lee took a hard line with Truro Church and Falls Church, however, which he said "have created Nigerian congregations occupying Episcopal churches."

Harmon said, "We're really dealing with what negotiators call a 'level-5' conflict.

"You have family debating whether or not you believe the family. When that happens, there's no way through it, you can't just say we'll keep eating dinner together," Harmon said.

Reference Here>>

OVERRIDING QUOTE:

"While conservatives make up a minority of the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church, a majority of the world's 37 other Anglican provinces agree with their belief that the Bible trumps cultural accommodations ..."

One wonders just how much of a "minority" actually remains throughout the Episcopal Church when the voting public here in the U.S. consistantly votes against the establishment of same-sex marriage by close to 70% vs. 30%. The mainstream media and liberal educators in our culture really want to believe that the Episcopal Church is the most "reflective" of their evolved cultural values.

MAXINE believes that the Bible "trumps" cultural accommodation.

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