December 20, 2006


Episcopalians Are Reaching Point of Revolt (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, 12/17/06, NY Times)

In a twist, these wealthy American congregations are essentially putting themselves up for adoption by Anglican archbishops in poorer dioceses in Africa, Asia and Latin America who share conservative theological views about homosexuality and the interpretation of Scripture with the breakaway Americans.

“The Episcopalian ship is in trouble,” said the Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, one of the two large Virginia congregations, where George Washington served on the vestry. “So we’re climbing over the rails down to various little lifeboats. There’s a lifeboat from Bolivia, one from Rwanda, another from Nigeria. Their desire is to help us build a new ship in North America, and design it and get it sailing.”

Together, these Americans and their overseas allies say they intend to form a new American branch that would rival or even supplant the Episcopal Church in the worldwide Anglican Communion, a confederation of national churches that trace their roots to the Church of England and the archbishop of Canterbury.

The archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, is now struggling to hold the communion together while facing a revolt on many fronts from emboldened conservatives. Last week, conservative priests in the Church of England warned him that they would depart if he did not allow them to sidestep liberal bishops and report instead to sympathetic conservatives.

In Virginia, the two large churches are voting on whether they want to report to the powerful archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality who supports legislation in his country that would make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to form organizations, read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant. Archbishop Akinola presides over the largest province in the 77-million-member Anglican Communion; it has more than 17 million members, dwarfing the Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million.

If all eight Virginia churches vote to separate, the Diocese of Virginia, the largest Episcopal diocese in the country, will lose about 10 percent of its 90,000 members. In addition, four churches in Virginia have already voted to secede, and two more are expected to vote soon, said Patrick N. Getlein, secretary of the diocese.

Two weeks ago, the entire diocese in San Joaquin, Calif., voted to sever its ties with the Episcopal Church, a decision it would have to confirm in a second vote next year. Six or more American dioceses say they are considering such a move.

The students have become the teachers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 20, 2006 9:12 AM

Two things - for many conservative Episcopal churches, these issues have been building for 30 years (or more). It's not just the homosexuality issue, although that brought the battle to the fore. And, in VA, several of the congregations are older than the diocese itself, so there probably won't be a fight over the property, at least not with the diocese winning.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 20, 2006 10:51 AM

In the long run, it's an untenable position for the head of your church to be appointed by the British Prime Minister.

Which is to say . . .

Holy Mother the Church on line one, calling her wayward sheep home.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 20, 2006 11:02 AM

There are important legal considerations in play here. American property law recognizes the distinction between congregational churches and hierarchical churches.

Generally, civil law attempts to recognize how a church deems itself to be organized. THe property of a congregational church is owned by the congregation, and property decisions are made by whatever body is analogous to a corporate board of directors.

The property of a hierarchical church is usually owned by the ordinary, i.e., the bishop of a diocese, although other permutations are possible.

It is not certain that an Epioscopal parish might secede from its regular hierarchy and retain what the congregants almost certainly consider "their" property.

This issue came up in recent history when Americal Russion Orthhodox congregations had attempted to secede from the KGB-dominated Russion hierarchy and were prevented from doing so in a case that went to to U.S. Suprfeme Court.

These issues come up in matters as mundane as premises liability claims against church property, as when a claimant seeks to identify the reponsible party.

If a heirarchical church members cannot accept what their bishop or ather authority sends, they can always vote with their feet, but they can't always take all that stone and stained glass with them.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 20, 2006 11:13 AM

It isn't just Robinson's homosexuality. It's his adultry too. He happened to be married at the time he embarked on his homosexual affair.
Does sound a little like how the English church was founded, though.

Posted by: Steve at December 21, 2006 3:05 AM