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Episcopalians who oppose election of gay bishop meet in Woodbridge

Episcopalians who oppose election of gay bishop meet in Woodbridge

About 2,600 Episcopalians will meet in Woodbridge today and tomorrow to discuss the future of the denomination

Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

Date published: 1/9/2004

A conference this weekend sponsored by the American Anglican Council could give area Episcopalians a first-hand view of how deep the division over last summer's vote to approve an openly gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire really is.

About 2,600 Episcopalians are expected to attend the "Plano-East" conference in Woodbridge, a follow-up to a meeting among conservative members of the denomination held in Dallas in October.

Unlike the Texas gathering, this event, to be held at the Hylton Memorial Chapel on Gideon Drive, will be open to all members of the Episcopal Church USA, without a requirement that they sign a statement in opposition to the election of the Rev. Gene Robinson last August.

Some Episcopalians opposed that election and threatened to leave the church.

The Woodbridge conference will serve as an outlet for those who object to the decision, said Bruce Mason, spokesman for the American Anglican Council in Washington.

"This is an opportunity for many to respond to the actions [of the General Convention] and move forward," he said. "We will discuss where we stand today and where we are headed in the future."
The American Anglican Council is a network consisting of conservative bishops, clergy and laity within the Episcopal Church. It is not part of the structure of the Episcopal Church.

The group helped form the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, which aims to realign itself with the worldwide Anglican Communion without separating from the Episcopal Church, Mason said.

"The network is providing a home within the Episcopal Church for those who are still totally in line with the worldwide teachings of the Anglican church," he said.

Last year, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury in London, suggested creating a church movement or network in America to deal with the issue, Mason said.

Down the road, it will be up to the Anglican primates--international church leaders--to decide whether they want to recognize the network as the official expression of Anglicanism in the United States, Mason said.

One of the network's goals is to create a program called adequate episcopal oversight. It will assist people in orthodox parishes who feel their bishops aren't in line with their beliefs to work with an orthodox bishop outside their diocese.

Mason said the details have not been discussed yet.

The network plans to meet again on Jan. 19-20 in Plano, Texas.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, bishop of Pittsburgh, who is helping to lead the network, will also participate in the Woodbridge conference.

The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, Episcopal bishop of Virginia, agreed to invite Duncan to attend the event. Before preaching in another diocese, a bishop must be approved by the bishop of that diocese.

Lee, who was one of the 62 bishops who voted to confirm Robinson, said last summer after the vote that he received hundreds of phone calls and letters from people expressing their discontent over the matter.

He will not attend the conference.

As a way to clarify its stand, the Richmond-based Diocese of Virginia adopted a policy in 1994 that states: "The normative context for sexual intimacy is lifelong, heterosexual, monogamous marriage."
The controversy has taken a financial toll on the church.

Many Virginia Episcopalians asked that their church contributions not be sent to the diocese. About $188,000 in pledges from parishes went unfulfilled in 2003, said Nancy Jenkins, director of communications of the diocese. A hiring freeze has been imposed as a result, she said.

"We are anticipating a 20 percent reduction in budget," Jenkins said. "However at this point, 83 churches have pledged the same amount or increased pledges as compared to the 51 churches that reduced or zeroed out their pledges." Not all the pledges are in.

Most pledges from the Episcopal churches in the Fredericksburg region have remained the same or increased, Jenkins said.

The Diocese of Virginia--one of three dioceses in the commonwealth--stretches from Richmond to the Washington suburbs and over to Charlottesville.

With 86,000 members and 188 churches, the diocese is the largest in the country, Jenkins said.
Lee said he can't predict the conference's outcome, but knows a number of leaders in the American Anglican Council who don't want a schism.

"I hope people who are gathering [at the conference] will understand they are valued members of the Diocese of Virginia," Lee said. "And that they can respect people of different points of view who are also members of diocese."

But some local Episcopalians fear that the conference's true intent is to split the denomination.

The Rev. Kent Rahm, senior rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, said he isn't attending the conference because he thinks separation is high on the agenda.

"It seems to me the family of church ought to stay together, discuss their disagreements and allow the Spirit to guide us," Rahm said.

The Rev. James Reed, who is a member of the American Anglican Council and plans to attend the conference, said the conference is a way to discuss the issue.

Reed, vicar of the Church of the Messiah, an Episcopal mission church in Spotsylvania County, said he felt hurt and betrayed when the church confirmed Robinson's election as bishop and the blessing of same-sex unions.

Reed said the election of Robinson was schismatic because it didn't represent the beliefs of the majority of Episcopalians or Anglicans worldwide.

At the root of the debate is the authority of Scriptures. There are at least seven references in the Bible that call homosexual practice a sin, Reed said.

"The church interpreted the Scriptures to prohibit homosexual practice," he said. "But there are a number of progressive scholars who reinterpret it to say that those Scriptures don't apply to homosexual practice today."

Reed didn't attend the Texas conference, but he, his vestry and a number of his congregation signed the document supporting its stance.

"I don't want to leave the Episcopal church," he said. "AAC is simply making a stand for those who are orthodox in the Episcopal church."

To reach JESSICA ALLEN: 540/368-5036 jiallen@freelancestar.com

Date published: 1/9/2004


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