c. 2000 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) When the Episcopal Church left Denver in July following its triennial General Convention, both conservatives and liberals within the 2.5 million-member church claimed a partial victory.
Liberals cheered an overwhelming vote to affirm “life-long committed relationships” other than marriage which merit the church’s support.
Conservatives blocked a measure that would have created rites to bless such relationships. Taking that step, they said, would open the door to blessing same-sex unions, something conservatives vehemently oppose.
But with both sides claiming a win, it was only a matter of time until progressives and traditionalists started bumping into each other on the victory lap.
Now, three months after the Denver meeting, the fragile unity _ or awkward co-existance _ crafted by both sides is beginning to crack in a number of visible ways:
_ At least four Colorado Episcopal priests and two Florida parishes have left the church and alligned themselves with Charles Murphy and John Rodgers _ two American “missionary” bishops ordained in Singapore and sent to shepherd conservative Episcopalians.
_ The bishop of Pennsylvania, the Rt. Rev. Charles Bennison, was recently denied communion at a conservative Huntingdon Valley, Pa., parish that refuses to recognize his oversight and authority.
_ Conservative bishops from around the world recently ended a meeting in Nassau, Bahamas, to plot strategy for the future. Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, a moderate, called the move “unhelpful.”
_ A number of bishops continue to struggle with renegade congregations over property disputes. Bishop Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts is in the midst of a costly legal battle to keep St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brockton, Mass., from leaving with church property. The conservative director of the Canon Law Institute in Washington has advised Shaw and others to drop the legal battles.
For some church observers, an exodus by conservatives distressed by the church’s liberal bent was all but inevitable. But for others, it’s a sign that the church’s “flaming liberal” leadership has sacrificed biblical truth in place of a false unity.
“The unity which we seek, and which we enjoy with the rest of the (Anglican) Communion, is a unity in the truth,” said the Rev. Philip Wyman, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, where Bennison was passed over for communion. “It’s often been said that God’s unity is never bought at the expense of God’s truth.”
Many conservatives are frustrated because while they are in the minority in the U.S. church, most of the 70 million Anglicans around the world share their positions. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
That is partly why many churches have chosen to allign themselves with Rodgers and Murphy, who have launched the Anglican Mission in America. Three of the priests who left Grace Church in Buena Vista, Colo., have signed up with the two Singapore bishops.
With about 140 of the 160 members of the church, they have formed the Anglican Church of the Savior and meet in a former Baptist church. One of the church members said they do not feel comfortable with the national church’s leadership.
“There are about 101 bishops in the Episcopal Church and 70 of them are flaming liberals,” said Rick W. Taylor, chairman of the board of the new church.
Colorado Bishop Jerry Winterrowd will take a “wait and see attitude,” his spokesman said, but added the four priests eventually could be expelled.
The position is perhaps most awkward for church bishops who must reconcile their personal beliefs with church law, all the while delicately trying to maintain both liberals and conservatives in the same camp.
It doesn’t always work.
Bishop Charles Duvall, a moderate from Florida’s panhandle, wrote in an August pastoral letter to his flock that if God had joined them together, he would work to keep them that way.
“We are unique, thinking human beings, not robots,” Duvall wrote. “It is Jesus who incorporates me and you into his body, the church, through baptism. If Jesus is pleased to bring us together, I am pleased to remain together with you, whether we agree or disagree.”
For other, more ideologically charged bishops, the task can be even more difficult.
Bennison, who oversees 162 parishes in and around Philadelphia, is widely considered a leader of the church’s liberal wing. Conservatives bristle at his notion that “the church wrote the Bible, and the church can rewrite the Bible.” For Bennison and his flock, their only prayer may be to simply to agree to disagree.
“They may not agree with me on everything I think or say or do, and I don’t make any claims that I’m right,” Bennison said. “But I’m a person trying to work out as best I can what Christ’s claims are on us in this time of great change.
“I don’t think we have to be one mind to be of one faith.”
DEA END ECKSTROM