WOODBRIDGE, Va. (ABP) — A massive gathering of conservative Episcopalians met in a suburb of Washington Jan. 9-10 to encourage each other and further discuss the shape of a new network of churches within the Episcopal Church in the United States.
More than 3,000 Episcopalians from across the country gathered at a Christian special-events center in Woodbridge, Va., to share in worship and hear speeches and panel discussions from several prominent conservative church leaders.
The meeting, sponsored by the American Anglican Council, was a follow-up to a similar gathering held in the Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas, last year. Dubbed the “Plano-East” conference, it featured the head of a coalition of Episcopal bishops adamantly opposed to the denomination's election last year of a non-celibate gay man to head the Diocese of New Hampshire.
At both meetings, participants discussed the outlines of what is being called, for the time being, the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes.
The network will provide “alternative episcopal oversight” to those parishes and individual Episcopalians who consider the heads of their dioceses too liberal to exercise the authentic spiritual authority that Episcopalians believe rests in the office of bishop. “The network is a way for orthodox parishes and dioceses to remain in relationship with the [worldwide] Anglican Communion,” said Bruce Mason.
For instance, the many conservative parishes in the Diocese of Virginia could request a conservative bishop to conduct confirmation or ordination services rather than current bishop Peter Lee, who voted to confirm Robinson's election.
Although the meetings' organizers have said repeatedly that the network's focus is not merely in reaction to homosexuality, the Episcopal Church's decision to elect Gene Robinson as a bishop clearly provided the final push for the network's formation.
In a conference panel discussion, one Virginia pastor, while acknowledging that the network was formed in response to the Robinson issue, said “in truth its origin precedes all of that.” According to Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax. Va., the movement is focused on reclaiming the church's evangelical mission.
“Over the past few years, there has been a growing realignment of dioceses and parishes within the Anglican Communion,” Minns said. “We are connected by a common vision for the gospel and a passion for mission. We are brought together by a love for the word of God and a desire to see that word proclaimed with sensitivity and power.”
The bishop serving as convener of the new network also spoke to the meeting's participants. In a question-and-answer session with reporters prior to his sermon, Robert Duncan of the Diocese of Pittsburgh said a way to provide alternative spiritual oversight was necessary because the Episcopal Church had clearly and explicitly repudiated biblical teaching by electing Robinson.
“You can't have a high view of Scripture and take this view of human sexuality,” Duncan said, in response to a reporter's question about why he couldn't share the denomination peacefully with Christians who differed from him in interpretation of the Bible's passages regarding homosexuality.
Many of those who support an equal role for gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church have said conservative Episcopalians made charges and threats similar to Duncan's when the church began ordaining women as priests in the 1970s. However, few ended up leaving the denomination.
But Duncan said that the situations are not analogous. “Scripture is complex on the role of women in leadership — it is not complex at all on the issue of human sexual activity,” the bishop said.