The traditionalist Episcopal Synod of America (ESA) has offered conservative parishes an alternative to the Episcopal Church’s leadership. But few parishes appear ready to make the break. Of the 20 ESA clergy contacted in January by Episcopal Life, none said he would affiliate his parish with the new body.

In November, the two-year-old synod created the Missionary Diocese of the Americas for parishes wishing independence from the liberal bent of denominational leadership, which intends “to suppress and persecute biblical Christianity,” according to the ESA. But while ESA clergy may agree with the synod’s goals of combating liberal trends, they also face complex problems with church authority if they affiliate with the new diocese.

Under the missionary diocese plan, congregations may relate to traditionalist bishops, rather than to those bishops who head their geographical diocese. But doing so could mean local churches would lose their property to the denomination. Even conservative bishops William Wantland of Wisconsin and John Howe of Central Florida, who applaud ESA’s goals, have distanced themselves from the formation of the diocese, which transcends the authority invested in the geographic boundaries of the denomination’s 121 dioceses.

New Congregations

Retired Bishop Donald Davies, bishop-in-charge of the new nongeographical diocese, said he was not surprised by the survey in Episcopal Life.“Our priority here in the new missionary diocese is reaching out to the people who have left the Episcopal Church. There are some parishes that have long since practically withdrawn from diocesan activities. When they’re ready, I’m sure we’ll accept them. I didn’t expect a group of churches to join.”

One congregation in Houston and one in Fort Collins, Colorado, have joined the new diocese, which is headquartered in Aiken, South Carolina. Those parishes, however, were not previously affiliated with the Texas and Colorado dioceses.

Eight other congregations intend to join, and the diocese is working to find conservative clergy for them, Davies said. “We have not purposely gone after any parish. We have our hands full right now.”

Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning have both condemned the new diocese as potentially schismatic. Carey said he would support no other Anglican group in the U.S. other than the Episcopal Church.

“I think it is very clear to all concerned that a nongeographic province, as conceived by the synod, is unacceptable within the Anglican Communion and cannot be provided for within the Episcopal Church,” Browning told CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

“We’re not causing a schism,” says Davies, “a schism already exists. We know that it is uncanonical to start a diocese. While those who are doing the charging [of causing schism] and rewriting Scripture and ordaining homosexuals go off scot-free, what else are we going to do, sit and die out or conform? We think we have a right to provide this ministry.”

By Tom Morton.

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