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Conservative Anglicans Create Rival Church

Top leader Duncan expects to see Episcopal Church 'displaced.'

In a history-making gesture, conservative evangelical Anglicans, deeply alienated by the decline of the U.S. denomination, sounded a shofar to herald the creation of the Anglican Church of North America.

On a snowy Wednesday evening, about 1,000 worshipers, mostly from the U.S. and Canada, gathered in Wheaton, Illinois, for a worship service to celebrate the creation of the new entity, which comprises 656 congregations, 800 clergy, 30 bishops, and 100,000 people in regular worship. They represent the evangelical, charismatic, and Anglo-Catholic traditions within Anglicanism.

During a pre-service press conference, Bob Duncan, the former Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh and now archbishop-designate for the new church, told news media that he expects the Episcopal Church (TEC) to continue its decline and that in time, the new province will come to replace it.

He said, "The Lord is displacing the Episcopal Church."

This year, TEC leaders have seen the decades-long downward spiral continue in both attendance and finances. By some estimates, attendance and membership are declining by 1,000 people per week. Many dioceses are cutting budgets and staff, and drawing down endowment funds to maintain operations. The denomination has about two million members. It is spending millions of dollars on court actions to prevent individual churches and dioceses from pulling out.

Schism or the Beginning of Healing?

Many Episcopal leaders see this move by conservatives as schismatic. At the Wednesday press conference, one reporter asked if church historians would point to this meeting as the clearest mark yet of the moment when the Anglican split became final. Cynthia Brust, director of communications for the Anglican Mission in America, replied, "Today is the day that the Anglican Communion began to be healed."

Over the last 10 years, the worldwide Anglican Communion, representing about 75 million Christians, has been embattled due to controversies over sex, power, theology, and money. The 2003 consecration of the openly homosexual Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire was one of many flashpoints.

The centerpiece of Wednesday's service was public affirmation of the Jerusalem Declaration, drafted by 1,100 conservatives, including 291 bishops, this past June when they gathered for GAFCON, the Global Anglican Future Conference. The declaration condemns "overt heterodoxy" as well as the lack of discipline against anyone teaching a "false gospel," such as full inclusion for noncelibate homosexuals.

After the bishops at Wednesday's service signed the declaration, hundreds of worshipers lined up to sign it as well. At the beginning of the service, a young man walked to the center of the stage and blew a shofar that had been purchased in Jerusalem. The service was punctuated by ecstatic worship and two standing ovations for Duncan, who was removed from Episcopal office by his former fellow bishops in September. Duncan is among four diocesan bishops who have taken their dioceses out of TEC. Those four dioceses are in San Joaquin, California; Quincy, Illinois; Fort Worth, Texas; and Pittsburgh.

New Constitution

Earlier in the day on Wednesday, top leaders adopted a provisional constitution that will allow continued existence for current organizations, continued oversight by overseas archbishops from South America and Africa, the use of different prayer books, and the ordination of women.

It commits the leaders to involvement in a diocese, cluster of churches, or a church-based network within the new province. The constitution creates a provincial council, a tribunal, a joint operating budget, and the office of provincial archbishop.

The next steps forward for the new province come quickly. Today, December 4, top Anglican archbishops who support the creation of the new province are meeting in London. Mostly from the Global South, the archbishops are expected to begin the process of official recognition of the new province and later meet with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the foremost leader of global Anglicanism.

The Anglican Communion has never before been asked to form a new province based on belief rather than geography. Currently there are 38 provinces in the Anglican Communion. Only Europe, where British and American ministries overlap, is not geographically based.

In mid-2009, the new North American Anglicans plan to meet in Bedford, Texas, to ratify their constitution.

Stewart Ruch, rector of the Church of the Resurrection, based in Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, Illinois, attended GAFCON and has been a big supporter of the new province. During a post-service interview, Ruch told Christianity Today, "There are two things going through my mind. One, there is a great sense of jubilation. As a parish, we have waited over 15 years for a new province under biblical authority to form, so I am full of joy. Second, I am struck with intercession that this would be a province that is focused first and foremost on those who are far from God."

Asked what difference members in his church would notice with the new structure, he said, "They have already felt an arm extended to them from the Anglican Mission in America. They will now feel a second arm. Two hands have now been extended. They are being brought on fully into that great capital C church in a revitalizing way. This will mean a lot to my folks, and many of them are here. This has been especially sweet."

Related Elsewhere:

Christianity Today has been following the Anglican Division for several years.

Other media reports include:

Episcopalians Form Rival Church | A collection of breakaway Episcopalians have formed a single denomination to rival the mainstream U.S. church, cementing a schism that was largely prompted by the election in 2003 of a gay bishop. (The Wall Street Journal)
Split in Episcopal Church hits new level | Conservatives who fled liberal views of Scripture have formed a breakaway church in North America. (Los Angeles Times)
Episcopal Split as Conservatives Form New Group | Conservatives alienated from the Episcopal Church announced on Wednesday that they were founding their own rival denomination, the biggest challenge yet to the authority of the Episcopal Church since it ordained an openly gay bishop five years ago. (The New York Times)
Conservatives form rival group to Episcopal Church | Theological conservatives upset by liberal views of U.S. Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans formed a rival North American province Wednesday, in a long-developing rift over the Bible that erupted when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop. (Associated Press)
Episcopal Church dissidents move toward division | Conservatives who have left the U.S. Episcopal Church took the first step on Wednesday to form a separate Anglican Church in North America, following years of division over gay rights and scriptural interpretation. (Reuters)
Conservative Episcopalians Vote to Create Alternative Branch | Conservatives from the Episcopal Church voted yesterday to form their own branch of Anglicanism in the United States and said they would seek new recognition in the worldwide church because of their growing disenchantment over the ordination of an openly gay bishop and other liberal developments. (The Washington Post)
Conservatives unveil plan to break from Episcopal Church | Conservative Anglican leaders unveiled on Wednesday the constitution and laws for a new organization intended to replace the Episcopal Church as the American arm of the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members worldwide. (The Chicago Tribune)

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