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Episcopal leaders fear 'permanent split': Bishop issues ultimatum to conservative congregation
South Coast Today ^ | 1/01/2007 | Lauren Daly, Standard-Times

Posted on 01/01/2007 4:15:01 PM PST by sionnsar

The bitter resentment that has festered beneath the skin of the U.S. branch of the Episcopal Church for the past 50 years finally broke through last month and looks only to get more painful in 2007.

While it was one church, there were two fundamentally different schools of thought within it, SouthCoast [Mass.] church leaders explained — essentially, liberals and conservatives.

There were the church leaders who vehemently opposed gay unions, and there were the church leaders who not only sanctioned it, but were openly gay themselves.

There were those who read the Bible as the word of God, and those who read it as the word of man.

Here in SouthCoast, there are 18 Episcopal churches — including some seven with female leaders.

SouthCoast leaders don't know of any churches in this area who want to secede, but they called this a "permanent split" and "a fundamental break that will eventually totally fracture."

Tensions came to a head when Presiding U.S. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori — controversially installed in November as the first woman to head an Anglican church — voted to confirm the openly-gay Gene V. Robinson of New Hampshire and allow same-sex unions in her diocese of Nevada.

When Bishop Robinson was elected in 2003, many congregations left.

Then, last month, in an act of opposition to Bishop Schori, eight Virginia parishes voted to secede from the U.S. Episcopal Church, in part because they refuse to accept same-sex unions or gay church leaders.

Two of the largest and oldest Virginia parishes announced they will join the conservative Episcopal Church of Nigeria.

The head of that church, Archbishop Peter Akinola, is an outspoken opponent of homosexuality who supports prison sentences for gay sexual activity in his country and legislation that would make it illegal for gays and lesbians to read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant.

Several more U.S. parishes will decide soon whether to follow suit, parish leaders said. A California diocese also officially left Dec. 17.

Yesterday, things got worse.

The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia issued an ultimatum to a conservative congregation — "The Mother Church of Georgia" has been given until June 30 to "choose its path."

"This looks to me to be a permanent split; one that's been building for years," said the Rev. Robert Woodroofe of St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church in Marion.

"The ordination of women has been one of the bones of contention, but different insults have brought this about.

"At the base, this is about a feeling (in some churches) that the Episcopal Church majority doesn't understand the Bible; that it veered off the path of understanding Scripture."

The Rev. Woodroofe said that of the 190 churches that make up the Diocese of Eastern Massachusetts, "there are a handful seriously struggling," but he doesn't know of any looking to secede.

The Episcopal Church, called the Episcopal Church in the USA, is the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Two of the largest Virginia Churches that chose to break off last week — Truro and The Falls Church — were formed before the U.S. denomination even existed. (George Washington was a member at The Falls Church.) As of the start of last year, there were more than 7,000 congregations listed in the U.S.

Since the 1970s, when the church began ordaining women, there have been bitter tensions; many conservative congregations left at that point.

The Rev. Bonnie Sarah Spencer, of The Church of Our Saviour in Somerset, who is openly lesbian with a partner, said the issues of gay unions and leaders were "the straws that broke the camel's back, but it's a little more complicated than that.

"It's also about how we approach and interpret the Scriptures. There are many issues in the Scriptures open to interpretation, including what the Bible says about homosexuality and women in leadership."

The Rev. Bill Bradbury of Grace Episcopal Church in New Bedford agreed.

"When we elected a gay bishop, that brought (the division) to a head. There are some churches in a number of dioceses that have done this or are going to do this. I know one of the Episcopal churches in Attleboro voted this year to do something similar. ... I'm assuming that others who want (secession) will do it shortly."

Pastor Paul Rodgers of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in South Dartmouth, said, "There is existing a fundamental break that will eventually totally fracture. This break has existed for over 50 years. It's only a matter of time before the split is more finalized."

Pastor Rodgers said it has to do with two different "fundamental understandings of the interpretation and authority of Scripture."

The Virginia churches are "not the first to leave and they won't be the last," he said.

The Rev. Spencer said she does not believe this split is a schism: "It's just some people who have decided they can't live with the decisions the church has made. I don't agree, but I don't harbor any resentment towards them."

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant; Other non-Christian

1 posted on 01/01/2007 4:15:03 PM PST by sionnsar
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Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

2 posted on 01/01/2007 4:16:19 PM PST by sionnsar (††|Iran Azadi| 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0ur5 (SONY) | UN: Useless Na)
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To: sionnsar

A pretty poorly written piece in my opinion. At least she did get this part right though:

"While it was one church, there were two fundamentally different schools of thought within it..."

What she missed though is that it is more than different schools of though, it is different religions. One is Christianity, the other neo-pagan gnosticism.

3 posted on 01/01/2007 10:06:34 PM PST by AnalogReigns (Solus Christus)
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To: AnalogReigns

It was a very poorly written piece. I was really amused by the "eating while gay" remark.

4 posted on 01/02/2007 7:44:10 AM PST by sionnsar (††|Iran Azadi| 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0ur5 (SONY) | UN: Useless Na)
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