DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania Anglican world leaders meeting in Tanazania have drafted a proposed document that could strip regional bodies, called provinces, of full membership, but only in "extreme circumstances."
Called an Anglican Covenant, the document did not directly discuss the issue of homosexual priests or the ordination of women, two sticking points with conservative congregations. Instead, it addressed more general commonalities involving the faith. The Anglican Church has no formal process for expulsion.
According to the Episcopal News Service, the document could open an opportunity to act "in the most extreme circumstances, where churches choose not to fulfill the substance of the covenant," such churches may be seen as having "relinquished ... the force and meaning of the covenant's purpose, and a process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches."
The document was released Feb. 19 on the closing day of a five-day biannual meeting of 38 provincial leaders, called primates, including Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who heads the Episcopal Church, the American arm of the worldwide Anglican community.
As a sign of formal protest against the Episcopal Church, seven primates declined to take communion with their colleagues to express their disapproval with the liberal stands of the American church.
"We each take the celebration of the Holy Eucharist very seriously," a statement from the seven defectors read. "This deliberate action is a poignant reminder of the brokenness of the Anglican Communion. It makes clear that the torn fabric of the church has been torn further. It is a consequence of the decision taken by our provinces to declare that our relationship with The Episcopal Church is either broken or severely impaired."
Many in the more conservative Anglican community are upset that the Episcopal Church ordained its first openly gay bishop in 2003. They were further alienated by Schori's election last year as presiding bishop.
Some observers anticipated that a separate conservative body for American conservatives would emerge from the meeting. Although nothing official emanated from the primates' gathering, it was not known at press time if they would take independent action after the adjournment of the official meeting. A final communiqué from the primate meeting was expected, but not released by press time.
Some American churches are not waiting. The Church of Nigeria, under the leadership of Archbishop Peter Akinola, has already set up a separate outreach arm in the United States called the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.
Other bishops in Uganda and South America have assumed jurisdictional authority over U.S. churches that have left the Episcopal Church over its theological differences.
San Diego churches respond
In San Diego's North County, several congregations have divested themselves from the local diocese, with some of the clergy and members walking away from physical assets. St. John's in Fallbrook, Calif., which left the diocese in July, has been sued by the diocese, which maintains it owns the property, not the local parish, which has since changed its name to St. John's Anglican Church. In early November, a judge tentatively ruled in favor of the local church.
A little over a year ago the Rev. Keith Ackers, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Alpine, Calif. became the first local pastor to leave the diocese. Ackers started a new Anglican congregation at a nearby school.
Several of the North County churches have affiliated under the direction of Bolivian Bishop Frank Lyons, who has also accepted churches in the dioceses of Fort Worth, Texas; Peoria, Ill.; Pittsburgh, South Carolina and central Florida.
Lyons, in town for a January visit, estimates that no more than 10 percent of American clergy have opted out of the Episcopal Church in order to affiliate with international Anglican bodies. If the Anglican Church does take official action, Lyons said more congregations may make moves, but he believes most have already made their decisions.
"That might help shake a few loose apples out of the tree, but I don't think so," the Bolivian bishop said. "As Americans we are wedded to our culture to the extent that it's difficult for us to go for Jesus. If the cultural attributes outweigh what Jesus is talking about, then we put our trust in the culture, not Jesus."
For those who did sacrifice tradition and in some instances, security of a physical church home, Lyons anticipates blessings.
"I think He will accept their sacrifice with the intention that it was madeto serve Himand He will bless those folks," Lyons said. "We've seen a lot of that blessing in different ways, spiritual and material blessings, pouring out on these people, but it is at a cost. Some people lose their buildings, the clergy certainly lose their pensions and those kinds of things. But at a certain point you can't keep following."