Anglicans Move Separate Ways Ahead of Major Meeting

The Episcopal Church's leader expressed confidence on Sunday that they will not be the only one standing up in support of gay clergy at an upcoming global conference.

"Many more [bishops] than you might expect are sympathetic," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said at the conclusion of a five-day tour honoring Chicago's new Episcopal bishop, according to The Chicago Tribune. "They are not, however, the loudest voices."

Jefferts Schori and Jeffrey Lee, the new Chicago bishop, are among several U.S. bishops who will be attending the Lambeth Conference in July. The meeting brings together leaders from the worldwide Anglican Communion every 10 years.

But this year's gathering comes in the midst of talks of schism and conservative bishops are opposing the invitation of U.S. bishops who supported the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop.

Archbishop Peter Jensen of the Diocese of Sydney released a statement Saturday saying he and other bishops in the diocese will not attend the Lambeth meeting.

"They (Sydney bishops) remain fully committed to the Anglican Communion, to which they continue to belong, but sense that attending the Conference at this time will not help heal its divisions," said the statement. "They continue to pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference."

Meanwhile, conservative bishops are holding a separate conference just ahead of Lambeth in hopes of going back to Christian roots and setting course for the future of the church. Many believe The Episcopal Church – the U.S. branch of Anglicanism – has departed from Scripture and traditional Anglican faith, notably on their liberal stance on homosexuality.

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, a leading conservative in the Anglican Communion, recently told press that the U.S. branch is not paying attention to Scripture but giving prominence to modern culture.

"They are bringing new principles to interpret scripture," Akinola said on Jan. 30 at the announcement of the separate conservative meeting called Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). "Those of us who will abide with the Word of God, come rain come fire, are those who are in GAFCON. Those who say it does not matter are the ones who are attending Lambeth."

"What is the use of the Lambeth conference for a three weeks' jamboree which will sweep these issues under the carpet," he added. "GAFCON will confer about the future of the church, which will set a road map for the future. We are a movement that will move away from the 'maybe – maybe not.'"

Akinola and bishops from Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda also will not be attending Lambeth in addition to the bishops from Sydney, Akinola confirmed. Together, they represent more than 30 million Anglicans in the 77-million-member Communion.

Some bishops may attend both GAFCON and Lambeth.

Chicago Bishop Lee, who supports the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church, is pushing for bridge building rather than focusing on theological interpretations of Scripture.

"That's one of the tragedies afflicting the church right now," Lee said Sunday as he reminded parishioners that their call to ministry is by virtue of their baptism and not their liberal or conservative interpretations of Scripture, according to the local Tribune.

"So many of us seem to think that salvation depends on our theological correctness," he added.

Lee said he hopes to see a trend of listening and bridge building regardless of where bishops fall on the theological spectrum, rather than defending positions.

Lambeth Conference 2008 is a 20-day conference that will begin with a bishops retreat on July 17 at the University of Kent in Canterbury. As of late last month, about 70 percent of Anglican bishops worldwide confirmed they will be attending.