Anglican bishops discontent with The Episcopal Church announced Friday they have taken the first step in forming a "separate ecclesiastical structure" in North America in an attempt to remain faithful to the global Anglican Communion.
Bishops representing more than 600 orthodox Anglican congregations that have either split or threatened to break from The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – convened in Pittsburgh, Pa., to up the level of their Common Cause Partnership and lay out the path ahead for a separate Anglican body that would accommodate conservatives.
The four-day meeting concluded Friday.
The Common Cause Partners believe The Episcopal Church has "failed" the communion and rejected "obvious scriptural teaching" with their pro-gay agenda. The U.S. church body had widened rifts when it consecrated the first openly gay bishop in 2003.
With little hope that The Episcopal Church will go backward on its decision and get back in line with the global Anglican family, Bishop Robert Duncan, convener of the Common Cause Council, says there is no room in the U.S. body for those who want to stay faithful to the communion and biblical Christianity.
Breakaway Anglicans are now working to strengthen their partnership around the Gospel and a common mission.
The formation of a separate ecclesiastical structure was called for by conservative Anglican leaders in the Global South last September. Former Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold had raised concerns, saying such a move would open the way to "multiple divisions across other provinces."
Still, conservatives see The Episcopal Church drifting apart and say they want to stay aligned with the rest of the communion.
"We met deeply aware that we have arrived at a critical moment in the history of mainstream Anglican witness in North America. God has led us to repentance for past divisions and opened the way for a united path forward," said Duncan in a statement.
Though some were expecting the announcement of a complete new structure in place this week, forming a separate Anglican body is only in its initial stages.
"To have the brand new squeaky clean thing in place [right now] is simply not realistic," said the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, missionary bishop of the Anglican breakaway CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America). "Such a thing, frankly, takes far more time."
"But we can begin working together far more deliberately," he noted.
When the structure is in place, however, Duncan doesn't expect Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, to immediately recognize the body.
But "we will make our case" to him, Duncan told VirtueOnline, a voice for global orthodox Anglicanism.
Williams recently came out of closed-door talks during a rare visit to The Episcopal Church last week. The spiritual head stressed the need for each other within the communion as he sought a "fresh way forward" for the entire Anglican family.
Meanwhile, conservatives said division is becoming clearer when the Episcopal House of Bishops released its response this week to questions and concerns raised by Anglican leaders. Episcopal bishops stated they would exercise restraint on consecrating openly gay bishops and pledged not to authorize the public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions. Many commended the statement, saying liberals and conservatives and those in between were able to find common ground and that they have fulfilled the request made to them by Anglican leaders. Some, including Integrity USA – an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Episcopalians – felt the statement represented "some significant steps forward" as Anglicans worked through differences.
However, many conservatives, including the Common Cause Partners, were disappointed in the Episcopal statement and saw no change in their direction.
"Unfortunately, the [House of Bishops] has failed the Communion; their continued ambiguity, questioning of basic Christian beliefs, and rejection of obvious Scriptural teaching has widened the gap between them and biblical Christianity," the orthodox partners stated.
This week's first ever Common Cause Council convened 51 bishops and largely focused on mission evangelism and how to support each other. They requested that the Anglican leaders of the communion, called primates, be informed of their stated commitments to strengthening their partnership and forming a new structure "in the hope that our emerging common life will commend us to them as full partners."