Episcopalians in central Florida have committed to stay in The Episcopal Church as faithful, orthodox believers despite their disagreement with the liberal direction of the denomination.
"I think many of us have some pretty deep disagreements with some of the recent decisions of The Episcopal Church," the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe said Saturday at the 41st Annual Convention of the Diocese of Central Florida.
"But, as Bishop Bob Terwilliger put it when someone asked, 'Are you threatening to leave?' he responded, 'No, I'm threatening to stay!' We are not about winning political battles. We are about bearing faithful witness."
Since 2004, a year after The Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, nearly a dozen congregations have left the Central Florida Diocese. Their disaffection was not with the conservative diocese, but rather with the national church body.
While both the diocese and disaffected parishes believe The Episcopal Church has departed from Christian orthodoxy and traditional Anglicanism, Howe has chosen a different path for the diocese – to stay.
By staying, Howe knows he is risking more churches leaving the diocese but he says he's committed to standing faithfully.
"We know we are part of something much larger than The Episcopal Church, and while we may be in a minority in TEC we are squarely in the center of the great majority of orthodox Anglicanism around the world," the bishop said.
Also departing from the contentious approaches other dioceses have taken against parishes that split, Howe has avoided litigation with breakaway churches over property and instead worked out negotiations.
The 11 new Anglican congregations that are now separated from the diocese "are not our enemies," Howe affirmed.
"They are proclaiming the Gospel, and most of them are growing. I wish they were part of this Diocese, and they are not; but with us they are committed to 'taking Central Florida for Christ,'" he told clergy and delegates representing 88 parishes.
Delegates at the convention signed a statement distancing themselves from last year's "divisive actions" by the governing body of The Episcopal Church. In July, the Episcopal House of Deputies adopted resolutions that some believe open the ordination process to practicing homosexuals and move the national church closer to the blessing of same-sex unions.
By signing the Anaheim Statement, the diocese also reaffirmed its commitment to moratoria on the ordination of gays and lesbians and on same-gender blessings.
Delegates also responded to the election of a partnered lesbian priest as assistant bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles. The Rev. Mary Glasspool could become the second openly homosexual bishop in The Episcopal Church if she is confirmed by a majority of bishops and diocesan standing committees. Those who participate in that consecration "will have walked apart from those of us who remain in The Episcopal Church and remain committed to the Faith proclaimed in the Scriptures," states the Diocese of Central Florida's response.
Anglican leaders around the world had responded to the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, with a moratorium and a declaration that the global communion "impaired," the diocese recalls. The consecration of Glasspool would demonstrate "once again our disregard of Scripture and the Communion of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world."
"If the first consecration caused an international tearing of the fabric, then we who remain in TEC must be clear that it is now tearing the fabric within our Church."
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the global Anglican Communion. Membership has declined by 10 percent over the past decade, with some 167,000 people having left between 2003 and 2007.