A group of orthodox Episcopalians is circulating a survey to lay people across the nation to assess how the 2.4-million member Episcopal Church might divide in the weeks ahead.
The Anglican Laity Fellowship (ALF) – formerly known as Lay Episcopalians for the Anglican Communion – sent out the survey to gauge the magnitude of the changes in The Episcopal Church as the denomination remains divided over homosexuality and Christian orthodoxy.
"For the first time in 40 years, the crisis has produced a really clear sense of where the opposing sides stand," said a statement by ALF.
While still a minority, a growing group of parishes have voted to dissociate from The Episcopal Church – the U.S. branch of Anglicanism – and joined conservative offshoots set up in the United States by African Anglican leaders. Those that left said they want to remain faithful to the worldwide Anglican Communion and thus cannot remain in The Episcopal Church, which conservatives say has departed from Anglican tradition.
ALF had earlier proposed for a new orthodox Anglican structure in North America that would essentially replace The Episcopal Church in its place in the Anglican Communion. Other conservative and breakaway Anglicans have formed a Common Cause Partnership and will hold a Sept. 25-28 meeting to discuss the next step in forming a separate Anglican structure in the United States with predictions that The Episcopal Church will "walk apart" from the global communion.
"We know that many of these leaders are reluctant to enter into open rebellion against The Episcopal Church," ALF expressed in a statement along with the release of the survey, "but we also know that their parishes, whether conservative or liberal, are experiencing tremendous losses as their members struggle uncomfortably to straddle the fence.
"There is enough information out there now to convince parish leadership to make up their minds and to lead their flocks in one direction or the other. The question is whether they want to maintain their allegiance with the majority of the Anglican Communion, or follow The Episcopal Church as it 'walks apart.'"
The survey is directed exclusively to the laity, not the clergy, of The Episcopal Church. It asks lay Episcopalians how much their fellow parishioners are aware of the "problems in The Episcopal Church" such as the "Episcopalian/Anglican controversies over theology and doctrine" and "lawsuits by The Episcopal Church against its own parishes." Other questions ask for their stance on the singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ, biblical authority, and the Bible and homosexuality.
Predicting "a lot of movement" this month by Episcopal congregations either remaining with The Episcopal Church or splitting, ALF asks survey respondents how they would personally vote and how they think their parish would vote when given the choice between The Episcopal Church or Anglican alternatives. ALF expects responses from the survey to demonstrate what the upcoming months and years will look like for both The Episcopal Church and the conservative Anglican movement.
ALF clearly states that it makes "no apologies for its own conservative point of view."
"It (ALF) has assigned to itself the task helping the laity to know the mind of Christ as they struggle with this fateful decision," reads a statement.
Controversy had heightened when The Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003. After years of warnings not to consecrate another openly gay bishop or bless same-sex unions and efforts to keep the worldwide Anglican Communion together, many predict the global body is now on the brink of schism with little hope left for unity.
This month, the Common Cause Partners' meeting will come on the heels of a meeting between The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops and Anglican Communion's spiritual head, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams.
U.S. Episcopal head Katharine Jefferts Schori had urged for a meeting with Williams "to hear directly from us about our concern for all members of this church, those we agree with theologically and those with whom we disagree, gay and lesbian members of our church and those who find it difficult to countenance blessing unions or ordaining gay and lesbian people."
Confirming his acceptance in April of the invitation by Episcopal bishops, Williams said, "These are difficult days because I think the [worldwide Anglican] Communion in recent years has had to face the fact that the division on certain subjects, especially human sexuality, has been getting much more deep and bitter and threatens to divide us.
"My aim is to try and keep people around the table as long as possible on this, to understand one another, and to encourage local churches on this side of the Atlantic and elsewhere to ask what they might need to do to keep in that conversation, to keep around the table," he added.
As an association of churches in full communion with the Church of England, the Anglican Communion is currently the third largest church body in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. It considers itself as being both Catholic and Reformed.