Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, a fierce critic of The Episcopal Church, has been invited by conservative Anglican congregations in the United States to celebrate with them the Holy Eucharist this week.
Akinola is allegedly scheduled to attend the service on Sunday in Wheaton College's Edman Chapel, responding to an invitation by congregations in Illinois that are affiliated with the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) – a splinter group of conservative Anglicans and offshoot of the Anglican Church of Rwanda.
The visit comes as a surprise to the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, the Rt. Rev. William Persell, who said that Akinola did not contact him about his coming.
"Amidst the highly charged political rhetoric in our nation and around the world concerning events of the Anglican Communion, I want you to know that the Diocese of Chicago has no connection with the visit of Archbishop Akinola," said Persell in a letter to Chicago's diocesan clergy last week.
The Chicago bishop also stated that Akinola's visit is not an AMiA event, according to the AMiA office in Pawleys Island, S.C., as reported by the Episcopal News Service.
Persell is scheduled to be in New Orleans this week with other Episcopal bishops for a key meeting involving the highly publicized closed-door talks with the Anglican spiritual head – the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury. Some say it's the most significant meeting since the 2003 consecration of openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson which heightened controversy in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Williams is aiming to prevent the communion from breaking up and trying to keep Anglicans around the same table as long as possible.
The Episcopal Church – the U.S. branch of Anglicanism – is expected to come out of the Sept. 20-25 meeting with a response to Anglican leaders who requested an unequivocal pledge not to consecrate another openly gay bishop or authorize blessings for same-sex unions. The deadline for the response was set for Sept. 30.
Meanwhile, a silent protest is expected to take place outside the Holy Eucharist in Wheaton "on behalf of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Africans," said Persell. Akinola, considered the one of the most powerful Anglican leaders, staunchly opposes homosexual ordination as do most Anglicans in the communion, which rejects homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture. The Nigerian archbishop is convinced that The Episcopal Church has "chosen to walk away from the biblically-based path we once all walked together" and holds little hope that the Episcopalians will reverse course.
Anglicans on both sides of the divide over homosexuality and the interpretation of Scripture predict The Episcopal Church is not going to back down from its recent controversial actions and current stance supporting the "full inclusion" of gays and lesbians.
"We continued to be blessed by the rich diversity brought to our diocese by the gifts and talents of all our people including our most conservative members, moderates, liberals, who are straight, lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgendered," Persell wrote. "The God who unites us and calls us together in all our diversity for mission is stronger than those who would fracture our unity in Christ. Be of good courage and cheer."
The Chicago diocese recently announced that an openly lesbian priest, the Rev. Tracey Lind, is up for election to become the next diocesan bishop. If elected, Lind would become the second bishop in The Episcopal Church, after Robinson, who lives with his same-sex partner.
Also in Chicago, the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection recently left The Episcopal Church and the church building and placed itself under the auspices of the Anglican Church of Uganda. The breakaway parish broke from The Episcopal Church last week citing the denomination's drift from historic Christian faith as the reason. Their new home is called Resurrection Anglican Church.
More recently, in Colorado, the Rev. Dr. Charles Reeder announced on Monday his departure from Holy Comforter Episcopal Church due to dissatisfaction with the U.S. church body which they believe has strayed from the orthodox, scriptural beliefs of the global Anglican family. He along with the church's vestry and core ministry team are forming a new Broomfield, Colo.-based Anglican church, Holy Spirit Church, which will be part of the conservative Anglican Mission in America. Worship services will begin on Oct. 7.