Conservative Anglicans in the United States are finding themselves living through an "extended Good Friday," mourning for The Episcopal Church.
The Anglican Communion Network, an orthodox group of Anglicans discontent with The Episcopal Church, began its fourth annual council meeting in Bedford, Texas, on Monday. Over 80 representatives opened the two-day meeting with disappointment in a church many had grown up in.
"Because our sense of order is such that we have always sought to be Christian first and Episcopalian next, we find ourselves on this present Way of the Cross," said the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, in his opening address.
A growing number of Episcopal parishes and leaders have left The Episcopal Church, citing the U.S. Anglican branch's departure from Christian orthodoxy and Anglican tradition, particularly the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop.
In March, The Episcopal Church reaffirmed its stance welcoming gays and lesbians as an "integral part" of the church and rejected the request of primates (Anglican heads of the 38 Anglican provinces) that it allow Anglican leaders outside the U.S. branch to oversee American dioceses and those unable to accept the authority of the Episcopal Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. The Episcopal head unapologetically supports ordaining gays and allowing blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.
Duncan, also bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, said the denominational Church that raised him and ordained him "no longer had any room for me, or any like me."
"How bitter the rejection! How total my failure!" he said on Monday.
"Yes, we are all at different places on the Calvary journey as concerns our ministries in The Episcopal Church. But I suspect I can speak for all when I say that where we are is not where we had hoped to be," said Duncan who believes their fourth annual meeting is being held amid a "seismic shift" when more bishops and priests have left the U.S. church body.
The Anglican Communion Network was birthed in March 2004 and is currently comprised of over 900 parishes and over 2,200 clergy. Last month, Duncan invited conservative leaders and major breakaway Anglican groups to initiate discussions on forming a separate Anglican structure in the United States and take their "Common Cause Partnership" to the next level. Although The Episcopal Church expressed desire to remain in the Anglican Communion, Duncan believes the U.S. branch will "walk apart" from the global communion. A meeting for the discussion is scheduled for Sept. 25-28.
"[F]ew in this hall anticipate that The Episcopal Church will turn around in the last days before September 30th, or that The Episcopal Church has any intention of leaving room for those of us whose commitments to 'the Faith once delivered' created the Anglican Communion Network and have sustained its vision and its witness," said Duncan at this week's council meeting.
The Episcopal Church has been given a Sept. 30 deadline to unequivocally pledge not to consecrate another openly gay bishop or authorize official prayers for same-sex couples. Episcopal leaders, including Jefferts Schori, have indicated that they will not "retreat" from their 2003 decision and stance supporting homosexuals.
"God, in His wisdom, has not used us to reform The Episcopal Church, to bring it back to its historic role and identity as a reliable and mainstream way to be a Christian. Instead The Episcopal Church has embraced de-formation – stunning innovation in Faith and Order – rather than reformation," Duncan stated.
The worldwide Anglican Communion rejects homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture but at the same time calls its people to minister pastorally to all, including homosexuals.
Amid deepened divisions within The Episcopal Church and impaired relations with Anglican provinces overseas, some believe the Anglican Communion is on the brink of schism. And the Anglican spiritual head, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, is not fully confident the global body can get it together.
"We do not know how long our trial will be," said Duncan, "but we trust our Heavenly Father."