Orthodox Anglican leaders on the move toward forming a new Anglican structure that they hope would replace The Episcopal Church are convening for the first time this week to discuss a way forward.
The "Common Cause Partners," consisting of U.S. Anglicans discontent with The Episcopal Church and those who have already split, opens a four-day meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Tuesday with some 50 bishops and some observers.
What is claimed to be a historic council meeting comes with predictions that The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – will "walk apart" from the global Anglican Communion by the conclusion of an Episcopal meeting in New Orleans.
"The American province is lost and something will have to replace it," Anglican Communion Network moderator the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan has said.
The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops is concluding talks on Tuesday and drafting a response to demands by Anglican leaders worldwide that they bar any efforts to consecrate another openly gay bishop or authorize the blessing of same-sex unions. The deadline for the response was set for Sept. 30.
So far throughout the Episcopal meeting, which opened on Thursday, orthodox Anglicans believe The Episcopal Church has offered no real change or reversal on what conservatives say are unbiblical positions and schismatic actions. The Episcopal Church had heightened controversy in the Anglican Communion when it consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003.
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, joined closed-door talks in the first two days of the meeting in New Orleans, warning Episcopal leaders that they must make changes to keep the communion together. He also said the Sept. 30 deadline was not an ultimatum, as many interpreted it. Global South Anglican leaders, who are mainly conservative, were stunned by William's characterization of the deadline as not being fixed, according to VirtueOnline, a voice for global Orthodox Anglicanism.
A vote by the House of Bishops was set for Tuesday when the meeting ends.
"We are working very closely with one another whether we are on the conservative end of the church, the liberal or the moderate middle," said liberal Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno, according to The Associated Press. "We're looking to make as full, clear and complete a response as we can."
Nigeria Archbishop Peter Akinola, considered the most powerful Anglican leader and also a fierce critic of The Episcopal Church's stance on homosexuality and scriptural interpretation, was also in town, speaking in Wheaton, Ill., to more than 1,500 people on Sunday. He was invited by congregations in the Midwest that are affiliated with Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) – a splinter group of conservative Anglicans and offshoot of the Anglican Church of Rwanda.
Akinola acknowledged that Anglicans are clearly divided and told worshipers to conform to a strict biblical framework.
"Those who are working for the unity of God's people lack one thing: the word of God," the Nigerian church leader said, according to The Chicago Tribune. "Whoever loves God, will obey God."
Stating that transformation by the Gospel requires total obedience and rejection of sinful actions, Akinola maintained that there is no room for ambiguity.
During the service in the Edman Chapel, protestors stood outside, opposing Akinola's interpretation of the Bible and staunch stance against homosexual practice.
"He refers to his views on gays as Scripture. Well, I refer to them as outright bigotry," said Jim Beyer, a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in La Grange, according to the local Tribune.
Those who attended the service, however, said Akinola's message wasn't hateful and instead encouraged unity.
"I don't think it was hateful," Terry Schwartz of All Souls' Anglican Church in Wheaton, told the Tribune. "He said if we want to follow Christ, then we have to do what He told us to do. God doesn't say being gay or adulterous is OK. God tells us to behave in certain ways because He loves us."
Akinola's visit was not intentionally meant to coincide with the Episcopal House of Bishops meeting and Williams' rare attendance in the United States. The Rev. Stewart E. Ruch, rector of the Church of the Resurrection, said the AMiA event was planned months ago.