by Anthony Glassman
Cleveland--Four northeast Ohio Episcopal churches voted on November 13 to align themselves with a foreign diocese in protest over the 2003 ordination of an openly gay bishop to the Diocese of New Hampshire.
Holy Spirit in Akron, St. Luke�s in Fairlawn, St. Anne�s in the Fields in Madison and St. Barnabas in Bay Village will join the Diocese of Bolivia, leaving the Episcopal Church USA.
All four congregations were part of the gay-friendly Diocese of Ohio, led by Bishop Mark Hollingsworth.
The churches no longer consider themselves part of the Diocese of Ohio or the Episcopal Church.
�We are given in this an opportunity to move forward in a way that is worthy of our common vocations as Christians,� said Hollingsworth.
There were no specific discussions about church property and assets yet.
The four churches had earlier been assigned a �flying bishop� to provide oversight by a coalition of Episcopal conservatives, and had asked that Hollingsworth not enter their premises.
Conservatives in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have warned of the possibility of a schism for years over the pro-gay stances taken by both national churches.
Both are part of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide coalition of regional churches descended from the Church of England. However, a large portion of the Anglican Communion is made up of staunchly anti-gay conservatives in what is commonly known as the �Third World,� made up of South America, Africa and Asia.
Bishops in these areas have threatened to sever ties with the North American churches over the issues of same-sex unions and the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy.
In 2003, the General Assembly of the Episcopal Church ordained V. Gene Robinson to head the Diocese of New Hampshire, making him the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion.
At roughly the same time, the Anglican Church of Canada made other pro-gay moves, including allowing congregations to consecrate same-sex unions.
The conservative forces in the Anglican Communion took umbrage, and conservative congregations began to align themselves with foreign bodies to provide pastoral oversight more in keeping with their beliefs.
On November 10, about 2,400 conservative Anglicans from around the world gathered in Pittsburgh to discuss the issue, joined by some evangelical Christians from other U.S. denominations.
One of the main issues keeping congregations in their dioceses are concerns over church buildings. Canon law views congregation property as being held in trust for the diocese, and not actually owned by congregation itself.
A group of church progressives met in late October to discuss possible strategies if a conservative takeover were to occur at the next General Convention in June. While the plans outlined at the meeting are not final, some measure could include declaring bishoprics vacant should the bishop try to align his diocese with a foreign church, launching a PR campaign to explain the church�s positions, and finding additional clergy and lay leaders to create a safe space for conservatives who decide not to schism, among other recommendations.
Both sides accuse the other of creating a schism. Conservatives say that, by separating themselves from the beliefs of the majority of Anglicans worldwide, the pro-gay side is creating the schism, although most of the conservative wings of the Anglican Communion are newer than the more progressive branches.
Progressives counter that, since the conservatives are the one who are leaving, they are creating a schism.
�The one who gets up from the table and walks away is the one who creates a split,� Christopher Wilken, a member of the progressive group that met in Dallas in October, told the Tribune-Review of Pittsburgh. �It is the so-called conservatives who have been increasingly separating themselves from the majority of us.�
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