Some Florida Episcopalians bolt; Virginia church leaders ask for understanding

BY admin

February 03 2004 1:00 AM ET

Members of a Brevard County, Fla., Episcopal church voted Saturday to walk away from their denomination over the issue of gays and lesbians being ordained and join a breakaway group. St. John's Episcopal Church members voted 282-62 to leave the Episcopal Church USA and join with the Anglican Mission in America, which broke from the Episcopal Church in 2000. Fewer than half of the church's 887 registered members voted.

Many St. John's congregants, as well those from other Episcopalian dioceses, are upset over votes by the Episcopal Church's general convention last year to confirm an openly gay man, the Reverend Gene Robinson, to be bishop of New Hampshire and allow parishes to continue blessing same-sex unions. Bishop John Howe of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida said it would be a better strategy "to work for renewal and reform," joining with him in a new conservative network within the Episcopal Church USA.

Meanwhile, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia urged Episcopalians upset over the consecration of the denomination's first openly gay bishop to not allow the issue to create a denominational split in the church. "Members of a Christian community bear one another's burdens," the Right Reverend Peter James Lee told church leaders at the Virginia diocese's annual council
this weekend. "Listening to each other and finding those areas of mission where we can unite are important patterns of discipleship," Lee said.

About 550 lay and clergy delegates attended the two-day meeting, which ended Saturday. Over the two days 22 resolutions were considered, and 10 were condensed into one Saturday. It calls on Lee to appoint a reconciliation commission charged with keeping the church's factions talking, diocese spokeswoman Nancy Jenkins said. "The controversy has created some pain and anxiety and perhaps some lack of trust behind the factions that have differing opinions," Jenkins said."I think this is going to help the diocese move forward."

The council also took a stand on marriage, passing a proposition reaffirming the diocese's policy that "lifelong heterosexual and monogomous marriages" are the norm. To date, Lee has not authorized same-sex unions or ordained homosexuals in Virginia. Lee voted for Robinson and said at the time that it was important to respect the Episcopalian voters in New Hampshire, who knew Robinson was gay and didn't let that deter them. Since the vote, Lee has received angry calls and letters from churchgoers asking him to resign, and some congregations have withheld pledges to the diocese.

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