In one of the biggest independent meetings of Episcopalians in years, 2,600 clergy and lay members have gathered in Dallas to protest the liberal direction many perceive the denomination to be taking with regard to homosexuality, with the possibility of a church split in the air. The meeting, which began Tuesday, was originally planned as a strategy session for a few hundred leaders. But it mushroomed in scope as conservatives reacted against two actions taken by the Episcopal Church's midsummer convention: confirmation of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, a gay bishop living with his partner, and a vote to recognize--though not endorse or condemn--that bishops are allowing blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.
The presence in Dallas of 45 of the church's 300 bishops underscores the gravity of the situation. "We have two to three weeks to see the future of the Episcopal Church in America," said the Reverend David Roseberry, whose 4,000-member Christ Church in Plano, a suburb of Dallas, organized the event. He was referring not only to the Dallas meeting but, more important, an October 15-16 emergency summit in London for leaders of the international Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch. That session involves the Anglicans' spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and the 37 other heads of world Anglican branches. Episcopal presiding bishop Frank Griswold also is a member of that group and defends the decisions reached this summer in Minneapolis.
The American Anglican Council, sponsor of the Dallas meeting, says that U.S. conservatives are loyal to Anglican beliefs and the Christian tradition and that it's the Episcopal Church majority that has created the schism. Founded in 1996, the AAC has emerged as the most important conservative Episcopal caucus. It reports a mailing list of 50,000 and support from about 500 congregations and 50 bishops. Spokesman Bruce Mason said, "We probably represent a minority within the Episcopal Church but are part of the vast majority worldwide."