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Six northeast Florida Episcopal congregations upset that their bishop has not opposed the consecration of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire have asked the archbishop of Canterbury to help them find a new leader. The letter to the archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, informed him they were "in serious theological dispute" with Bishop John Howard and said it was impossible to remain under his leadership within the Jacksonville-based diocese of Florida.
The Reverend Sam Pascoe, rector at Grace Church in Orange Park, said the churches believe that getting another bishop would allow them to conduct their ministries "with a clean conscience." The churches opposed the 2003 consecration by the national church of V. Gene Robinson, a gay bishop in New Hampshire who lives with his partner.
The other churches are All Souls, the Church of the Redeemer, and Calvary Church, all in Jacksonville; St. Michael's in Gainesville; and St. Luke's Community Church of Life in Tallahassee. Together they represent about 4,000 parishioners in a diocese that includes 77 congregations and about 35,000 members in 25 counties in northeast Florida. Several conservative Episcopal congregations in other states have also protested Robinson's consecration, saying it violates the Bible.
Howard rejected last week a request from the congregations that he temporarily assign another bishop, saying it amounted to a "divorce" between the churches and the diocese. On Wednesday church officials expressed regret that the congregations had appealed their case to the archbishop of Canterbury. "It's disappointing that political tactics are being used, real disappointing," said the Reverend Canon Kurt Dunkle, the bishop's chief of staff.
Howard said he was open to discussing a less comprehensive form of alternative oversight for the six churches. On Tuesday the congregations responded with a letter to Howard explaining they are open to considering other forms of oversight, but they also informed him they had appealed his decision to the archbishop of Canterbury. Dunkle predicted the congregations' appeal to Canterbury will be referred back to the local and national level. He added that even if the archbishop made a ruling on the appeal, it would amount to a suggestion because he cannot dictate policies to Howard or other bishops. (AP)