Episcopalians divided over gay bishop

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

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

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)

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