Anglicans debate church's direction

Any number of metaphors are used to describe the state of the Anglican Communion.

To some, it's a Titanic that's already struck its iceberg.

They believe, as Paul did, in the dangers of unequally "yoked" believers.

They say that the issue of homosexuals in church leadership, among others, too deeply divides the church and that schism is inevitable if, in fact, it hasn't already occurred.

Others counter with the metaphor of a crossroads. Though paths separate, the church can navigate its way to common ground. Schism is avoidable, they say.

The world's Anglican bishops are meeting for the first time since the U.S. Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003.

Every 10 years, bishops are invited to the two-week Lambeth Conference, which ends Sunday in Canterbury, England.

About 200 conservative bishops boycotted Lambeth this year and created the Global Anglican Future Conference with its own conference in Jerusalem.

The 650 bishops who attended Lambeth have debated a moratorium on the ordination of gay bishops and the blessing of homosexual ceremonies.

The plan was presented by a group of bishops tasked with finding solutions to the Communion's rift -- a division caused by several issues, not just the role of homosexuals in church leadership, said the Rev. Robert Fain, the rector of Church of the Good Shepherd on Walton Way.

"It's issues like how the Anglican Communion is organized, how it understands itself," he said. "It's about the church's understanding of marriage, of male and female, of sexuality in God's plan."

The Communion is a worldwide body with more than 70 million members -- the third-largest Christian denomination, behind the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

The Anglican Communion includes a range of worship styles and theological perspectives, including both conservative churches calling for an agreement that affirms a strict biblical interpretation prohibiting homosexuals in church leadership, and liberal churches that stress inclusiveness and congregational independence.

"It's the benefit of Anglicanism to me. We've got everything from the arch-conservative to the arch-liberal," said the Rev. Lou Scales, of The Church of Our Savior, on Columbia Road in Martinez.

A few years ago, The Church of Our Savior held an event titled "A Discussion With Gay and Lesbian Episcopalians," and has hired a senior warden who is gay.

"That kind of preference is incidental to us," the Rev. Scales said.

It isn't as incidental for others, said the Rev. Richard Sanders, the rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, on Reynolds Street. "There are people who have left St. Paul's on this issue -- both because we're not liberal enough and not conservative enough."

The issue, he said, is clearly divisive.

"It has affected us here at St. Paul's, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally," the Rev. Sanders said. "It's a terribly devastating thing for me. I grew up in this church. This crisis, and this issue, has been very hurtful."

The Rev. Fain agreed.

"Living with the ambiguity and the tensions has been very challenging," he said. "Some of us have the concern that this is drawing us away from our main mission."

The Rev. Sanders said that although the issue is important to him and to the people of St. Paul's, "it's not our priority here."

"We're focused on showing the love of Christ to the world," he said.

Perhaps, the Rev. Scales said, that's best done "by still gathering at the table, both in spite of and because of our differences."

Reach Kelly Jasper at (706) 823-3552 or kelly.jasper@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT IS IT?

The Lambeth Conference is the meeting of the archbishops and bishops of the Anglican Communion every 10 years.

The first conference was held in 1867 at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury's London home.

As the conference grew, the conference was relocated to the University of Kent at Canterbury.

LEAVING THE CHURCH

Two Georgia churches have rejected the diocese, citing the ordination of homosexuals as an indication of deeper theological rifts in the church.

Last year, Christ Church in Savannah decided to leave the Diocese of Georgia because of the U.S. Episcopal Church's liberal leanings.

When Trinity Anglican Church was formed in Thomasville in 2006, it chose the leadership of a conservative Ugandan diocese instead of the Georgian diocese of the U.S. Episcopal Church.

"It's happening in various places around the country," said the Rev. James Parker, the rector of St. George's Church in Savannah. He spoke on behalf of the Georgia Diocese while its bishop, Henry L. Louttit, was at Lambeth.

The Rev. Sanders said that although St. Paul's Church is perhaps more conservative than others in the Episcopal Church, he doesn't think the issue will become a local problem soon.

"If the national Episcopal Church denied the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we'd have a problem with that. Beneath that, it's tough to answer," he said.

The Rev. Fain says his church hasn't yet felt called to take a stance on the issue: "It doesn't help us proclaim Christ to pick a side."

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