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Conservative Episcopalians Unite

Policy: Council emphasizes traditional beliefs as denomination's convention nears. Leaders stress they won't urge split.

May 31, 1997|JOHN DART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A nationwide, theologically conservative organization has been formed within the Episcopal Church, spearheaded by Bishop James Stanton of Dallas, a former Glendale parish priest who says liberals are diverting the church from its Anglican heritage.

As the 2.5-million-member denomination heads to its triennial convention in July that may consider gay wedding rites and other changes, the new American Anglican Council says it will emphasize faithfulness to traditional beliefs. But the council will not try to create a rival ecclesiastical body or encourage more conservatives to leave the church, its creators say.

When the Episcopal Church approved female priests and revised the venerable Book of Common Prayer in the 1970s, many parishes and clergy left the denomination to join independent Anglo-Catholic dioceses or create new church bodies.

"We are trying to provide an alternative way of linking together orthodox parishes and ministries, and we have no intent to set up a para-church," said Stanton, who was rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Glendale from 1987 until 1992, when he was elected a bishop.

Stanton, president of the council that grew from a small meeting in December 1995, said like-minded Episcopalians will create a network to oppose efforts to "promulgate a new teaching on sexuality."

At the same time, parish priests identifying with the council are urging conservatives to stay in the Episcopal Church.

"Many of our people are being discouraged by what's going on in the church, but we don't think leaving the church is the answer," said the Rev. Jose Poch, rector of St. David's Episcopal Church in North Hollywood.

About 190 people met at St. David's in January for the inaugural meeting of the council's Los Angeles chapter. They came from 19 of the 147 parishes and missions in the five-county Los Angeles Diocese, Poch said.

Since then, the Rev. William Thompson, rector of All Saints parish in Long Beach, has been elected to head the chapter and the Los Angeles chapter's mailing list has grown to 400 people, Poch said.

Nationally, about 150 parishes and nearly 20 church-wide groups have affiliated with the council, according to Roger Boltz, the council's executive director.

Boltz said the organization was not formed simply to rally the troops at the July 16-25 convention in Philadelphia. "Of eight task forces we have, only one is dealing with the General Convention or church legislation," he said.

The Rev. George Regas of Pasadena, who headed the successful 1976 drive to ordain female priests, said he believes "the American Anglican Council has a place in the church" despite his commitment to work for ordination and same-sex wedding rites for gay and lesbians.

"If the Episcopal Church is to survive, grow and prosper, it has to have room in it for radically different positions," said Regas, who retired a few years ago as rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.

He predicted that the Episcopal convention will allow bishops and their dioceses to ordain gay and lesbian priests and bless same-sex unions on a local-option basis.

Though Stanton said he is "realistic about political realities," he said the American Anglican Council is optimistic about its future, in part because "the church [membership] is weary of the struggle and much more interested in being faithful to the teaching of the church."

Stanton will address the council's Los Angeles chapter next Saturday in North Hollywood. He will discuss issues facing the denomination's July convention during the 9 a.m.-to-noon meeting at St. David's Episcopal Church, 11605 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

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