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7 Anglican clerics snub U.S. bishop

The conservatives object to the Episcopal Church leader's stands.

February 17, 2007|Morris Mwavizo and Rebecca Trounson | Special to The Times

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA — Seven conservative archbishops snubbed the head of the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Church during a crucial meeting of the church leadership here Friday, refusing to take the Holy Eucharist with her to protest her support of gay bishops and of blessing same-sex unions.

The men called their action in boycotting the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, "a poignant reminder of the brokenness of the Anglican Communion," according to a statement posted on the website of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

The group included Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who has created a rival network of conservative churches in the United States.

It was not the first time conservative Anglicans have declined to participate in the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, with an Episcopal leader. More than a dozen staged a similar protest against Jefferts Schori's predecessor, the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, in 2005 at a meeting in Northern Ireland. And conservative leaders have celebrated alternative Eucharists at conventions of the Episcopal Church in recent years, a church spokeswoman said.

But the boycott Friday, on the second of five days of sessions here involving the Anglican leaders, came amid growing concern that the global church may break apart over sharply divergent views on homosexuality and biblical interpretation. The church has 77 million members worldwide, including about 2.3 million in the United States.

"We are unable to come to the holy table with the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church because to do so would be a violation of scriptural teaching and the traditional Anglican understanding," the archbishops said in the web posting. They said they would "continue to pray for a change of heart" by the Episcopal Church and its leaders.

Akinola declined to comment Friday, avoiding reporters who chased after him as he walked several times through the lobby of the Dar es Salaam hotel where the meeting is taking place.

Jefferts Schori, who was sequestered at the hotel in the Tanzanian capital along with other participants, also made no comment. But a spokeswoman at the New York headquarters of the Episcopal Church criticized the archbishops for using the sacrament of Communion as a vehicle for their protest.

"There is an understanding that we come to the table of Christ to share in the body of Christ," said the Rev. Jan Nunley, the church's deputy for communication. "It's a symbol of our corporate unity, and for them to absent themselves from that is really sad."

Conflict over the issue of homosexuality and the Episcopal Church's comparatively liberal position on it has been growing in the Anglican Communion since 2003, when the U.S. church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Jefferts Schori's election last June as the first woman to lead the Episcopal Church has further alienated conservatives, many of whom are opposed to women serving as priests.

Friday's protest came a day after a high-ranking Anglican committee released a report saying the U.S. church had taken two of three required steps to help heal the rifts created by Robinson's consecration and other issues. The report was seen as more favorable than expected to the Episcopal Church.

The meeting here is expected to end Monday with a final declaration by the Anglican leaders.

Special correspondent Mwavizo reported from Dar es Salaam and Times staff writer Trounson from Los Angeles.

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