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Conservative Episcopalian Group Ordains Four Priests As ‘Missionaries’ to U.S.


Presbyterian News Service

June 26, 2001 Anglican officials denounce consecrations as ‘schismatic’ Conservative Episcopalian group ordains four priests as ‘missionaries’ to U.S.

by Chris Herlinger in New York and Cedric Pulford in London Ecumenical News International

NEW YORK CITY — Ignoring pleas by top Anglican leaders, two non-American bishops have ordained a group of four U.S. Episcopal priests as missionary bishops of the conservative Anglican Mission in America (AMiA).

The priests were consecrated by Archbishops Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda and Datuk Yong Ping Chung of the Anglican province of South East Asia during a June 24 ceremony at a non-Episcopal church in Denver.

The move was seen by church observers as a sign of the growing prominence of a conservative church movement but was sternly criticized by Anglican leaders as a severe threat to church unity.

In London, Arun Kataria, press spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, told ENI that he regretted that the consecrations had gone ahead despite Carey’s "strong but businesslike" appeal to the dissenting bishops before the consecrations.

The archbishop of Canterbury is the leader of the world-wide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is the official Anglican church in the United States.

Kataria told ENI that the new bishops could not be recognized by the See of Canterbury unless they became reconciled with the Episcopal Church of the USA’s presiding bishop. In a letter addressed to the bishops before the consecrations, Carey wrote: "What you propose to do is in blatant disregard of our Anglican ecclesiology."

The Colorado ordinations — which took place during a three-hour ceremony attended by more than 1000 people — were the latest in a series of dramatic and highly public moves by the conservative mission movement to establish itself as an alternative to the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) while still remaining tied to the world-wide Anglican Communion.

AMiA supporters are unhappy with an Episcopal Church they say has abandoned tradition on such issues as the ordination of women and openly gay and lesbian clergy.

They also decry the loss of membership in the past 30 years within the Episcopal Church and other U.S. Protestant denominations and contrast that with what they call the "extraordinary" growth of Anglicanism and Christianity elsewhere in the world, including Africa and Asia.

"The United States, who once sent missionaries to Africa and Asia, is now becoming a mission field in the new millennium," the AMiA said in a statement. In an unusual strategy, the AMiA has enlisted the support of conservative bishops in the Third World who believe the Episcopal Church is the errant "liberal" member of the more conservative world-wide Anglican Communion. The AmiA strategy involves consecrating bishops as missionary representatives of their Anglican provinces.

The newly consecrated priests — Thaddeus Barnum of South Carolina, Alexander Greene of Colorado, Thomas Johnston of Arkansas and Douglas Weiss of California — remain within the Episcopal church. But they are under the jurisdiction of the Rwanda and South East Asia bishops.

Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal church in the United States, also refused to recognize the consecrations. Archbishop Griswold declined to comment after the Denver ceremony. But in a strongly worded letter to the two bishops prior to the June 24 event, he criticized the action, raising the specter of "schism," or church separation, and calling the ordinations a deliberate attempt to circumvent church polity.

By consecrating bishops in the United States, he said, the dissenting archbishops "without informing me and certainly without my permission, are planning to enter this province with the express purpose of acting contrary to a basic principle of the Communion that no bishop is to perform Episcopal acts in the diocese of another bishop without obtaining the bishop’s permission."

The action, Archbishop Griswold said, was "a profound violation of what it means to live in communion and could have drastic and negative effects within our Anglican fellowship."

Two other Americans, Charles Murphy and John Rodgers, were consecrated in Singapore in January 2000 by Archbishop Kolini and Moses Tay, the former primate of the province of South East Asia.

Both Archbishop Carey and Archbishop Griswold had criticized those ordinations, Carey calling them "at best irregular and at worst schismatic."

Kataria, Carey’s spokesman, told ENI that the Denver consecrations were different from those of Rodgers and Murphy because they came after meetings of Anglican primates in Oporto and Kanuga at which the issue of extra-territorial consecrations had been thrashed out. It had been agreed there that bishops were not to act in other provinces without proper consultations.

"The Archbishop [Carey] will reflect on this," Kataria said. "There are a number of options open to him, but he will not let people know in advance what he is going to do."

Church observers have said the AMiA consecrations have far-reaching consequences because the polity of Anglicans is expressly based on a geographical diocese headed by a bishop. Some conservatives have also criticized the action because of its threat to church authority.

Earlier this month, three Anglican bishops in South East Asia disassociated themselves from the actions taken by Archbishop Yong, saying they did not believe he had the legal authority to perform the ordinations.

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