PLANO, Texas – The meeting of conservative Episcopal leaders in the closed-door setting of Plano, Texas, saw the creation of a new network of dissident parishes, but stopped short of a break away from the national Episcopal church, Jan. 20, 2004.
The newly formed group, dubbed, “The Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes,” will argue the recent decisions in the Episcopal Church that reflect a very pro-gay stance; namely, the consecration of an openly gay bishop and the recognition of blessing same-sex unions.
"This has been, for us, a glorious and historic day," said Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, elected as network leader Tuesday after delegates gave a governing charter unanimous approval.
Under the charter, the network is formed of the 12 dioceses in nine states that sent delegates to the meeting in Plano. These dioceses include roughly a tenth of the Episcopal Church with 235,000 members. The bishops who met for the conference will now return home to ask for formal diocesan approval to join the network.
One of the dioceses – the Fort Worth Episcopal Diocese – unanimously approved joining the alliance yesterday, making it the first to formally join the newly chartered network.
Contrary to the rumors that the network will completely break away within the denomination, the network leaders said they will not leave the Episcopal Church, but will fight against the tide that "departed from the historic faith and order and have brought immense harm,” while “operating in good faith within the constitution of the Episcopal Church" as "a true and legitimate expression of the worldwide Anglican Communion."
Nonetheless, the network said it plans to offer “spiritual authority of a bishop” to conservative parishes within liberal diocese – a direct challenge to the Episcopal Church’s system of leadership.
Observers believed the reason the network created a “church within a church” system rather than a complete breakaway from the denomination was over property rights. If the dissenting parishes leave, they would likely be forced to surrender their properties to the denominations. Currently, several parishes are withholding their funds to the National chuech.
The network says it will Delegates who approved the charter were sent by dioceses based in Albany, N.Y.; Pittsburgh; Charleston, S.C.; Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla.; Peoria and Springfield, Ill.; Salina, Kan.; Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Fresno, Calif.
The network hopes to add some of the 31 other dioceses whose head bishops voted against the gay bishop’s consecration. These diocese will then be divided into five geographical districts. -- New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeastern, Mid-Continental and Western — and one non-geographical district.
The meeting discussed writing a doctrinal platform but lacked the time to do that in Plano, and delegates acknowledged they disagree about whether women should be ordained.
The ECUSA is the U.S. branch of the 77-million member worldwide Anglican Communion. Following the gay bishop’s elevation, nearly half of the international body of believers revolted against the ECUSA, and cut all ties with them. The newly formed network said it wants to receive recognition and legitimacy from those overseas Anglican leaders.