Archbishop Peter Akinola, Nigeria’s top Anglican leader proposed establishing new U.S. parishes under his jurisdiction to minister to Anglicans upset by last year’s elevation of an openly gay Episcopal bishop.
At a news conference in Fairfax City on Tuesday, Akinola said that his main concern is to offer an alternative for Nigerian Anglicans in the United States who feel they can no longer worship in the U.S. Episcopal Church since it elected V. Gene Robinson bishop of New Hampshire.
Although lines of authority in the Episcopal Church are generally based on territory, with each bishop responsible for his own diocese, since Robinson's elevation, traditionalists who prefer being led by similar-thinking bishops have raised the possibility of bishops overseeing distant parishes outside their dioceses.
Akinola said the church’s historical approach to authority was “fractured” by Robinson’s elevation and left other Anglican bishops “no choice” but to intervene to help Anglicans upset by it. He accused the U.S. Episcopal Church of "creating a new religion in which God almighty has declared a sin is no longer a sin," adding, “We cannot go along with that kind of religion."
Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, where the news conference was held, is one parish that has rejected Robinson’s elevation and has been active in establishing a network of conservative Episcopal parishes and dioceses within the denomination, according to The Washington Post. The news agency reported that the group hopes to change the church’s direction from within.
"Our people are deserting the Anglican Church as a result" of Robinson's election, Akinola said, as reported by the Associated Press. "We want to recover our people."
But he added that his efforts were not limited to Nigerian Anglicans. "Whoever wishes to join would be welcome," he said.
Nine of the 107 Episcopal dioceses in the United States, plus about 240 individual congregations outside of those dioceses, have joined the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, which conservatives formed as a "church within a church" in response to the theological divide.
It is unclear exactly how many Nigerian Anglicans worship in the United States. Akinola estimated that there may as many as 250,000, but some church leaders believe the number is much lower.
The Nigerian prelate, who is also traveling to New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Oklahoma City and Chicago, said the goal of his two-week visit to the United States is to begin to explore ways and means of establishing another spiritual home for Nigerian Anglicans in the U.S. who feel they can no longer worship in the American Episcopal Church. His visit to the United States comes less than two weeks before the release of a long-awaited report by a group known as the Lambeth Commission that will recommend what course the Anglican Communion should take in response to the Episcopal Church's actions.
Robert Williams, a spokesman for the Episcopal Church, said Akinola's plan "does not come as a surprise," but church leaders would wait to comment until the Lambeth Commission releases its report.
The archbishop of Canterbury, who leads the worldwide 77 million-member Anglican Communion, appointed the top-level commission to look at ways of bridging the theological divide exposed by Robinson's elevation. That commission is to release its recommendations Oct. 18.