NEW YORK (AP) - The Episcopal Church is not splintering, despite a decision by several Virginia parishes to leave and join Anglican conservatives, the head of the church said Monday.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said the parishes' move would not encourage other parishes to align with Nigeria's Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola, who has called the church's growing acceptance of gay relationships a "satanic attack."
"This is a handful of congregations of a total of nearly 7,200, the vast majority of which are engaged in healthy and vital ministry," Jefferts Schori said Monday, a day after six Virginia parishes, including two of the state's most prominent, announced they would break away.
Four other Virginia parishes previously left, and two more will decide soon whether to do likewise, according to parish leaders.
The Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of the global Anglican Communion, has been under pressure from traditionalists at home and abroad since the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Under Anglican tradition, Akinola's move into Episcopal territory amounts to an invasion, since archbishops agree not to start churches outside the borders of their own region.
Jefferts Schori said some people held what she called the "fantasy" that Akinola's convocation could replace the U.S. denomination.
"I don't think that's going to happen any time soon," she said.
Among the Virginia churches that announced Sunday their members had voted overwhelmingly to leave were Truro Church in Fairfax and The Falls Church in Falls Church, two of the state's largest and most historic parishes.
A lengthy and expensive legal fight is possible over the Truro and Falls Church properties, which are worth tens of millions of dollars.
On Monday, leaders of Virginia's 90,000-member diocese voted to establish a seven-member property commission. The diocese and departing members said they have agreed to delay possible legal action over church property for 30 days.
Associated Press Writer Matt Reed in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.
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