Congregations who stepped out of the Episcopal Church were welcomed Thursday into their new Anglican home – the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.
The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns of Truro Church in Fairfax, Va., one of the largest churches that split from the U.S. church body on Sunday, addressed a letter to the new CANA congregations expressing optimism for the future.
"Your congregational votes were a remarkable testimony to your desire to find a way to continue to remain true to your call as faithful Christians within the Anglican tradition," said Minns, who was appointed as missionary bishop by the Church of Nigeria earlier this year to lead the splinter group. "I am delighted that we will be walking together into an exciting future."
Eight congregations broke from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia this week over the controversial issue of homosexual ordination and marriage and voted to affiliate with the Church of Nigeria.
Minns clarified in the pastoral letter that their separation from the national body did not constitute an "anti-gay" vote as much of the media had described it. He said every person, regardless of sexual orientation, is made in the image of God and "deserving of the utmost respect."
The Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola of the Church of Nigeria also offered clarification of his position on homosexuals in a separate letter.
"I have also heard that some are suggesting that you are now affiliated with a Church that seeks to punish homosexual persons," Akinola wrote. "That is a distortion of our true position. We are a Church that teaches the truth of the Holy Scriptures and understands that every person, regardless of their religion or sexual orientation, is made in the image of God, loved by God, and deserving of the utmost respect."
As differences led to a split between the U.S. Episcopal Church and the conservative parishes, some still remained behind. Bishop Peter James Lee of the Diocese of Virginia took initial steps to reach out to the remaining Episcopalians in the churches and expressed the need to help establish structures for their continuity.
At the same time, Minns left the door open for those who chose to remain to participate in CANA's "common life," regardless of their vote on the split.
Minns also expressed sadness and disappointment at "strangely harsh" language from Lee this week.
"I am particularly troubled by the rather blatant attempt to create fear and division by the use of the phrase 'Nigerian Congregations Occupying Episcopal Churches,'" Minns highlighted. "This is not the Bishop Lee that I know and respect."
Lee's statement was made immediately after the congregations announced the results of their weeklong vote on Sunday. While expressing sadness at the overwhelming votes, Lee had said, "The votes today have compromised these discussions and have created Nigerian congregations occupying Episcopal churches. This is not the future of the Episcopal Church envisioned by our forebears."
Also touching point on the pressing issue of property ownership, Minns said they are trying to avoid "both costly litigation and a media circus" and hopes the matter will be handled in a respectful conversation with the leadership of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.
The breakaway Anglicans and the diocese are currently at a standstill agreement for a period of 30 days. The agreement was confirmed on Monday. Conversations are expected to begin after the Christmas holidays, according to Minns.
Minns ended his letter on a holiday note.
"Finally let me assure you of the truth and wonder of this Christmas Season. We worship a God who entered this messy world as a vulnerable baby to demonstrate his abiding love for all of us. It is a miracle," he wrote. "God spoke his Word of Grace and Truth for all the world to see. My prayer is that through the events of the past few days we will all be able to bear witness to this Word of radical inclusion and profound transformation. I pray that we will look to the future, confident that God’s love will continue to sustain and guard us."