WOODBRIDGE, Va. – The installation of a local minister who recently broke with the Episcopal Church and will now oversee other breakaway congregations was a unique and historic event and one that the Nigerian Anglican leader called "just the first step."
"The journey ahead is long, the road ... rough, rugged," said Archbishop Peter J. Akinola of the Church of Nigeria, who defied top church leaders on Saturday and installed the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns as missionary bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) – a conservative splinter group and an offshoot of the Church of Nigeria.
It was a day of mixed emotions. Minns, rector of the prominent Truro Church in Fairfax, said part of him was sad since the Episcopal Church was his home for several decades.
"[These] are difficult days and confusing days for those of us who consider ourselves Anglican Christians," Minns told thousands of Anglicans during his installation ceremony at the Cecil D. Hylton Memorial Chapel. "The fabric of our beloved communion has been torn at its deepest level.
"Our name is now synonymous with division and discontent."
In December, Minns helped lead 11 Virginia churches in overwhelming votes to split with the Episcopal Church – the American wing of Anglicanism. Leaders of the breakaway bunch said their decision to leave was because of the church body's departure from Christian orthodoxy. The 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop had widened rifts and was the "flash point that showed how far the repudiation of Christian orthodoxy had gone," according to The Falls Church rector the Rev. John Yates and parishioner Os Guinness.
The breakaway congregations went under the leadership of Akinola, who leads the largest province in the Anglican Communion and who had refused to partake in the Holy Eucharist with Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during the global Primates (Anglican leaders) meeting in February.
Congregations are fractured, said Minns on Saturday. "It is a disaster."
Although sad, Minns also called it a celebratory time to stand with some 34 congregations and take a "huge" step of faith in his new home – CANA.
"It isn't the end of the story. See, God wanted to transform it into a celebration."
He called CANA "God's gift" to people who want to serve and grow as Anglicans but cannot do so in "good conscience" within the Episcopal Church.
Touching on several theological debates within the Episcopal Church, Minns told the growing group of orthodox Anglicans, "We want to proclaim that Jesus is Lord of Lords and not simply one option of many. We want to teach the Bible as trustworthy and true and not cross our fingers when we read it. We want to get on with the work of evangelism and church planting without apologizing for who we are. We want to see lives transformed and not simply excused. We want to see families made whole and not merely redesigned. We want to be a church where everyone is welcomed but no one leaves unchanged," he said in his sermon, stirring wide applause and nods.
"We want to remain faithful members of the Anglican Communion during these turbulent times," he added. "We treasure that ... worldwide family."
Despite calls by Jefferts Schori and the head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, urging Akinola not to visit the United States and install Minns, Akinola affirmed at the service, "We're doing this on behalf of the Anglican Communion."
Some Episcopal leaders have said Akinola's action would worsen an already fragile situation within the Anglican Communion, especially in the months before the Sept. 30 deadline outlined by the Primates in February, requesting the Episcopal Church to make an unequivocal pledge not to authorize same-sex blessings and confirm another openly gay bishop "unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion."
But "brokenness" in the Anglican Communion remains, said Akinola in a response letter to Jefferts Schori, and CANA was established to provide "a safe place" for faithful Anglicans.
"We are here to make sure that God's people have a home ... a spiritual home," Akinola said on Saturday.
Partaking in CANA's historic event, Simon Frank, a member of Mount Zion Anglican Church in Chicago, Ill., said, "I don't think the Episcopal Church believes in what the Anglican Communion stands for." Frank, a Nigerian, has been Anglican all his life and said CANA is a "nice turn for us to establish what we're intending to do."
If the divisions in the American church, however, are removed and the Episcopal Church is "back in line" with the Anglican Communion, the Church of Nigeria will be there to restore communion, Akinola told CANA parishioners in a renewed pledge which he had first made with the former Episcopal presiding bishop, Frank T. Griswold.
But the Most Rev. Leonard Riches, presiding bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, doesn't think the Episcopal Church is going to "reverse course." He said the Church of Nigeria and the American church have "competing agendas" with the former defending traditional faith.
The Reformed Episcopal Church is part of what Minns called a "common cause partnership." CANA isn't alone in this, the CANA missionary bishop acknowledged. Other dissident Anglican groups in the United States include the Anglican Province of America and the Anglican Mission in America among others. According to Minns, all the groups are working hard to work together and not be fragmented.
"There's been way too much talk" and "way too many meetings," said Minns. "We have Gospel work to do today."
It is not clear how things will turn out, he added. But for now, the work of the Gospel is urgent and the goal of CANA is to live out their faith in an "authentic" way.