(RNS) As many as six Episcopal bishops and more than 200 Episcopal congregations have taken a first step toward forming a new alternative to the Episcopal Church that will unite conservatives irked by the church’s liberal drift.
Meeting in Pittsburgh Sept. 25-28, the Common Cause Council of Bishops brought together nine North American splinter groups to lay the groundwork for a conservative counterpart to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.
The nine North American groups claim to represent 600 congregations; the Episcopal Church has 2.3 million members and more than 7,000 congregations.
Conservative Episcopalians, a minority in the church, have decried the church’s increasing progressive stance on gay rights and biblical interpretation, especially the 2003 election of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire.
Between 40 and 50 bishops — including five of the seven Episcopal bishops present in Pittsburgh — agreed to take part in a new “College of Bishops.” Another Episcopal Bishop, John-David Schofield of San Joaquin, Calif., was represented but not present and is expected to join the new college, according to Peter Frank, a spokesman for Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, the convener of the council.
Other Common Cause bishops are from groups such as the Reformed Episcopal Church, which has about 13,000 members and split from the Episcopal Church in 1873. Others are conservatives aligned with one of the 37 other regional provinces in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The bishops’ college will oversee the “formation of the separate ecclesiastical structure in North America,” according to a statement by Common Cause.
“This is really an attempt to build an American structure that will have support from a large group of Anglicans overseas and can stand on its own two feet,” Frank said.
It remains to be seen whether other Anglicans — including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams — will recognize the new federation. Frank says Common Cause is using an “if we build it, they will come” strategy.