More moderate Episcopals battle conservative dioceses

Barbi Click, spokeswomen for Fort Worth Via Media and a member of St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas, is leading moderate and liberal Episcopalians who are fighting their bishop's attempts to move away from the national church over its first openly gay bishop.

Published: Saturday, January 3, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 2, 2004 at 11:39 p.m.

Nancy Key, a lifelong Episcopalian, grew uneasy as speaker after speaker at her diocesan meeting rose to denounce the confirmation of the first openly gay bishop in the history of the American church.

The Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif., is among the more conservative in the nation, and its bishop, John-David Schofield, is prominent in the network moving toward a break with the denomination's leaders.

''I got up to speak and I was the only speaker who spoke against splitting. I said I was proud of my church,'' Key said. ''It was deathly quiet and I walked back to my seat and felt I was the only person in my diocese who felt that way.''

Key, of Fresno, eventually found others who shared her views and they formed an advocacy group - one of several springing up nationwide that are fighting to prevent their conservative dioceses from separating from the church.

Along with San Joaquin, advocates are organizing in Fort Worth, Texas, Albany, N.Y., and Pittsburgh, Pa., home to the leader of dissenting conservatives, Bishop Robert Duncan. Other groups are becoming active in Springfield, Ill., South Carolina and Florida.

Organizers say they represent both liberals who support the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire and moderates who may disagree with ordaining gays but don't want the denomination to break apart over the issue. Robinson has lived openly with his male partner for 14 years.

Many hope a national network of like-minded Episcopalians will emerge to fight for unity.

These fledgling organizations generally have little money and no formalized membership, but some report e-mail lists of supporters ranging from 80 to more than 300 people each.

They have become more active as the American Anglican Council, which represents conservatives, creates a network of parishes and dioceses separate from the church's leadership. The 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the global Anglican Communion.

Fort Worth Via Media has started a fund that could help cover legal costs if the diocese or individual parishes try to leave the denomination and take their property with them.

But just as important, advocates say, is the emotional support the groups provide and the relief participants feel from the isolation of holding a minority viewpoint among zealous conservatives.

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