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Conservative bishops propose a competing North American Anglican church

Recent moves within the American Anglicanism, like recognizing an openly gay bishop, lead some traditionalists to set up a new church.

By Jane LampmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 3, 2008

Five years after the Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, traditionalists are moving to create a separate and competing North American Anglican church.

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On Wednesday, a network of groups from the United States and Canada will unveil a draft constitution for a unified entity that they hope will be recognized by Anglicans elsewhere in the world. They were encouraged to take this step by a group of leaders in the global Anglican Communion who say the Episcopal Church (TEC) – the US branch of Anglicanism – has abandoned traditional Christian teaching and practice.

"This has been our aim since 2004, and it's been the call of the [conservative global leaders] that it was time for the rest of the Anglican world to recognize an orthodox province here in the States," says Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who heads the network.

The attempt to create an overlapping jurisdiction on the continent is unprecedented. The Communion is a family of Anglican churches in 38 geographical "provinces" around the world. The churches have a longstanding practice of not interfering in each other's areas.

Some see the step as a bid to eventually replace TEC as the recognized US church; others say it's a means to prevent a schism in the Communion.

"Better to have two Anglican jurisdictions rather than to have a shattered Communion," says Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, Australia, a leader among the global conservatives.

The network, called the Common Cause Partnership (CCP), represents 100,000 Anglicans, only a small percentage of those in North America, and it faces challenges in building a viable entity as well as in gaining wider acceptance.

CCP includes members of parishes and dioceses who recently left the 2 million-member Episcopal Church, as well as several splinter groups that left US and Canadian churches in earlier periods.

In November, conventions in two Episcopal dioceses – Quincy in Illinois and Fort Worth in Texas – voted to leave and align themselves temporarily with the conservative archbishop of the Southern Cone, in South America. Two dioceses – San Joaquin in California, and Pittsburgh – had earlier done the same.

Bishops leading the shift say the dioceses are moving with them. Episcopal leaders say that's not the case.