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ANGLICANS WILL SEEK TO COUNTER EPISCOPALIAN DIVERGENCE

Conservative Anglican bishops will attempt to admonish the Episcopal Church USA for straying too far from Anglican tradition regarding sexuality issues during an upcoming international meeting next month in North Carolina.

Church officials, however, say the action, even if successful, will be totally meaningless.

The attempt to get the American church in step with most of the others in the Anglican Communion will be made by Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the Caribbean Province and Archbishop Maurice Sinclair of the Province of South America during a meeting of the primates of the 38 branches of the Communion March 3-8 in Hendersonville, N.C.

The archbishops object to permissiveness within the American church in such areas as the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians and the blessing of same-sex unions, practices that are strictly prohibited in other branches of the Anglican Communion.

"It would just be a condemnation or admonition. We would not have to act on it or even respond to it," said Bishop J. Michael Garrison of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York.

"The primates of other jurisdictions cannot dictate to the Episcopal Church," said James Solheim, director of Episcopal News Service, the church's communications arm. "They have no authority outside of their own church. They can't interfere in the affairs of another member of the communion."

Nevertheless, conservative splinter groups within the Episcopal Church have been lobbying the international church leadership in hopes of bringing about reform or establishing a new, overlapping American province.

The American Anglican Council, for instance, has launched a petition appeal, asking the primates to establish oversight of the Episcopal Church, defend the Biblical standard of marriage and refocus Episcopalians on "the mission of Jesus Christ."

"Many orthodox Episcopalians are intensely frustrated and discouraged by the state of our church," said Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council.

While the sexuality issues -- ordination of sexually active homosexuals and blessing of same-sex unions -- have received the most attention, neither are officially permitted by the Episcopal Church.

"The church position is that we don't ordain unmarried men and women who are non-celibate," said Garrison. "Some dioceses -- I don't know which ones -- are willing to ordain homosexuals who are in a committed relationship."

Garrison added that the Episcopal Church does not sanction blessing of same-sex unions and "attempts to get the General Convention (the church's ruling body) to move in that direction were turned back last summer.

"If we bless same-sex unions, we are saying this is the Episcopal Church blessing it and the Episcopal Church is not yet there. We may or may not get there," he said.

Harry Griffith, executive director of the Anglican Mission in America, said that an even bigger issue for the conservative bishops is the "identity of Jesus Christ as the son of God."

Griffith maintains that some Episcopal bishops, clergy and scholars have been teaching that people "can get to God the Father" through the gods of other faiths, ignoring the creed of the Anglican church.

The Anglican Mission in America, based at All Saints Episcopal Church, Pawleys Island, S.C., is building a new Anglican province for conservative and orthodox church members in the United States. It consists of 32 former Episcopal congregations and new churches that it has established.

"Our purpose is to build a faithful, overlapping Anglican province in the U.S.," Griffith said.

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