When members of St. Bartholomew's Church in the Town of Tonawanda decided in 2008 to leave the Episcopal Church, they didn't know for sure where they fit in the larger structure of Anglicanism.
Less than three years later, the parish has become a pivotal congregation within the Anglican Church in North America, a rival to the Episcopal Church that grew from a rift between theological conservatives and liberal Episcopalians over Bible interpretation and the ordination of a gay bishop.
This week, the congregation served as host for a conference of the International Diocese, the new diocese to which it belongs as part of the Anglican Church in North America.
Friday, Bishop Bill Atwood dedicated St. Bartholomew as the diocese's pro-cathedral, giving the church special significance as the site of the bishop's chair.
Atwood cited the church's role as a stabilizing force in organizing the new diocese, which includes congregations in Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, as well as New York State.
"The people here are magnificent," Atwood said. "It's a resource place with great people."
Unlike most dioceses in the Anglican Church, the International Diocese is not regional.
"It's not geographical by definition, but it's based on a shared mission value," said Atwood.
Congregations within the International Diocese have strong connections overseas, which they expect to maintain and enhance.
When the congregation left the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York, for example, the Rev. Arthur W. Ward Jr., its longtime rector, was able to remain an active priest by transferring to the Diocese of Argentina.
The Argentina diocese is part of the province of the Southern Cone in the Worldwide Anglican Communion -- a province that was sympathetic to churches in the United States that disagreed with the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop.
Provinces in Africa also provided temporary ecclesiastical homes for American priests and congregations that disputed the consecration.
Those provinces "offered us more than a lifeboat," said Atwood. "They offered us life."
Western churches, he added, can learn from the impact that those Anglican churches have had on the cultures of their countries, he added.
For more than 50 years, the St. Bartholomew congregation had worshipped in a sanctuary at 1064 Brighton Road, becoming the largest single parish in the Episcopal Diocese.
After the split with the diocese, members left their church behind and purchased a former synagogue at 2368 Eggert Road.
The move "energized the parish," Ward said. "We got stronger as a result, not weaker."
The Episcopal Diocese attempted to establish a new parish in the Brighton Road site. But when that failed, the diocesan offices were moved there from their longtime location on Delaware Avenue.
"It's ironic," Ward said, "but it's nice that our old place was a blessing to the diocese that they were able to make it their headquarters."