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CENTRAL FLORIDA: Episcopalians Vote to Join Conservative Group

Central Florida Episcopalians vote to join conservative group

By MIKE BRANOM
Associated Press Writer
January 24, 2004

WINTER PARK, Fla. Conservative Episcopalians from central Florida, disturbed by an openly gay bishop's consecration and other liberal trends, voted Saturday to join a new organization in its fight against church leaders.

The Diocese of Central Florida is the state's first to align itself with the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, in existence only since Tuesday.

The diocese consists of 48,000 members in 87 parishes across 15 counties.

"We're going to network with like-minded dioceses ... to uphold and propagate the historic faith as we received it," Bishop John Howe said.

Next week, the conservative Jacksonville-based Diocese of Florida will consider at its convention affiliating itself with the network.

Network officials insist that dioceses under their aegis would remain Episcopalian and join the group rather than strike out on their own.

That was good, Howe said, because "a diocese simply cannot leave."

Episcopalians have been debating homosexuality for years, but November's consecration of V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire sparked a crisis in the denomination.

The network was created in response, and it was to little surprise that the20 central Florida diocese voted to join during its 35th annual convention.

The diocese was among 12 nationwide that sent delegates to Plano, Texas, for the meetings that brought about the network. Those dioceses make up 10 percent of the church's 2.3 million members.

Howe asked the church's national head to resign following Robinson's consecration. Also, the diocese's second-highest ranking official resigned in September to protest the church's direction over the ordination of gays, only to20 reconsider a month later.

Reflecting the leaders' sentiments was Saturday's voice vote: 267 clergy and lay delegates in favor of joining to 108 against. Howe was among 11 abstentions.

The balloting followed two lopsided votes against Howe's recommendation to delay a decision until the Diocesan Board could further study the network.

Outgoing board member Leslie Poole said it was upsetting how the diocese rushed to join.

"My mother always used to say, `In the Episcopal Church, you don't leave your brain at the door,'" Poole said. "You're expected to be thoughtful and have consideration of important issues. Today, I felt like we weren't given enough time."

While the balloting at All Saints Episcopal Church went without incident, tears have been shed over the rights of gay Episcopalians.

"Every diocese has lost some of its members and some of its money," Howe told the convention in his address on Friday. "And most of them, including central Florida, has lost some of their clergy."

In Saturday's first vote, the convention almost unanimously passed an amendment to the diocese's canon allowing clergy members to officiate only marriages between a man and woman.

"The clergy is not here to follow human opinion," said the Rev. Reinel Castro, the amendment's sponsor. "The clergy is here to follow Scripture."

The Episcopal Church is the American branch of Anglicanism, a global body of churches stemming from the Church of England.

A wide majority of overseas Anglican leaders insist on the traditional Christian teaching against same-sex activity, but that is a minority view among U .S. Episcopal leaders. The network wants to get recognition - and greater legitimacy - from those overseas Anglican leaders. Due to the U.S. dispute and another over same-sex blessings in the Anglican Church of Canada, the world Anglican leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, appointed a crisis committee to propose solutions by Sept. 30.

END

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