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GEORGIA: Local Episcopalians respond to Robinson Consecration

Local Episcopalians respond to Robinson consecration

While some may be protesting with their wallets, others are joining new national groups.

By Ann Stifter
Savannah Morning News

Episcopal decisions on homosexual issues last summer hit home this week.

On Sunday, members of the 271-year-old Christ Church, the Mother Church of Georgia voted to join a nine-year-old Anglican group that wants to preserve Biblical authority.

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia expects a dip in donations from its 71 congregations this year, attributed in part to those protesting actions taken by the national convention in Minneapolis last August.

Congregational pledges are down $219,528 from last year's pledged amount of $1.63 million Bishop Henry I. Louttit Jr. said Wednesday. Also, the diocese has an estimated 18,649 active members.

As a result the Diocese of Georgia will reduce its contribution to national headquarters.

"I understand the frustration of those who want to do something, but the cost is to the poor of the world," Louttit said from diocesan headquarters in Savannah.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu listens to the debate in the Chamber at the Church of England's General Synod in London, Wednesday Feb. 11, 2004. Church of England General Synod members were debating homosexuality and so-called "gay marriages", for the first time since the row over gay priests in the Anglican Communion. The Associated Press In Minneapolis last year, Episcopal delegates approved the election of an openly homosexual priest to be bishop of New Hampshire.

The Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who has been living with a male partner for over a decade, was consecrated as bishop in November.

Leaders also recognized but did not endorse that some bishops allow ceremonies blessing same-gender couples.

Louttit said he is not aware of any such ceremonies performed in his diocese, which consists of 14,000 members throughout the southern section of the state.

The Episcopal Church USA is a democratically operated denomination. Louttit said the diocese has lost some members because the national decisions go against their understanding of Scripture. But other people have joined because they find the denomination brave to have taken on the issue.

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At Christ Church on Sunday, 137 of the 214 voting church members present agreed to become part of the American Anglican Council, a Washington-based organization that represents traditional Episcopalians who believe in Biblical authority.

The vote also paves the way to possibly join the 3-week-old Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes.

"They want to remain within the mainstream, mainline traditional Anglican heritage which says marriage is between a man and a woman," said David Hein, co-author of the new book "The Episcopalians."

Sunday's vote puts a more public face on what parishioners believe, said the Rev. Marc Robertson, rector of the historic church on Johnson Square.

"Christ Church has always held the historic faith and order of the Anglican Communion," he said. "We honor the centrality and authority of Holy Scripture."

The vote does not separate the parish from the diocese and members have no plans to seek alternative Episcopal oversight, Robertson said.

In his diocesan convention address in Valdosta last week, Louttit said he does not totally trust the American Anglican Council.

But earlier this week, a diocesan spokesman said the bishop understands the need for some parishes to join the council.

"As long as the AAC remains as they have stated publicly within the structure of the Episcopal Church USA E28094 (Bishop Louttit's) not going to take any kind of precipitous action against a parish for doing this," said the Rev. James Parker.

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Hein, the author and chairman of the department of religion and philosophy at Hood College in Frederick, Md., described the Christ Church vote as part of a larger denominational trend, of mainline American Protestants losing the hold they used to have on American religion.

It's being sidelined and represents fewer American Christians, he said.

"Part of this seems to be almost a death wish," he said.

"The (Episcopal Church) seems to be getting out of step with people in the pews, the people in the center."

The denomination shrank from about 3.3 million members in 1965 to 2.3 million today, Hein said.

Hein does not believe traditionalists will break from the Episcopal Church USA to create a second American branch of the Anglican Communion. "At first I thought it might be (a schism)," he said.

"But it looks like the AAC is extremely conscious of remaining in the Episcopal Church and working to prevent a schism, partly because of the property problems.

"If they left the Episcopal Church they might well lose a lot of property, and some of these traditional congregations are in parishes that go back 200 years."

Many Episcopalians who stand by the Minneapolis decision believe in honoring the decades-old majority-rules process of creating laws that govern American Episcopalians.

Those who disagree say the denomination is straying from Biblical teachings in favor of cultural thought. So they're joining such groups as the AAC and the new network.

But one Christ Church parishioner who disagrees with the Minneapolis decision did not want to join the AAC.

"In my opinion, I find them to be too political of an organization," said Karl Bohnstedt.

"Probably the best way to solve (this) is to change the direction of the church in a subsequent convention," he said.

"I am a proponent of working within the structure of the Episcopal Church to change it around."

END

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