PLANO, Texas (Reuters) - Conservatives who have left the U.S. Episcopal Church over issues like gay clergy finalized the formation of a rival church on Wednesday, the latest chapter in a saga that has split Anglicans worldwide.
The new Anglican Church in North America, which says it has 100,000 followers, ratified its constitution this week and installed Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh as its first archbishop on Wednesday evening.
“Across the church people are re-embracing scripture’s authority,” Duncan said, a reference to the conservative belief that liberals have strayed from the Bible.
“We are oriented toward a hopeful future. We are not turning back to the hurts of our past,” Duncan, who will serve a five-year term, said.
The Episcopal Church, which is the main U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion with over 2 million followers, has declined to comment on the proceedings. The ACNA says four of the 28 dioceses under its roof are locked in property disputes with the Episcopal Church.
Some Canadian congregations are also fighting legal battles over assets with the Anglican Church of Canada.
Long-standing divisions between liberals and conservatives had already undermined Episcopal Church unity by 2003 when it consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first bishop known to be in an openly gay relationship in more than four centuries of Anglican history.
The ACNA wants to formally join the Anglican Communion which numbers close to 80 million people worldwide.
Acceptance would put the breakaway church on an equal footing with the Episcopal Church but the process could take years if it happens at all.
It requires approval from two-thirds of the primates — the heads of national churches — in the Anglican Communion and recognition from the Anglican Consultative Council, another church body.
The new alliance believes its orthodoxy has an appeal for young people, many of whom have been attracted to fast-growing evangelical denominations.
“The Episcopal Church is in decline ... But we are growing and planting new churches. And 20 percent of our delegates this week were under the age of 25,” Martyn Minns, one of ACNA’s founding bishops, told Reuters.
Duncan struck an evangelical tone at his installation service, calling on his flock to plant 1,000 new churches over the next five years.