The Diocese of Central Florida's annual convention voted January 25 by more than 2 to 1 to join the start-up Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, formed in mid-January by representatives from 12 dioceses to "uphold the historic faith" and maintain a bridge to the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Primates from at least 9 of the communion's 38 provinces have declared that communion with the Episcopal Church is either "broken" or "impaired" over what they see as unbiblical actions taken by the General Convention last summer, including the election of a gay priest as bishop and acknowledgment that same-sex unions have official approval in some U.S. dioceses.
Many at Saturday's Diocesan Convention said they would like more information before committing to network membership. Bishop John W. Howe, in his Bishop's Address to the 35th Annual Convention, urged the Convention not to take up the matter but to refer it "specifically to our Diocesan Board for careful study and consideration as to whether or not we want to be involved in it in a formal way."
Some who voted for membership said that they, too, would like more information, but the way to make that evaluation is to join the network and take part in its growth and formation.
Advocates of the network stressed that the network, as chartered, is committed to working within the Episcopal Church. Howe said he was concerned about the disclosure in the weeks before the network's organizational meeting of a memo by conservatives that outlined a strategy for using the network to circumvent Church canons and find ways to take property from the national church. But that memo was never presented or adopted at the network's organizational meeting.
After the diocesan convention, Howe, who had joined the network as an individual, said that if the network changes its aim and works to break from the Episcopal Church, he would not remain a member.
"To state it simply, the intention behind the Network is to enable like-minded bishops, clergy, dioceses and congregations to work together within the structures of the Episcopal Church to uphold and propagate the historic Faith and Order of the Church as we have received it. It is not to 'break away;' it is not to become a 'replacement province,' or a 'church within the church.' It is, in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to
'network' together for reform, renewal, and revival," Howe said.
The convention supported Howe's call not to ask for the resignation of U.S. bishops who voted to consent to the election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.
"We have made the position of this diocese extremely well known, and it seems questionable at best whether there is a lot to be gained by restating it over and over," Howe said of the resolution, which was withdrawn at the convention. "I ask you to seek the Lord's leading tonight as to whether we really want to be calling for resignations that we know will not be forthcoming, or keeping a list of bishops who may not be invited here, when the truth of the matter is they are very unlikely to be invited in the first place."
What network membership means in practical terms is unclear. Some who opposed membership pointed out that a significant number of the diocese's 87 parishes and missions, as represented at the convention, voted not to join the network. The convention approved joining the network by a vote of 267 to 108.
Leslie Poole, an outgoing Diocesan Board member and a leader of Episcopal Voices, a group that says its goal is to keep the diocese within the national church, said Saturday's action was taken without due consideration.
"I wouldn't call it dangerous, but I would call it very disappointing. A third of the people here disagreed with it. That's a lot of people who haven't made up their minds. We're on a fast train heading . . . we don't even know where," she said.