A nationwide alliance of Episcopal laity and clergy says that recent efforts by seven dioceses to seek different alignments within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have made those dioceses "a stumbling-block to the faithful, and a millstone around the church's neck."
Via Media USA, which aims to counter a campaign by some Episcopal dioceses for what they term "alternative primatial oversight," issued the statement by email July 29 to what the group called "a Church in Transition."
Also on July 29, 135 Episcopalians met in the sanctuary of St. Richard's Episcopal Church in Winter Park, Florida, at a gathering sponsored by Episcopal Voices of Central Florida, a Via Media USA member. The group issued a statement which it invited people to read, sign and circulate "among your parish friends and others opposed to the actions of our diocesan leadership."
The dioceses of Central Florida, Fort Worth (Texas), Pittsburgh, Springfield (Illinois), San Joaquin (California) and South Carolina have announced they are seeking "alternative primatial oversight." The Diocese of Dallas recently announced it had asked the Archbishop of Canterbury for "direct primatial oversight."
No diocesan convention has yet ratified these actions.
There are Via Media USA-affiliated groups in the dioceses of Albany (two groups), Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Rhode Island, Rio Grande, San Joaquin, South Carolina, Southwest Florida, Springfield and Tennessee, as well as in Central Florida.
The Via Media USA statement says its members saw "hope and faith" evident during the just-concluded General Convention, and in the election of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the 26th Presiding Bishop and Bonnie Anderson as president of the House of Deputies.
"We are confident that General Convention's actions, including the dearly-bought resolutions related to the Windsor Report, will be accepted in the spirit in which they were offered," the statement says. "They show the Episcopal Church reaching out with sincerity, unity, and integrity to a world in need, and not least to its Anglican Communion partners."
The statement says that the dioceses seeking realignment acted in a premeditated way and are determined to "walk apart" from the Episcopal Church.
"However sweetly they phrase their words, these words are declarations of schism," the statement continues. "These individuals seek to separate a part of this church from the rest of it, isolating dioceses and parishes from the church in the process."
The Church's leaders must act to "protect the church and enable it to move forward faithfully in Christ's mission," the statement adds.
"Our intent is to find and support the faithful Episcopalians who will rebuild the Episcopal Church in dioceses where it has been broken," the statement concludes.
The Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported July 30 that the Episcopal Voices gathering attracted people from 23 congregations, including 20 clergy. Thirty clergy had previously issued a statement disagreeing with the stance of diocesan leaders.
The Episcopal Voices statement says that the signers recognize their "allegiance" to the Episcopal Church, calling it "a true branch" of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ.
"We do not accede to any actions, efforts, letters or resolutions by Central Florida's diocesan leadership or its conventions which seek to disassociate us further from the Episcopal Church, the actions and authority of General Convention, or from the fellowship of the Anglican Communion," the statement says.
It pledges signers to seek reconciliation within the diocese, and to "worship together, stay in community with each other, care for our neighbors and in love, follow Jesus, who was and is the perfect expression of love in the world."
Central Florida Bishop John Howe said told the Sentinel in an e-mail message from England that the meeting did not trouble him.
"These are good people who love the Episcopal Church -- as do I," he said. "They do not want to be separated from it -- nor do I."
But Howe disagreed with Episcopal Voices' analysis of the dispute.
"It is The Episcopal Church (as a whole) that has chosen to 'walk apart' from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion," he said.