No sooner had the world's Anglican leaders issued a pastoral statement saying they "cannot support" church ceremonies blessing same-sex unions than one took place in British Columbia.
Some of the 38 Anglican primates were still on planes flying home from a meeting in Brazil when clergywoman Margaret Marquardt on May 28 blessed the union of two males at a church in Vancouver. A few days earlier, Bishop Michael Ingham of the 686,000-member Anglican Church of Canada had authorized six parishes in his Diocese of New Westminster to administer the rite.
Reaction to this in-your-face act came quickly. The next day, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said the diocese "has gone significantly further than the teaching of the church or pastoral concern can justify, and I very much regret the inevitable tension and division that will result."
Indeed, division came to the fore the following day. Primate Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria, the world's largest Anglican province (17 million members, 81 bishops, 10 archbishops), declared his province would have to sever all relations with the bishop and diocese of New Westminster. It means the Nigerian province no longer considers the New Westminster bishop, diocese, and clergy to be part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Some other provinces were expected to take similar action.
Archbishop Akinola called the development in New Westminster a "flagrant disregard for the Anglican Communion and what the vast majority of it stands for." He added: "Failure to ensure strict compliance with resolutions duly passed at our meetings [including Lambeth 1998] clearly shows that Bishop Ingham and his diocese see no value in being accountable to anybody."
Cleric Bill Atwood, who directs Ekklesia, a coalition of about 170 conservative bishops and archbishops from 31 countries, said he doesn't yet know what the unprecedented step in Nigeria will mean in practical terms. But, he added, it is the strongest signal yet that the worldwide church may be on the brink of a real split.
The 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. is part of the Anglican Communion. The issue of whether to approve same-sex blessings will be on the agenda at the church's quadrennial convention in Minneapolis this summer.