Five Anglican primates from Africa and South America held a meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the Anglican Communion, on Friday to discuss the schism in the North American Episcopal Church.
The meeting followed the announcement Wednesday that Anglican leaders representing more than 100,000 churchgoers and about 700 churches in the United States and Canada have formed their own constitution for a separate province in the Anglican Communion. The move to create the Anglican Church in North America separates the group from the mainstream Episcopal Church in the United States, which claims more than 2 million members, and the Anglican Church in Canada, which has about 640,000 parishioners on its rolls. Bishop Robert Duncan, who currently leads the breakaway Diocese of Pittsburgh, likely would head up the proposed new province.
Thousands of churches in North America have already left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada in the last few years over issues of biblical orthodoxy and the ordination of homosexuals, including the consecration of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson in New Hampshire five years ago. Most of these churches have joined South American or African provinces, putting themselves under the leadership of archbishops from these continents.
The official breakaway followed a Jerusalem gathering in June of conservative Anglican leaders representing half of the world's 77 million Anglicans, who called for a new Anglican body in North America as part of a declaration of faith.
Archbishop Williams has indicated that he will not recognize the new province anytime soon, and throughout the controversy he has sought compromise between the two sides. To become their own official province, the breakaway churches, according to Canterbury's position, must go through an extensive process that typically takes years. Leaders of the movement plan to submit a formal proposal to become the 39th Anglican province at a January meeting in Alexandria, Egypt.
While the Anglican dissenters say their position arises from their commitment to an orthodox interpretation of the Bible, mainstream Episcopalians say these churches are simply intolerant.
"They are trying to fly under the banner of theological orthodoxy," Jim Naughton of the Episcopal Church told The Times of London. "Really, they are just anti-gay."
The five primates who met with the archbishop of Canterbury Friday were Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda, and Bishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone, or South America. The five said they were seeking the unity of the church, which is why North American Anglican churches say they desire to add a province instead of breaking away from the church entirely. But having two provinces for the same geographic region would change the traditional governing structure of the Anglican Communion and set a precedent for other regions facing similar concerns about orthodoxy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.