Leaders of the two competing Episcopal dioceses of Pittsburgh said they were encouraged by a statement from the world's Anglican archbishops on healing divisions within their fractured worldwide church, the Anglican Communion.
But they focused on different aspects of the statement, drafted this week in Alexandria, Egypt. It called for a "professionally mediated" conversation between Anglican leaders and leaders of a proposed theologically conservative Anglican province for North America, whose archishop-designate is Bishop Robert Duncan of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican).
In November, his 74-congregation diocese voted to secede from the Episcopal Church and realign, at least temporarily, with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in South America. But 28 parishes have remained in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh that is recognized by the Episcopal Church.
The archbishops, called primates, also called for "gracious restraint" by dioceses that want to elect partnered gay bishops, to bless same-sex unions or to cross geographical borders to take charge of parishes unhappy with their own bishop's theology. The splits occurred because conservative Episcopalians believe that many Episcopal bishops no longer uphold biblical authority, classical doctrines about Jesus or traditional Christian sexual ethics.
"We appreciate what was clearly an extensive discussion of the North American situation within the whole of the primates' meeting," Bishop Duncan said.
The Rev. James Simons, chairman of the standing committee that governs the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, also was pleased with the statement. But he focused on a footnote that says talks with Bishop Duncan's proposed province would require a commitment "that they would not seek to recruit and expand their membership by means of proselytization."
"They specifically ask this new group to stop doing what it is doing so that they can enter into negotiations," the Rev. Simons said.
"I would take that to mean that the [other] diocese would stop actively recruiting parishes and individuals to join the realignment."
Deacon Peter Frank, spokesman for the Anglican diocese, said the diocese was not yet sure how to interpret the injunction against "proselytization."
"We are going to have to see what the intent of the primates is and what they believe they were saying in that. Our main concern is for the tens of thousands of people that are already outside of the Episcopal Church. We are bringing those people together," he said.
Bishop Duncan said plans for the Anglican Church in North America will go forward. If delegates approve a proposed constitution this summer, the church will include about 100,000 people.
"Already larger than 12 provinces of the Anglican Communion, we will work together ... with all who are willing to work with us," Bishop Duncan said.
The statement from the 28 Anglican primates said there was "no consensus among us" regarding how the proposed Anglican Church in North America should be regarded, and that many of them had concerns about recognizing a second province on territory that already belongs to another.
"We earnestly desire reconciliation with these dear sisters and brothers for whom we understand membership of the Anglican Communion is profoundly important. We recognize that these processes cannot be rushed, but neither should they be postponed," they wrote.
Deacon Frank regards that as a positive step.
"We are gratified that they spent as much time as they did discussing our situation. We have known from the beginning that things never move quickly in international Anglican circles and we'll need to be patient," he said.
Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, primate of the Episcopal Church, attended the meeting.
Referring to primates in the global South who have taken oversight of parishes and diocese that broke with the Episcopal Church, she said. "I welcome the opportunity for mediation and would expect my brothers who have offered shelter to the refugees to use their influence to bring the refugees' leaders to the discussion table."
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