BEDFORD, Texas -- In a Texas cathedral where the liturgical nuances of Anglo-Catholicism mingled with the joyous shouts of Pentecostalism, Archbishop-elect Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh called together a body representing 100,000 people who had left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.
Yesterday they adopted the constitution of the new Anglican Church in North America, which they hope will eventually be recognized as a province of the 80 million-member global Anglican Communion. The 2.1 million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. province of the communion.
"There is a great reformation of the Christian Church under way. We North American Anglicans are in the midst of it," their new archbishop told a standing-room only crowd gathered in St. Vincent Cathedral in Bedford, Texas. It was the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth which, like the Diocese of Pittsburgh, had broken with the Episcopal Church, taking the majority of its parishes with it.
The new body unites four such dioceses, many additional parishes that had been under the protection of Anglican bishops on other continents, and some older splinter groups. About 900 people are at the four-day meeting, including 300 voting delegates.
They believe the Episcopal Church has failed to uphold biblical authority and traditional Christian doctrine on matters ranging from the divinity of Christ to sexual ethics.
"While much of mainline Protestantism is finding itself adrift from its origins of submission to the word, there is an ever-growing stream of North American Protestantism that has re-embraced scriptural authority just as we have," the archbishop-elect said. This includes people in evangelical and Pentecostal churches seeking a deeper connection with ancient Christian practices, he said.
His ratification as archbishop-elect had taken place hours earlier in a closed meeting of bishops, but the delegates cheered and applauded when he briefly mentioned it.
He warned those celebrating their new unity to guard against old habits of infighting. Satan, he said, will try to use their differences over matters such as women's ordination to turn them against each other.
"He will try to lure us back to old ways and old hurts and old fights. Mark my words," he said, calling them to practice healing, forbearance and forgiveness.
The plan is for each of its 28 dioceses to decide whether to ordain women as priests. But no women will be consecrated bishops unless the worldwide Anglican Communion comes to a consensus that allows it.
He spoke of the difficulties many of those present had faced, with loss of church buildings and removal from the Episcopal ministry.
"Many of us have sacrificed a great deal to follow Jesus to this place. Many of us have lost properties and sacred treasures and incomes and pensions and benefits and standing and, above all, friends," said the archbishop-elect, who controls most property in his original diocese but faces a lawsuit over it.
He asked if anyone would go back, and the people responded with shouts of "No! No!"
"I hear this over and over everywhere I go. There is no one who would go back. There has been suffering and loss. Some of it was very wounding. But we are so much better off than we were before," he said.
Most people entered and left the worship service with broad smiles on their faces, although it had taken up nearly all of their scheduled lunch hour.
"It was fantastic, very positive, a forward-looking message," said Stu Simpson, a delegate from Fox Chapel. "I think it's what we need, to focus on mission. There was great joy in the crowd."
Ann Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416.