Divided church awaits leader

September 10, 1992|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

When the Archbishop of Canterbury meets in Baltimore today with the nation's Episcopal bishops, he will find them seriously divided on such issues as sexual morality and the ordination of homosexuals but determined to make peace with one another.

It will be the beginning of the first official visit to the United States by Archbishop George L. Carey since Queen Elizabeth II on July 25, 1990, appointed him the 103rd head of the Canterbury diocese in England and the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican communion of churches.

Several of the nearly 200 American bishops convened at the Inner Harbor's Hyatt Regency Hotel yesterday referred to the result of their recent theological disagreements as "dysfunction." Some of those differences have centered on whether a practicing gay should be ordained a priest.

Said Bishop Arthur A. Vogel, retired head of the Episcopal Church's Western Missouri diocese, "We must move from dysfunction to function."

Bishop Edward C. Chalfant of Maine called their sharp arguments of the last few years "an anguished cry" and said that the House of Bishops -- one of the church's two national governing bodies -- must accomplish "a process of transformation."

Bishop Sam B. Hulsey of Northwest Texas agreed with Bishop Vogel that the church leadership is challenged to be "truly interdependent" -- that doctrinally a bishop of the Episcopal Church cannot function alone.

But at a conference of traditionalist Episcopal clergy and laity at downtown Baltimore's Old St. Paul's Church -- a meeting that preceded and overlapped the current bishops' meeting -- a leading Episcopal priest made clear that the denomination's internal disagreements remain sharp and fundamental.

"Over and over, especially during the last few years, I have heard in national church meetings any fashionable, politically correct, liberal trend in the politics of our nation referred to as the clear work of the Holy Spirit," said the Rev. David B. Collins, former dean of the cathedral in Atlanta.

From 1985 to 1991, he was the elected president of the denomination's House of Deputies, whose clergy and lay members share with the House of Bishops the governing of the church.

"It is clearly more acceptable in the Episcopal Church to have a sexually transmitted disease than to take scripture seriously," Father Collins said.

"If Jesus is not unique, there is no Gospel. This is the theological battleground of our day and, generally speaking, our church is on the wrong side."

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