Two Southern California Episcopal parishes announced yesterday that they had broken with the national church over the issue of homosexuality, placing themselves under the jurisdiction of a conservative Anglican bishop from Africa.
The announcement by All Saints Church in Long Beach, Calif., and St. James Parish in Newport Beach, Calif., escalated a confrontation within the Episcopal Church over the role of gay clergy and the proper interpretation of Scripture.
The move marked the first time that any of the 147 parishes in the six-county Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese had made good on threats to pull out of the 2.3 million-member national Episcopal Church. Conservative leaders in Washington and South Carolina said yesterday the Southern California developments had broad implications.
"It's only the beginning," said the Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon, a theologian in the Diocese of South Carolina who has frequently defended the cause of "biblically orthodox" Episcopalians.
In Washington, Cynthia Brust of the American Anglican Council, a conservative group, estimated that 45 to 50 and perhaps as many as 100 Episcopal parishes nationally have left the church.
There are 7,305 parishes in the United States.
The Episcopal church is the U.S. member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which claims 77 million members. Debates over homosexuality have split the Anglican Communion, with many churches in the United States and Western Europe accepting gay clergy and same-sex weddings, while churches in Asia and Africa uphold the authority of biblical verses that condemn homosexual relations.
The latest move could lead to a legal battle, including a dispute over who owns the church buildings and property - the parishes, themselves, or the Episcopal Diocese.