Churches form links abroad

Many congregations increasingly unhappy with Episcopal Church

May 28, 2007|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

As they professed their faith, Hector Zavala, Anglican bishop of the Diocese of Chile, laid his hands on the heads of three young people yesterday and welcomed them into his flock.

The cleric, wearing vestments decorated with indigenous patterns and the Chilean national flower, was leading the first confirmation ceremony at his mission church in the United States - whose congregation worships in the heart of Baltimore County's Green Spring Valley.

The Church of the Resurrection is one of many in the United States forming relationships with foreign bishops after growing increasingly dissatisfied with the perceived liberal direction of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. arm of the international Anglican Communion.

For several Resurrection members, the 2003 election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as bishop of New Hampshire was a recent - but not the only - evidence of a church straying from biblical values and truths.

Reisterstown resident Vince Clews, a founding member of Church of the Resurrection, said its formation after Robinson's election may imply homophobia but had more to do with public statements by Episcopal bishops who don't believe in tenets such as the divinity of Jesus, his resurrection or virgin birth.

"I left because the idea of a bishop or priest saying the Nicene Creed or Apostles Creed as they do every Sunday and not believing half of what they're saying ... makes no sense to me," said Clews, a freelance writer. "That is not worship. That is being led by a liar."

Many of the overseas dioceses were once a destination for mission workers, and money, from American parishes. "Those who were missionized are in a sense launching missions of their own," said David Hein, a Hood College religion professor and author of the book The Episcopalians.

Resurrection, whose congregation worships at the historic Rainbow Hill mansion in the 10700 block of Park Heights Avenue near Stevenson, is the northernmost outpost of its South American diocese. Its pastor, the Rev. Eliot Winks, was ordained at a Pittsburgh ceremony in 2005 by the bishop of the Diocese of Bolivia on behalf of Zavala.

Zavala said his diocese's pastoral support of the Baltimore County mission church is part of a temporary solution to support parishes whose members feel disenfranchised by the Episcopal Church.

"From our point of view, belonging to a wider community, we want them to continue being Anglicans," Zavala said after yesterday's confirmation service - held on Pentecost Sunday, which Christians celebrate as the day the apostles received the Holy Spirit. "The way to do this is through us, while we resolve the tensions in the Anglican Communion."

A group of parishioners broke away from St. John's Episcopal Church in Glyndon to form the Church of the Resurrection about two years ago, said Dedi Whitaker of Rodgers Forge, a founder who works as a youth ministry program administrator.

Winks said his church has about 115 members and that as many as 80 people attend weekly services. It also supports mission work in Chile, having sent a quarter of its $20,000 mission budget there last year.

Whitaker and other St. John's parishioners had first gathered in members' homes to pray about what they perceived as a congregation following two theologies.

"What we saw was a gradual drift away from a Christianity that was centered on what God has revealed of himself through the Bible and became centered really on what suited the culture," she said. "We wanted to maintain a theology that was rooted in what God said and not what man said was convenient."

They asked Winks to serve as their pastor. Winks had attended a conservative seminary in Pittsburgh and, after he was ordained a deacon, moved to Maryland to pursue campus ministry. But to practice here, he needed a license from the bishop of Maryland, Robert W. Ihloff, who is now retired.

Winks, 42, said he met with then-Bishop Suffragan John L. Rabb but was denied.

Through a spokeswoman, Rabb declined to comment on the Church of the Resurrection because it is not part of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

"Our action was based on his unwillingness to work under the direction of our Campus Ministry Board, and we were not impressed with his credentials; obviously our judgment has proven sound," Ihloff and Rabb wrote in a 2005 letter to clergy about Winks' ordination. The letter was posted on a conservative Episcopal blog.

Pittsburgh's Episcopal Bishop Robert Duncan then orchestrated Winks' affiliation with the Diocese of Chile; the priest's ordination took place at a 2005 meeting of groups affiliated with orthodox Anglican groups.

Winks attended two clergy retreats in Chile; he and a Resurrection church representative traveled there last year to attend its diocesan synod, a meeting of bishops, clergy and laity from the diocese's 100 churches. In addition to opposing ordination of gay people, the Diocese of Chile does not ordain women, though they can preach and teach, Zavala said.

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