Defectors from Episcopal Church Revert to Ban on Women Priests

Not only does it denounce homosexuality, but it turns out the new, Nigerian-linked association of defectors from the Episcopal Church, U.S.A. also rejects the notion of women in the priesthood, at least for the time being. This is the group that a majority of parishioners at historic The Falls Church voted to align with a year ago.

But while this group, which currently occupies the facilities at The Falls Church pending the outcome of a lawsuit next month, has stepped back from gender and sexual equality, those who did not vote to defect, calling themselves “Continuing Episcopalians,” have become a thriving force in the City of Falls Church. Gathering to worship “off site” weekly, they’ve most recently struck a partnership with a local non-profit to help disadvantaged families over the holidays that has been hailed by Falls Church Mayor Robin Gardner.  

As for the defectors, the new so-called Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), described as a “mission” of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, held a ceremony in Herndon, Virginia, last week to consecrate four new bishops, all male and two from Nigeria. The ceremony was led by CANA head Rev. Martyn Minns of Fairfax’s Truro Church, another defecting congregation.

In his remarks at the ceremony, Minns said, “At this time, the Church of Nigeria, to which we owe canonical obedience, has no provision for the ordination of women.”

By aligning with the Nigerian church, therefore, CANA repudiated a decision taken by the Episcopal Church, U.S.A. in 1976 to permit the ordination of women.

Minns added, “I am fully aware that this is a topic of concern for many clergy and congregations throughout CANA and one that produces intense reactions.”

He said he’s appointed a task force to study the matter from the standpoint of what he called “two integrities” of the issue, namely, adamant opposition to the ordination of women, on the one hand, and an array of alternatives ranging from some diminished role for women in the leadership of the church to ordination, on the other.

“We will keep our promise to honor both integrities within CANA and fulfill our commitment to the full participation of women in the life and leadership of the church,” he said. “We will do so in such a manner that both those who are unable to support the ordination of women and those who embrace it will know that their position has been honored.”

But Minns did not offer any further clarification on how both opponents and supporters of the ordination of women would come away happy.

This new controversy over the role of women in the church follows on what was the original “cause celebre” that led to a spate of formal defections by a small number of congregations of the Episcopal Church a year ago. That originating cause was anger over the elevation to standing as a bishop of an openly-gay clergyman in 2003.

Meanwhile, Falls Church’s “Continuing Episcopalians,” those who voted not to defect, now number over 200 in their ranks and worship weekly at a fellowship hall of the Falls Church Presbyterian, across the street from The Falls Church, have grown their ranks and has partnered with Homestretch, Inc., a Falls Church-based non-profit dedicated to transitioning homeless families into stable living environments.

Over Thanksgiving, the “Continuing Episcopalians,” who have adopted the original name of their church, The Falls Church Episcopal Church, worked with Homestretch to prepare and deliver food baskets to a number of Homestretch families. For the Christmas holidays, F.C. Episcopal parishioners spend a day with Homestretch children shopping for and wrapping gifts for their family members. Parish families have committed to supporting six Homestretch families through the Christmas holidays and into the New Year.

Last week, Christopher Fay, executive director of Homestretch, accepted a $1,000 check from Neal M. Callander, junior warden of the F.C. Episcopal.

Robin Gardner, the mayor of the City of Falls Church, has been aligned with this “Continuing Episcopalian” group since last January. “My family and I began attending Falls Church Episcopal when it began meeting in January. The warmth, community and feeling of welcome surrounded us. God’s presence can certainly be felt in this congregation and we are blessed to be a part of this new family,” she wrote in a statement received at the News-Press this week.

“Falls Church Episcopal has become engaged in the larger Falls Church community, as well, and brings their spirit of giving to our City. They are a welcome addition and, as a citizen of Falls Church, I welcome their contributions to help those in and around Falls Church,” she added.