PLANO, Texas – Conservative Episcopalians opposed to a gay bishop's consecration and other liberal trends were on track to establish a nationwide protest organization by the close of a two-day meeting Tuesday.
Planners insist the budding Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (search) is not a schism or denominational split but a "church within a church" whose backers will remain Episcopalians.
The immediate cause of dissent was the Episcopal Church's decision last summer to elevate Bishop V. Gene Robinson (search) of New Hampshire, who has lived for years with a gay partner.
But the meeting's chairman, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, told a news briefing that the denomination "split from its own history this past summer, so who left?"
The closed-door meeting involved 100 bishops, priests and lay members representing a dozen dioceses with 235,000 members, or a 10th of the nation's Episcopalians.
The delegates at the meeting plan to complete an organizational charter for the network. They also are trying to produce a new theological statement based upon previous conservative platforms.
The Episcopal Church (search) is the U.S. branch of the international Anglican Communion and the network hopes to draw legitimacy from overseas Anglican branches that agree with it.
"You've never had this many dioceses rallying to say a massive corporate mistake has been made," said Canon Kendall Harmon, a South Carolina delegate.
Canon Bill Atwood of the Texas-based Ekklesia Society (search), which aids churches in developing nations, said in a phone interview from Uganda that plans are under way for a formal declaration recognizing the new network from leaders representing a majority of the world's Anglicans.
Episcopal Church headquarters in New York has issued no formal statement about the meeting.
Conservative parishes do not want to officially leave the church because under secular law they would probably have to surrender their properties to the denomination.
"We've got a $12 million facility and we can't just walk away from it," said the Rev. Donald Armstrong of Colorado Springs, Colo., a delegate representing Midwestern and Mountain states.
Many Anglican churches around the world have denounced or broken fellowship with the Episcopal Church over Bishop Robinson.
The world Anglican leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has named a commission to come up with a solution to the U.S. controversy by Sept. 30.
A leaked memo from a network leader said the meeting's "ultimate goal" is a "replacement" jurisdiction aligned with the conservative majority in world Anglicanism, though a key activist said Sunday night that the "replacement" idea came from church leaders overseas and any decisions on what groups are authentic Anglicans will be up to them.
The memo, leaked last week, said disobedience of church law "may be necessary" and conservatives should be prepared to risk trials in church or secular courts.
The session's host bishop, James Stanton of Dallas, said he wants a positive tone so the network can gain support among the 43 Episcopal bishops who voted against Robinson's elevation. Sixty-two bishops backed Robinson.