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Secession raises tensions for Episcopalians

Eight conservative parishes voted to cut ties this weekend over the issue of consecrating gay bishops.

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The efforts of Episcopal Church leaders to bring about reconciliation within the troubled denomination suffered their biggest blow yet, as eight parishes in Virginia voted this weekend to sever ties with the church.

While the actions involved only eight of 7,200 Episcopal congregations, they showed that traditionalists in the US and Africa are intent on raising the pressure within the Anglican Communion. These pressures will likely come to a head next February, when the 38 top Communion leaders meet in Africa. Some have said the disagreement are so basic that they cannot sit down with the new US leader, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

As the US branch of Anglicanism, the church has been a lightning rod within the global community over its 2003 consecration of a gay bishop, with traditionalists threatening schism unless the church's convention repented its decision.

A small number of conservative US parishes had formed a network within the church – the Anglican Communion Network – to press for a return to traditional teachings. But this weekend's actions amounted to a dramatic secession involving two of the largest and most historic congregations. (One of them can say, "George Washington worshiped here.")

The Falls Church and Truro Church in the northern Virginia suburbs voted overwhelmingly to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a group connected to Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, the most prominent and outspoken leader of traditionalists.

The office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Communion, issued a statement after the votes clarifying that CANA was "a 'mission' of the church of Nigeria. It is not a branch of the Anglican Communion ... nor has the Archbishop of Canterbury indicated any support for its establishment."

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