Nearly nine months after being consecrated as bishops by Anglican archbishops from Rwanda and south-east Asia, two American clerics have begun missionary efforts to strengthen a traditionalist Anglican network in the United States, despite opposition from the U.S. Episcopal (Anglican) Church.

One of the two bishops said that their ministry was aimed at what he called "a crisis of leadership and faith" in the Episcopal Church. "This is a reformation," Charles H. Murphy III told ENI in an interview. "We're in the middle of a realignment. It is history-breaking. It is extraordinary."

Bishop Murphy and Bishop John H. Rodgers represent the Anglican Mission in America (AMA), which hopes to attract Episcopal parishes and clergy and form a new conservative alliance with formal ties to the Anglican Communion. However their ministry has been criticized by many bishops of the Anglican Communion, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey.

Bishop Murphy, based in South Carolina, and Rodgers, based in Pennsylvania, have been meeting clergy and parish leaders critical of the Episcopal Church, which is one of America's more liberal denominations. It is also among the most liberal provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Bishop Murphy told ENI that up to 24 parishes in the U.S. were formally severing or considering severing their ties with the Episcopal Church and aligning with the AMA. He admitted those numbers were small in the 2.5-million-member denomination, which has 7500 parishes.

But, he said, he and others believed it was the start of "the unraveling" of the Episcopal Church. "This is a constant, unfolding drama," he told ENI.

Bishop Rodgers was not available for comment, but, according to Episcopal News Service (ENS), he recently predicted that as many as 80 U.S. congregations could be aligned with the AMA by early 2001.

Murphy and Rodgers were consecrated as bishops on 29 January in Singapore by Emmanuel Kolini, Archbishop of the Province of Rwanda, and Moses Tay, Archbishop of the Province of South East Asia, so that they could plant "Anglican missions" in the U.S. to challenge the Episcopal Church. The highly divisive action has support from a number of conservative bishops, most of them from developing countries.

The mission to the U.S. reflects a major development within the Anglican Communion in recent years: the growing prominence of churches in Africa and Asia, where Anglicanism is growing most rapidly and is generally within the conservative tradition of Anglicanism opposed to women's ordination and greater acceptance of homosexuals. (The Episcopal Church has women priests and bishops and has shown some tolerance of gay relationships.)

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The consecrations of Murphy and Rodgers early this year caused uproar within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, with church leaders calling them an affront to the Anglican tradition of bishops having authority over issues of ordination within their own diocese. The ministry of Murphy and Rodgers in the U.S. is seen by most mainstream Episcopalians as a highly offensive intrusion.

Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said early this year that he was "appalled by this irregular action," while the head of the Anglican Communion, Dr Carey, said the move was a cause of "grave disappointment." He said the consecrations were "irresponsible and irregular."

Even some U.S. church conservatives criticized the move, saying they were concerned about its implication for church unity and shuddering at the thought of schism.

Bishop Murphy told ENI he agreed the consecrations were highly irregular, but said that, "extraordinary times require extraordinary measures." He and Rodgers were committed to promoting a "faithful Biblical witness on American shores" in keeping with a "400-year-old tradition of Anglicanism."

Bishop Murphy added that he believed there was little chance of rapprochement with the Episcopal Church. "Frank Griswold and the leaders of the Episcopal Church have no intention of reversing course," he said, adding that he believed it was the Episcopal Church—and not church conservatives like himself and Rodgers -who were "out of sync" with the rest of the Anglican Communion.

"They're outside of the box," he told ENI.

And, he said, there was an historical precedent for bishops overseeing the work of clerics in other parts of the world, though he added it was "an amazing development" that churches in the Third World were now overseeing mission work in the United States.

Bishop Murphy said the details of how the mission would be carried out would be determined later, with an advisory committee meeting planned later this month in Pennsylvania. He said that the AMA was interested in discussing possible alliances with independent Anglican churches in the United States—such as the Reformed Episcopal Church—which long ago severed ties with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Another international, conservative group, called the Nassau Coalition, which has the support of eight American bishops, met in August in the Bahamas and decried what it called a "state of pastoral emergency" within the Episcopal Church. The Nassau Coalition plans to remain within the Anglican Communion but is seeking church recognition of what it called "an alternative arrangement" for conservative ministry, according to ENS.

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Bishop Griswold, who recently underwent a successful treatment for prostate cancer, said in a statement: "It is unhelpful to have bishops from other parts of the Anglican Communion seek to disrupt the life and work of this church," ENS reported, "but it is heartening to know that almost without exception, the mission of the Gospel and common vision in the Episcopal Church continues uninterrupted in the unity of the faith."

As for the work of the AMA, Bishop Griswold said: "While we are aware of the efforts of the AMA in a few U.S. churches, there has been no substantial undermining of the health or ongoing mission of the mainstream church in America. We continue to uphold a position that is generous, broad, and inclusive of divergent points of view while holding on to the unity of one body in Christ."

Related Elsewhere

Visit the homepage of the Episcopal Church.

The closest thing the Anglican Mission in America has to an official Web site is

Read the Episcopal News Service's story on Murphy and Rodgers

Read some the testimonies of people who decided to leave the U.S. Episcopal Church.

Last weekend Alabama's oldest Protestant congregation, Christ Church in Mobile, voted to leave the Episcopal Church and join the Anglican Mission in America.

Previous Christianity Today articles on this topic include:

Intercontinental Ballistic Bishops? | Maverick conservatives gain a toehold among Episcopalians. (April 25, 2000)

Episcopal Church on Brink of Ecclesiastical Civil War Over Consecrations | (Feb. 2, 2000)

One Church, Two Faiths | Will the Episcopal Church survive the fight over homosexuality? (July 12, 1999)

Dying Church Bequeaths Sanctuary to Anglicans | (Sept. 7, 1998)