Conservative bishops established in September a "separate ecclesiastical structure" for disaffected Episcopalians and U.S. Anglicans who have fled the Episcopal Church. Leaders of the new body, called Common Cause Partnership (CCP), are optimistic that differences among conservatives will not prevent orthodox Anglicans from uniting.

"We're moving from a liberal trajectory to a 21st-century embracing of the true apostolic faith," said Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan, chair of CCP.

The partnership includes 51 bishops and represents more than 600 Anglican congregations with about 100,000 members. But critics say differences between members over issues like women's ordination will not be easily overcome.

"Their only 'common cause' seems to be strident opposition to the Episcopal Church regarding full inclusion of all the baptized in the life of the Church," said the Rev. Jan Nunley, spokesperson for the Episcopal Church. "They have neither the numerical strength, the institutional cohesion, nor frankly the theological warrant to supplant both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as provinces within the Anglican Communion."

Partnership leaders have shied away from describing the new structure as a replacement to the Episcopal Church within global Anglicanism. Instead, they're calling the partnership a "federation" to unify orthodox Anglicans in the U.S. under a wide umbrella.

According to Duncan, the umbrella will accommodate disagreements about women's ordination.

"The CCP has agreed clearly and repeatedly to respect each other across these differences," said Duncan, noting that the partnership plans to follow the lead of the Anglican Communion worldwide, which has allowed provinces to decide on the ordination of women for themselves since its 1988 Lambeth Conference. "This is not a Communion-dividing issue," he said, "therefore this is not going to be an issue that will divide the partnership."

Another challenge facing CCP will be how and when to dissociate some of its congregations from overseas oversight. John Guernsey, the Church of Uganda's bishop for congregations in America, said temporary oversight would remain in place until "a biblical, united church structure" is established in the U.S.

"The Church of Uganda describes this as its 'ecclesiastical refugee ministry,'" said Guernsey. "It understands that the purpose of a refugee ministry is to provide shelter and protection and then return the people home as soon as possible."

Partnership leaders say the group will eventually seek recognition from individual provinces, and then from the global Communion. "Once we can say we've brought together the principal orthodox fragments," said Duncan, "then we'll be in the position to partner with provinces around the world."

Related Elsewhere:

The Anglican Communion Network's website has a short history of the network and information on Common Cause Partners, including the bishops' statement and the CCP's constitution.

Several blogs are following the crisis in the Episcopal Church, including TitusOneNine and Stand Firm.

Our previous coverage of Anglican division is available in our special section.

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