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Episcopal parish breaking from US church

Group relocating in Marlborough

A conservative Episcopal parish in Marlborough is bolting the denomination, in the latest indication that even in liberal Massachusetts the Episcopal Church is losing congregations over its support for gay rights.

Holy Trinity Church in Marlborough is leaving behind its building, renting space in a nearby Methodist church, and affiliating with the Anglican Mission in the Americas, which is overseen by the Episcopal Church of Rwanda.

The small Marlborough congregation, with about 70 active members, is following a national trend in which conservative Episcopal congregations are leaving the Episcopal Church USA to affiliate with theologically like-minded Anglican provinces in Africa.

The Marlborough congregation is the third local group of Episcopal parishioners to bolt this year. In January, many of the parishioners of All Saints Episcopal in Attleboro left to form All Saints Anglican in Attleboro and in September, most of the parishioners of All Saints Episcopal in West Newbury left to form All Saints Anglican in Amesbury. The new Attleboro congregation is affiliated with the Episcopal Church of Rwanda, the new Amesbury congregation with the Anglican Church of Kenya.

There are also several other Anglican congregations in Eastern Massachusetts - including in Brewster, Brockton, Middleborough, and Sandwich - that have been formed by individuals who are unhappy with the direction of the Episcopal Church.

Most of those congregations have formed since the Episcopal Church approved an openly gay priest, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire, but their leaders say they have a broader set of concerns about what they perceive to be the liberal theological direction of the Episcopal Church and its willingness to make decisions that are opposed by other provinces of the global Anglican Communion.

"The Episcopal Church is headed in a direction where we cannot follow," said the Rev. Michael McKinnon, the rector of the Marlborough congregation.

"More than any particular issue, it really is more from our point of view, when decisions are made that affect the entire Communion, these things need to be discerned through Scripture and tradition at the communion level, not at the local level."

The Marlborough congregation has reached an agreement with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts over the disposition of its assets, reflecting an effort by Bishop M. Thomas Shaw to avoid the litigation that has characterized many splits around the country.

Locally, there has been litigation in Attleboro and Brockton, but McKinnon said yesterday that in Marlborough, "Bishop Shaw was very gracious, and sent us forth with his blessing, and I hope we're setting an example of how this can be done amicably."

For several years, Shaw had allowed the Marlborough congregation to be supervised by a conservative Anglican bishop in Canada in an effort to keep the congregation in the Episcopal Church.

"The prayers of the bishops are with the Rev. Michael McKinnon as well as with the members of Holy Trinity who feel God calling them to this path in their faith journey," said Maria Plati, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

Plati said that in Attleboro and West Newbury, the Episcopal Diocese is attempting to rebuild congregations in the churches left by the conservatives, so the number of parishes in the diocese remains unchanged at 194.

"While some individuals have left the diocese, other congregations have seen growth over the last few years including Groveland [next to West Newbury], Lowell, Bedford, Chatham, and Norwood," she said.

And, she said, "some of the individuals' departures predate the consecration of Bishop Robinson and were based on theological differences with the Episcopal Church over the adoption of the Book of Common Prayer in 1979 and the ordination of women."

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

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