NEW YORK -- The "ultimate goal" of conservative Episcopalians opposed to an openly gay bishop is a "replacement" for the Episcopal Church that will be aligned with like-minded Anglican churches in other nations, according to a detailed memo from a key strategist.
News of the memo, first reported in yesterday's Washington Post, comes as conservatives prepare for a crucial closed-door meeting next week in Plano, Texas, to establish a national group called the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes.
In recent weeks, conservative leaders have said this will not be a formal breakaway from the Episcopal Church. But the memo indicates the Plano meeting may face a division between those favoring a conciliatory strategy and others prepared to defy the church.
"Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil committed to biblical faith and values," says the memo by the Rev. Geoffrey Chapman. "We believe in the end this should be a `replacement' jurisdiction . . . closely aligned with the majority of world Anglicanism."
Daniel England, communications director at Episcopal Church headquarters, said many rank-and-file Episcopalians will probably be disappointed by a strategy that "seems to contemplate disobeying canons" in church law and would "circumvent the authority of diocesan bishops." Still, England said, the denomination needs to hear all voices in the debate over homosexuality. The confidential document was sent to interested congregations Dec. 28 by Chapman, of Sewickley, Pa., on behalf of the American Anglican Council, which is helping organize the network and is based in Washington.
The organization's media director, Bruce Mason, said Chapman is not a policy spokesman and the group does not intend to "supplant the current structure" of the Episcopal Church. However, he said, the conservative forces "remain faithful to the Anglican Communion" and the Episcopal Church does not.
The Episcopal Church is the US branch of the international Anglican Communion -- bodies that trace their heritage to the Church of England. Many national Anglican churches have denounced or broken fellowship with the Episcopal Church over the consecration last November of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay cleric, as bishop of New Hampshire.
Chapman's memo deals with strategy for individual, conservative parishes in liberal dioceses that oppose the denomination's gay policies and want to be ministered to by traditionalist bishops from outside their areas -- instead of their regular, local bishops.
A clause in the Episcopal Church's constitution says a bishop must not exercise his office in another diocese unless the regular bishop requests this.
Chapman is scheduled to brief Plano participants on the situation faced by local congregations. He is rector of the largest congregation in the Pittsburgh Diocese whose bishop, Robert Duncan, is a leader of the new network.
The denomination's national leader, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, has proposed a plan for special visiting bishops to minister to conservative parishes. The council's leaders have rejected Griswold's system, however, because ultimate decisions rest with liberal bishops they distrust.
The issue of so-called "adequate Episcopal oversight" is on the agenda of a closed-door meeting of all Episcopal bishops March 19-24 in Navasota, Texas, and of a special committee dealing with the split on gays in the international Anglican Communion.
Chapman's 2,500-word memo lays out a two-stage process for parishes that have lost faith in Episcopal leadership.
In the first stage, parishes would practice "spiritual realignment" but remain "within the letter of" church law in order to hold ownership of their buildings.
In stage two, he said, they would seek negotiated settlements on parish property and other contentious matters, with help from friendly bishops overseas. If deals are not reached, "widespread" disobedience would occur.