PLANO, Texas -- Dissident Episcopalians upset over the consecration of a gay bishop formed an unprecedented national protest group yesterday -- a network of conservatives who pledged to work with each other and oppose church leadership.
Yet the creation of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes stopped short of a schism with the Episcopal Church, raising the prospect of church-by-church fights for authority and control.
"This has been, for us, a glorious and historic day," said Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, who was elected to head the network.
The organization's founding charter, approved by about 100 delegates from 12 dioceses and other parts of the nation, said decisions by the Episcopal Church "have departed from the historic faith and order and have brought immense harm."
The group "shall operate in good faith within the constitution of the Episcopal Church," and it will "constitute a true and legitimate expression of the worldwide Anglican Communion."
The Anglican Communion is the global federation of churches that trace their roots back to the Church of England -- the Episcopal Church is the US branch. The majority of overseas Anglican leaders oppose ordaining gays, but conservatives are a minority in the United States.
Network leaders contend they're not leaving the Episcopal Church but the church left them when it began allowing gay clergy and blessings for same-sex couples. The consecration in November of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who is openly gay, brought the situation to a crisis point.
It is still unclear how the "church within a church" the network leaders created will relate to the denomination's leaders, and talk of schism was downplayed during the two-day meeting at a church in suburban Dallas. But the network's charter says that all congregations joining the group, including those from liberal dioceses, will "come under the spiritual authority of a bishop" approved by network leaders -- a direct challenge to the Episcopal Church's top officials.
Under church law no bishop from outside a diocese can minister to a congregation without the local bishop's permission.
The network will create five geographical districts -- New England, mid-Atlantic, Southeastern, mid-Continental and Western -- and one nongeographical district. A commission is to report by Sept. 30 on solutions to global divisions over the Episcopal Church's actions and a parallel dispute in Canada concerning same-sex blessings.