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Last Updated: Friday, 14 September 2007, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
What future for Anglicanism?

By Christopher Landau
BBC News

When the American branch of the Anglican church appointed an openly gay bishop in 2003, conservatives said it could lead to a split in the worldwide denomination. Now African churches are taking the matter into their own hands.

John Guernsey
The US church is unhappy at the appointment of the new bishops

People in Mbarara, a town in south-western Uganda, had long been looking forward to the appointment of their new bishop.

Such an appointment would normally pass without comment.

But then the Archbishop of Uganda told them that the consecration ceremony would be for two new bishops, not one - and the second new bishop was a white, American priest.

John Guernsey is the vicar of a thriving parish church in Dale City, Virginia. His church is one of several in the United States that is opposed to the American church's liberal approach to homosexuality.

His parish recently voted to leave the Episcopal Church - the official branch of Anglicanism in the United States - and instead look to the Church of Uganda for ultimate leadership.

Such moves mean abandoning centuries of Anglican tradition, where national churches act only within their own boundaries, and bishops are responsible for defined geographical areas.

The ceremony

John Guernsey's appointment as a bishop took place at a five-hour long ceremony in the open air, because the cathedral in Mbarara was unable to accommodate the thousands of people in attendance.

The Ugandan prime minister was there and there was a blend of Ugandan and English music ranging from African hymns to Handel's Hallelujah Chorus.

US priest John Guernsey

The newly appointed bishop said his appointment was a "surprising call" and that he hoped the "fire of revival" would touch the church in America.

John Guernsey's appointment is a sign of the thriving nature of many of the African churches that form part of the Anglican Communion.

Africa represents the single largest group of worshippers within Anglicanism - and most of those follow traditional Christian teaching that outlaws homosexuality.

The Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Orombi, said that the Ugandan church had "come of age" and was now able to expand its mission to the United States. He said it would be "immoral if we don't respond" to those Christians in the US who feel unable to stay within the mainstream American Church.

Back to America

So how has John Guernsey's appointment been received in America? I travelled with the new bishop back to his Virginia home and found a parish hugely excited by their rector's new appointment.

At a celebratory picnic, one parishioner said that John Guernsey's appointment was a sign that the "true church" would not allow liberalising policies on homosexuality.

But the Bishop of Virginia - until recently John Guernsey's boss - said that his former colleague had made a mistake in being ordained bishop by the Ugandan church.

The consecration ceremony
Thousands of Ugandans attended the ceremony in Mbarara

"We say the same creeds, we read the same scripture, we sing the same hymns, we say the same prayers and the only difference seems to be the place of gay and lesbian people in their common life," said Bishop Peter Lee.

The problem for Anglicans is that they cannot agree on how to interpret the Bible, and therefore they arrive at very different views on a number of moral issues.

For conservative Anglicans, the Bible is clearly opposed to homosexuality. Liberals say that Jesus was silent on the issue.

What is clear is that the debate over sexuality is not going to be over soon, but in the meantime African Anglicans are seizing the initiative and creating new branches of their churches inside the United States.

All of which means that the task facing the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams - the head of the denomination - is a massive one, not helped by the fact that all Anglican bishops are due to meet in Canterbury next summer for the 10-yearly Lambeth Conference.

Already some African churches are threatening not to attend if liberal American bishops play a full part.

The road to Anglican unity remains a rocky one.

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