Page last updated at 11:33 GMT, Monday, 18 December 2006

Schism looming for Anglican Communion

By Jane Little
BBC News, Washington

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola
Archbishop Akinola says homosexuality is a "satanic attack" on the church
Two of the oldest and largest parishes in the US have chosen to break from their bishop and become a mission of the Nigerian Church.

Five others have also voted to split.

The congregations at Truro and Falls Church date from the 1700s and were once a part of the mother Church of England.

The former President George Washington worshipped at Falls Church.

But now they have voted to sever ties with their own church and, in a move destined to cause conflict, to fight the bishop of Virginia for their church property estimated to be worth $25m.

They will turn instead to the 17-million-member church in Nigeria for direction.

The bishop of Virginia, Peter Lee, called it a "sad day for the church".

He also stressed that the church properties are "held in trust" for the diocese and the Episcopal Church and he will insist on retaining them.

Step further

The dispute follows a decision three years ago to consecrate a gay man, Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire.

Conservatives were further alienated by the election this summer of the first female presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori, who voted for him.

Seven dioceses of the Episcopal Church have refused to accept her authority and formed their own network, but it remains within the church.

These Virginia parishes have gone a step further, one that could lead to deeper division within the global Anglican Communion.

Reverse mission

The defectors have opted to join an umbrella organisation called the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (Cana).

Part of factfile map, showing Africa

It is a Nigerian mission to America, and represents an intriguing reversal of missionary lines as a former colonial church in Africa takes a slice of the West.

The rector at Truro, the Reverend Martyn Minns, was consecrated a bishop earlier this year by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola.

He will have authority over the new organisation, which Mr Minns says he hopes will grow as he plants new churches that "work to proclaim the unchangeable truth of the scriptures".

Archbishop Akinola has in the past called homosexual activity a "satanic attack" on the church.

He recently backed Nigerian government plans to penalise gay and lesbian activity with jail terms.

The American conservatives have distanced themselves from his position, arguing that he is under pressure due to tensions within Nigeria between Christians and Muslims.

On the brink

The 77-million-member family of churches known as the Anglican Communion is now poised on the brink of schism.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams is fighting to save the Anglican Communion
Many leaders or primates of Anglican Provinces in the developing world have broken ties with the Episcopal Church in America.

A small but growing minority of US congregations have sought or are seeking leadership from them.

This poses a further challenge to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who as spiritual head of the global church has been fighting what many now see as a losing battle to save it.

Dr Williams appealed to church leaders not to move into each other's territory. But this is precisely what has now happened.

Old geographical boundaries are breaking down as theological and political allegiances take over.

A whole diocese in California is now on the verge of leaving the Episcopal Church.

Its woes and those of the wider Anglican family continue to grow.

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