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Episcopalian diocese opts to join splinter network

Conservative Episcopalians from central Florida, disturbed by an openly gay bishop's consecration and other liberal trends, voted Saturday to join a new organization in its fight against church leaders.

The Diocese of Central Florida, which consists of 48,000 members in 87 parishes across 15 counties, is the first in the state to align with the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, in existence since Tuesday.

"We're going to network with like-minded dioceses . . . to uphold and propagate the historic faith as we received it," Bishop John Howe said.

Next week at its convention, the Diocese of Florida in Jacksonville will consider whether to affiliate with the network.

Network officials say dioceses under their aegis would remain Episcopalian and join the group rather than strike out on their own.

That was good, Howe said, because "a diocese simply cannot leave."

Episcopalians have been debating homosexuality for years, but the consecration of V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in November sparked a crisis in the denomination.

The network was created in response, and it was to little surprise that the Diocese of Central Florida voted to join during its 35th annual convention.

The diocese was among 12 nationwide that sent delegates to Plano, Texas, for the meetings that brought about the network. Those dioceses make up 10 percent of the church's 2.3-million members.

Howe asked the church's national head to resign after Robinson's consecration. Also, the diocese's second-highest ranking official resigned in September to protest the church's direction over the ordination of gays, only to reconsider a month later.

Reflecting the leaders' sentiments was a voice vote Saturday: 267 clergy and lay delegates in favor of joining to 108 against. Howe was among 11 abstentions.

The balloting followed two lopsided votes against Howe's recommendation to delay a decision until the Diocesan Board could further study the network.

Outgoing board member Leslie Poole said it was upsetting how the diocese rushed to join.

"My mother always used to say, "In the Episcopal Church, you don't leave your brain at the door,' " Poole said. "You're expected to be thoughtful and have consideration of important issues. Today, I felt like we weren't given enough time."

Although the balloting at All Saints Episcopal Church went without incident, tears have been shed over the rights of gay Episcopalians.

"Every diocese has lost some of its members and some of its money," Howe told the convention in his address Friday. "And most of them, including central Florida, has lost some of their clergy."

In another vote Saturday, the convention almost unanimously passed an amendment to the diocese's canon allowing clergy members to officiate only marriages between a man and woman.

"The clergy is not here to follow human opinion," said the Rev. Reinel Castro, sponsor of the amendment. "The clergy is here to follow Scripture."

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, a global body of churches stemming from the Church of England.

A wide majority of overseas Anglican leaders insist on the traditional Christian teaching against same-sex activity, but that is a minority view among U.S. Episcopal leaders. The network wants to get greater recognition and legitimacy from those overseas leaders.

Because of the U.S. dispute and another over same-sex blessings in the Anglican Church of Canada, the world Anglican leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, appointed a crisis committee to propose solutions by Sept. 30.