On 5 October Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria gave a news conference at Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, Virginia, a parish that has withdrawn financial support from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in protest over the election of Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire. He said that his primary goal is to explore ways to allow American congregations upset over the election to realign themselves under his jurisdiction. This is a direct challenge to the leadership of the U.S. Episcopal Church. He also said he wanted to offer a home to any Episcopal parish in America that no longer feels it can abide by a U.S. church hierarchy conservatives see as abandoning a fundamental Christian teaching condemning homosexuality and he feels obliged to provide a spiritual home to Nigerians in the United States who are leaving the church over the issue.
The U.S. Episcopal Church “is creating a new religion in which God almighty has declared a sin is no longer a sin,” Akinola said at “We cannot go along with that kind of religion.” “Our people are deserting the Anglican Church as a result” of Robinson’s election, the archbishop said. “We want to recover our people.” But he added his efforts are not limited to Nigerian Anglicans. “Whoever wishes to join would be welcome,” he said.
“I am here to confer with Nigerian people who are Anglicans and to assure them that we are with them every inch of the way,” he said. “And to others who have left the Episcopal Church, I have come to reassure that we work with them to establish a church in which they can find peace and joy and happiness and a conducive atmosphere in the service of the Lord. That’s my mission.”
In the Diocese of Washington, home to several majority-Nigerian congregations, spokesman Jim Naughton said some parishioners expressed unhappiness about Robinson’s election but overall the issue has not been a major source of concern. “He’s responding to a concern we have not heard expressed,” Naughton said.
Akinola said his U.S. trip to explore a possible realignment was endorsed by Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. Canon James Rosenthal, a London spokesperson for the communion, said he had no information on discussions on the issue between the two leaders. Robert Williams, a spokesman for the Episcopal Church, said Akinola’s plan “does not come as a surprise” but church leaders would wait to comment until the Lambeth Commission releases its report October 18.
Akinola said he is just beginning to explore the available options in a realignment. While he said it’s possible the divide could be healed if the Episcopal Church reverses course in the coming weeks, he also said the need for a realignment is long overdue. “We are already two years behind schedule,” he said. He is midway through a trip visiting Nigerian Anglican communities in New York City, Houston, Texas, Fairfax, Virginia, Los Angeles, California, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Chicago, Illinois. He says it is too soon to say how a new group of parishes under his jurisdiction will be organized. “The first thing I want to do is give this assurance, this commitment, that we are together with them,” he said. “So that is done. The next thing now would be to sort out how it will be done. We have not drawn the road map. The first is to agree that this is desirable. Once it is established, we will now get together to begin to draw the road map.”
Akinola criticised the head of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, claiming he did not do enough to stop last year’s consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. “He is the promoter of this whole agenda,” Akinola said. Griswold responded in a statement that AP published, saying he was “deeply saddened” that Akinola feels betrayed. “My love for Archbishop Akinola is undiminished and I pray that one day our friendship in Christ may be restored,” Griswold said.
Each Anglican province is autonomous and crossing geographical boundaries as Akinola plans to do is considered inappropriate by many Anglican Communion leaders. However, other bishops before Akinola have accepted oversight of some conservative congregations in the United States. It is unclear exactly how many Nigerian Anglicans worship in the United States. Akinola estimated there may as many as 250,000 but some church leaders believe the number is much lower.
Nine of the 107 Episcopal dioceses in the United States, plus about 240 individual congregations outside of those dioceses, have joined the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, which conservatives formed as a “church within a church” in response to the theological divide.