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US Anglicans gather for national meeting amid gay bishop controversy

The Episcopal Church USA is preparing for its triennial convention in Columbus, Ohio, where the US branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion is expected to grapple with two issues that have animated the life of the denomination in recent years: sexuality and church authority.

"We’re wrestling with deep questions about identity and authority in a global family of churches made up of incredible differences," said the Rev. Ian Douglas, a professor of mission and global Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Overshadowing the 13-21 June gathering is a concern that some members may leave the 2.3-million-member denomination because of disagreements regarding sexual issues, particularly the 2003 consecration of openly-gay V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

Robinson’s consecration as bishop set off a firestorm of protest from opponents within the denomination as well as from other clerics in the Anglican Communion, many from Africa and Asia, who want the global body to distance itself from the church.

Still, Douglas said he felt the recent debates had helped the Episcopal Church.

"It has focused [us] on what it means to be an Anglican in the world today," Douglas told Ecumenical News International.

For his part, Frank T. Griswold, the denomination’s retiring presiding bishop, has said he doubts a walkout or a formal schism within the Episcopal Church is likely to occur.

"Every convention has had hovering over it a catastrophic fantasy," Griswold told The New York Times newspaper. "And then you get to general convention and people listen to each other carefully. At the end of the day, you usually come out in a place that represents what I call the diverse centre of the church."

(c) Ecumenical News International