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Traditionalists set to split from Episcopal Church

  • Story Highlights
  • Network of breakaway traditionalists expected to announce formation of rival province
  • Move comes after years of dispute over progressive direction of Episcopal Church
  • Tipping point for many was consecration of gay man as bishop of New Hampshire
  • New division expected to take in 100,000 from parishes that left Episcopal Church
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(CNN) -- Breakaway conservative members of the Episcopal Church in the United States and its Canadian counterpart are expected to formally announce Wednesday the formation of a rival North American Anglican church.

The consecration of Rev. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire left many conservatives disaffected.

The consecration of Rev. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire left many conservatives disaffected.

Leaders of the Common Cause Partnership, a network of more than 100,000 Anglican Christians in North America, are expected to unveil a draft constitution for a new ecclesiastical territorial division, or province, at an evening service in Wheaton Evangelical Free Church in Wheaton, Illinois, the group said in a written statement.

"The public release of our draft constitution is an important concrete step toward the goal of a biblical, missionary and united Anglican Church in North America," Bishop Robert Duncan of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, diocese, said in the written statement.

The move comes after years of debate over issues from the interpretation of the Bible to homosexuality. Tensions reached a boiling point in 2003, when the Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay man, Rev. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire.

The move outraged worshippers with traditionalist tendencies, and since then, four dioceses and several parishes have left the Episcopalian Church, including Duncan's Pittsburgh diocese.

In all, the newly formed division will consist of about 100,000 members from the secessionist dioceses and parishes, along with splinter groups that had left the Episcopalian Church in earlier years, said Robert Lundy, a spokesman for the group

"This constitution brings them back together under one church, all aligned together," Lundy said. "This is all these folks coming back together."

Lunday said it was safe to say Duncan will lead the nascent province. An assembly is likely to be called next year to determine additional leadership, he said.

The Rev. Dr. Charles K. Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, issued a statement saying it would not hazard a guess as to the consequences of Wednesday's service.

"We will not predict what will or will not come out of this meeting, but simply continue to be clear that the Episcopal Church, along with the Anglican Church of Canada and the La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico, comprise the official, recognized presence of the Anglican Communion in North America," he said.

"We reiterate what has been true of Anglicanism for centuries: that there is room within the Episcopal Church for people with different views, and we regret that some have felt the need to depart from the diversity of our common life in Christ."

The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion, which is composed of 38 provinces around the world. It was not immediately clear which of the other provinces would recognize the Anglican Church in North America, but Lundy said in a meeting last year in Jerusalem indicated that some would do so.

Lundy said the draft constitution will state the province's core beliefs and doctrine.

He said it will not lay out definite policies for issues the leaders disagree on, such as ordaining women.

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