One of the highest ranking officials in the worldwide Anglican Church is traveling around the United States. He is exploring the possibility of setting up churches for members who strongly disagree with the American church's decision to appoint a homosexual bishop.
The decision one year ago by the American Episcopalian Church to elevate an openly gay priest, Gene Robinson, to the position of bishop of the northeastern state of New Hampshire has upset many in the church. Opponents of the decision say it violates historic doctrine. Now Peter Akinola, the archbishop of Nigeria, may offer an alternative.
"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."
The 2.3 million members of the American Episcopalian Church belong to the 77 million member Anglican Communion, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury. About 20 percent of the worldwide Anglican population live in Nigeria. It is unclear how many reside in the United States, but estimates put the figure at about 250,000.
Archbishop Akinola 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."
The Anglican leader says any new parishes under his jurisdiction will welcome all disillusioned Anglicans, not just Nigerians. A church commission looking into ways to ease the controversy over the gay bishop is due to issue its report later this month.