Reverend Martyn Minns, a conservative Episcopal rector from the U.S. state of Virginia has been consecrated the first bishop of a new group for conservative Anglicans established by the Church of Nigeria. The hugely celebrated event could complicate the already simmering tensions in the Episcopal Church.
The consecration service at the newly constructed National Christian Center in the Nigerian capital was an elaborate affair, lasting more than four hours.
Priests in white and red robes congregated around the pulpit, as the head of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, administered oaths to four new bishops, including 63-year-old Martyn Minns of the United States.
Bishop Minns' consecration could change the landscape of the worldwide Anglican community, as he takes charge of a new group, known as the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, established by the Church of Nigeria to provide a haven for Episcopalians alienated by the U.S. Episcopal Church.
More conservative parishes could leave the U.S. Episcopal Church, and form new ties with the Church of Nigeria. Archbishop Akinola is already looking forward to consecrating more American bishops in the coming months.
"There is no way one bishop can cope with these duties. And so, we have had the first one now, and, hopefully, in another six months, one year, or so, we will have two, three, more, maybe five or 10 more. As the need arises, we will be meeting the challenges," he said.
The Anglican Church in Nigeria severed contacts with the Episcopal Church since the consecration of Reverend Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as Bishop of the U.S. state of New Hampshire in 2003.
Since Robinson's consecration, several Episcopal dioceses have asked to leave the U.S. Episcopal Church, but remain within the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members in 164 countries.
Abraham Yisa, who heads the board of trustees of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, rejected suggestions that the Church of Nigeria could be encroaching on the U.S. church's territory.
"You can regard those who say, 'we are not satisfied with what you are doing' as your members, and what we are doing is to preach the gospel, as it is taught by the bible," said Yisa. "It is bible-based, and, I don't think that there is any problem in that direction."
The convocation could polarize further the deeply divided Episcopal Church. However, in Nigeria, the establishment of an Anglican missionary organization in the United States is seen as a huge achievement and one that calls for the drums to be rolled out for celebration.