Church of England threatened by split over homosexuality

(Photo: REUTERS / Toby Melville)Clergy members listen during the enthronement ceremony for the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at Canterbury Cathedral at Canterbury, southern England March 21, 2013. The new spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans was enthroned by a female cleric, taking the helm at a time when the troubled church risks tearing itself apart over gay marriage and women bishops.

A group of parishes in Britain is said to be preparing what could lead to the first formal split in the Church of England over the issue of homosexuality by forming a "shadow synod."

Almost a dozen congregations in the England plan to meet this week to discuss what could lead to the formation of a new church within the Anglican Communion, The Daily Telegraph reports.

They are due in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in southern England later this week for the first session of what they say could eventually develop into an alternative Anglican church in England.

Organizers come from the conservative evangelical wing of the church, but the Telegraph reports they have no immediate plans to break away.

They are, however, forming "embryonic" structures that could be used to do so if the established church moves further in what they see as a liberal direction on issues such as human sexuality.

The 80 million strong Anglican Communion has already encountered a major rift and formal splits in the US and Canada after the ordination of openly gay bishops, which traditionalists say goes against the teaching of the Bible.

It has also faced threatened splits from African churches in the communion, many of which are vehemently opposed to giving way on issues around homosexuality, including ordination of gay clergy and same-sex marriage.

The new alliance in England will be viewed as a "church within a church" but founders have not ruled out full separation if, for example, the Church of England offers blessing-style services for same-sex unions.

Anglicans bishops are expected to consider this in the next few months.

Differences over sexuality have already triggered a major rift in the 80 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion and formal splits in the US and Canada after the ordination of openly gay bishops, which traditionalists say goes against biblical teaching.

Congregations from the dioceses of Rochester, Canterbury and Chichester will become founder members of the new grouping, which does not yet have a name, but they expect others to join.

They claim the Church of England's leadership is progressively "watering down" centuries-old teaching, not just over the issue of sexuality but many core beliefs including the authority of the Bible.

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