Four Episcopal congregations leave U.S. church over gay bishop

CLEVELAND - Four northeast Ohio congregations upset over the consecration of an openly gay bishop have split from Episcopal Church USA and have affiliated with a diocese in South America.

St. Luke's in Fairlawn, Holy Spirit in Akron, St. Barnabas in Bay Village and St. Anne's in the Fields of Madison voted Sunday to break with the Episcopal Church USA and affiliate with the Diocese of Bolivia led by Bishop Frank Lyon.

The church has been rocked for consecrating Bishop V. Gene Robinson. In 2003 the Episcopal General Convention confirmed his election as bishop of New Hampshire.

John Niehaus, a Cleveland attorney who represents the congregations, said the vote means the parishes are no longer part of the Diocese of Ohio based in Cleveland or the national church.

On Monday, clergy leaders of the churches met with diocese Bishop Mark Hollingsworth Jr. Niehaus said there was no specific discussion about church property and assets.

Hollingsworth said in a letter sent to people of the diocese that he was committed "to working collaboratively with these congregations toward a faithful and just resolution."

Hollingsworth said clergy of the four churches agreed with him not to discuss the situation publicly and he asked people of the diocese to do likewise.

"We are given in this an opportunity to move forward in a way that is worthy of our common vocation as Christians," the bishop said.

A message requesting comment was left Thursday at the church's national offices in New York.

The parishes, with about 1,300 active members, decided to leave the U.S. church and the local diocese because of "divergent understandings of the authority of scripture and traditional Christian teaching," according to a news release.

The Episcopal Church, with 2.4 million members, is the U.S. province of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, which traces its roots to the Church of England.

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