Top Episcopal bishop sees less conflict over gay issues

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(Scott Sommerdorf l The Salt Lake Tribune) Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church, The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori presides over the Ordination and Consecration of The Reverend Canon Scott Byron Hayashi as the 11th bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Utah, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010

The number of Episcopalians leaving the church over same-sex unions and gay clergy has dropped, according to the faith’s presiding bishop.

“There were very, very few in the past year,” the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori said during a visit to Salt Lake City last weekend for the consecration of Utah’s 11th Episcopal bishop, the Rev. Scott Hayashi.

In an interview, she expressed confidence that the Episcopal Church will grow by attracting those drawn by its “transcendent worship,” sense of social justice and diversity.

Research indicates that women in transition and Latinas are two groups especially attracted to the Episcopal Church, Schori said. “They find us appealing because we invite people to ask questions. We don’t just provide answers.”

The Episcopal Church, like other mainline Protestant churches, has lost members in recent decades. It now has 2.2 million members, though it is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion with 77 million. In Utah, the number of Episcopalians has dropped from 6,000 in the mid-1990s to about 5,200.

After the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, in 2003, unhappy conservatives broke away, including virtually all the members of dozens of congregations. Four dioceses (out of 110) voted to leave the Episcopal Church, and lawsuits continue over property in a number of states.

In Utah, only one parish split over the issue. Some members of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Park City left to form St. John’s Anglican Church, which is part the new and growing Anglican Church in North America.

To grow the Episcopal Church, Schori said, Episcopalians need to overcome their reticence about evangelizing.

“Congregations need to go out in the community,” she said, “and engage people who don’t know about the Episcopal Church or Christianity.”

Conflicts between the Episcopal Church and many in the Anglican Communion who reject same-sex unions and gay clergy, Schori said, have eased in the past two years.

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