ALISON STEWART, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Alison Stewart.
Tomorrow, representatives from more than 700 formerly Episcopal churches will meet to create a new Anglican Church in the United States. The conservative group says it has no choice but to break away from the Episcopal Church. The church says the group has no chance of getting recognition from the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Martyn Minns recalls the moment he knew he had to leave the Episcopal Church. It was 2005. He was rector of Truro Church in Virginia, and he was talking with a young family who told him they could no longer attend a church that accepted gay bishops or diverged from what they called Orthodox Christianity.
Reverend MARTYN MINNS (Truro Church): As I looked at them, I realized that I had a decision to make. Either I moved with them into a rather uncertain future, or I lost the heart of the congregation. And so for me, it was a matter of, do I want the church of the future or the church of the past?
HAGERTY: Soon after that, Minns' church bolted and joined the Anglican province of Nigeria. Now he and other church leaders representing up to 100,000 churchgoers are meeting in Bedford, Texas. They hope to form a new Anglican province in the United States - one that would rival the Episcopal Church.
Reverend Ryan Reed of St. Vincent's Cathedral, which is hosting the conference, says conservatives have tried to stay in the so-called big tent of Anglicanism.
Reverend RYAN REED (St. Vincent's Cathedral): The problem is in the last 30 years, the boundaries of that tent, or of those views, have expanded so far that you can find leadership in the Episcopal Church that is radically not Christian.
HAGERTY: Reed says the Episcopal Church is following culture, not the Bible. When it ordained a gay bishop in 2003, he says, the conservatives finally decided to offer an alternative.
Reverend SUSAN RUSSELL (All Saints Episcopal Church): Their goal has been to vote the American Episcopal Church off the Anglican island.
HAGERTY: Susan Russell is a minister at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, and a leader in the church's gay rights movement.
Rev. RUSSELL: They failed at that over and over again, and now they're trying to re-create a new province in their own image.
HAGERTY: Russell believes they won't succeed this time, either. For one thing, she says, they would probably need the approval of two-thirds of the Anglican leaders around the world. Currently, only a handful have signed on publicly. Plus, she says, they would need the recognition of the archbishop of Canterbury - and that has not happened.
Rev. RUSSELL: It would be as if Sarah Palin were to take a small, but vocal percentage of very conservative Republicans and decide that they were going to create a parallel United States without having the White House at the center.
HAGERTY: George Pitcher, a priest at St. Bride's Anglican Church in London and religion editor at the Daily Telegraph, says the communion welcomes conservative views.
Reverend GEORGE PITCHER (St. Bride's Anglican Church, London): It's when they want to say this is the one true way, and we want to impose it on all Anglicans, then I think it's at that stage that the broadly tolerant Anglican Communion goes, well, that's not the way we do things.
HAGERTY: In the past, a number of conservative groups have left the worldwide Communion over things like women's ordination or the prayer book. And they've shrunk into virtual irrelevance.
But this time, it might be different, says religion historian David L. Holmes at William and Mary. He says the American conservatives have the backing of many leaders in Africa and South America, who represent more than half of all Anglicans worldwide. Moreover, he says, the Episcopal Church is shrinking, whereas these conservative churches are growing.
Professor DAVID L. HOLMES (Religion Historian, College of William and Mary): My sense would be that if the Episcopal Church continued to lose members in a striking way, and this new group kept gaining members, that then it would be a new ballgame.
HAGERTY: Martyn Minns says he's not expecting the conservatives will succeed overnight.
Rev. MINNS: I think it'll take a while. These things normally do. Some provinces have taken decades to be recognized, so I don't think we're holding our breath on that.
HAGERTY: But he does believe time, demographics and theology are on their side.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.