Foreign Archbishops Flock to U.S. Congregations Just as Western missionaries spread the Christian message to Africa, African and other Anglican leaders are staking claims in the U.S. In the past two years, there's been a flurry of reverse colonization as archbishops from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Bolivia and Singapore have taken conservative Episcopal churches under their wings.
NPR logo

Foreign Archbishops Flock to U.S. Congregations

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Foreign Archbishops Flock to U.S. Congregations

Foreign Archbishops Flock to U.S. Congregations

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm James Hattori.

The U.S. Episcopal Church has been estranged from parts of the global Anglican Communion since the church in New Hampshire consecrated a gay bishop. The controversy has abated somewhat but many in the church now worry about another potential divide - depending on your point of view, African bishops are either stealing American worshippers or rescuing them

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: It's a nasty, rainy Friday night, and yet, nothing could keep these folks away. The largely white middle-class crowd floods into the auditorium of the Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, Virginia - teetering, eager to see the Anglican equivalent of a rock star.

Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi takes to the stage. The introduction is brief and euphoric.

Unidentified Man: Would you welcome his grace?

(Soundbite of applaud)

HAGERTY: The 300 or so people jumped to their feet, you almost expect them to hold up their lighters. Within minutes, he's got them.

Archbishop HENRY LUKE OROMBI (Anglican Church of Uganda): I see a church that has to die to materialism and (unintelligible) politics. I see a church that has to die to arrogance. I see a church that must die and come back again.

HAGERTY: The Ugandan cleric is leading a revolution. Orombi wants American evangelicals to challenge the reigning liberalism of the Episcopal Church.

Archbishop OROMBI: And you guys here in this country, you pray for the Episcopal Church so much. Lord, what are you waiting for? What is happening? And God simply just look at you, if he ever looks at you at all. Listen.

(Singing) Jesus, he comes at the right time.

HAGERTY: And it's like any rock star, Orombi has his groupies, like Edwina Thomas.

Ms. EDWINA THOMAS (Director, SOMA-USA): He's an amazing preacher. He preaches from his heart. His smile is from ear to ear and his eyes sparkle. What can I say? I'm in his fan club.

Ms. LIZ MICA(ph) (Episcopalian): I felt like the truth had arrived and this is our answer.

HAGERTY: Liz Mica, who is a cradle Episcopalian, says the American church has lost its way.

Ms. MICA: And he is saying this is the real way. So we have a new father now. He's our new father.

HAGERTY: Henry Orombi is spiritual father to more than nine million Anglicans. He's had close ties to evangelical churches in the United States for years. As a rift opened here over an openly gay bishop and blessing same sex unions, the Ugandan leader offered to take conservative churches under his wing.

Archbishop OROMBI: It's like there is a storm. Your neighbor runs to your porch. You open the door for them to shelter from the storm. And when the storm is over, they go back.

HAGERTY: Orombi sees a little cosmic irony here.

Archbishop OROMBI: You remember hundred years ago, Africa was taunted dark continent. Now, you just believe me that darkness has shifted to Europe and America. The passion for the gospel, the love for Jesus Christ is way out in Africa and we'll bring the same thing back. And isn't that a wonderful thing to see that happen?

HAGERTY: That depends on whom you ask. Jim Norton(ph) at the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., isn't so thrilled. He says this isn't just about evangelism.

Mr. JIM NORTON (Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.): It's born of a desire to punish the allies of people who push for gay rights.

HAGERTY: Whatever the motivations, these relationships are growing fast and thick. Miranda Hassett spent several months in Uganda studying these new alliances for her book. She says the U.S. conservatives can claim solidarity with the vast majority of Anglicans worldwide. As for conservative Anglicans in Africa and Latin America…

Ms. MIRANDA HASSETT (Author): Ten years ago, if Henry Orombi said something, it certainly wouldn't be in the American secular media. And today, sometimes it is. So they've gained a vast level of sort of moral influence.

HAGERTY: The foreign clerics have cut a wide swaff(ph) of serving churches from Florida to California and Massachusetts to Texas. Among them is All Saints in Woodbridge, one of 12 churches in Virginia, to leave the Episcopal Church in the past year.

I showed up on a Wednesday night and asked Chris Brown(ph) and Mary Wang(ph) about it. They said they're thrilled.

Unidentified Woman: Are you going to learn a little Ugandan?

HAGERTY: Oh, we know a little bit. (Foreign Language Spoken) (Singing).

HAGERTY: In December, All Saints voted 402 to six to align with Uganda. They even got a bishop out of it - their minister, John Guernsey.

(Soundbite of music)

Guernsey was consecrated bishop in Uganda on September 2nd. Anglican TV cameras rolled as this Virginia minister pledged with allegiance to Archbishop Orombi.

Archbishop OROMBI: Are you persuaded that you are truly called to give the administration by calling to the way of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Bishop JOHN GUERNSEY (Rector, All Saints Anglican Church) I am so persuade.

GUERNSEY told us it's a logical step.

Bishop GUERNSEY: That God would call me to be a missionary bishop now in some wonderful way seems to make all the sense in the world.

HAGERTY: The ceremony marked Uganda's formal move into the United States, placing Guernsey over 34 U.S. congregations. And that's only a small part of the incursion - Nigeria has six parishes. Kenya, 20. South America, 60. Rwanda, more than 100.

Ian Douglas, a theologian at Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts, says every time a foreign bishop plants a flag in American territory…

Dr. IAN DOUGLAS (Executive Council Member, Professor, Episcopal Divinity School): It raises the question of who is the real leader and what is the real church.

HAGERTY: Which, in turn, has legal implications since the national church and disaffected churches are fighting about who owns the church property.

So far, these breakaway churches are only a fraction of the 7,600 Episcopal churches. But the trickle is turning into a robust stream. Four American bishops are taking steps to move their entire diocese to foreign provinces. And ultimately, these alliances could change the faith of the second largest denomination in the world.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.