An Episcopal diocese in central California on Saturday became the first in the U.S. to split with the national denomination over disagreements about the role of gays and lesbians in the church.
Clergy and lay members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin voted 173-22 at their annual convention to remove all references to the national denomination from the diocese's constitution, according to diocese spokeswoman Joan Gladstone.
In a later vote, the diocese accepted an invitation to join a conservative South American congregation of the Worldwide Anglican Communion.
The decision marked the latest episode in a conservative-liberal rift that has spanned decades and is almost certain to spark a court fight over control of the diocese's multimillion-dollar real estate holdings and other assets.
The head of the U.S. denomination had warned Bishop John-David
Schofield of the Fresno-based diocese against secession.
"I do not intend to threaten you, only to urge you to reconsider and draw back from this trajectory," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the U.S. denomination, wrote in a letter to Schofield earlier this week.
Schofield responded that the Episcopal Church "has isolated itself from the overwhelming majority of Christendom and more specifically from the Anglican Communion by denying Biblical truth and walking apart from the historic Faith and Order."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)