Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh got a standing ovation from a crowd of about 2,700 like-minded Episcopalians, including 46 bishops, for his speech on the second day of a conservation rally.
The main topic of the meeting is a possible split with the church over gay relationships. At its national convention in Minneapolis this summer, the church confirmed the election of a gay bishop living with his partner and voted to recognize that its bishops are allowing blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.
While conservatives are in the minority in the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, their viewpoint probably holds sway when it comes to global Anglicanism.
Next week, 38 leaders of the world's Anglican branches will gather at an emergency session in London to discuss the American situation and a similar dispute among Anglicans in Canada.
Duncan predicted that the primates in London would oppose the consecration of V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as bishop on Nov. 2. If is occurs anyway, Duncan said, Robinson — who is openly gay — would not be recognized as an Anglican bishop.
Duncan also expects the primates to set a deadline for U.S. liberals to repent. If the leaders in London do not take decisive action, he said, the result would be a wrenching split in the "whole fabric of the Anglican Communion."
Rebukes from world Anglican leaders will likely be met with "American arrogance," Duncan said. He expects a period of uncertainty in the Episcopal Church, lasting months, in which a networks of conservative dioceses and congregations form.
Later Wednesday, a panel was expected to brief participants on the practical details a split would entail for such issues as church law, clergy pensions and property rights.
"The idea of a split is very devastating," said Christopher Culpepper, 33, a seminary student from Nashotah, Wis. "But I think it would be very difficult to remain in communion with the Episcopal Church."
The Rev. Rick Kramer, one of about 800 priests attending the Dallas meeting, said he came in hopes of "taking back the church," even if that means severing ties with the denomination.
That's a prevailing message at the meeting, as conservatives claim the church's liberal wing has abandoned a message of repentance and forgiveness for an anything-goes brand of religion.
Some Episcopalians who support the Minneapolis decisions are operating a hospitality suite at the hotel where the meeting is being held.
The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, a caucus for 2,500 Episcopalians who support gay and lesbian rights in the church, said the meeting "represents a tiny but vocal minority."
"The schism is infinitely avoidable," she said, "but if it happens it will be minor. The church is smarter than that and stronger than that."
A draft version of a declaration the meeting will issue at its conclusion Thursday commits participants to withholding money from the national church and dioceses that support the Minneapolis decisions.
It also calls on the archbishop of Canterbury and the 37 other leading bishops in the Anglican Communion, to create an undefined "new alignment for Anglicanism in North America."