The head of the US Episcopal Church has moved to calm rumours of a split amid moves in diocese across America to distance itself from liberal viewpoints on gay clergy and same sex unions.

Several churches from the Diocese of Virginia, including the Truro Church and the Falls Church, which date back to British colonial times, voted to leave the Episcopal Church on Sunday, but Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori says this does not mean the denomination is in a crisis.

Eight of Virginia’s 195 congregations announced on Sunday that their members had voted to sever ties with the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the more conservative Anglican Church of Uganda or the Anglican Church of Nigeria

Bishop Schori said the congregations only represent a “very, very small percentage of the church and the vast bulk of the church is healthy, is engaged in mission and ministry, and that is going to continue.”

She told the Episcopal News Service: “It will continue to bless the communities where those churches are.”

She said the door will remain open for the absconding churches.

However, a debate remains over who owns the church property in the diocese.

The rift comes after the US Episcopal Church agreed on a watered down version of a proposal in June which would have banned the appointment of gay clergy.

The denomination?s General Convention instead agreed to “exercise restraint” in ordaining gay bishops, as part of an effort to amend rifts within the Anglican Church after the appointment of gay bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson in 2003.

The African Anglican Church expressed dismay at the decisions which ignored most of the recommendations of the Windsor Report which aimed to mend rifts between the church over the gay issue.