The archbishop of Canterbury, struggling to hold the Anglican Communion together amid a rift over the confirmation of a gay American bishop, said Friday that he would summon Anglican leaders to meet in London in October. The announcement came three days after the Episcopal Church USA defied criticism from conservative Anglican leaders around the world and confirmed the election of the Reverend V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. Episcopal bishops further angered conservative members of the communion by affirming that same-sex blessing ceremonies are "an acceptable practice in the church," though they rejected creation of an official liturgy for the ceremonies. "The anxieties caused by recent developments have reached the point where we will need to sit down and discuss their consequences," Archbishop Rowan Williams said in a statement. "I hope that in our deliberations we will find that there are ways forward in this situation which can preserve our respect for one another and for the bonds that unite us."
Williams's proposed summit meeting in October would occur before the consecration of Robinson as a bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, which is scheduled for November 2. Williams is the spiritual leader of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion--a group of 38 independent churches around the world. Williams has no authority to impose discipline on communion members, and they have disagreed in the past on such topics as the ordination of women as priests and the appointment of women as bishops. In July, Williams was able to avoid a crisis within the Church of England when Canon Jeffrey John, who describes himself as a celibate homosexual, voluntarily withdrew from an appointment as bishop of Reading.
In 1998 the Lambeth Conference--a once-a-decade gathering of the world's Anglican bishops--overwhelmingly voted to declare homosexuality "incompatible with Scripture" and said homosexuals should not be ordained as priests. Williams, who was then archbishop of Wales, abstained from voting on that resolution. He later confirmed that he had knowingly ordained a gay man as a
priest in Wales. Since being elevated to the Canterbury post last year, Williams has said he would affirm that the Lambeth resolution represents the teaching of the church even though he personally has not changed his mind. That stance did not pacify his critics within the Church of England, and some conservative evangelicals had called for him not to take the Canterbury post. In the cause of unity, he has urged Anglican bishops not to press ahead with controversial initiatives when there is no consensus in the communion.
Bruce Mason, a spokesman for the American Anglican Council, which represents conservatives who fought Robinson's confirmation, said his organization is grateful that Williams called the London meeting. The group had already planned its own meeting for October in Plano, Tex., to discuss whether to break away from the denomination. "We're very encouraged," Mason said. "It's clear that the archbishop recognizes the gravity of this situation." Among the proposals they would like Williams to consider is creating another Anglican province in North America, separate from the Episcopal Church, for conservatives who want to stay within the Anglican Communion, he said.
The Reverend Randy Dales, a delegate from the Diocese of New Hampshire, said Friday that he welcomes word of the meeting as a chance for "reconciliation" with Anglican leaders troubled by Robinson's election. Robinson has repeatedly said he wants to reach out to those who feel his confirmation would damage the church, but he also said he would not be responsible if they choose to break away. Dales agrees: "Every person is responsible for his or her own choices and actions and responses to other people's actions."