The leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion faces enormous pressure to repudiate the North American church's acceptance of an openly gay bishop and same-sex relationships as Anglican leaders from around the globe gathered in London Wednesday to search for reconciliation. The two-day meeting of 37 Anglican primates opened with smiles and prayers at Lambeth Palace, the historic London building in which the Anglican Communion was formed and where it could now witness the fracturing of the denomination. One of the primates, the Most Reverend Robin Eames of Ireland, told reporters after the first hours of talks that the group felt "an underlying anxiety all across the board to maintain the Anglican Communion." Eames said each primate was given time to describe reactions among his people to the decision by the U.S. Episcopal Church to confirm its first openly gay bishop. Eames said the primates were working to reach a consensus, but he wouldn't comment on what it might be. "One way or another, it's a new day for Anglicanism," commented the Reverend Canon David Roseberry of Plano, Tex., a leader of conservative Anglicans in the United States who are threatening to split from their church because of the election of its first openly gay bishop. Roseberry was not involved in the primates' discussions.
The communion's spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, called for the current meeting last August after the U.S. Episcopal Church confirmed the election of the Reverend V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. A Williams spokesman, the Reverend Jonathan Jennings, told reporters that the mood was "relaxed" as the primates met Wednesday morning in the palace chapel. An announcement of the closed meeting's outcome was not expected until late Thursday, but Anglican leaders from both sides of the debate have been meeting in London all week to lobby for support. Despite high feeling on both sides, barricades placed outside the palace by police proved unnecessary. No one turned up to protest.
At a worship service Wednesday morning organized by pro-gay British Anglicans, the Most Reverend Walter Makhulu, the former archbishop of Central Africa, said the notion of excluding gays or anyone else "is a heresy in the same way as apartheid was described as heresy. The notion of an exclusive church is utterly abhorrent to me. It denies the very character and nature of God, God who loves us so fully, God who invites us to the heavenly banquet, God whose wisdom is boundless, God who transforms his people into his likeness."
The American Anglican Council, which represents U.S. conservatives, contends that liberals are the ones who have departed from the communion by accepting noncelibate gay men. The council's leaders are in London and will petition the primates to "guide the realignment of Anglicanism in North America." They have not said what form that would take, but some council supporters have said they want Williams to
expel the Episcopal Church and recognize conservatives as the true Anglicans in North America.
At the August conference the Episcopal Church also acknowledged that some of its bishops allow blessing ceremonies for same-sex unions. Separately, the Diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver, Canada, also voted to permit same-sex union ceremonies in its parishes.
The conservative Church of Nigeria, home to 17.5 million Anglicans and the communion's second-largest province, has severed ties with the diocese in Vancouver. Anglicans in Nigeria who oppose gay relationships have been fasting and praying.
Williams's options are limited. Unlike in the Catholic Church, there is no centralized authority in Anglicanism. Each province is autonomous, and Williams cannot settle issues of doctrine. The primates also have no collective legislative authority and cannot vote to punish a member. But Williams does have the right to decide whether a denomination can affiliate with the communion, and the primates can band together to influence him.