The Archbishop of Canterbury, who spent his first 18 months travelling to every Anglican province to visit each primate, is desperately hoping to avoid an open split. However, he has decided that the internecine feuding must stop. He will propose to fellow church leaders a looser structure for the communion. Instead of all 38 churches keeping full ties of doctrine and worship with each other, they will become more independent, keeping ties only to Canterbury as the hub of an Anglican federation. As one source in Lambeth Palace said a few months ago, “It’s not really a question of divorce; more of sleeping in separate bedrooms.”
This may not work. Lambeth Palace is already fearful that some conservative churches, especially those making up Gafcon (the Global Anglican Future Conference), will refuse any compromise and focus on the divisive issue of gay clergy, insisting that all primates reject gay bishops in any province of the communion. They might then set up a rival organisation and denounce as “sinful” the more liberal churches. Freed from fraternal constraints, future relations might be marked by the extreme language and biblical polemics both sides have hurled at each other, adding to the bitterness and mutual antipathy of recent years. The chances of what the archbishop calls “good disagreement” look slim.
The first row will be what to do about the Anglicans in the US. The Episcopal Church set off the latest round of infighting with the consecration as bishop of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, in 2003. This caused a furious reaction with dozens of clergy and some 200,000 parishioners walking out. They set up the conservative Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and chose Bishop Foley Beach as their new primate, with 120,000 members and 31 dioceses. Being America, the schism has led to lawsuits across the country over the control of individual parishes and ownership of churches and their assets.
Read it all (requires subscription).