- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) | The spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans urged church leaders Sunday not to consecrate any other gay bishops for now, as he ended a once-a-decade Anglican assembly that was dedicated to preventing schism in the troubled fellowship.

In his final speech at the Lambeth Conference, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said the Anglican Communion needs “space for study and free discussion without pressure” about whether to accept changes in the traditional biblical understanding of same-sex relationships.

“A fellow Christian may believe they have a profound, fresh insight. They seek to persuade others about it. A healthy church gives space for such exchanges,” he told the 650 bishops at the meeting in Canterbury, England. “But the Christian with the new insight can’t claim straight away that this is now what the Church of God believes or intends.”

The 77-million-member Anglican Communion has been splintering since 2003, when the U.S. Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Archbishop Williams barred Bishop Robinson and a few other bishops from the assembly, and designed the event without legislation or votes, instead focusing on rebuilding frayed relationships.

Still, more than 200 theologically conservative bishops boycotted Lambeth, which ran for 20 days.

In June, just before Lambeth began, these same bishops formed a new global network within the communion that challenges Archbishop Williams’ authority but stops just short of a permanent split.

Archbishop Williams does not have the authority to force any agreement among the conflicted groups. The 38 Anglican national churches, including the U.S. Episcopal Church, are self-governed and loosely connected by shared roots in the missionary work of the Church of England.

But the bishops at Lambeth said Sunday in a statement that they called their “reflections” on the meeting that “there is widespread support across the communion” for an extended moratorium on gay bishops and on blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

Archbishop Williams and the bishops also indicated support for an extended moratorium on church leaders taking oversight of breakaway parishes in an Anglican territory that is not their own.

Since Bishop Robinson was consecrated, conservative Anglican leaders from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and elsewhere have taken authority for seceding Episcopal parishes in the U.S.

Although the exact figure is in dispute, Episcopal officials say that fewer than 100 of the more than 7,000 U.S. Episcopal parishes have voted to split off.

Still, the entire Diocese of San Joaquin, based in Fresno, Calif., voted to withdraw from the denomination and align with another Anglican province, sparking a lawsuit. The dioceses of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, Texas, are poised to vote on whether to break away this fall.

Bishop Robinson traveled to Canterbury even though he wasn’t invited, trying to meet with overseas bishops and be what he called a “constant and friendly” reminder of gays in the church.

On Sunday, the advocacy group Integrity, which represents gay and lesbian Episcopalians, said in a statement that “there is no theological defense for sacrificing a minority of the baptized” for the sake of unity.

No one expected the Lambeth Conference to definitively heal the divisions among Anglicans.

The bishops did discuss a proposed global covenant that would set some requirements for membership in the communion. Archbishop Williams said Sunday he plans to convene a meeting of the 38 Anglican national leaders, or primates, early next year. But it could be years before any agreement on a covenant is reached.

“We may not have put an end to all our problems,” Archbishop Williams said, “but the pieces are on the board.”

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