NEW YORK – The spiritual leader of world Anglicanism has asked six Episcopal bishops to meet in New York next month to try and resolve differences over homosexuality tearing at their church.
The gathering is part of a broad effort by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to preserve the global Anglican fellowship despite a hardening conservative-liberal divide over whether the Bible bars gay relationships. The Episcopal Church represents Anglicanism in the United States.
The Anglican Communion Office in London announced the summit in a brief news release Friday, but did not give specifics about the date and location. The six invited bishops reflect the spectrum of belief across the American church, including conservatives who disagree about whether their dioceses should break from the national denomination.
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Virginia Bishop Peter Lee, who is among the six U.S. invitees, said the participants "have agreed not to talk at length with the press" about the gathering.
"The archbishop of Canterbury is encouraging American bishops to try to work on these questions," Lee said in a phone interview. "We're trying to hold together people who have differing views and to respect those differing views."
Williams is not expected to attend, though Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, will participate, along with outgoing Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori, who takes office in November.
The other participants are Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth, Texas; Southwest Florida Bishop John Lipscomb; and Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, head of the Anglican Communion Network, an association of 10 conservative Episcopal dioceses and more than 900 parishes considering splitting from the national church.
Tensions within the American denomination have increased since the June meeting of its top policymaking body, the General Convention.
Anglican leaders had asked delegates for a moratorium on confirming any more openly gay bishops, in light of the uproar over the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who lives with his longtime male partner.
But Episcopal delegates could not agree on the wording of the resolutions after days of painful debate. Instead, the convention adopted a last-minute, nonbinding measure asking church leaders to "exercise restraint" in electing future bishops. Williams has said the Episcopalians have "not produced a complete response" to Anglican concerns.
The same convention elected Jefferts Schori, who supports gay relationships.
Since then, seven conservative dioceses, including Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, have rejected Jefferts Schori's leadership and asked Williams for oversight from someone else. The Fort Worth diocese believes women should not be ordained.
Some individual parishes have also announced plans to leave the church, which has about 2.3 million members.
Williams has proposed a two-tier system of membership in the world communion, giving churches with nontraditional views on gay clergy and other issues a lesser role.
Separately, a group of conservative bishops, led by Texas Bishop Don Wimberly, is scheduled to meet Sept. 19-22 in Navasota, Texas, to discuss their future in U.S. church. Wimberly said in a statement that "my intention is to stay within" the denomination.
Church of England Bishops N.T. Wright of Durham and Michael Scott-Joynt of Winchester are expected to attend the conservative gathering "with the blessing of the archbishop of Canterbury," Wimberly said.