The Archbishop of Canterbury is to restructure the worldwide Anglican Communion to allow it to function still while allowing for deep divisions over issues such as women priests and gay ordination.
The Most Rev Justin Welby has summoned all 37 Primates, the presiding archbishops and bishops of all the provinces, to a meeting in January to "review the structures" of the 80-million strong communion.
In a particularly dynamic initiative which is typical of Welby's blue-sky thinking, he has invited Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America to be present at part of the gathering. This indicates that the Anglican Communion is moving more towards an "open marriage" between its warring factions than a divorce.
The inclusion of this strong conservative Archbishop, who leads a traditionalist wing of the Anglican church that has resisted the liberal direction of the US Episcopal Church, signals a desire to reunite the fractured communion in a new model.
One option to be discussed at the meeting, at Canterbury, is expected to be a federal model, similar to that adopted by the Lutheran churches of northern Europe. Such a model would loosen the ties and allow each province to proceed with integrity. It could also allow all Anglicans, including some of the so-called "continuing" Anglican churches that split over issues such as women priests, to meet under one roof at the next Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, provisionally scheduled for sometime around the end of this decade.
The agenda will not solely centre around the Anglican Communion divisions, however. It will also include the issues such as religiously-motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the environment and human sexuality.
Archbishop Welby said: "I have suggested to all Primates that we need to consider recent developments but also look afresh at our ways of working as a Communion and especially as Primates, paying proper attention to developments in the past.
"Our way forward must respect the decisions of Lambeth 1998, and of the various Anglican Consultative Council and Primates' meetings since then."
Lambeth 1998 passed a resolution which set a traditionalist biblical standard over human sexuality.
Archbishop Welby said: "It must also be a way forward, guided by the absolute imperative for the church to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, to make disciples and to worship and live in holiness, and recognising that the way in which proclamation happens and the pressures on us vary greatly between provinces. We each live in a different context."
He spelled out the temptation towards division.
"The difference between our societies and cultures, as well as the speed of cultural change in much of the global north, tempts us to divide as Christians, when the command of scripture, the prayer of Jesus, the tradition of the church and our theological understanding urges unity. A 21st century Anglican family must have space for deep disagreement, and even mutual criticism, so long as we are faithful to the revelation of Jesus Christ, together.
"We have no Anglican Pope. Our authority as a church is dispersed, and is ultimately found in Scripture, properly interpreted. In that light I long for us to meet together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and to seek to find a way of enabling ourselves to set a course which permits us to focus on serving and loving each other, and above all on the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ."
Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the newly-installed Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, welcomed the move, which comes after a hectic two years for Archbishop Welby when he visited every single province of the communion.
"This is a most welcome development. The Anglican Communion must now allow the Holy Spirit to intervene in the differences that divide us. We at the Anglican Communion Office are positioned to assist in fostering a desirable outcome," said Archbishop Idowu-Fearon. Calling for prayers, he also welomed the presence of Archbishop Beach: "This is an opportunity to listen to useful ideas from this group on how we continue as a Communion in light of the search and openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit."