The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a plea for prayer as the leaders of his divided church prepare to meet in Canterbury next week in an attempt to avoid schism over homosexuality.
Archbishop Justin Welby has invited the leaders of the 38 Anglican provinces to the meeting in Canterbury on from Monday to Friday next week. Already some conservative primates have threatened to walk out if no attempt is made to discipline the pro-gay liberal provinces such as the Episcopal Church, which consecrated the first openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003.
Without success in staving off a split next week, it probable that the next Lambeth Conference, the ten-yearly meeting of all Anglican bishops and archbishops from around the world, will be postponed indefinitely. One possible solution will be a move away from the present structure of the Anglican Communion to a more federal model similar to that adopted by the Lutheran churches of northern Europe and Scandinavia.
Archbishop Welby said: "As we approach the Primates' meeting we need to recognise that we're going to be dealing with some very, very difficult issues within the life of the Anglican Communion, but also hugely difficult issues that are affecting the whole church of Christ and our whole world.
"What I would ask people to pray for more than anything else is wisdom and love. That the love of Christ for each of us, for each of us who are sinners, each of us who fail, will so overwhelm us that we are able to love each other as we should. And wisdom that we may know the call and purpose of God and in love and wisdom serve his world in the way he calls us to."
The agenda will be wide-ranging, reflecting the crucial role the Communion plays in helping individual provinces deal with complex social and political realities on the ground, a key motive for attempting to avoid schism. As well as sexuality, the Primates will debate issues such as the growing persecution of Christians, vulnerable children and adults and the environment.
But central to the meeting will be a review of the structures of the Anglican Communion, and deciding together their approach to the next Lambeth Conference.
Significantly, Archbishop Foley Beach, leader of the consevative Anglican Church in North America, not currently a recognised province of the Communion, has been invited and will be present for part of the meeting.
Archbishop Welby said: "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."
The Archbishop has also published a special prayer for the meeting:
Collect for Primates 2016
who in your prophet Isaiah promised us
a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and inward strength, knowledge and true godliness:
breathe that same Spirit on the leaders of your church today,
that they may meet you in one another,
find perfect freedom in your service,
and bring forth your Spirit's fruits of love, joy and peace;
that your church may be renewed in the form of your Son, born, crucified and risen
that we might be one with you and in you,
ever one God, merciful and mighty. Amen