Page last updated at 20:22 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

Split Anglicans call in mediators

By Christopher Landau
BBC Religious Affairs correspondent, Alexandria

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams (centre) and other Anglican bishops in Alexandria, Egypt
The Anglican Church has been struggling with internal divisions

Leaders of the Anglican Communion are to employ professional mediators in an attempt to resolve their ongoing dispute over sexuality.

The announcement came at the close of a five-day meeting of senior bishops held in Alexandria, Egypt.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said there was "deep division" among member churches.

But he added that "the willingness to find reconciliation has been very much in evidence".

The meeting was significant simply for bringing all the national leaders together - after several large African churches boycotted last summer's Lambeth Conference.

'Speaking honestly'

The move to employ external mediators with experience in international disputes was one new initiative designed to find ways forward for the Communion.

Bishop Gene Robinson
The ordination of gay Bishop Gene Robinson has split the Communion

Senior Anglican leaders, known as primates, also gave warm backing to plans for an Anglican "Covenant" - a shared statement of belief that Anglican churches would each affirm.

Critics say these measures offer little concrete progress and that the Communion is moving too slowly to address its problems.

But this meeting was marked by a clear attempt to work together towards achievable solutions.

A closing statement said that "a common desire to speak honestly" had led to constructive conversation.

Zimbabwe concern

In addition to a letter to Anglican churches focussing on internal issues, the leaders issued united statements deploring the situations in Sudan and Gaza.

This week's meeting... has confirmed a real desire for Anglicans to work through their current difficulties

They expressed particular concern for the situation in Zimbabwe, having heard first-hand accounts of the difficulties faced there.

The Anglican leaders urged President Robert Mugabe to step down, and called for "the implementation of the rule of law and the restoration of democratic process".

They pledged support for a new Anglican chaplaincy to offer practical and spiritual support to refugees on the South African border.

Financial crisis

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, led discussions on the global financial situation.

He said that the problems offered churches an opportunity to witness against injustice.

The bishops affirmed that the church's response "must be broader and deeper than economics and politics".

They reiterated their churches' support for the Millennium Development Goals - and urged governments not to abandon their commitments to international aid in the global financial crisis.

Renewed confidence

In recent years, meetings of primates have been tense affairs.

Tight security has been in evidence, and access to areas where meetings have taken place has been severely restricted.

This gathering, in a luxury hotel by the sea in Alexandria, was rather different.

Few of the lobbyists from various Anglican interest groups, who had been regular fixtures at previous meetings, were present.

It seemed as if the Anglican leaders are determined to think and speak for themselves, rather than be influenced by well-funded campaigners.

One key new dimension has emerged in recent months - the fact that no party, whether liberal or conservative, wants to leave the Communion.

Americans who support gay relationships, and Africans who oppose them in the strongest terms, both believe that they represent authentic Anglicanism.

That complicates discussions - because no-one is prepared to break away from their historic Anglican roots.

This week's meeting may not have arrived at concrete solutions, but it has confirmed a real desire for Anglicans to work through their current difficulties.

It is now left to the Archbishop of Canterbury to "broker conversations" between the opposed parties.

Having apparently exhausted the church's internal approaches to conflict resolution, it is now left to external mediators to try and chart a unified way forward for Anglicanism's increasingly diverse member churches.

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