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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September, 2003, 04:14 GMT 05:14 UK
Archbishop faces gay bishops debate
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Williams called an urgent summit on the gay issue

The Archbishop of Canterbury is set to face renewed pressure to resist the ordination of gay bishops as Church of England evangelicals gather in Blackpool.

The great majority of evangelicals - who make up the largest group in the Church - are vehemently opposed to the appointment of homosexual clergy.

The conference, to be opened by Dr Rowan Williams on Friday, comes only three weeks before church leaders meet at Lambeth to discuss the crisis prompted by Canon Eugene Robinson's election as Bishop of New Hampshire in the United States.

Evangelical Anglicans have renewed confidence after playing a significant role in forcing the resignation of the gay priest Canon Jeffrey John from his post as Bishop-elect of Reading in July.

But they could not stop Canon Robinson being elected, and many now want Church leaders to take action against the American Anglican Church when they meet at Lambeth next month.

Unity threatened

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott says homosexuality appears only briefly on the agenda at Blackpool, but the issue is likely to dominate conversation there.

The five-day meeting could produce consensus about what action evangelicals could take to put pressure on the Church of England and Dr Williams.

Many evangelical parishes have large and wealthy congregations, and that gives them considerable financial muscle, our correspondent says.

Canon Jeffrey John, in withdrawing from the Reading post, said the bitter row within the church prompted by his nomination made him fear his consecration would damage the "unity of the Church".

Dr John, who was due to be consecrated on 9 October, has been in a relationship with a man for 27 years, but said he was now celibate.

When Dr Williams called for the October meeting to discuss the US appointment, he warned of "difficult days" ahead for the Anglican church.

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