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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 September 2007, 06:20 GMT 07:20 UK
Crisis talks over US gay clergy
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams has made an eleventh-hour plea to US bishops
The Archbishop of Canterbury has held a crisis conference with US bishops in an attempt to prevent a split over gay clergy in the Anglican church.

Meeting in New Orleans, Rowan Williams told leaders of the US Episcopal Church to stop the election of gay bishops.

The dispute was triggered by the US church's consecration of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003.

After the meeting in New Orleans, Dr Williams left for Armenia where he will meet faith leaders in the Middle East.

'Uncharted waters'

Dr Williams tried to draw a line under the deep divisions in Anglicanism that opened up four years ago when New Hampshire elected Bishop Robinson.

The decision particularly outraged conservative African members of the worldwide Anglican communion.

Gene Robinson
The ordination of gay Bishop Gene Robinson divided Anglicans

Anglican leaders demanded that the US Episcopal Church guarantee it will no longer elect gay bishops and will not authorise the blessing of same-sex couples.

Dr Williams' spokesman, Jonathan Jennings, said: "We are in uncharted waters and we have been since this all began in 2003."

The meeting in New Orleans follows a summit of Anglican leaders in Tanzania earlier in the year which gave the US Episcopal Church a deadline of 30 September to define their position on the issue.

Personal dialogue

The leaders threatened that a failure to do so would leave their relationship with the US branch of Anglicanism "damaged at best".

The desire for conservative bishops by traditionalists in the US church has prompted African archbishops to consecrate conservative US clergy in African bishoprics.

A statement by Lambeth Palace said Dr Williams was invited to visit Armenia by the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The statement said his visit to Syria and Lebanon was part of an on-going personal dialogue both with Christian churches in the Middle East, and with leaders of the region's other faiths.


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