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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 06:40 GMT 07:40 UK
African bishops in crucial talks
By Anna Borzello
BBC correspondent in Lagos

Church bishop
The row over gay clergy threatens to divide the Anglican church
The first meeting of Africa's senior Anglican bishops opens on Tuesday in the Nigerian commercial capital, Lagos.

Over 300 bishops from around the continent will discuss what they regard as the major challenges facing the church including Aids, war and poverty.

However, for many, the key issue will be their reaction to a report released last week on the ordination of gays.

The majority of African bishops have condemned the ordination of gay clergy as unbiblical.

The report urged the US Episcopal Church to apologize following the ordination of an openly homosexual bishop from the US diocese of New Hampshire.

If the bishops decide the report does not go far enough, it could threaten to split the 70m strong Anglican communion worldwide.

Huge Anglican population

Archbishop Peter Akinola, the primate of all Nigeria who is hosting the conference, has made his position on the matter very clear.

70 million baptised members worldwide
38 self-governing Churches
500 dioceses, 30,000 parishes, 64,000 congregations in 164 countries
26 million members in the United Kingdom
17.5 million members in Nigeria
2.5 million members in the US

"The bible says that this an abomination and therefore we shall honour the integrity and sanctity of the word of God," he said.

"But when church leaders begin to see that what people says is not right, their experience and culture is more important, that's where we differ."

The reaction of African bishops to the report could be crucial to the future of the worldwide Anglican communion.

Africa has a huge Anglican population with Nigeria alone accounting for one quarter of all church membership.

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