Efforts to heal divisions in the worldwide Anglican communion have suffered a setback with the powerful Sydney Diocese deferring a decision on whether or not its six bishops will attend next year’s Lambeth Conference to which all 800 Anglican bishops have been invited.
Sydney’s Archbishop Peter Jensen is a focal point for international opposition to any acceptance by the church of same-s-x unions and gay bishops.
He has put off a decision on attending the Lambeth Conference – held every ten years – until the US Episcopal Church decides whether or not to cease same-s-x blessings and consecrating openly gay bishops.
If the US Episcopal Church does not agree to the international church’s demand that it agree to these conditions it faces suspension or expulsion from the Anglican communion.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
There is another conference Archbishop Jensen and his five assistant bishops had in mind when they deferred a decision on the Lambeth invitation – the 14th General Synod of the Anglican Church in Australia is to take place in Canberra from 20-26 October this year.
One of the contentious issues the synod will debate will be the appointment of women bishops in the Australian church – a move that the Sydney diocese, and a number of other dioceses, are implacably opposed to.
While the numbers needed to endorse women bishops are unlikely to be achieved at the general synod, the issue itself will highlight the continuing divisions in the Australian church.
Ironically, its is Sydney diocese’s relative success in maintaining congregation numbers that is likely to block the endorsement of women bishops once again.
Jensen’s critics believe he is bluffing in threatening to boycott Lambeth, and perhaps lead a break away from the worldwide Anglican communion. But his growing links with conservative dioceses in Africa, and South East Asia, suggest Sydney would not be alone if it boycotted the Lambeth conference.
And they also suggest he might play a leading role in a breakaway movement that would appeal to the one part of the world where Anglican numbers are really increasing – the church in Africa.
Unity in the worldwide Anglican communion is, at best, fragile. Archbishop Jensen’s latest tactic shows it is even more fragile than ever.