Graveyard ahead. Commence whistling:
Senior bishops from opposing sides in the Anglican war over homosexuality have called a temporary truce and today begin talks that could save the Church from schism.
The most likely outcome is a two-church solution for the United States, allowing conservatives and liberals to exist, separate but side-by-side, as Anglicans. It would have implications for the worldwide communion, because many other provinces, including England, have similar problems.
The plan this week is to draw up a pact giving the appearance of unity, enabling a final deal to be hammered out at the Lambeth Conference in 2008.
Todays meeting in New York City will consider a paper from the seven conservative and Catholic dioceses of the Episcopal Church that oppose the leadership of Bishop Katharine Schori and have appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, for alternative oversight. The conservatives argue that there are already, in effect, two churches under one roof in the US and appeal for a special commissary to be appointed to look after them and enable a ceasefire until a peace treaty is reached at Lambeth.
Sources have told The Times that the aim is for Dr Williams to invite all 890 bishops and archbishops to the Lambeth Conference. That would include the gay Bishop Gene Robinson, whose consecration in 2003 triggered the crisis, and any other openly gay bishops consecrated since.
ERRRRR. Pipe dream. ERRRRR. Pipe dream. ERRRRR. Pipe dream. ERRRRR. Pipe dream. ERRRRR. Pipe dream...
Although the Nigerian bishops are among those who have have pledged to boycott the conference if Bishop Robinson is present, sources hope that they might be persuaded to turn up if a settlement can be reached.
At todays meeting of up to 12 US bishops which takes place at the direction of Dr Williams Bishop Schori and the ultra-liberals will share a table with the ultra-conservatives, who are headed by Bishop Bob Duncan, of Pittsburgh. It is remarkable that they are even talking to each other, said one senior source. There is a seriously big go-wrong factor here. This is an internal meeting but it has huge external implications for the whole Church.
Should the two-church solution be agreed on, the liberals, led by Bishop Schori, who succeeds Bishop Frank Griswold shortly, would take about four fifths of the 2.4 million-strong US Church with them.
The conservatives could be regrouped as a parallel jurisdiction under the leadership of a primate from the evangelical-dominated Global South group of churches in Africa and Asia or leadership could be requested of an English bishop such as Dr Tom Wright, of Durham, who is facilitating a meeting of conservative US bishops in Texas next week and who is increasingly prominent in the Church internationally.
Dr Wright attended the recent US general convention and helped to persuade the Episcopalians to seek a peace deal. Many conservatives view him as archbishop-in-waiting should Dr Williamss own resolve and formidable intellect fail to find a solution.
This meeting and the later one in Texas will eventually get to what ECUSA values most.
The argument among the Episcopalians is expected to move beyond theology to matters of money and property. The wealthy US liberal lobby is expected to resist any compromise move by Bishop Griswold and Bishop Schori especially for conservatives to retain any of the substantial capital and pensions assets of the Episcopal Church.
If it all falls apart, said the source, you could even see something quite radical happening. For example, insiders are talking of the liberal-dominated Episcopal Church leaving the Anglican Communion itself and seeking unity with a body such as the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht, which is liberal on the question of women and gays. Such a move would allow the Episcopalians to retain their Catholic identity.
However, this would be a last-ditch response. Mainstream liberals are still desperate for the Episcopal Church to remain in the communion and for their new leader to take her place as a woman alongside the 38 other, male archbishops at the regular primates meetings.
In February the primates will debate the deals struck in New York this week. They will also consider any requests coming out of the meeting of US conservatives in Texas next week, as well as a meeting of the Primates of the Global South in Kigali, Rwanda, also taking place next week. The Right Rev John Rucyahana, Bishop of Shyira in Rwanda, has already petitioned the Global South primates to leave the Anglican Communion.
Will anything substantive emerge from this meeting? I don't see how it possibly can. Given the rhetoric of the last three years, any compromise which would allow ECUSA to retain its full Anglican standing and allow Robbie to attend Lambeth would be unacceptable to the Global South and would completely cut the ground out from under the Network. And given the anger over Resolution B033 at GenCon, I don't think Griswold or Schori will be able to sell ECUSA on any kind of semi-Anglican status.
Throwing in with Utrecht(and probably taking a number of liberal Anglican provinces with them) may be the only chance ECUSA has to retain any kind of international standing. One way or another, I think the Anglican situation will begin to resolve itself very soon.