Anglican Head to Hold 'Secret' Meeting with Gay British Church Members

LONDON – The head of the worldwide Anglican Communion is set to hold a "secret" meeting with homosexual members of the Church of England, one of Britain's leading daily newspapers reported Tuesday.

According to The Times, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams will hold a "secret Communion service" with gay and lesbian members at St Peter's Church in London's Belgravia district.

Furthermore, he will deliver a speech titled "Present realities and future possibilities for lesbians and gay men in the Church," the London-based newspaper reported, in what is expected to be an attempt to ease the divisions on the issue of homosexuality.

With the threat of a schism hanging over the worldwide Anglican Communion since the 2003 consecration of the United States' first openly gay Episcopal bishop, the archbishop of Canterbury has been desperately trying to reconcile liberals and conservatives who remain in disagreement over homosexuality.

Williams will be in New Orleans this week to meet Episcopal bishops and discuss demands by conservative Anglican leaders from the Global South that The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – refrain from allowing any other openly gay clergy consecrations until the entire worldwide communion agrees upon a precise stance.

If The Episcopal Church does not agree to these demands by Sept. 30, observers believe it will be extremely difficult for the archbishop to bridge the widening divisions within the communion.

Williams has expressed how serious he believes the current situation is, saying "[i]t feels very vulnerable and very fragile, perhaps more so than it's been for a very long time"

In an interview with Time magazine earlier this summer, Williams said he was not "absolutely confident" that the global church body, which many say is on the brink of division, can stay together.

"Anglicans should remain Anglicans ... I don't think schism is inevitable," Williams said.

When asked if he was optimistic, however, the archbishop opted to use a "safer" word: "I'm hopeful."

Regarding news of the upcoming "secret" meeting, a spokesperson for Williams said, "It should come as no surprise that the archbishop is meeting pastorally with clergy and others affected by the current debates in the Church."

"Such encounters extend right across the range of opinions within the Church."

According to The Times, the meeting will take place on Nov. 29 under strict confidentiality rules – a move that has attracted criticism from a number of lobby groups.

"We are astonished at the attempts to make the meeting clandestine when it would be far better to have this in the open," the Rev. Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) told the newspaper.

"The fact that he wants to go there without anyone knowing he's going there makes it quite clear that he has an attitude towards the event that he doesn't have at any other meetings."

Williams' spokesperson, however, noted that "[f]ew of these encounters ever reach the public domain."

"That is as it should be," they said.