The Archbishop of Canterbury announced Monday that the upcoming global conference will allow leaders to confront differences "honestly" as Anglicans remain wracked by division.
Dr. Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, believes that amid controversies over the Bible and homosexuality and despite predictions of schism, there is a larger will for the Communion to remain a united body.
"In spite of the painful controversies which have clouded the life of the Communion for the last few years, there remains, as many people have repeatedly said, a very strong loyalty to each other and a desire to stay together," Williams said.
Williams launched the official program for the decennial Lambeth Conference 2008, a 20-day conference which opens in July at the University of Kent in Canterbury. This year, the conference aims at strengthening the sense of a shared Anglican identity among the bishops from around the world and helping to equip bishops for the role they increasingly have as leaders in mission.
As of Monday, about 70 percent of bishops worldwide have confirmed they will be attending. More conservative bishops, however, have threatened to boycott the meeting in objection to the Archbishop of Canterbury's inviting bishops in the United States who supported the controversial consecration of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop, in 2003.
They announced last month a separate meeting for an urgent consultation scheduled to open just ahead of the Lambeth Conference and are calling it the Global Anglican Future Conference. Participants of the July 15-22 conservative meeting hope to go back to Christian roots and affirm traditional Anglican faith as they meet in the Holy Land. Many conservative bishops believe the U.S. Episcopal Church has abandoned Scripture and traditional Anglicanism, particularly with its liberal direction on homosexuality.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, said the meeting is not designed to take the place of Lambeth as some bishops will choose to attend both.
Concerns were raised by the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, Bishop Suheil Dawani, who said he was not consulted about the conference and fears further conflict on an already divided land.
"I am deeply troubled that this meeting, of which we had no prior knowledge, will import inter-Anglican conflict into our diocese, which seeks to be a place of welcome for all Anglicans," Dawani said earlier this month. "It could also have serious consequences for our ongoing ministry of reconciliation in this divided land. Indeed, it could further inflame tensions here. We who minister here know only too well what happens when two sides cease talking to each other. We do not want to see any further dividing walls!"
There has been no indication that the conference in the Holy Land will be canceled.
The first Lambeth Conference was called in 1867, partly in response to a crisis about the limits of diversity allowed in the Anglican churches around the world, Williams explained.
"So there's nothing so very new about a Lambeth Conference meeting in a climate of some controversy," he noted.
Lambeth Conference 2008 will begin with a retreat in which participants will spend time in prayer and Bible study.