The spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion is hopeful, but 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," said Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in an interview with Time magazine.
The Anglican head added, however, "If you're asking am I absolutely confident that we can get it together after the Lambeth Conference? No. I'm not absolutely confident."
Weeks before the interview, Williams had sent out invitations to the Lambeth Conference - the Anglican decennial meeting scheduled for July 2008. Excluded from the invitation list were the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, whose consecration in 2003 as the first openly gay bishop in The Episcopal Church (TEC) widened rifts in the global denomination, and the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, missionary bishop of CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America) – an orthodox Anglican splinter group and offshoot of the Church of Nigeria.
Williams explained that he has to reserve the right to withhold invitations from bishops whose appointment has caused "exceptionally serious division or scandal" within the Anglican Communion. Plus, if the two bishops attended, the Lambeth Conference would risk being just about them, he said to Time.
There has been little talk on what would happen if the communion does break apart.
If it does break apart during his spiritual leadership, Williams told the magazine he would be able to sustain the blow "because I trust my God and I believe that whatever mistakes I make and whatever disasters may occur, there is always grace."
The Rt. Rev. Dr. John Rodgers, newly appointed interim President of Trinity School for Ministry and a bishop with the conservative splinter group Anglican Mission in America, predicts there will be a major division of the Anglican Communion and rather than a total collapse of The Episcopal Church, "a lingering death," he told VirtueOnline, a voice for global Orthodox Anglicanism.
However, the problem is not only in The Episcopal Church, Rodgers noted.
"What is now apparent is that the crisis is not only in TEC but in the Anglican Communion itself," he said. "The Western Provinces and the provinces that they have deeply influenced are as compromised as TEC. I suspect that the issue over attendance at Lambeth 2008 may be that point.
"Perhaps the fact that TEC is so clearly unrepentant and the continuing loss of members in Churches where the biblical faith is truncated or contradicted may help both us and the Global South take the needed action," Rodgers added.
The Episcopal Church has until Sept. 30 to respond to requests made by Primates (Anglican leaders) in February to make an unequivocal pledge not to authorize same-sex blessings and confirm another openly gay bishop.
"I think it's a rather dramatic picture painted there," Williams told Time. "Making decisions that will lose you friends, compromise people's perception of your integrity – that's very hard. On the other hand, that is only part of the reality. First and foremost, I'm a priest and a bishop."
After Williams excluded Minns from next year's global meeting, Nigerian Primate the Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola and his country's bishops threatened to not attend the decennial meeting. The Church of Nigeria is reportedly the largest province in the Anglican Communion.
"The task I've got is to try and maintain as long as possible the space in which people can have constructive disagreements, learn from each other, and try and hold that within an agreed framework of discipline and practice. It feels very vulnerable," Williams said. "It feels very vulnerable and very fragile, perhaps more so than it's been for a very long time."
When asked if he was optimistic, the archbishop opted to use a "safer" word: "I'm hopeful."