After affirming that the 2008 Lambeth Conference will not be canceled over sexuality debates, the Anglican Communion is moving forward with plans for the worldwide assembly.
Next year's decennial conference will be different, however. Rather than a parliamentary debating chamber with a string of resolutions, it will be a time for "spiritual reflection, learning, sharing and discerning," said Archbishop of Melanesia, Sir Ellison Pogo.
The 77 million-member Anglican Communion had been considering whether to cancel the global event in the wake of heightened controversy over the Episcopal Church's recent actions and stance favoring the consecration of homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions.
Earlier this year, Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria had threatened to not participate in the 2008 Lambeth Conference and hold its own gathering if the issue of homosexuality was not resolved before then.
The Episcopal Church, which consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003, was given a Sept. 30 deadline this year to unequivocally pledge not to consecrate another gay bishop or authorize prayers for homosexual unions.
Leading up to the deadline, the Anglican spiritual leader had questioned the timing of the 2008 conference.
"We've been looking at whether the timing is right, but if we wait for the ideal time, we will wait more than just 18 months," Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams told the Anglican Journal last week.
Last week, the conference "Design Group," appointed by Williams, worked on the conference structures, purposes, issues and program, according to the Anglican News Service.
In the meantime, U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told The Boston Globe this week that the Episcopal Church will not likely be moving "backward" on their 2003 decision to elect an openly gay bishop.
"I don't believe that there is any will in this church to move backward," she told the newspaper on Tuesday. She called the 2003 election "a great blessing."
While the majority of Anglican leaders, mainly on the African continent, say the Episcopal Church has departed from Anglican tradition and scriptural authority, Jefferts Schori believes the rest of the Anglican churches will move in the direction of the Episcopal Church possibly 50 years from now.
"Where the protesters are, in some parts of Africa or in other parts of the Anglican Communion today, is where this church and this society we live in was 50 years ago, and for us to assume that people can move that distance in a year or in a relatively instantaneous manner is perhaps faithless," she told the Globe. "That kind of movement and development has taken us a good deal of pain and energy over 40 or 50 years, and I think we have to make some space so that others can make that journey as well."
"In other words, Jefferts Schori argues that time is on her side," commented the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of America's pre-eminent evangelical leaders, in a blog post Thursday. "The African churches will simply have to grow up and learn to play the game. They will have to learn to replace the authority of the Bible with the authority of modern therapeutic ideologies.
"In time," he wrote, "she expects the African churches to learn to play the game - relativizing Scripture, redefining biblical morality, and flaunting the moral wisdom the church has known for over 2,000 years.
"She may be right," Mohler added. "We must pray she is wrong."
Lambeth 2008 will continue to address the "internal conflicts of recent years," according to Ellison, and also address such topics as the Millennium Development Goals, HIV/AIDS, Ethical/Green living, Anglican identity and covenant, The Listening Process and relationships with people of other faiths.
Correction: Thursday, April 26, 2007:
An article on Thursday, Apr. 26, 2007, about statements made ahead of an upcoming decennial conference incorrectly stated that Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of the Church of Nigeria had threatened to not participate in the Anglican Communion's 2008 Lambeth Conference. It was Archbishop Peter Akinola, not Ndungane, who said he would not participate in the decennial worldwide assembly if the issue of homosexuality was not resolved before then.