LONDON – The Church of England's second most senior cleric has warned conservative Anglicans that they risk breaking ties with the spiritual leader of the worldwide communion and with historic Anglicanism if they boycott next year's worldwide assembly of bishops.
Divisions over homosexuality are taking their toll on the Anglican Communion and have resurfaced in the face of the forthcoming 2008 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Communion's decennial meeting.
The Anglican leader of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, warned earlier in the year that he may lead a boycott of the Lambeth Conference, after two controversial bishops did not receive invitations from the communion's spiritual head, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, to join the meeting.
Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu, who stands second to Williams, appealed to conservative Anglican members to join the 2008 meeting, saying in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that if they did a no-show then "they would be the ones voting with their feet and saying, as far as we are concerned, we are the true Anglicans."
"Anglicanism has its roots through Canterbury," he said. "If you sever that link you are severing yourself from the Communion. There is no doubt about it."
He told the newspaper that disagreements between conservatives and liberal north Americans were not core issues and that Anglicans should be able to remain in the same Church so long as Anglican bishops did not deny the basic Christian doctrines.
Sentamu reaffirmed that Anglican leaders, called primates, had always regarded the Archbishop of Canterbury as "a primate among equals but nonetheless as primus inter pares [first among equals]."
"If that goes and they think they can then say they are Anglicans, that is very questionable," he said. "Whatever you set up, I don't think it could ever be called the Anglican Communion.
"So I am hoping that my brothers and sisters, whatever they are trying to set out, will come to the Lambeth Conference."
The Anglican Church of Nigeria, headed by outspoken archbishop Akinola, affirmed in a letter to the Church Times in 2005 that its focus of unity for the Communion was "the centrality of the gospel rather than the centrality of a person or institution, however venerable."
Now conservative Anglican leaders from Africa and Asia, in particular, are planning to hold their own alternative summit.
Sentamu warned that any break in the Anglican Communion would cause "a lot of pain and the healing of it is very difficult."
"I want to warn people, don't spend the next century trying to find a way back," he said.
Just last month, the Archbishop of Canterbury admitted he was "not absolutely confident" that the Anglican Communion would stay together after the Lambeth Conference.
"Anglicans should remain Anglicans ... I don't think schism is inevitable," Williams said 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."
Williams has long been struggling to hold together the warring factions within 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," he told Time. "It feels very vulnerable and very fragile, perhaps more so than it's been for a very long time."
Few have hazarded a guess at what might happen if the communion does split. Williams, however, said he would be able 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."