Anglican leader faces tough summit to avoid schism

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania - The spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans invoked the power of prayer on Tuesday to help him save the church from schism over gay priests and same-sex marriages at a crucial meeting this week.

Some commentators say it will be a personal disaster for Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams if he fails to reconcile a liberal minority and conservative majority spilt over the issues during a six-day summit that opens in Africa on Wednesday.

"We have a difficult meeting ahead of us with many challenges and many decisions to make," he told reporters as he arrived in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam, which means "abode of peace" in Arabic.

"I hope that all the people of the church will be praying for us as we meet together as the leaders of the Anglican Church worldwide and that God's will be done," he said.

The Tanzania meeting is shaping up to be the biggest clash yet between Global South conservatives in Africa, Asia and Latin America -- where the Anglican church is growing -- and liberals in the more affluent West -- where congregations are shrinking.

Conservatives say homosexuality is sinful and unbiblical while liberals say the church should focus on tackling poverty, AIDS and the challenge to Christianity from Islam.

Tensions in the Anglican Communion, a loose federation of 38 national churches, flared into a near revolt by the Global South when an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, was named in the United States in 2003.

Traditionalist primates are threatening to snub their U.S. counterpart Katharine Jefferts Schori for supporting Robinson and same-sex unions.

They have even persuaded Williams to invite a conservative Episcopal bishop to the meeting with her.

In preparation for Williams' arrival, the Global South has set up camp in an Indian Ocean beachfront hotel to discuss the way forward. Next door, U.S. Episcopalians are doing the same.

But, it was unlikely the two sides would meet before the summit, one official said.

Many delegates hope Williams will keep the warring factions together until he calls the Lambeth Conference, the church's 10-yearly gathering, in 2008.

Rwanda's Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini said the Global South may recommend the U.S. Episcopal Church appoint what he called a moderator as an alternative to Jefferts Schori.

However, some officials say such a move would set a worrying precedent for other churches within the Communion, the third-largest Christian denomination, deepening the split rather than healing it.

"I think what's missing is cooperation, that there's no will to solve the problem, but there is hope," Kolini told Reuters.

"You can have a disagreement and remain a family until the prodigal son or daughter comes back. The door is always open," he added.