NEW ORLEANS, Sep 22 (Reuters) The spiritual head of the US Episcopal Church said its leaders would likely respond in full next week to a request by the broader Anglican communion that it stop ordaining openly gay bishops and outlaw the blessing of same-sex marriages.
The issue threatens to split the 77 million member global Anglican communion, a prospect which prompted the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to say yesterday: ''God forbid.'' The 2.4 million member Episcopal church is the US branch of the worldwide Anglican church and the US bishops are in the second of six days of meetings with the thorny question of gay issues high on their agenda.
Top global Anglican bishops meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, earlier this year issued what many interpreted as an ultimatum to the US church to renounce by September 30 the blessing of same-sex marriages and make clear it will not allow more non-celibate gays to become bishops.
''We have already begun to make responses to the requests at Dar es Salaam ... the hope is that we have a full response by the time we close our meeting,'' Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church, told reporters.
Two other bishops at the same briefing, both self-described moderates who voted against consecrating a gay bishop but support keeping the communion together, said the visiting Archbishop of Canterbury has made clear the Dar es Salaam communique was not a demand but a question.
''This is not a line in the sand,'' Bishop Duncan Gray of Mississippi said. ''I think that was very helpful.'' Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana agreed. ''I think the level of anxiety is reduced,'' he said.
The gay issues conflict was prompted by the US church in 2003 when it consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first bishop in an openly gay relationship in more than four centuries of church history.
That caused dissension within the U.S. church and angered Anglicans in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, which combined now account for half of the world's Anglican followers.
''I think it would rather be an admission of defeat if we said we were incapable of working together on issues that divide us,'' Williams told the briefing.
''Whether we've got to that point (a split) I don't know. I have to say God Forbid and mean it ... The need that we have for each other is very deep,'' he said.
The bishops planned to spend the weekend in mission work and worship and will return to their deliberations on Monday before finishing on Tuesday. The ''full response'' that the Episcopal presiding bishop promised could be anything from a clear-cut promise to comply to an outright rejection of the request from the other presiding bishops.
REUTERS SKB RAI0913