Holding to goals of unity and reconciliation, the leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion have taken key steps that buy time for healing in the deeply divided global body.
But they also served notice on the Episcopal Church, Anglicanism's US branch, that it must give convincing proof of an intent to abide by traditional practices with regard to homosexuality.
During their six-day gathering in Tanzania, the 38 leaders approved the first stage of an Anglican Covenant that will define the principles for membership and accountability. Once the covenant is widely considered and approved – a process that could take a few years – national churches would have to conform to remain within the community.
The Communion faces the most serious crisis in its history because of the Episcopal Church's consecration of a gay bishop and allowance for blessing of same-sex unions, steps contrary to a Communion resolution on homosexuality. While acknowledging that the church had tried to repair the resulting breach, the leaders said the response was not enough to restore the lost trust.
They thus requested that by Sept. 30, 2007, the church's House of Bishops unequivocally commit to not authorizing same-gender blessings and to not consenting to any candidate for bishop who is in a same-gender relationship.
"If the reassurances ... cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at the best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion," says the group's final communiqué.
At the same time, they acknowledged that the interventions of foreign bishops in support of US traditionalists has exacerbated the situation. The leaders proposed a temporary structure aimed at keeping the church together while providing estranged parishioners and priests with alternative leadership. To accomplish this, they proposed a "pastoral council" of five leaders to cooperate with the church to facilitate healing and provide ministry where needed.
Saying that litigation is not "a proper way forward for a Christian body," the leaders also urged the church and congregations in property disputes with it to suspend all legal actions.
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori faces a challenge regarding the requests, as the church's convention last June rejected a change in direction. Seven bishops in Tanzania refused to take communion with her, but she was elected to their standing committee.