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The Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, was given until the end of the month to state unequivocally that it will not ordain any more gay bishops or authorize rites to bless same-sex unions.

If the U.S. bishops refuse, overseas Anglican archbishops have promised unspecified "consequences" that could drive the U.S. church from the Communion or lead other Anglicans out the door.

Meanwhile, several conservative U.S. dioceses have recently threatened to leave the Episcopal Church if the meeting doesn't go their way.

"It is still theoretically possible there will be some surprises," Central Florida Bishop John Howe said in a church newsletter. "But nearly every observer of the events of the past several years is convinced that a watershed moment is at hand."

The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who heads the Church of England and serves as spiritual leader to the world's nearly 77 million Anglicans, will travel to New Orleans for two days of closed-door meetings with the bishops.

Williams is charged with unifying the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion, a task that has grown more difficult as clashes continue over the 2003 election of Bishop V. Gene Robinson, a partnered gay man in New Hampshire.

Among the issues Williams and the U.S. bishops will hash out in New Orleans are:

  • Has the Episcopal Church promised that it will not elect any more gay bishops?
  • Will Episcopalians pledge not to authorize any rites for blessing same-gender couples?
  • Will the Episcopal Church create a separate leadership structure for dissident conservatives?

Some Episcopalians argue that the church answered the first question last summer when it called for "restraint" before electing bishops "whose manner of life presents a challenge ...

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