With the consecration of openly gay Canon Gene Robinson as the Anglican bishop of the U.S. state of New Hampshire expected Sunday, the Anglican Communion is bracing for a wave of stormy reaction in various parts of the world. But the head of the worldwide church, the archbishop of Canterbury, says any splits that may come will eventually heal.
Speaking on the eve of the consecration, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said the church was facing a risky break, but he predicted that there would be reconciliation.
Rowan Williams acknowledged that liberal churches in developing countries and more traditional Anglicans in numerous countries in Africa and Asia were now far apart on the issue of homosexual clergy.
But the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion expressed optimism that God would, in time, bring both sides together.
Signaling a tough time ahead, Archbishop Williams said that "God will teach us in our separateness, but one day, the church will be led back together, and the two sides can then share what they have learned apart."
A meeting of worldwide Anglican leaders in London last month showed that the divisions were deep and that the issue could even split the church.
The issue of Mr. Robinson's election and the determination to go ahead with his consecration has infuriated many Anglicans in countries such as Nigeria, and it has been predicted that it could create serious problems elsewhere, in countries such as Pakistan.
Gene Robinson recently told British television that he feels calm and at peace, and he is not concerned that he will not be widely accepted as a bishop abroad.
Mr. Robinson says he hopes his consecration will lead to other denominations openly welcoming gay and lesbian people into positions of leadership.
But more protests by conservatives in the church are expected in the coming days, and the serious question is whether any parts of the Anglican community will now actually break away from the worldwide body.