Some 300 bishops - a third of the Anglican bishops in the world - arrived in Jerusalem this week to attend the Global Anglican Future Conference, organized by the traditionalist wing of the church, which is opposed to ordaining homosexual bishops. GAFCON is being staged as a rival to next month's Lambeth Conference in London, the Anglican Communion's main event held every 10 years.
GAFCON has drawn some 1,000 participants: bishops, clergymen, and activists from Anglican congregations in 28 countries, led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria.
The rift in the Anglican Communion occured in 2003, when its American wing, the Episcopal Church, ordained the openly gay Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.
That move also caused ripples among traditionalist Anglican bishops, many of them in Africa, who have long claimed that their liberal colleagues were evading the commitment to adopt a Christian lifestyle in accordance with the Old and the New Testament. The decision to hold a rival conference was reached at a gathering last December in Kenya.
Even though the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, did not lend his support to Robinson's ordination, and even refused to meet Robinson during a visit to London, he angered the traditionalists when he invited the Episcopal Church leaders who had ordained him to the Lambeth Conference.
According to one of the organizers, the purpose of GAFCON is "to emphasize our connection to Jesus' life and the Bible, while we stand in prayer in the place where he walked."
"We came here, conservatives from around the world, to pray together," says Jim Adams, bishop of Western Kansas, who admits that GAFCON may well lead to a schism in the Anglican Communion.
Most participants, however, prefer to adopt the terms Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen used at a press conference to describe the change: "The nuclear family has turned into an extended family."
The Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Suheil Dawani, is considered a traditionalist, but he prefered not to distance himself from the global leadership of the archbishop of Canterbury. He issued a press release stating that he did not invite nor seek to hold the conference in Jerusalem, and that he plans to attend the Lambeth Conference in July. Nonetheless, he held a reception yesterday for the visiting bishops.