An international delegation of conservative Anglican Church leaders has re-kindled fiery debate in Canada over the blessing of same-sex unions, labelling the issue as schismatic on a recent visit to Vancouver.

The delegation of bishops and archbishops, who arrived in Vancouver on Friday, were in the city to discuss a highly controversial decision by the British Columbian diocese of New Westminster to allow the blessing of gay and lesbian relationships in church.

The delegation’s visit comes weeks after the incumbent leader of the Anglican Church, Dr Rowan Williams, was accused of shocking betrayal after he shifted his stance on the issue of gay and lesbian recognition by the church and backed a 1998 Anglican resolution that same-sex unions were incompatible with Church scripture.

In Vancouver, Archbishop Bernard Malango of Zambia told local Anglicans opposed to the blessings that same-sex marriage exists outside the scripture and Zambia would not be a party to the dissident movement.

According to the British Columbian publication The Daily Courier, Malango said his opposition to the blessing also represented the positions of other members of the delegation, including an archbishop from south-east Asia, a bishop from Kenya and a bishop from North Dakota who represented the American Anglican Council of Bishops.

However, concerns that the conservative leaders were in Canada for a direct showdown with pro-gay Canadian church leaders appear to be exaggerated. Malango told a Canadian press conference on Sunday that the delegation was not in Canada to challenge anybody.

We are here to listen and finding out what their conflict is about, Malango said, adding that he was preparing to meet with Vancouver-area bishop Michael Ingham, who in June approved the blessing of same-sex unions after an overwhelming majority of church leaders in his diocese voted in favour of the blessings.

Steve Schuh, president of gay Anglican group Integrity Vancouver, said he saw value in the weekend meetings because he believed they would increase international focus on the achievements of Canadian dioceses in recognising gay unions.

Perhaps it might be helpful for folks in other places to learn what we’ve done here, Schuh told The Daily Courier.

The issue is first likely to be raised as an agenda item at a Canadian bishops conference in October.

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