The Anglican church could officially split over the issue of gay clergy this week after the controversial topic is debated at a convention of the US branch, the Episcopal Church.

Conservative Episcopal leaders plan to argue the church should repent its decision to ordain an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, as a bishop in 2003. They also want a pledge that gay people will not be consecrated again.

However, the church’s strong liberal wing is determined to ensure the church doesn’t back down on the issue of gay clergy.

If conservative leaders don’t like the outcome of the general convention, being held in Columbus, Ohio, there are reports they will try to break away and form a new Anglican church in America.

There are also concerns that frustrated conservative leaders in developing worlds, like a number of African nations, will leave the Anglican communion.

Former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, warned this week that if the convention did not reach a clear decision the church would split.

Carey said the consequences of Robinson’s consecration had been alarming and distressing, and called on the US church to commit to refraining from ordaining gay bishops and blessing same-sex partnerships in future, UK paper The Times reported.

A number of conservative US churches have protested the decision to elect a gay bishop, with 30 congregations out of 7,680 leaving the denomination, according to a spokesperson for the Episcopal Church. However, some say the figure is closer to 140.

Liberal leaders are said to be most concerned about a group of 10 breakaway dioceses which have formed the Anglican Communion Network. This group is allegedly considering an attempt to replace the Episcopal Church as the official American member of the Anglican communion, reported.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is believed to have held meetings to prepare for a negative global reaction to the Columbus convention.

Yet the outgoing head of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Frank Griswold, is optimistic about there not being a split.

Reconciliation won’t come in trying to create one point of view, but in common prayer, Griswold told The New York Times.

Our differences can coexist in the larger frame of our common focus on Christ.

Every convention has had hovering over it a catastrophic fantasy. And then you get to general convention and people listen to each other carefully. At the end of the day, you usually come out in a place that represents what I call the diverse centre of the church.

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