NEW ORLEANS — Episcopal bishops met privately for seven hours Thursday with the archbishop of Canterbury, trying to preserve the church's role in the Anglican family despite Episcopal support for gays.
The denomination is the Anglican body in the U.S. and has a more liberal view of Scripture than most Anglicans overseas. Tensions over Bible interpretation erupted in 2003, when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Archbishop Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, has been struggling to keep the 77-million-member Anglican Communion from breaking apart -- an effort he has called exhausting. Unlike a pope, Williams doesn't have direct authority to force a resolution.
Few details of the talks were released. But Canon James Rosenthal, a spokesman for Williams, said that in the first few hours alone, about 25 of the more than 100 participating bishops had a chance to discuss their concerns directly with the archbishop.
The issue of what the Bible says about same-gender relationships came up immediately, Rosenthal said.
Anglican leaders have set a Sept. 30 deadline for the Americans to pledge unequivocally not to consecrate another gay bishop or approve an official prayer service for gay couples. If Episcopal leaders say no, they could lose their full membership in the Anglican Communion.
Colorado Bishop Robert O'Neill called the conversation "open and forthright."
"I don't think anybody was holding back," he said.