The governing body of the Anglican Church in Britain voted last week to confirm the appointment of female bishops. The step risks a split in the church in its historic homeland at a time the church worldwide faces one of the most serious threats to its unity, the ordination of gay clergy. Both topics are likely to come up at the Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade meeting of Anglican bishops from around the world that opens today in Canterbury, England, and runs until Aug. 3.
How large is the Anglican Church?
The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, is spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has about 80-million followers. It's the third-largest grouping of Christian churches, behind Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. The Episcopal Church, as it is known in the United States, has about 2.4-million members.
Aren't there already female bishops in the Episcopal Church?
Yes, as well as in Anglican churches in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The church in Britain has ordained women as priests since 1994, but hasn't allowed them to become bishops. Opponents argue that Jesus, in choosing only men for his 12 disciples, intended that men alone should have the responsibility of ministering to his followers.
What role has the U.S. church taken?
It stands very near the eye of the storm. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman to head an Anglican national church in 2006. But long-standing divisions over how Anglicans should interpret the Bible erupted in 2003 when the church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Jefferts Schori says she is looking forward to the "face-to-face conversation" of the Lambeth meeting. Robinson will not attend, but he plans several appearances on the outskirts of the conference.
Information from BBC News and Times files was used in this report.