Dr Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, warned of the risk of "piece-by-piece dissolution" of worldwide Anglicanism in a heartfelt personal plea today to warring factions in the Church of England.
At the opening of the church's general synod in London, he called for all parties to put aside their disputes and agree on a fresh framework for settling differences across the 70 million-strong international communion.
The synod votes tomorrow on the Anglican covenant, which has been seven years in the making, and sets the Church of England at a crucial crossroads. The church is already facing probable defections to Roman Catholicism by some priests opposed to the ordination of women bishops.
The covenant was devised in response to divisions caused by the US Episcopal Church's decision to endorse the election of the openly-gay bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, and it has to be endorsed by all 38 previously autonomous provinces of the communion across the world. The vote will be crucial as not only is the Church of England the mother church of the communion, but Williams is its spiritual head. A senior church official told the Guardian: "There is no Plan B. If this falls, the communion is in ruins."