In a unanimous statement at the end of a two-day crisis meeting on their deep divisions over homosexuality, leaders of 37 national churches called on members not to react precipitously. But they appeared to concede that some parts of the church would cut off communion with the New Hampshire diocese or the whole Episcopal church.
They also called on Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to establish a commission to study the divisions and report within a year.
Williams called the emergency meeting immediately after the General Convention of the Episcopal Church confirmed the election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire – over the loud objections of conservatives within the church.
"If his consecration proceeds, we recognize that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the communion itself will be put in jeopardy," the primates' final statement said.
Robinson's consecration is scheduled for Nov. 2.
The statement called on the national churches, called provinces, to "make adequate provision for Episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury."
It did not specify what form such alternate oversight should take. In the Church of England, for example, traditionalist "flying bishops" were appointed to oversee parishes that refused to recognize the ordination of women.
American conservatives, organized under the banner of the American Anglican Council, had hoped that the primates would expel the Episcopal Church and recognize them as the true Anglican body in the United States.
"We urge our provinces not to act precipitately on these wider questions, but take time to share in this process of reflection and to consider their own constitutional requirements as individual provinces face up to potential realignments," the statement said.