The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday told the General Synod of the Church of England that the public view of their congregation is of one obsessed with carnal matters.

The synod meets twice a year to discuss the business of the church, and is made up of bishops, priests and lay people.

Dr Williams, opening the four-day meeting, told delegates about the outcome of the primates meeting last week in Tanzania.

The meeting was dominated by gay issues, with traditionalists angry that the American church had been blessing same-sex couples and ordained a gay bishop.

Back home with his own church, his presidential address to the synod contained a heartfelt reflection on the futility of the fight about gay people.

Dr Williams, who was warmly received by the synod, said:

“It feels as though we are caught in a battle very few really want to be fighting – like soldiers in the trenches somewhere around 1916, trying to remember just what were the decisions that got everyone to a point where hardly anyone was owning the conflict, just enduring it.”

The Archbishop stressed that not all the 38 different congregations of the church are divided over gay issues:

“About eleven provinces were fairly satisfied; about eleven were totally dissatisfied. The rest displayed varying levels of optimism or pessimism, but were not eager to see this as a life and death issue for the Communion,” he said.

But he reminded delegates that the thorny and complex issue of biblical interpretation over sexuality will not disappear:

“The debate triggered by certain decisions in the Episcopal Church is not just about a single matter of sexual ethics. It is about decision-making in the Church and it is about the interpretation and authority of Scripture.

“It has raised, first of all, the painfully difficult question of how far Anglican provinces should feel bound to make decisions in a wholly consultative and corporate way.

“In other words, it has forced us to ask what we mean by speaking and thinking about ourselves as a global communion. When ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ fail, what should we do about it?”

In what could be interpreted as support for the concept of a reconciliation with the Vatican and a possible acceptance of the Pope as a spiritual leader of Anglicans, Dr Williams said:

“Yet – to speak personally for a moment – the persistence of the Communion as an organically international and inter-cultural unity whose aim is to glorify Jesus Christ and to work for his kingdom, is for me and others just as much a matter of deep personal and theological conviction as any other principle.”

There are two motions up for discussion about gay people tomorrow.

One from Rev Paul Perkin of Southwark in London, to be debated tomorrow, accuses civil partnerships of undermining marriage.

The synod will tomorrow also discuss a motion from Rev Mary Gilbert of the Lichfield Diocese.

She wants the Church to welcome lesbian and gay Christians at every level of the Church, including as priests.

The Bishop of Gloucester will move an amendment praising:

“The continuing efforts to prevent the diversity of opinion about human sexuality creating further division and impaired fellowship within the Church of England and the Anglican communion.”