The Anglican church in Canada has narrowly voted against allowing individual dioceses to bless same-sex relationships.

The decision will come as a relief to the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Church worldwide, who is keen to avoid a schism over gay issues.

However, at the General Synod in Winnipeg, the Canadians also decided that blessing same-sex relationships was not in breach of their “core doctrine,” meaning the issue will be debated again.

The meeting of bishops, clergy and laity, held every three years.

Earlier in the Synod, in a closely-fought race, a liberal was elected Archbishop, defeating a conservative woman candidate.

“On the one hand, we said it is a matter of doctrine, on the other hand, the church is not prepared to proceed immediately with the blessing of these same-sex unions,” said Bishop Hiltz, who was elected as Archbishop and leader of the Anglican Church in Canada.

“There’s no question there will be considerable disappointment on the part of many, and a lot of pain.”

Six former Archbishops have come out in favour of blessing gay and lesbian relationships.

If the Canadians had voted to allow same-sex recognition, they faced expulsion from the rest of the Anglican communion.

The US Anglican church has already been censured and told to come into line with traditional teachings on homosexuality after they ordained an openly gay man as Bishop of New Hampshire.

The call to recognise gay relationships is an issue within the Church of England as well as the US and Canadian churches.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is keen to try to find a compromise that will hold the fractured church together.