A group of senior Anglican clergy are gathering in Israel for a conference on the future of the church as one of their leaders claimed the unified communion is effectively dead.

The Global Anglican Future Conference starts on Sunday.

A pre-summit meeting in Jordan moved locations when one of its chief organisers, Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola, was refused entry into the country.

More than 1,000 Anglican leaders, including 280 bishops from 35 countries, are expected to attend.

GAFCON’s attendees are from the hardline anti-gay wing of the church and there has already been open discussion of a schism or irreversible split in the Anglican communion over gay issues.

Yesterday Archbishop Akinola declared the communion dead.

The GAFCON book, The Way, The Truth and the Life will be released in Jerusalem before the conference opens.

It can be downloaded here.

The 94-page volume “provides the theological and historical foundation for the movement of orthodox Anglicans.”

“There is no longer any hope, therefore, for a unified communion,” Archbishop Akinola states in The Way, The Truth and the Life.

“The intransigence of those who reject Biblical authority continues to obstruct our mission, and it now seems that the Communion is being forced to choose between following their innovations or continuing on the path that the Church has followed since the time of the Apostles.

“We have made enormous efforts since 1997 in seeking to avoid this crisis, but without success.

“Now we confront a moment of decision.

“If we fail to act, we risk leading millions of people away from the faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures and also, even more seriously, we face the real possibility of denying our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Archbishop Akinola is one of those leading the charge against gay people being ordained as priests or the blessing of gay relationships.

He said that only “repentance and reversal by these North American provinces may yet save our communion.”

The worldwide Anglican church has been sharply divided since 2003 when a diocese in the 2.4 million-strong US Episcopal Church consecrated Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop.

Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, today released the text of his opening plenary address to the leadership GAFCON.

“We who are gathered here recognise that we are at a turning point in Anglican history, a place where two roads diverge,” he is expected to say.

“One road is faithful to Jesus’ story. The other road is about some other story.

“The choice before us is a choice before all Anglicans.

“It is just as certainly a choice before the upcoming Lambeth Conference. Which road will the Anglican communion take?

“The Anglican Way of the mid-seventeenth to mid-twentieth centuries is collapsing.

“The present crisis in the Anglican communion, like the positive and hopeful purpose of this GAFCON pilgrimage, points to the need for some new settlement of Anglicanism.”

GAFCON’s organisers have attempted to portray the six-day conference as an alternative to the Lambeth Conference to be held in Canterbury between 16th July and 4th August.

The once a decade the Lambeth gathering is supposed to bring together the 800 leaders of the Anglican church from around the world.

The row over the stance of evangelical and traditionalist bishops in the Anglican church worldwide over gay issues has exposed a deep division in the communion.

The 2008 gathering has been dominated before it has even begun by fights about the place of gay and lesbian people in the Anglican church.

The Global South group of Anglican church leaders, which includes many African bishops, decided last year that it will boycott the conference and attend GAFCON.

As many as 120 bishops out of the 800 invited will not attend Lambeth unless the American part of the Anglican church repudiates its current accepting attitude towards gay clergy and relationships.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has said that 70% of bishops had already accepted invitations to attend.

He indicated in 2006 that he did not want to discuss human sexuality issues at the conference, emphasising training matters instead.

However at the launch event in January he said one day would be given over to discussions of gay issues.

“To those bishops who do not wish to attend, I recognise their absolute right to choose in good faith and in conscience whether or not they can be there,” Archbishop Williams said.

“I shall be delighted to see more rather than fewer bishops there, that is their choice, but the door is open.”

The recent marriage of Bishop Robinson in New Hampshire to his partner and the blessing of the civil partnership of two gay Anglican priests in a London church have both ensured that the place of gay people in the Anglican church will be the main topic of conversation at both GAFCON and Lambeth.