The Lambeth conference has started with a robust rebuke to the 260 Anglican bishops boycotting the meeting.

A background paper distributed to the 650 bishops and archbishops who are attending the once a decade conference has been seen by The Times.

“Given the present state of the Anglican Communion it is the special collegial responsibility of the bishop to be at prayer for and with fellow colleagues,” the paper said.

“This is particularly relevant for those bishops who are in conflict with one another.

“Their failure to attend fervently to this ordinal vow weakens the body of Christ for which they have responsibility.

“This in turn weakens the bonds that all the baptised share with one another.”

The Times characterises the tone of the paper as a sign of a fight back from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

The only openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, has not been invited to Lambeth, while 260 fundamentalist bishops have declined invitations because they are unhappy with the Church’s stance on gay issues.

300 bishops gathered at the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) last month.

They approved the formation of a new global network to fight against the preaching of “false gospels” of homosexuality and other “immoral” sexual behaviour.

The group claims to represent 35 million of the 77 million Anglicans worldwide and rejects the acceptance of gay relationships and the ordination of gay clergy and formed the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA).

Critics have called the new group a “church within a church.”

Though the majority of dissenting clergy are from the developing world, some traditionalist English, Australian and American Anglicans have joined the fellowship.

The provinces of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria are not attending, but some bishops have broken ranks and are in Canterbury for the conference.

Earlier this week The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said that fundamentalists are damaging Anglican unity.

“There used to be a generosity of spirit and diversity in the Anglican Communion,” he said.

“There should be a backlash against this fundamentalism that has been thrust upon us.

“It is contrary to the ministry of Jesus and damaging that in the Church, we’re still fighting battles that have already been won in society.”

Although not invited to the Lambeth Conference, Bishop Gene Robinson is in Canterbury.

“In the marketplace, the Bishop of New Hampshire has set up a stall with the aim of telling his “story” to the world,” reports Religious Intelligence.

“A skilled communicator, Bishop Robinson … is not bound by the rules of the conference and speaks freely and pointed about the divisions within the church.

“In the midst of these stresses stands Dr Williams, whose mettle and diplomatic and pastoral skills will be put to the test over the coming days.

“A failed 2008 Lambeth Conference – one that breaks apart in acrimony or collapses into funk and indecision – may well be the last Lambeth Conference.”