Starting Thursday in New Orleans, they'll discuss communion demands over gay issues.
For four years, the US Episcopal Church has faced rising discontent within the worldwide Anglican Communion over its stance on approving gay bishops and other issues, threatening a schism.
Those same issues could now exacerbate a split within the US church, potentially tearing apart some congregations in a denomination that historically has prided itself on "unity in diversity." Much is riding on high-level meetings in New Orleans beginning Thursday.
Many are calling it "a watershed moment," as the bishops decide how to respond to requests from global Anglican leaders for "unequivocal assurances" that they will not approve another gay bishop and won't authorize or permit blessing of same-sex unions.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori last week played down the crisis in a video for church members, saying that "talk of schism is excessive." The communion has "never been without conflict," she said. "It's a sign we are engaged in challenging issues that are necessary to our growth."
But events point to difficulties ahead. Recently, Anglican archbishops of four African countries (Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda) consecrated a number of American bishops in clear promotion of a separate Anglican structure in North America. Last week, two largely traditionalist US dioceses – Pittsburgh, and Quincy in Illinois – announced the first steps in changing their constitutions toward a possible "realignment" outside the church.
And some conservatives who have stayed within the Episcopal Church to maintain "unity in diversity" now say they're concerned about growing pressures by liberals that they go along with the "new direction" on homosexuality.