A commission is meeting on Wednesday to decide on a new Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, ahead of Rowan Williams' retirement in December.

The three-day meeting of the Crown Nominations Commission faces a huge task to find a new Church of England leader who can heal deep schisms among tens of millions of Anglicans worldwide over female and gay bishops.

The meeting ends on Friday but the new archbishop is likely to be named next week, the BBC reported.

The decision must be signed off by Prime Minister David Cameron and officially approved by Queen Elizabeth II, who is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England as well as the head of state.

The commission, which is meeting in an undisclosed location, has 16 voting members including both senior clerics and lay members and is chaired by a former arts minister, Richard Luce.

Contenders for the post include veteran churchmen such as Archbishop of York John Sentamu, 63, who would be the first black Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop of London Richard Chartres, 65, and Bishop of Norwich Graham James, 61.

The commission is also thought to be considering younger bishops including Bishop of Coventry Christopher Cocksworth, 53, and Bishop of Durham Justin Welby, 56.

Williams, now 61, was appointed the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, replacing George Carey.

He announced in March that he would take up a position as master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University in January 2013.

His tenure was marked by his difficulties in maintaining unity amid disagreements over the consecration of female bishops in Britain, and of openly gay bishops in the United States.

The rows have threatened to cause a permanent rift with conservative Anglican bishops in Africa in particular.