Bishops agree to hold off on new blessings

Published June 1, 2005

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann was the featured lecturer at a joint meeting of Canadian and U.S. bishops.

Windsor, Ont.

Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada have agreed not to make any new moves toward blessing same-sex couples at least until General Synod 2007. The decision was made at the bishops’ regular spring meeting held here in April.

The Canadian bishops’ statement did not immediately affect the diocese of New Westminster, which voted to allow same-sex blessings in 2002. On May 14, however, the diocese of New Westminster voted to impose a moratorium on allowing any new parishes to permit same-sex blessings, but to continue to permit the ceremonies in those that have already received approval from the bishop. (See related story) Currently, eight parishes out of 78 have applied for and received permission to conduct blessing ceremonies, according to the diocese. The moratorium lasts until General Synod (the national church’s governing body) again considers the issue at its next meeting in 2007.

In a statement that was debated in a closed session, about 40 Canadian bishops, meeting April 23-25, unanimously agreed “neither to encourage nor to initiate” the blessing of same-sex couples “until General Synod has made a decision on the matter” – a statement that expresses the current status quo in the Canadian church.

The agreement was contained in a 13-point document that responded to a request from primates (senior Anglican leaders) that the U.S. and Canadian churches reconsider their more-liberal stance on homosexuality and temporarily withdraw from an international church group, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).

The statement was also a response to the Windsor Report, which was produced by an internationally-representative Anglican committee and called for a moratorium on same-sex blessings and the consecration of bishops in a same-sex relationship.

Since General Synod 2004, the diocese of Niagara voted at its synod to allow same-sex blessings, but Bishop Ralph Spence declined to approve the motion, and the diocese of Toronto deferred a decision on the issue. The diocese of Ottawa considered the issue at one of its synods and decided to study the matter.

The bishops’ statement did not make a recommendation on whether the Canadian church should withdraw from the ACC, noting that the Council of General Synod (CoGS), which met one week later, would make that decision. (CoGS later instructed the Anglican Church of Canada’s representatives to “attend but not participate fully” in the meeting.)

The unanimity of the statement was cited as a continuation of a new atmosphere of collegiality that developed at last fall’s meeting in Saskatoon. Several meetings prior to that had been fraught with tension. Although the bishops went into closed session for discussion of their statement, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison noted after the statement was released that “what we began at the last meeting remains among us. I don’t see people huddled in corners, plotting and planning and using words to mean what they don’t mean.” At earlier bishops’ meeting and at General Synod 2004, a separate group of conservative bishops dissented from several decisions.

The bishops also heard Archbishop Hutchison propose that the Indian residential schools settlement agreement be changed to allow native people the possibility of suing for loss of language and culture. The primate brought the matter to CoGS the following week (please see related story, p. 1). Currently, the church requires claimants to sign a full release – which bars any further lawsuits – before accepting compensation. However, Canadian natives have protested this requirement, saying that the boarding schools (which were run by the Anglican church and other denominations) denied them their languages and denigrated their culture.

Canadian bishops later met with about 30 of their American counterparts in joint sessions that included discussions with scholar Walter Brueggemann, worship at churches in Detroit and Windsor and dinner together at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had been invited, but declined to attend, citing other commitments. His decision was interpreted by Archbishop Hutchison as a snub of the North American churches.

Archbishop Hutchison also announced he is planning a “primate’s dinner” in Toronto on October 25 in order to raise “discretionary funds” that would go toward youth ministry, his national Internet broadcasts, the Anglican Foundation and a “small entertainment allowance which is currently set at zero.”


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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