Canadian Anglican bishops have acknowledged deep division on offering blessings to gay couples and urged eight dissident parishes in New Westminster where such blessings have been approved to seek reconciliation with the diocese.
Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster, said in an interview after the bishops’ regular fall meeting that he hopes the diocese and the eight parishes can agree on a facilitator to begin discussion.
The leader of the dissident group, Rev. David Short of St. John’s, Shaughnessy in Vancouver, was not available for comment.
Bishop Ingham also said that the diocese is developing a rite for same-sex blessings and that three parishes have formally asked to use such a rite. "There are couples waiting," he said.
Bishop Ingham was urged by several of his fellow bishops not to go ahead with same-sex blessings, but he noted that he had given his consent after New Westminster’s synod gave its approval last June "and we are proceeding."
The bishops’ meeting, held Oct. 25-29, was dominated by the issue, which was tackled in three days of closed debate from which the press was excluded.
After the closed sessions, a six-member subcommittee drafted a "message to the church" that says, in part: "We are unable to speak with a unanimous voice on this issue of national concern, especially with regard to the subject of homosexuality in the light of Scripture."
The statement proposed that the diocese and the eight parishes, which are withholding their diocesan contributions, open discussions "before the fracture widens."
The statement also said the bishops agreed "not (to) make individual decisions in any additional dioceses before General Synod, the church’s governing body, meets in 2004." They referred the matter to General Synod "for discussion and, if possible, resolution." The statement also said that until the matter is resolved, "all bishops are asked to uphold the 1997 guidelines of the house of bishops on human sexuality." The guidelines state that bishops "do not accept the blessing of homosexual unions."
In open session, several bishops, including Terrence Buckle of the Yukon and William Anderson of Caledonia, said they could not accept the statement if Bishop Ingham did not assure them he would not proceed with gay blessings. Bishop Ingham did not respond in open session to those statements.
Bishop Ron Ferris of Algoma said that if New Westminster does proceed, it "will be breaking communion with a large part of the Anglican world."
Among supporters of the statement, Bishop Barry Hollowell of Calgary said gay and lesbian Christians "are baptized and there is not a two-tier baptism." Bishop Don Young of Central Newfoundland said he had thought same-sex blessings were not an issue in his diocese until he heard support for the idea from people he thought would be opposed. "There are families of gay and lesbian people waiting to hear from us," he said.
Bishop Caleb Lawrence of Moosonee, noting that he has "grown old in this house during discussion of this issue," said that if the blessing of gay unions "is not of God, it will not stand and if this is of God, this house of bishops will not be able to prevent it."
Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk of the Arctic said that although he personally does not approve of same-sex blessings, "as a bishop you have to think in terms of the big picture and none of our foundations are based on personal views." He also said he supported the statement "since we will not be able to come up with another document that speaks for all of us."
Twenty-eight bishops voted to accept the statement and nine voted against. Bishop Ingham abstained.