Book seeks understanding for gay and lesbian Christians

Published June 1, 2004

A new book, Living Together in the Church: Including Our Differences, released one month before General Synod, explores ways Anglicans can stay together in the church they love, even as they disagree over homosexuality.

Supportive of gay and lesbian Christians, the book presents 16 essays on Scripture, tradition, gay and lesbian spirituality, the importance of dialogue and the reality of diversity.

Among the most heartfelt stories are those of gay clergy, seeking to reconcile their faith with their sense of self. In the Anglican Church of Canada, under guidelines adopted by the house of bishops in 1979 and reaffirmed in 1991 and 1997, homosexuals may become priests, but since the church recognizes that sexual activity should take place within marriage, gay priests must be celibate.

In one chapter, the dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver (diocese of New Westminster), Peter Elliott, and a retired Ontario priest, Rev. John Saynor, talk openly for the first time about their experiences as gay clergy living with partners. In another section, Dean Rowan Smith of Cape Town talks about being a gay priest in the context of apartheid.

Chris Ambidge, one of the book’s two editors, said in an interview that the time is right for such stories to be told. “We have become a more open and accepting society,” he said.

Under the Canadian church’s guidelines, gay clergy who are not celibate could face disciplinary action. About 12 years ago, Rev. Jim Ferry, a priest in the diocese of Toronto, admitted to his bishop, Terence Finlay, that he was involved with a man. Mr. Ferry was disciplined after being charged in a church court.

Mr. Elliott, who is 50 and has been living with his partner for 7 years, said he was invited to contribute to the book by the publisher, ABC (Anglican Book Centre) Publishing. “They said they thought it would have to be anonymous. I thought and prayed, and talked to my partner, my friends and family and it was like a penny dropped. The anonymity has been part of the problem,” said Mr. Elliott. He also talked to his bishop, Michael Ingham. “He said it was my decision and he would support me,” said Mr. Elliott, who, as prolocutor, is an officer of General Synod and holds one of the higher offices in the national church.

Fear of losing a position as a priest, along with benefits and pension, is very real for gay clergy, he said. “People have lost their jobs. People have lost their lives over not living openly,” he said, referring to the case of Rev. Warren Eling, a Montreal priest who was killed in the early 1990s.

“At his funeral,” wrote Mr. Elliott, “the homilist reminded the congregation that Warren had wanted nothing more than to live with a committed same-sex partner, but unwilling to depart from our church’s official policy, he had lived a single and lonely life.”

Mr. Saynor, who is 61 and lives with his partner of 22 years in Warkworth, Ont., contributed to the book out of a sense that he is “really fed up with how long it is taking for our church to come around on this.”

Now retired, Mr. Saynor quietly went about his parish ministry and founded a business writing books and brochures aimed at helping people with death and grieving. He hopes the book will effect change in attitudes, such as that expressed by his aunt. “Being gay just wasn’t talked about in my family. I gave her the book. When she saw me after that, she put her arms around me and said, ‘I love you. The book has really caused me to think.'”


  • Solange DeSantis

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

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