Bureaucrats query ‘licentious’ service

By on September 1, 2001

Waterloo, Ont.

EILEEN Scully laughed when she saw the headline of the advance General Synod story about the joint service to be held with the Lutherans. “Joint synod service: on ice, with a twist,” read the headline.

How true!

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The ice was certainly going to be there: the worship service would be held on boards laid over the ice.

The twist turned out to be another matter altogether: a snarl of red tape and bureaucracy at its finest.

Entrusted with the local arrangements for the joint service between Lutherans and Anglicans during their national meetings, Ms. Scully began a long journey through a bureaucratic maze of one local liquor control board, two provincial ministries and a provincial ombudsman’s office before acquiring the permission to hold a worship service, complete with sacramental wine, in the arena.

Organizers planned for about 4,000 at the service. No local church was big enough, so the Waterloo Recreation Centre was a natural choice.

And so began Ms. Scully’s climb through levels of civil servants at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. She spoke with at least 10 different civil servants, both at that ministry, then the ministry of consumer and business relations, in order to obtain the permits and documents required to turn an arena into the site of a Eucharist where wine would be consumed.

Ms. Scully said she kept the Lutherans and General Synod planning staff at the national church office apprised of the situation and they, too, would not bend. They would not serve de-alcoholized wine because it went counter to their theology.

Finally reaching a high-level bureaucrat at the consumer relations ministry, Ms. Scully found some salvation: an Anglican with a sense of humour.

“I’m an Anglican and I know all about the Waterloo Declaration and was planning to attend some of General Synod,” the man told Ms. Scully. He advised that she take her story to the provincial ombudsman.

Just 24 hours later, the ombudsman’s office had processed the complaint and the alcohol and gaming commission was ready to talk to Ms. Scully.

The questions began: what was the size of the arena? Was there tiered seating? How many exits? Would people be walking around while consuming alcohol? Would people be climbing stairs while consuming alcohol? Would there be children present?

Then that ministry put its lawyers to work combing through legal books for a way out. They found it in the province’s Religious Tolerance Act.

That act, which was quoted in part to Ms. Scully in a letter advising that her permit had been issued, allowed for the consumption of alcohol as long as it was not made an excuse for “acts of licentiousness.”

And so it was that the province allowed 3,400 Lutherans and Anglicans to celebrate their coming together with bread and wine.

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