Michael Kalmuk, left, and Kelly Montfort were the first same-sex couple to have their union blessed in a Canadian Anglican church in May.
Five years after New Westminster’s diocesan synod first considered whether homosexual relationships may be blessed in church, Michael Kalmuk, 49, and Kelly Montfort, 62, received the first authorized blessing on May 28 at St. Margaret’s church, Cedar Cottage, Vancouver, by Rev. Margaret Marquardt.
The couple has been together 21 years. “Our big goal was to be recognized within our church. One of the things that bothered me was that at another parish, they didn’t have trouble with designating a double plot for our ashes. So we could be buried in the church and give to the church as a couple but not be officially recognized as a couple,” Mr. Kalmuk told the Journal in an interview.
Mr. Kalmuk and Mr. Montfort’s blessing ceremony, attended by about 60 people, attracted worldwide media attention. However, Mr. Kalmuk commented, “we weren’t trying to be radical. We’re just these two quiet guys who are your next-door neighbors and work hard.”
Diocesan bishop Michael Ingham had issued the blessing rite, or text of the ceremony, on May 23, noting that it was not a marriage ceremony but “a blessing of permanent and faithful commitments between persons of the same sex in order that they may have the support and encouragement of the church in their lives together under God.”
New Westminster’s annual synod voted three times to approve the blessings, each time by a larger majority. Bishop Ingham gave his consent to the vote at the June 2002 synod.
Chris Ambidge, spokesperson for Integrity, a support group for gay and lesbian Anglicans, said the organization has been working for 28 years for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the body of the church.
“This is a very significant step along that path and I praise God that this has happened,” he said. “In retrospect, I’m glad that Bishop Ingham has been as careful as he has been. But there comes a time when you need to move.”
The action coincided with the annual meeting of Anglican primates, or senior bishops of each province of the church (see related story), but Bishop Ingham told Church Times, a Church of England newspaper, ?the rite was issued before the primates made their statement. It was not meant to be an act of defiance, as it’s being interpreted.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, expressed ‘sadness and disquiet’ at the move. “In taking this action and ignoring the considerable reservations of the church, repeatedly expressed and most recently by the primates, the diocese has gone significantly further than the teaching of the church or pastoral concern can justify and I very much regret the inevitable tension and division that will result from this development,” he said in a statement.
Eight New West parishes opposed to gay blessings, calling themselves the Anglican Communion in New Westminster (ACiNW), said in a statement that the implementation of the blessing rite is a “unilateral action” that “isolates the diocese and seeks to pre-empt the issue scheduled to be addressed at General Synod 2004.”
Clergy at five parishes that had not previously joined ACiNW wrote in an open letter that they “deeply regret” Bishop Ingham’s decision to authorize a same-sex blessing rite. One of those parishes, Church of the Holy Cross, Vancouver, voted in July to join the ACiNW, bringing the coalition to nine parishes.
Meanwhile, Bishop William Anderson declared in an open letter that his diocese of Caledonia — which comprises much of northern British Columbia — was now in “impaired communion” with New Westminster. Various expressions of criticism also came from 15 of the 38 Anglican primates worldwide, with Peter Akinola, the archbishop of Nigeria, announcing that his province would sever relations with New Westminster.
(In Canada, spokespersons for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund and for the church’s partnerships department said their agencies had no current projects in Nigeria.) In other reaction:
Archbishop Terence Finlay of Toronto reiterated, in an interview with Integrity?s newsletter, that he favors a “local option” solution where each parish could decide whether it will offer gay blessings.
The host of the primates’ meeting, Archbishop Glauco Soares de Lima, primate of Brazil, now retired, sent a message of support to Bishop Ingham that read, in part, “My personal opinion is that people like you are making history in our Christian church … It’s time for people to understand that tradition doesn’t mean stagnation.” The bishops of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro wrote a joint pastoral letter, expressing support for New Westminster and New Hampshire.
In the Yukon, where conservative bishop Terrence Buckle is facing disciplinary proceedings for offering to minister to the disaffected New Westminster parishes against the authority of Bishop Ingham, the cathedral dean in Whitehorse, Peter Williams, took a strong stand in an interview with the Whitehorse Star. Saying that the majority of Anglicans “do not feel that homosexuality is something that God ordained,” he also said that “the homosexual community is a very unhealthy community.” However, several members of his parish of Christ Church Cathedral signed a letter calling his stand “extreme and outdated” and wore rainbow pins (a symbol of gay support) to church.
Bishop William Hockin, newly retired from the diocese of Fredericton, made his first visit to New West in his new role as “episcopal visitor.” Bishop Ingham invited Bishop Hockin to minister to parishes that oppose same-sex blessings. However, the ACiNW parishes rejected Bishop Hockin’s leadership and just one parish, St. Clement’s, North Vancouver, so far has invited him.
About a week after the first blessing, the diocese of New Westminster held its annual synod. A motion that sought to prevent further blessings was defeated by a vote of 181 to 85.