Canadian Anglicans weigh in on primates’ warning to U.S. church

Published February 22, 2007

The Canadian church was hardly mentioned in the communique that ended the Feb 15-19 meeting of Anglican primates in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, but the church’s General Synod, will wrestle with questions of sexuality in June and that fact was much on the minds of Canadian observers. The triennial governing convention, which will meet from June 19 to 25 in Winnipeg, is expected to consider whether dioceses and parishes may decide individually whether to allow blessing ceremonies for gay couples. It will consider a theological commission’s opinion that such blessings touch upon the doctrine of marriage, but not on core Christian doctrine. It is also expected to consider a response to the Windsor Report, a document calling for a moratorium on the election of gay priests to the episcopate and on same-sex blessings.Rev. George Sinclair, co-chair of the conservative Essentials group and rector of St. Alban the Martyr church in Ottawa, said in an interview that he would like to see the Anglican Church of Canada “embrace wholeheartedly” the view that homosexuality is contrary to Scripture and to Christian teaching. “If they don’t, we hope that they will respect the conscience and livelihood of Canadians who are biblically-minded,” he said.He noted that Canada was cited in the primates’ communique as one of two sources (the other being the U.S. Episcopal Church) of a breakdown in relationships in the worldwide Anglican Communion. (In Canada, the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster has voted to allow parishes to offer blessing services for gay partners. In the U.S., the national church approved the election of Bishop Gene Robinson, who is gay, by the diocese of New Hampshire. Several U.S. dioceses also permit same-sex blessings.) Looking toward Canada’s General Synod, Mr. Sinclair said he thinks “there are many dioceses and a very powerful segment of the Anglican Church of Canada deeply committed to going in the direction of New Westminster.” The convention, he said, “might have a fudge. They might try to allow it (a ‘local option’) on the grounds of moving forward while making the appearance of not doing so – try to do both at the same time.”

In April 2005, the Canadian house of bishops agreed not to make any new moves toward blessing same-sex unions at least until General Synod 2007. A month later, 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. The moratorium lasts until General Synod revisits the issue in June. The communique also took up the issue of primates and bishops that cross national and diocesan lines to supervise congregations at odds with liberal leaders. “My reading of the communique is that it rejects the moral equivalence” between a more-liberal view of homosexuality and interventions by foreign primates, said Mr. Sinclair.

Several dissenting parishes in New Westminster have chosen to affiliate with the conservative Anglican Mission in America, he noted, “some have chosen to stay but in a broken relationship.” Canon Charles Masters, national director of Essentials and rector of St. George’s church in Campbellville, Ont., traveled to Tanzania with three other Canadians to meet with Global South primates before the main meeting. He said the Canadians were there “to pray and be available to answer questions and the primates they met with “expressed concern and interest.” He declined to name the primates with whom they met.The communique, he said, contains a warning for the Episcopal Church and for the Canadian church. “There are consequences for membership in the Anglican Communion. The requirements are clear already and those same kinds of assurances need to be made in Canada,” he said. General Synod, he added, will need to be clear in its response to the Windsor Report, noting that the primates criticized a lack of clarity from the Episcopal Church General Convention concerning same-sex blessings. (The convention, which met last June in Columbus, Ohio, rejected moves to limit such blessings, which are allowed to take place in some dioceses.)Dean Peter Wall, of Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ont. and chair of the General Synod planning committee, said synod delegates “might have a sense that we need not to be part of the problem, but part of the solution.” However, he added, “I would hope that the Anglican Church of Canada would act in the way the Anglican Church of Canada needs to act and not feel undue pressure from external sources.”Chris Ambidge, a co-convenor of the Toronto chapter of Integrity, a support group for gay Anglicans, said in an interview that he feels “the primates are trying to arrogate all sorts of power to themselves which they don’t have. What happened to synodical government? Here are 38 primates barging in here and telling us what to do. That’s not the way we’ve done things.”Mr. Ambidge said he saw a bullying tone in the communique, which set a deadline of Sept. 30 for U.S. bishops to say they will not authorize same-sex blessing rites or consent to the election of a gay candidate to the episcopate.”I’m afraid that it will scare members of synod to say, ‘Oh dear, we want to be nice to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, but we can’t risk offending the communion.’ It may harpoon any progress in terms of a full welcome for gays and lesbians,” he said.Canon Joyce Sanchez, chaplain to Montreal’s Integrity chapter and associate priest at Christ Church Cathedral, said synod’s actions may “depend on how people receive and understand the recommendations from Tanzania. We are not the Roman Catholic church with pronouncements from on high.” Some will use the communique “as ammunition in the debate around blessing same-sex unions,” she said. As for relations with the worldwide Anglican Communion, she said the grouping, isn’t “a uniform mass.” Each province, or country, “has its own context and own understanding of the Gospel.”


  • Solange DeSantis

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

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