Bishop James Cowan of the diocese of British Columbia has reversed a policy that prohibits clergy in same-gender relationships from serving in the diocese. As a result, he has been able to match up a parish looking for clergy, with “a fine, fine priest.” She had been on leave for eight years because she was in a same-gender relationship.
She had “been on the margins of the church,” said Bishop Cowan. “I didn’t see that there was reason to leave her on those margins any longer when her gifts and talents could be used.”
Bishop Cowan had followed the policy since being elected bishop 12 years ago. Then, at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of bishops from across the Anglican Communion, there was a lot of discussion about the Windsor Report, which had called for three moratoria on: the blessing of same-sex unions; the ordination of clergy in same-gender relationships as bishops; and cross-border interventions in the affairs of other provinces.
The moratorium on the ordination to the episcopate of persons living in same-gender unions caught Bishop Cowan’s attention.
“That wording said to me…[that] Lambeth is acknowledging that there are people in same-gender relationships who are priests who canonically would be eligible for election and consecration. “…The moratoria says we will not elect and consecrate,” he said. “But it [still] says that they are there.”
While at Lambeth, Bishop Cowan decided to test whether or not his reading of the moratorium was a valid one. So he asked other bishops, both Canadian and international, who were on both sides of the issue.
“It wasn’t something that had immediately leapt to some of their minds, but they said ‘Yes, that is a reading of that statement.’ ” He gave it more thought and consulted with more bishops while on sabbatical earlier this year and consistently heard that there were priests in same-gender relationships actively serving.
After those consultations, he “determined that this was the right time to revise the policy.”