Conference urges bishops to allow gay marriage

Published December 1, 2007

At The Widening Circle conference, Lisa Poultney shared her concern that in some parts of the Anglican Communion, the church is colluding with governments in the persecution of gays and lesbians.

London, Ont.
A group of Canadian Anglicans on the liberal, or “progressive,” side of issues concerning homosexuality and the church have urged Anglican bishops to “proceed to (the) full inclusion (of gay and lesbian people) by providing access to all sacraments and sacramental rites of the church,” including marriage.

The letter was addressed to the bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, who held their fall meeting here from Oct. 25 to 30.

The group issuing the letter met at a conference called The Widening Circle on Oct. 25 and 26 at Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church in the diocese of Huron. About 50 clergy and laypeople attended from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.

Delegates noted that the church’s national governing convention, General Synod, last June called for an examination of the canon, or church law, regarding marriage. They also acknowledged that the house of bishops last spring issued a pastoral letter which allowed certain celebrations of a gay relationship, such as a eucharist service, but meeting delegates said that is not enough.

“The pastoral letter is not full inclusion,” said Canon Garth Bulmer of Ottawa, in an interview. Rev. Neil Fernyhough of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster, which has permitted blessing ceremonies (but not weddings) for gay couples since 2002, noted that civil gay marriage is now legal in Canada. “Civil society has offered the full meal,” he said.

Several conference delegates said they felt that the voices within the church that feel homosexuality is a sin and contrary to the Bible have been louder than the progressive majority. Outside Canada, said delegate Lisa Poultney, the church is colluding with governments in the persecution of gays and lesbians.

Delegates also discussed the recent General Synod decisions that said blessing gay relationships is not contrary to core church doctrine, but declined to affirm the power of dioceses to allow such ceremonies. They also heard from Bishop Ralph Spence of Niagara about developments that led to the bishops’ pastoral letter.

Rev. Rae Fletcher, rector of Bishop Cronyn church and a conference organizer, said that after General Synod, he heard from clergy colleagues who wanted to know where they could “find the voice of the liberal church.”

The letter from the conference said it “initiates a movement within the Anglican Church of Canada to affirm and reclaim the traditions of our branch of the Christian faith; one which is orthodox, comprehensive, and catholic.”

Several delegates said progressive voices need to reclaim the word “orthodox” from such conservative groups as Anglican Essentials – a Canadian group that holds a conservative view of sexuality – and that “orthodox” really means, in the Anglican context, broad inclusiveness.

“It’s time that the majority of Anglicans who believe in a comprehensive church take a stand,” said Mr. Fernyhough, of Sechelt, B.C. The conference established ongoing working groups in the areas of theology, liturgy, communication and education; it will also set up an Internet presence for moderated dialogue and discussion. Attendees said they wanted to meet again in several months, possibly in Vancouver.

The group discussed an international proposal for a worldwide Anglican covenant, an agreed statement of faith that, in its most controversial section, would refer disputes to a meeting of the primates, or national archbishops. Conservative Anglicans see this as necessary while liberals argue that it would be overly rigid and that Anglican tradition allows for a variety of approaches to theology.

The concluding statement from The Widening Circle urged the house of bishops “to reject any initiative which would seek to remake the Anglican Communion into a confessional expression of Christian faith governed by a magisterium (an authoritative body that determines doctrine).”


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