A vote by the Diocese of New Westminster in support of blessing same-sex unions put the cat among the pigeons at a national meeting of bishops just before General Synod.
Bishop Michael Ingham had asked for time at the House of Bishops meeting to raise the issue after the vote, less than two weeks before General Synod.
The bishops went behind closed doors for about two hours to discuss the situation. The following day, they put the previous discussion on the record, saying Bishop Ingham had agreed to have two bishops on a council which he is forming to advise him on the matter. Archbishop Percy O’Driscoll of Huron and Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton were chosen as the bishops’ representatives.
Several bishops were clearly annoyed at the situation and privately expressed concern that any move towards blessing homosexual unions would threaten collegiality among the bishops.
The New Westminster vote came at the annual synod, May 8-9. In a secret ballot, delegates asked the bishop to authorize clergy in the diocese to bless covenanting same-sex unions. The motion passed 179 to 170 after two hours of intense debate.
Delegates from 80 congregations in Greater Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and the Sunshine Coast attended the synod. New Westminster becomes the first Canadian Anglican diocese to pass such a motion although several in the U.S. have done so.
Bishop Ingham withheld his consent on the motion, saying he would not take any further action until he consulted with his fellow Canadian bishops and with bishops from around the world at the Lambeth Conference to be held in Canterbury later this summer.
“Our decision on this issue affects others in the wider church and we must share what we have discussed today beyond this diocese before we take any further action,” he said in a statement after the vote.
Last October, the bishops updated guidelines on how the church should relate pastorally to homosexuals.
The statement acknowledged “some homosexuals live in a committed sexual relationship for mutual support, help and comfort.”
But it said the bishops still believe committed same-sex relationships should not be confused with marriage and that they wouldn’t “authorize any act that appears to promote this confusion.”
“We are in a situation where the national House of Bishops’ view is clear and has been well articulated and a majority of people in this diocese disagree with it and have asked me to do something else,” Bishop Ingham said.
But the bishop, who supports greater rights for homosexuals in the church, said he is “quite capable of setting my personal views and my public responsibilities alongside each other in a distinct way.
“Although I’ve made my personal views clear in the past, it’s important for people not to presume what my decision will be.”
He said sense of collegiality and concern for the church’s unity will be factors in his decision.
“The issue for me is not canonical,” he said. “It is an issue of collegiality and the unity of the church.”
“People needed time to absorb the closeness of the vote and to reflect on that closeness.”
Rev. Stephen Leung of New Westminster’s Church of the Good Shepherd was among those who voted against the motion.
“The whole synod was forced into a corner,” he said in an interview. “I don’t think the synod as a whole was ready to make a decision. Look at the vote, we don’t have a consensus.”