Dioceses consider next steps towards same-sex blessings

By on December 1, 2008

Bishops from four dioceses emerged from the house of bishops meeting in October struggling with how to proceed with plans to introduce same-sex blessings in their dioceses.

While the majority of bishops  agreed to a moratorium on same-sex blessings, the bishops from the dioceses of Ottawa, Montreal, Niagara and Huron, and from the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior faced pressure at home to offer same-sex blessings.

Given the strong support for a moratorium and the fact that two significant meetings will be held early in 2009 – Anglican primates meet in February and the Anglican Consultative Council meets in May – few decisions are expected to be made before the spring.

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Bishop Michael Ingham of the diocese of New Westminster says that four more parishes in his diocese have indicated through votes of their vestry meetings that they would like to become places of same-sex blessings.

Bishop Michael Bird of the diocese of Niagara said he did not support the moratorium and he mourned the fact that “an opportunity had been missed to find a creative and generous solution to one of the most momentous challenges our church has faced in many years.”

“I therefore intend to ask for a rite to be developed for the blessing of same-sex couples who have been civilly married, along with a process to enable these blessings to take place that will at the same time honour the diversity of tradition and theology that exists across Niagara,” he said.

Bishop Bird said he  hoped to “be in a position to report back to the diocese within the next few months” with respect to next steps. He said that all clergy and all parishes would be “fully free to follow their own conscience on this matter, as and when we are able to move forward.”

Bishop John Chapman of the diocese of Ottawa said he would make a “conclusive statement” to the diocese within a month after the house of bishops’ gathering. It would state that, after “an appropriate rite” is developed, permission would be given for one parish to offer the blessing of civil marriages between same-sex couples.

“This hope is not and must not be understood as a conclusive statement affirming that the church must and ought to proceed with the blessings of same-sex civilly married couples,” said Bishop Chapman. “As the church was not able to come to a clear mind regarding the priestly ministry of women, so we must take the process of discernment to a place beyond discussion.” He said that he hoped “to proceed, but slowly and cautiously.”

Bishop Barry Clarke of the diocese of Montreal said that he was committed to “an incredmental step forward”, which is consistent with the wishes of synod, all the while observing the cautious posture voiced and upheld in other parts of the Anglican Communion.”

He underscored the fact that he has not yet given clergy permission to bless same-sex unions. “I think that tends to be forgotten. There’s nowhere that anyone is permitted to bless same-sex marriages. We may be talking about it, my desire is to put the process moving in that direction, but nothing has happened.”

Bishop Clarke also acknowledged that he is “not sure” if he can manage to hold the moratorium until the 2010 meeting of General Synod.

Bishop Gordon Light of the assembly of the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI) came to the house of bishops meeting armed with a request from APCI “to allow clergy whose conscience permits to bless civilly-married gay couples where at least one party is baptized.”

“We had a very respectful discussion. All voices were heard,” said Rev. Susan Hermanson, rector of St. Peter’s Anglican church in Williams Lake. In a telephone interview, she added that the motion was also meant to “take a reading” of where APCI was on the issue.

She noted that the former diocesan synod of Cariboo in 2000 affirmed the full inclusion of gay and lesbian couples in the life of the church.  “We have been discussing this issue for the last 30 years now.” 

With files from Marites N. Sison, Art Babych and Harvey Shepherd.

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