Dioceses debate blessings issue

Published January 1, 2004

The diocese of Toronto will wait nearly a year before deciding on whether to offer a “local option” to parishes wishing to offer same-sex blessings or whether to petition the federal government to retain the traditional definition of marriage for one man and one woman.

The decisions were postponed at the diocesan synod held in November, the diocese’s 150th meeting of the governing body. The synod voted to embark on a year-long process of study before voting on two motions ? one from a Toronto priest who performed a blessing of a same-sex civil marriage last September whose parish would like to bless same-gender relationships, and another from a second priest asking the church to petition the government to annul a judicial decision that said banning same-sex marriages was discriminatory.

The study process will include four regional information sessions in 2004 which will examine the history and theology of sexuality and marriage and the liturgies and theology of blessings. The study sessions, all of which will take place before the national church’s General Synod meets from May 28-June 4, will be followed by a special diocesan synod next fall to consider the issue of blessing same-gender relationships.

The church of the Holy Trinity, through its incumbent, Rev. Sara Boyles, had put forward a motion that any parish may request permission from the bishop to be permitted to bless same-sex unions. Richard Moore, a lay member of Holy Trinity, seconded the motion. (Ms. Boyles was publicly reprimanded last fall by her bishop, Archbishop Terence Finlay, after she blessed the civil marriage of two women in September, 2003 without his permission.)

After extensive debate about whether to postpone the decision on the “local option” motion, Mr. Moore reluctantly rose to support a second motion to defer the vote. “It is with profound sadness that I support this motion. We hear again ‘wait’ and it’s causing our people an awful lot of problems.

“This is a profoundly disappointing proposal from the diocesan council,” he said, referring to the governing body that drafted the proposal that the diocese wait a year before voting on the blessing issue. The motion to defer the decisions came from Canon Paul Feheley and Bishop Ann Tottenham.

The mover of a motion on the legality of same-sex marriage, Rev. Andy Leroux, incumbent at St. Ninian’s church, Toronto, warned that delaying a decision on his motion would be a mistake.

“There is an urgency in this,” said Mr. Leroux. “We need to recognize that right now, the government is making decisions.” A year from now would be too late, he said.

Bishop Ann Tottenham, suffragan (assistant) bishop, who seconded the motion to defer the decision on marriage, argued that for the unity of the church, “what I’d suggest is those who are clear on this issue should gather and send in their protestations as a group.”

Meanwhile, the diocese of Niagara ‘s annual synod, held Nov. 14-15 in Hamilton, Ont., did not vote on the question of same-gender blessings, but scheduled a closed-door discussion of the issue. According to a report on the diocesan Web site, 66 per cent of the delegates who spoke were in favour of blessing gay relationships, 20 per cent spoke against and 14 per cent said they need more information.

The report quoted opinions expressed, but did not identify the speakers. The report also noted that the youth synod sent a memorial supporting same-sex marriages.

Among the comments reported:

  • “God has revealed through the scriptures for human sexuality ? one man and one woman in the covenant in marriage.”
  • “We have moved beyond the literal interpretation of scripture. God loves all people ? no matter what sexual orientation.”
  • “More than half in our parish discussion are not in favour of same-sex blessing.”
  • “Our parish would endorse same-sex unions if we were to vote.”
  • “This is about the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church.”
  • “I support people whose life style is different from mine.”
  • “If we will have same-sex blessings, it will be a sad time for our church.”
  • “We have to agree to disagree.”
  • “We are afraid of where this will go because we are ill-informed.”
  • “I became a Christian because I saw it as accepting people, no matter who they are.”


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