Although a new year has dawned, the National Church Council (NCC) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) will revisit a seemingly perennial theme: same-sex blessings. It was to meet last month in Winnipeg to consider a new same-sex blessing proposal to bring forward to the delegates attending the July 2007 National Assembly of the ELCIC in Winnipeg, which meets in conjunction with the 2007 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada.
The new recommendation would once again recognize the blessing of same-sex couples who want to make a life-long commitment to one another in the presence of God and their community of faith. Known as the “local option,” it would require the consent of the pastor and the congregation as expressed in a two-thirds majority parish vote and in consultation with the synod bishop.
What’s different this time is the background and strategy to the new proposal.
Last October, the Anglican Journal reported that NCC overruled the jurisdictional authority of the Eastern Synod, which adopted a motion at its 11th biennial assembly in July allowing for the local option in its congregations. The Eastern Synod also voted to ask the 2007 National Convention to reconsider its 2005 decision rejecting same-sex blessings.
The office of the national bishop, Raymond Schultz, has been in consultation with the Eastern Synod regarding the NCC’s ruling. What has become clear is the awareness that the blessing of same-sex unions is not a “moral matter” for the Eastern Synod, but a matter of “pastoral ministry and mission strategy.” Or to paraphrase Bishop Schultz: The morality of relationships is a Reformation principle between each couple and God; but the question of how to minister to each couple is a contextual matter for the church – its pastors and people – to decide how to apply the Gospel. For the church to be in mission for others, says Bishop Schultz, the ELCIC must seriously consider the changing diversity of Canada’s culture by allowing individual synods, such as the Eastern Synod, the right to respond in the context appropriate to their own needs and geographical settings. Given the ELCIC closing of the division for mission in Canada in 1995, the five regional synods across the country should therefore be given more say in determining their mission strategy.
With the potential of a new NCC resolution on same-sex blessings looming and some quarters in the church calling for an amicable dissolution and division of the church along the lines of pro/con same-sex blessings, it is all the more imperative that there be a focus on the strategic priority of the ELCIC to be in mission for others. To that end, Bishop Schultz will visit synods, conferences and congregations across the country to address this issue: to make NCC policy intentions quite clear so that there is no ambiguity in time for the 2007 National Assembly.
Rev. Peter Mikelic pastors Epiphany Luthern church, Toronto, and writes for various church and secular publications.