Cornwall, Ont. Bishop John Chapman of Ottawa said Friday that regardless of the outcome of a motion asking him to allow same-sex blessings in the diocese he expects clergy and laity to “continue their work and ministry embracing our differences rather than fretting over them.”
In the bishop’s charge during an opening eucharist of the 125th session of the diocesan synod of Ottawa, Bishop Chapman explained that the motion on same-sex blessings is asking the bishop, not the diocese, to decide on whether same-gender unions should be allowed.
The synod is expected to debate and act on the motion before the end of its two-day synod Saturday, Oct. 13. It is the first diocese to consider the matter since the triennial General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada’s national governing body, agreed in June that same-sex blessings are “not in conflict” with core church doctrine, but declined by a slim margin to affirm the authority of dioceses to offer them.
“The motion is asking the synod of the diocese of Ottawa to make a recommendation to the bishop regarding the blessing of those civilly married according to the laws of the government of Ontario,” said Bishop Chapman. “Please be aware that this motion is calling for a recommendation in the positive or in the negative. The diocese is not being asked to make the decision.” He added: “At the end of the day, it will be my decision to make and I do not take this task lightly.”
Bishop Chapman said that he welcomes the motion because it “is taking the pulse of the diocese” and is helpful for him since he is new to the diocese, having only been installed to the episcopacy in September. “Being new to the diocese, I do not have a sense of how the diocese of Ottawa is responding to the issue of the blessing of same-sex unions.”
The outcome of the motion would be “information that I welcome and I will utilize in a prayerful manner,” he said, adding that in making a decision, he would “listen to the voice and the heart of the diocese, the national church, and the Anglican community.”
In his charge, Bishop Chapman also told synod members that when discussing the contentious motion, he expects everyone to “behave in a manner that is classically Anglican – a manner that not only embraces, but lives the wonder of the via media (the middle way).”
Bishop Chapman also echoed a sentiment expressed earlier in other settings by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the new primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, that the issue of same-sex blessings should not be the sole focus of the church. “It is not my intention to allow my episcopacy to be dominated by this issue. For some of you, it may be paramount on your mind and heart and understandably so. For me, it is one of many critical issues facing the church and I will not allow all of my attention to be consumed by it,” he said. At the General Synod in June, Bishop Chapman was among those who voted in favour of a defeated motion affirming the jurisdiction of dioceses to offer same-sex blessings.
Meanwhile, Bishop Chapman also discussed the Strategic Plan that is being presented to the synod for approval, saying that regardless of whether it is approved it nonetheless presents for him ” a thoughtful and creative template from which to launch, measure and evaluate my leadership, our leadership, and our faithful listening to what God is calling us to do as a diocese.”
The bishop said he had built his charge around the nine strategic priorities outlined in the plan, namely “leadership development, congregational development, communications, difficult issues, mobilizing our resources, governance, infrastructure, seeking the seekers, and serving God’s world.”
On the issue of leadership development, Bishop Chapman pledged that he, the new executive Archdeacon Ross Moulton and other area archdeacons will “embrace with more vigour than ever, diligent oversight and support of our parochial clergy.” Noting that “effective ordained ministry is critical to the church and the mission of the church,” Bishop Chapman underscored the need to nurture ordained ministry. “The work of ordained leadership in these times is a very difficult and emotionally draining work. As well, it is rewarding, exciting, enjoyable and sacred,” he said. Annual performance reviews of clergy would be conducted, he said, allowing priests “to receive affirmation for the good work that they do.”
In turn, he said that he expects from clergy “prayerful, balanced, professional and conscientious performance.” The needs of the church and the mission are too great to be content with mediocrity and casual leadership, said the bishop: “accountability is required.”
He also expressed support for laity by providing them with more educational opportunities to enhance their ministry and asked every parish to conduct a “serious” audit of its leadership process “to discover new ways of providing leadership.”
In his charge, Bishop Chapman also asked parishes to conduct a “hospitality audit,” saying that while Anglican churches pride themselves in being welcoming, such was not the case. “I do not wish to be the one to burst the bubble, but, in fact, we are not,” he said, citing his own personal experience of visiting hundreds of parishes and many dioceses. “We are friendly to each other, but not so much to the outsider.”