Expect Niagara’s nod to same-sex blessings to create some tension, says Archbishop Hiltz

By on July 27, 2009

The decision by the diocese of Niagara to offer same-sex blessings as of Sept. 1 is bound to create some tension among bishops, says Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Michael Bird, the diocesan bishop of Niagara, informed the Canadian house of bishops of his plan to offer same-sex blessings when it met last October. Subsequently, the house released a statement affirming a continued commitment to the moratorium on same sex blessings while recognizing the moratorium would be difficult for other dioceses to implement.

Archbishop Hiltz said his hope is that “in the spirit of that statement, we would remain in relationship with one another.”In an earlier interview, the bishop of Caledonia, Bill Anderson, said that he “cannot recognize the legitimacy of what Niagara is doing.” By ignoring calls for a moratorium on same-sex blessings from various bodies of the Anglican Communion, Niagara “has chosen to walk apart, and is therefore in a state of impaired communion,” he said.

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Asked whether he thought that the diocese of Niagara’s decision contravened a General Synod resolution in 2007, Archbishop Hiltz said, “The General Synod said by resolution that dioceses don’t have the authority to exercise local option (on same-sex blessings). We know that, and yet we live in a church where we have diocesan synods, provincial synods, and we have particular pastoral contexts, which I think inform the way people think about this issue.” (That resolution declared that blessing rites for gay couples are “not in conflict” with core church doctrine but refused to allow dioceses to offer them.)

Archbishop Hiltz added that both the dioceses of Niagara and New Westminster, which first offered same-sex blessings in 2002, have included “a very big piece around pastoral care” and that this has been “a very important piece” in their discernment process.

He noted that these dioceses had dealt with the sexuality issue in successive synods and that “a majority vote has increased every time” a resolution came up asking that same-sex blessings be offered. “That’s one of the things that challenges us in Canada. As diverse as we are geographically, theologically, and culturally, we have to always be careful not to… lose sight of the local pastoral context.”

Archbishop Hiltz also acknowledged that Niagara’s decision would have an impact on the next General Synod meeting in Halifax in June 2010. But he said, “…I can get all anxious about it in terms of the impact that it’s going to have on the church and on the (Anglican) Communion, and then I can step back 10 years…and think about …the real impact when New Westminster went ahead. The life of the church went on, not without some tension and some fracture, I will grant you that. But the Gospel is still being proclaimed and embodied.”

There will be discussions on human sexuality at the 2010 meeting, particularly around the Galilee Report prepared by the Primate’s Theological Commission, and the faith, worship, and ministry committee’s Rothesay Report, said Archbishop Hiltz.

The Galilee Report was written in response to a request from the 2007 General Synod to conduct church-wide consultations on two points: “the theological question of whether the blessings of same-sex unions is a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine;” and “Scripture’s witness to the integrity of every human person and the question of the sanctity of human relationships.”The Rothesay Report responds to a request from the Council of General Synod (CoGS), the church’s governing body between General Synods, to prepare a “theological rationale to allow for the marriage of all legally-qualified persons.” General Synod 2007 had asked that CoGS “consider a revision of Canon 21 (church law on marriage)” and to prepare a theological rationale for doing so.After receiving the St. Galilee Report and the Rothesay Report last fall, CoGS had decided not to ask General Synod 2010 to amend the marriage canon to allow same-sex couples nuptials.

Still, Archbishop Hiltz said, “we have no idea what kind of resolutions will come in to General Synod from dioceses or individuals.”

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