Same-gender blessings are expected to occupy a major portion of General Synod 2004, and Council of General Synod (CoGS) considered ways to handle the contentious issue.
People are concerned about both the process and content of the same-sex question at General Synod, noted Canon Eric Beresford, consultant for ethics and inter-faith relations and staff support to the Faith, Worship and Ministry committee.
In his presentation, he said the strategy will be to find out “what is the most helpful question that we can put to General Synod, and what information and processes will best help General Synod to deal with the question posed?” The triennial national convention will be held May 28-June 4 in St. Catharines, Ont.
“We are going to have to have a conversation at General Synod. People are already meeting and preparing motions on this issue. We cannot avoid it,” he said.
The planning group considered ways to reduce anxiety around the issue, he noted. “When systems get anxious you start to see secrets, small side meetings, blaming, those sorts of behaviours.”
The task of preparing a question which honours both the views and feelings of various groups and individuals is also taxed with the challenge of rapidly changing contexts, Mr. Beresford said.
“Events continue to unfold in the diocese of New Westminster, the federal government is holding consultations on same-sex marriages and the General Convention 2003 of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. may consider a motion to prepare liturgies for the blessings of same-sex relationships,” he said.
CoGS approved payment of $58,510 for a consultant to arrange and lead preparatory focus groups. Treasurer Jim Cullen said that “although we cannot identify where the money to pay for this will come from, in the past this council has approved a deficit budget on the understanding it will be recouped in future years.”
Groups to be consulted include provincial synods, the house of bishops, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, Integrity (representing the concerns of gay Anglicans), Essentials (representing a broad constituency with traditional views) and monocultural parishes such as those almost entirely Chinese-Canadian in origin or those from Haiti or Latin America.
The consultations will include four focus groups in each provincial synod, four in monocultural parishes, one with indigenous people at the upcoming Sacred Circle in Brandon, Man., one with the house of bishops and one each with Essentials and Integrity. The purpose of the groups will be to articulate the range of views on the issue, Mr. Beresford told CoGS, to assess where there is flexibility or inflexibility, “to hear concerns for the quality of our relationships in the midst of disagreements, and to hear hopes for our common life beyond General Synod 2004.”
Mr. Beresford stressed that the work ahead would be to “prepare for the discussion, not have the discussion. To have the discussion in advance is unfair to the members of General Synod who need to be able to listen and debate as it unfolds. To repeat debates now will only increase exhaustion, which we are already seeing some signs of around this issue.”
Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton asked about the process moving forward on shifting ground. “Is there something built into the process if the question is suddenly framed by the government differently?” she asked. “If the government moves to civil marriage of gays and lesbians, then the whole conversation has changed in its context,” she added.