The 43rd General Synod has authorized a set of gender-themed liturgies, including a blessing on gender transition, for use in the Anglican Church of Canada—in dioceses where they have been authorized by the bishop.
A sweeping majority of General Synod voted June 30 to approve Resolution A122, as amended to specify that the gender transition and affirmation liturgies could be used “where authorized by the ordinary.” The Rev. Rick Reed of the diocese of Saskatchewan moved the amendment, which carried. About a dozen members voted against the amended resolution.
Unlike motions to amend canons, which require General Synod to vote by order with a two-thirds majority in each order, Resolution A122 was a matter of worship and required only a simple majority to pass, with General Synod voting as a whole. Council of General Synod earlier voted in November 2021 to authorize Pastoral Liturgies for Journeys of Gender Transition and Affirmation for study, trial use, evaluation and feedback over a one-year period where authorized by bishops.
Finn Keesmaat-Walsh of the diocese of Toronto moved Resolution A122, which was seconded by the Rev. Marnie Peterson of the diocese of New Westminster. Keesmaat-Walsh—who uses they/them or they/he pronouns—put the liturgies in the context of what they described as “a rise in transphobic laws, bills and attitudes in North America, the U.K. and around the world.” They also cited General Synod’s unanimous adoption in 2010 of Resolution C010, the text of which calls on the Anglican Church of Canada at all levels to “embrace the outcast and stand against the abuse and torment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.”
“In the gospels, Jesus says that what we do for the least of these we do for him,” Keesmaat-Walsh said. “The trans community is being constantly attacked and persecuted. The trans community is part of the least of these. Christ has called us to care for the most vulnerable and these liturgies are a way you can do that in our church.”
Many General Synod members spoke for and against Resolution A122 during the ensuing debate.
Alex McPhee, lay member from the diocese of Qu’Appelle, spoke in favour. McPhee described how in preparing to attend his first General Synod, he had sent the text of the pastoral liturgies to some transgender friends—all of whom, he said, “not by their own choice, have been hounded out of their birth church communities.”
He continued, “The response I got was, ‘This is so powerful … I can’t believe someone out there wrote something like this. I can’t believe there is a church somewhere in the world that is actually like this.’”
“In my life as an adult convert, I have seen very few documents that have such an immediate attractive power on the unchurched, with the sole exception of the gospels themselves,” McPhee added. “In my opinion, we are being asked to ratify something that is not just wise and discerning, but actually has the power to grow the body of Christ.”
Archbishop Anne Germond of the dioceses of Algoma and Moosonee also expressed strong support for the resolution.
“Over the years I have watched individuals, trans individuals, transitioning individuals, disappearing from our churches—individuals who had a place in our church communities and when transitioned, just vanished because they did not feel that they belonged,” Germond said. “In accepting these liturgies, I believe we are creating space again for trans individuals to come back into our churches and for us to say, ‘You have always belonged.’”
Adam MacNeil, youth member from the diocese of Niagara, recalled how many times in Scripture, “Jesus gathers around those who are on the margins of society, those who have been hated, rejected, abused, disregarded and belittled.” He said the Anglican Church of Canada was called upon to “embody that very same vibrant and dynamic love of God which delights in the beauty of every person…
“By authorizing this liturgy for gender transitions, we are not only providing a vital liturgical resource to the whole church,” MacNeil said. “But we are also sending a message to the wider [Anglican] Communion and indeed the world that the Anglican Church of Canada stands in solidarity with, and upholds the dignity of, our transgender and non-binary siblings and that we celebrate, honour and affirm the person who God has called them to be.”
Bishop Sandra Fyfe of the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island said her concern and hope was that the liturgies will actually save lives. She cited higher rates of suicide than average among gay, lesbian and trans individuals.
Many young people, Fyfe said, feel excluded or “hate themselves because of how they have been created.
“I think this goes a way to tell people not only that they are beloved, but your life matters and we care that you live and that you be who you are.”
Among those who spoke in opposition to Resolution A122, many expressed concern about the church wading into what they described as political issues.
Canon Giuseppe Gagliano of the diocese of Quebec said he spoke against the resolution “with a bit of trepidation, as I know that this is such a politically charged topic on both the political right and the left.” However, he felt compelled to oppose the resolution because “it deals not just with human relations and activities but redefines who people are at their very core.”
“These redefinitions are not only new to our society at large, but have not been properly assessed by our church,” Gagliano said. “I don’t believe it is prudent for the church to develop an entirely new rite, based on baptismal theology, to something at our very core, to align with a modern social movement that is still evolving.” Instead, he wished to affirm General Synod’s previous resolution C010 stating that pastoral care and love should be provided to all people, including those of diverse gender expressions.
Bishop David Parsons of the diocese of the Arctic opposed the resolution on the basis that “it’s not correct to be politicizing the church so that we are in opposition.
“We’ve been fighting one another for so long because of these types of differences of thoughts and differences of opinion … The word of God does not give you permission to become political.”
Some members opposed the vote on the grounds that it seemed hurried.
Hannah Wygiera, youth member from the diocese of Calgary, said she felt “a little lost and confused by how rushed we are going into this.
“Where is the opportunity to pray and discern as the body of General Synod?” she asked.
The Rev. Ann Martha Keenainak of the diocese of the Arctic said the process felt “rushed” in comparison to time it took to address many Indigenous concerns. She cited the difficulty in explaining the resolution to youth back home and translating it. “I’m opposed to this as it’s uncomfortable to be rushed into something … I’m just speechless,” Keenainak said. “[It’s] not for us to lean onto our own understanding of being.”
Looking to the gospel
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, called for a moment of silent prayer before the vote.
The primate also read the day’s gospel text in response to a request from a member of General Synod—drawing upon the gospel-based discipleship of Sacred Circle, in which members at any time might ask to hear the day’s gospel reading to help guide their work. The gospel reading for June 28 was Matthew 8:1-4, in which Jesus, after delivering the Sermon on the Mount, heals a man suffering from leprosy.
Nicholls called the vote and the resolution carried. The primate thanked General Synod for the respectful way in which members had listened during the discussion.