Note: This is an amended version of a July 11 story.Delegates of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s (ELCIC) Eastern Synod voted July 6 to allow individual congregations to decide whether same-sex unions may be blessed in their parishes.However, a cloud of uncertainty remains as to whether the synod (a large grouping of congregations like an Anglican diocese) has jurisdiction over the matter or whether it resides with the national convention, which last year defeated a similar motion to allow the blessing of same-sex unions. The ELCIC’s National Church Council (the equivalent of the Anglican church’s Council of General Synod, the governing body between General Synods) is expected to decide on the matter when it meets in September. ELCIC national bishop Raymond Schultz also plans to make his own recommendation during that meeting. Bishop Schultz also said that Council has the authority to look into the issue of jurisdiction.
Michael Pryse, the bishop of the Eastern synod (which covers Ontario to the Maritimes), has stated that if the National Church Council decides to put the issue to the church’s court of adjudication, he would ask pastors to refrain from blessing same-gender unions until clarity is achieved. (The court of adjudication is “an appeal court that hears questions of appropriate due process or lack thereof,” said Bishop Schultz.) One NCC member observed that the synod is “up in the air at the moment. We’re sort of in Never Neverland.” The 11th biennial convention of the Eastern Synod, which met at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., voted 197-75 to allow the so-called “local option” on same-sex blessings after about an hour of intense debate.Opponents of same-sex blessings later tried to appeal the historic decision and have it referred to the court of adjudication via the NCC, but their motion was defeated.
Local option allows a pastor to bless the unions of same-sex couples but only after a two-thirds majority vote by his or her congregation and after consultation with the bishop. “If I’m assured that they’ve met the conditions with the proper vote of both clergy and laity then I would say go,” said Bishop Pryse in an interview with the Anglican Journal. Under Lutheran polity, a bishop cannot veto a decision made by a synod or congregation. Bishop Pryse also maintained that the synod had jurisdiction over the matter of same-sex blessings.Bishop Schultz said, however, that jurisdiction over same-sex blessings resides with the national convention. In an interview with the Kitchener Record, Bishop Schultz likened the Eastern Synod’s vote to the act of civil disobedience launched by the civil rights movement in the United States, which sought equal rights for African Americans in the 1960s. “Social change doesn’t occur in societies unless somebody pushes the boundaries,” he told The Record. Further complicating the matter is the fact that other synods could also appeal the Eastern synod’s decision, said Bishop Pryse. Anglican officials, meanwhile, were reserving comment on the Eastern synod’s decision and its implications for Canadian Anglicans, who are in full communion with Canadian Lutherans. “We’ve always respected each other’s decisions,” said Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison. “But it would be premature at this point to say anything.”Asked whether the Eastern synod’s decision would mean that Anglican gays and lesbians could have their unions blessed in Lutheran churches, Archdeacon Feheley said, “Nobody knows yet what sort of regulations individual congregations would set up …There are still so many loose ends at the moment.” (A 2001 agreement of full communion between Anglicans and Lutherans established full interchangeability between clergy of both churches and permits full “communion rights” among members of each denomination.)Bishop Pryse said he was not surprised by the synod’s decision. “I was certain that it would pass. I just didn’t realize how strong a vote it was going to be – 72 per cent. That’s a pretty solid vote,” he said. The Eastern Synod is the same synod that brought the motion for a local option on same-sex blessings before the national convention last year. The Record reported that more than a dozen delegates had lined up at microphones during the impassioned debate. Opponents of same-sex blessings stated that the act was against Scripture, while supporters begged for grace, arguing that people interpret the Scripture in various ways.