The National Church Council (NCC) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), just like the Anglican Church of Canada, is now in the thick of a church-wide process of “engagement” with the issue of same-sex blessings.
“We will receive input from across this church in order that the ELCIC may act together on this issue,” said Bishop Raymond Schultz, national bishop of ELCIC, in a memo issued to clergy and lay people last November.
“Although the issue has been under discussion in this church for years, and a pastor was disciplined in 1999 for conducting such a rite, the urgency surrounding the matter was increased by several incidents that took place this spring and summer,” said Bishop Schultz. He said the NCC adopted an action plan to address the question of same-sex blessings after conflict erupted in the Anglican diocese of New Westminster when it voted in 2002 to allow same-sex blessings. (The Anglican and Lutheran churches in Canada have been in full communion for more than two years now.)
A resolution calling for the blessing of same-sex unions was also brought to the 10th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation last July in Winnipeg but there were strong objections from African, Asian, and Eastern European churches. About the same time, the governments of Ontario and British Columbia legalized same-sex marriages.
“These actions prompted some pastors of this church to declare that they wished to begin conducting such blessings in their ministries,” said Bishop Schultz. “Others feared that they would be forced to adopt a practice they could not, in conscience, condone. The bishops of this church began to receive numerous letters of request, protest and admonition.”
The Lutheran conference of bishops circulated a pastoral letter stating that they could not grant permission for the blessing of same-sex unions. That letter, in turn, stirred some controversy and “prompted a new round of letter writing,” said Bishop Schultz. These responses were evaluated at the conference of bishops meeting last October, resulting in a recommendation for the NCC to begin a church-wide process to discuss the same-sex blessings question, he added.
The Anglican Church of Canada’s upcoming meeting of General Synod, which begins May 28, will also examine whether the church may permit the blessing of same-gender relationships.