In a few weeks, the Anglican Church of Canada’s commission on the marriage canon will invite Anglicans in Canada and across the Communion, as well church ecumenical partners, to offer their views about changing the marriage canon (church law) to allow same-sex marriage.
“…One of the things the commission wants to make clear is that everyone [in the commission] has an open mind,” said its chair, Canon Robert Falby, in an interview.
At its first meeting, April 3 to 4, in Toronto, the commission reviewed its terms of reference, and put together a process of consultation that will allow people to make submissions. The submissions could be in various formats-from written papers to videos. “We talked about a way of receiving and making available the submissions that we do get, which CoGS [Council of General Synod] has asked us to post online so that they will be available not just to the commission but also to the wider church,” said Falby, who is also chancellor of the diocese of Toronto and former prolocutor of General Synod. (Details of how submissions can be made will be posted on the church’s website, anglican.ca)
In July 2013, General Synod-the church’s governing body-passed Resolution C003, which will bring a motion concerning same-sex marriage to its next meeting in 2016. The resolution asked CoGS to prepare and present a motion to change the church’s Canon 21 on marriage “to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples.” It also asked that this motion include “a conscience clause so that no member of the clergy, bishop, congregation or diocese should be constrained to participate in or authorize such marriages against the dictates of their conscience.”
The resolution also directed that there be a broad consultation about the preparation of the motion. At its fall 2013 meeting, CoGS passed a motion to establish the commission to carry out the consultation.
The commission is aware that it faces “a daunting” task, and whether it has enough time to accomplish its task remains to be seen, said Falby. Nicholls cited commission member Paul Jenning’s image of the task as a big knot. “It’s a difficult issue to get at because the minute you pull out one piece, that reminds us of another piece,” she said. “We’re aware that we’re having to gently tease out what are the things that need to be looked at…”
Asked whether the commission reflects the “theological diversity” that the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, had promised, Nicholls said, “I think the group reflects the ability to hear the theological diversity of the church.” She added that each member has demonstrated “an ability to hear, to listen, to reflect from all perspectives.”
The commission has developed a series of questions and “a subset of issues we’d like addressed,” which could serve as guides for the submissions, “but I don’t think we want to confine what people would submit, either,” said Falby.
The questions “all have to do with various aspects of our understanding of marriage and other things,” said Jennings, who was also a member of the Primate’s Theological Commission and former director of pastoral studies at Montreal Diocesan Theological College. “They’re designed to encourage people to think theologically [about the issue].”
Bishop Linda Nicholls, suffragan bishop for the diocese of Toronto’s Trent-Durham region, said the meeting was also an opportunity for members to get to know each other, since they come from different parts of the church. Everyone shared the conviction that “we want to do this well…it’s for the good of the church in the long term, so it is important to take the time,” she said.
The commission has also mapped out a timeline, which will see the commission submitting a final report to CoGS at its fall 2015 meeting. CoGS needs time to consider the report at its fall 2015 and spring 2016 meetings, before the General Synod 2016 meeting in Toronto, explained Falby.
Other members of the commission are: author and theologian Patricia Bays (diocese of Ottawa), the Very Rev. Kevin Dixon (dean of the diocese of Huron), the Rev. Paul Friesen (rector of St. Paul’s Church, Halifax, diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island; associate fellow at King’s College), Stephen Martin (diocese of Edmonton, associate professor of theology at King’s University College), and Archbishop John Privett (bishop of the diocese of Kootenay and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and the Yukon).