Diocese of Montreal Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson says that at next month’s General Synod she intends to vote in favour of a motion calling for a change in the marriage canon of the Anglican Church of Canada to allow the marriage of same-sex couples.
Speaking in her “charge,” or opening address, at the annual synod of her diocese June 18, Irwin-Gibson did not state what her diocese will do if the motion does not get the votes required for adoption. In order to pass, the motion requires a two-thirds majority in each order – bishops, clergy and laity – at two successive General Synods. The House of Bishops has informed the Council of General Synod that its order is not likely to muster the required votes.
Irwin-Gibson, who has sought to reconcile members with differing views on the issue since becoming diocesan bishop last summer, said she has “been besieged with petitions and individual letters (almost all of them from outside her diocese) demanding that I accord equal rights to same-sex couples.”
But she said her intention to support the motion is “not simply because it is a human rights issue or because the volley of letters has worn me down.”
The church “has the right and obligation to prayerfully consider new things and not simply to march in lockstep with society,” said Gibson. But, she added, “neither are we to remain stuck by interpretations of Biblical principles, which not everyone shares. If we are to be ambassadors of reconciliation, disciples of Christ, I see the potential in ministering grace and sacraments to more people and in calling all married couples to be models of Christian discipleship and hospitality.”
She acknowledged that “feelings are very raw in many corners,” but said, “I believe the Gospel calls us to stay at the table together, to love God and to love each other. We will not all agree but we are one body.”
Irwin-Gibson also said that the House of Bishops is considering what the next steps should be if the motion does not pass.
“Several dioceses are more than ready to go ahead and some don’t ever see that day coming. The chancellor of General Synod is being consulted and we will see what happens after General Synod concludes,” she said.
Leading up to her discussion of the issue, the bishop said the Gospel reading for the day of the Montreal synod (John 8:23-32) “shows how easily our assumptions and worldview run into God’s Kingdom view and purposes.”
In order to become “ambassadors for Christ,” the church must “apply a generous amount of patience and flexibility with one another, while keeping our eye on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,” she said.
Christian unity is important, “even if we won’t always agree on everything or share the same cultural assumptions,” she said. “The challenges that the church faces now are not more difficult than those encountered in the early church and it is possible to achieve unity in diversity. Our fundamental commitment must be to be grace-filled disciples of Jesus, not spiritual police or a shrinking club of entirely like-minded people.”
The bishop also confirmed that since she assumed the episcopacy almost nine months ago a compromise arrangement known as Shared Episcopal Ministry, instituted by her predecessor, Bishop Barry Clarke, in 2011, to accommodate six clergy and several parishes who saw him as too favourable to same-sex marriage has been allowed to lapse. Under the arrangement, retired Bishop Leonard Whitten of Western Newfoundland came to the Montreal diocese from time to time to provide episcopal ministry, including confirmations and she thanked him for this.
“Bishop Whitten contacted me soon after I arrived last fall and said that he wished to retire. We are grateful for his support and wish him every blessing and joy in his retirement. Since becoming bishop, I have been invited to preach and celebrate in all of the parishes concerned, including for confirmation in a couple of them.”
Irwin-Gibson said she remains committed to the diocese “having room for clergy and parishes with vastly differing views on some of the difficult subjects that divide Christians. I believe that unity does not mean that we agree about everything or that we share all the same values.”