Montreal synod votes yes to blessings

Published December 1, 2007

The annual synod of the diocese of Montreal has become the second to urge its bishop to allow clergy to bless previously solemnized civil marriages between same-sex couples.

Like the bishop of Ottawa, whose diocese approved on Oct. 13 a similarly worded motion, the bishop of Montreal has reserved his decision on whether he will consent to the synod decision.

Bishop Barry Clarke, who himself concurred with the Oct. 19 vote, told reporters after the vote that he was “glad we came to a place where we made a decision.”

He said some Anglicans in the diocese may not be happy with the vote, “but at least we can say we are out there and we can say that’s where we stand.” He added, “I will consider seriously what I have heard today. I will take it into serious and prayerful consideration. I am a pastor at heart.”

However, he said in a statement that the decision makes no immediate change in the policies and practice of the diocese. He promised to bring the issue to the meeting of the Canadian house of bishops, which met Oct. 25-30 in London, Ont. He said he would reflect on the synod discussions and consult with his fellow bishops; he also wanted to consider the concerns of “our partners in the wider Anglican Communion,” he said. “Until a decision is made … I expect our clergy to refrain from blessing same-sex couples,” said Bishop Clarke.

Meanwhile, Bishop Clarke told his colleagues at the house of bishops that after the synod vote he received a letter signed by 12 members of clergy saying that if the diocese moves forward with same-sex blessings, “I (will) have contravened the Windsor Report and the 39 Articles and they would ask for shared episcopal ministry.” The Anglican Communion’s Windsor Report called for a worldwide moratorium on same-sex blessings and the 39 Articles are a founding document of Anglicanism. Shared episcopal ministry is a plan that would allow parishes that disagree with their bishop to seek oversight from another bishop.

Clergy delegates to the Montreal synod voted 44-25 and lay delegates 59-32 in favour of a resolution almost identical to one adopted 177-97 the previous week by the synod of the diocese of Ottawa. (Ottawa was the first diocese to consider the issue of same-sex blessings since the meeting in June of General Synod, the church’s national governing body.) The issue was also to be revisited by the diocese of Niagara, which in 2004 voted to allow same-sex blessings; Bishop Ralph Spence, the diocesan bishop, withheld his consent until General Synod. Its synod was scheduled for Nov. 16-17.

The Montreal synod had separate tallies for clergy and lay delegates at the request of several delegates critical of the resolution. This meant the bishop had to say whether he concurred. He did. The resolution requests that the bishop grant permission for clergy, whose conscience permits, to bless duly solemnized and registered civil marriages, including marriages between same-sex couples, where at least one party is baptized. It also asks that the bishop authorize an appropriate rite.

Bishop Clarke praised what he described as a “wonderful, intelligent debate” on both sides of the issue. This echoed a comment closing the debate by the sponsor of the resolution, Canon Paul Jennings, director of pastoral studies at the Diocesan Theological College in Montreal. He praised the high quality of some of those on the “no” side and in particular their broad and non-literalistic approach to Scripture.

At the same time, he asked delegates to ask themselves what they would want for their children if they were homosexual, and “what do we believe in all honesty that God wants for them?” He noted the resolution was only a request to the bishop and does not cover same-sex marriages, – a subject outside the power of a single diocese under church law.

Canon Jennings and the other sponsor of the resolution, Dr. Douglass Dalton, a medical doctor who worships at St. John the Evangelist Church in Montreal, urged delegates to vote in accordance with their own consciences rather than being preoccupied with the possible political consequences of the vote at various levels of the Anglican church.

While some opponents of the resolution did refer to potential political dangers, there was no lack of scriptural argument. Rev. Gregory McVeigh of St. Stephen’s Church in Westmount said the strongest scriptural arguments against same-sex marriage come not from a few selected texts but from a general view of the couple as male and female right from the creation story through the Bible.

In another development, synod delegates, facing a deficit of around $1.1 million on 2006 operations and probably about $700,000 this year, went home from the annual synod without adopting a budget.

Bishop Clarke adjourned the synod until Jan. 12, 2008, to give diocesan committees and staff – including a new treasurer, Norman G. Spencer – more time to untangle financial records and come up with a draft 2008 budget.

However, delegates took one controversial decision about diocesan finances. They voted, in effect, to start treating more than $300,000 a year that the diocese has been receiving as its share of rent from a shopping mall and skyscraper under and behind Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Montreal as part of its general revenue.

Since 1986, the diocese has used these “development funds” – which were over $450,000 until 2002 and dropped by about one-quarter under the agreement with developers – to fund a de facto foundation that gave grants for purposes like community outreach and special ministries in the diocese and elsewhere in Canada and the world.

Harvey Shepherd is the editor of the Montreal Anglican, the newspaper of the diocese of Montreal.


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