New West approves same-sex blessings

Published September 1, 2002

Some members of dissident parishes walk out of the New Westminster diocesan synod last June, after a vote to approve the blessing of same-sex unions.

The diocese of New Westminster will have same-sex blessings, but likely also fewer parishioners after its synod voted 63 per cent in favor of allowing the blessing of unions between gay and lesbian couples.

Immediately after results of the June 15 vote were announced by Bishop Michael Ingham, Rev. Trevor Walters (St. Matthew’s, Abbotsford) withdrew his own motion asking for the creation of a non-geographical diocese within New Westminster for traditional Anglicans.

Calling the vote schismatic and “a tragic moment in history,” he then walked out of synod, along with some members from eight congregations. A number of other synod members stood in protest of the motion but did not leave.

The dramatic step in 25 years of discussion on greater inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Anglican Church of Canada brought some synod members to tears – both out of jubilation for gay and lesbian members and sadness at the departure of fellow Anglicans.

“My reaction is shock,” said Rev. Trevor Fisher (St. Francis in-the-Wood), who said his parish will not seek permission to perform same-sex blessings. “If you were going to write the worst possible outcome, this would be it.”

The successful motion simply endorsed a proposal by Bishop Ingham which he had drafted and sent in late May to clergy and synod delegates. That proposal – described by the bishop as permissive, not coercive – provided for a rite of blessing of same-sex relationships; the appointment of an episcopal visitor to offer pastoral care to parishes and clergy who desire it and a conscience clause stating that no member of the diocese, lay or ordained, will be required to act against their conscience in the blessing of same-sex unions.

The proposal stopped short of offering dissenting parishes and clergy alternative episcopal oversight, which some had proposed. The Church of England provides alternative episcopal oversight, or “flying bishops” for clergy and parishes that do not agree with the ordination of women.

Such bishops have the authority of a diocesan bishop, while an episcopal visitor may only offer pastoral care.

Outside synod moments after walking out, Mr. Walters said that his group was in touch with primates of Anglican provinces worldwide and would examine their future with the diocese.

The eight churches are some of the largest in the diocese and contribute 18 per cent quarter of its budget.

The churches whose members walked out were: St. Andrew’s, Pender Harbour; St. John’s, Shaughnessy; St. Martin’s, North Vancouver; St. Matthew’s, Abbotsford, St. Simon’s, North Vancouver; Church of Emmanuel, Richmond; Church of the Good Shepherd, Vancouver and St. Matthias and St. Luke, Vancouver.

Within days of the synod vote and throughout the summer, rumours abounded of bishops and primates from within Canada and from Africa, Australia and the Episcopal Church in the U.S. considering offers of episcopal oversight.

One, Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini, primate of Rwanda, even wrote to the 12 clergy who walked out of synod, saying he would be willing to share with others “the possibility of ecclesiastical protection.” Bishop Ingham said the offer is “meaningless” since the archbishop has no jurisdiction in Canada.

Meanwhile, 13 Canadian bishops (about a third of the House of Bishops) issued a statement decrying the diocese’s decision, but stopped short of offering episcopal oversight.

Following the vote, Bishop Ingham stressed that “no one is being excluded from our fellowship. We have not taken sides with one group in our church against another. We have chosen to live together in mutual respect.”

Archbishop Michael Peers, the Canadian primate, said Bishop Ingham and the diocese acted responsibly in reaching a decision on same-sex blessings, and he fully expects the matter to be on the agenda of the October meeting of the House of Bishops and possibly at the next meeting of General Synod in 2004.

Steve Schuh, head of the Vancouver chapter of the gay and lesbian Anglican group Integrity, meanwhile, said he was saddened at the departure of so many synod members, including the clergy from his own parish.

In 1998 and 2001, Bishop Ingham withheld consent to similar motions that passed, saying that the margin was too slim.


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