The diocese of Niagara’s annual synod, held Nov. 14-16, for the first time discussed whether the Anglican Church of Canada should offer blessings to gay couples. Since no formal motion was presented, there was no vote, but a majority of the 27 speakers commenting on the issue favoured offering same-sex blessings and one parish, St. James, Dundas, Ont., sent a statement saying its vestry supports such blessings.
“The bishop (Ralph Spence) had made it clear that he preferred we have a discussion of the issue without a formal motion under debate,” said Rev. Stephen Hopkins, director of program for the diocese and secretary of synod.
“However, we told parishes that they were welcome to forward motions or memorials (statements that do not require a vote) to us,” said Mr. Hopkins. “We framed it this way so we could reflect on the issue in as non-anxious a way as possible.”
Last June, the diocese of New Westminster voted to offer the blessings and Bishop Michael Ingham approved the move, prompting eight parishes to protest. At Ottawa’s diocesan synod in October, a formal motion to offer blessings was referred to the diocesan executive committee for further discussion.
At the Niagara synod, held in the see city of Hamilton, Ont., Mr. Hopkins opened the discussion by presenting background to the issue, starting with a 1979 statement by Canadian Anglican bishops through to a statement issued by the Lambeth Conference of world Anglican bishops in 1998, to the present situation in Canada.
The background was followed by table group discussion, then an open session.
According to a synod report posted on the diocese’s Web site, 19 of the 27 speakers spoke in favour of same-sex blessings, six spoke against and two offered comments that did not indicate approval or disapproval. The speakers were not identified.
Among the quotes:
- “Gays and lesbians are not voices of corruption. They are whole and holy members.”
- “We should not move in this direction. The Scriptures are so clear on this issue.”
- “Both Old and New Testament is clear that homosexual issues are forbidden.”
- “How can we call gays and lesbians full members of our congregations but not celebrate their unions?”
After the discussion, Mr. Hopkins said, feedback indicated people “were pleased with the tone of the conversation.” Diocesan leaders will now talk about what comes next and whether there will be a process for discussing the issue at the parish level, he said. Bishop Spence, in his charge to synod, noted that Canadian bishops at their October meeting had agreed not to approve same-sex blessings in dioceses other than New Westminster until the meeting of the General Synod discusses the issue in 2004. He also pointed out that Niagara will host that General Synod, in St. Catharines, Ont.