Ottawa is expected to be the next Anglican diocese in Canada to consider allowing parishes to bless same-sex relationships, after the diocese of New Westminster in June approved such blessings.
Rev. Garth Bulmer, rector of St. John the Evangelist church in downtown Ottawa, said he intends to introduce a motion at the diocesan synod, to be held Oct. 18-19, that reads, "Be it resolved that this synod ask the bishop of Ottawa to authorize requesting parishes to bless same sex unions."
Recognizing that committed homosexual relationships are blessed by God is a "fairly urgent pastoral need" in his parish, said Canon Bulmer in an interview.
"I know this parish is ready to do it. We have quite a large constituency of gay people. I am asked to do this on a regular basis," he said. In fact, Canon Bulmer did perform a same-sex blessing several years ago, leading then-bishop John Baycroft to issue a letter that threatened clergy with dismissal if they performed such ceremonies. Canon Bulmer, who was not dismissed, said he was never able to engage Bishop Baycroft in a discussion of the matter.
The current bishop of Ottawa, Peter Coffin, said he had seen Canon Bulmer’s resolution and was "a little bit surprised" by it. The motion would usually go to a resolution committee – which hasn’t yet been formed – before presentation on the floor of synod, he said.
In the background information that Canon Bulmer prepared to support the motion, he noted that "this resolution does not ask synod to approve of the blessing of same-sex unions or even to approve of the relationships themselves." It continues, "it may be that there are some parishes and delegates who do not. Such persons, in approving this motion, are not consenting to either but rather giving their consent to parishes wishing to do so to proceed (with the bishop’s permission)."
In the interview, Canon Bulmer noted that St. John the Evangelist is known as an "open and affirming parish" for gay people and a couple dozen gay parishioners are active in all areas of ministry. The parish, which includes the Parliament Hill and counts many civil servants among its parishioners, is known for taking an active stand on social issues. It offers a gay pride eucharist on Sunday, July 14 and sponsors Sudanese refugees, said Canon Bulmer.
St. John is also developing relationship counselling for homosexual couples, similar to that offered heterosexual couples contemplating marriage, he said.
The same-sex blessings issue isn’t personal for Canon Bulmer, who is married with two sons, but he said he feels strongly about it since "it is a very, very important issue for this parish."