The diocese of Ottawa’s regularly scheduled synod will decide Oct. 12-13 whether to request its bishop to grant permission for clergy to bless same-sex relationships.
It is the first diocese to consider the matter since the triennial General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada’s national governing body, agreed in June that same-sex blessings are “not in conflict” with core church doctrine, but declined by a slim margin to affirm the authority of dioceses to offer them. The Ottawa motion, moved by Ron Chaplin, a member of the diocese’s branch of Integrity, a support group for gay Anglicans, and Canon Garth Bulmer, rector of St. John the Evangelist, reads: “Be it resolved that this synod requests that the bishop grant permission for clergy, whose conscience permits, to bless duly solemnized and registered civil marriages between same-sex couples, where one party is baptized; and that he authorizes an appropriate rite and guidelines for its use in supportive parishes.”
The new diocesan bishop, John Chapman, said in a statement that if the motion passes, “it will leave the matter with the bishop to render a decision.” It will be the second time for Ottawa’s diocesan synod to vote on a motion to allow same-sex blessings in parishes. In 2002, four months after the diocese of New Westminster voted to allow blessings, Mr. Bulmer introduced a similar motion asking the bishop of Ottawa to “authorize requesting parishes to bless same-sex unions.” That synod voted to refer the motion to the diocesan executive committee and directed it to form a task force that would consider the implications of any decision around same-sex blessings. (Mr. Bulmer also introduced a motion passed by General Synod in 2004 “affirming the sanctity of committed same-sex unions,” as well as the deferred motion affirming the authority of dioceses to bless same-sex unions. That deferred motion was later defeated at the last General Synod in June.) Earlier, church observers and canon law authorities opined that General Synod’s decisions around sexuality last June were so ambiguous that they could be subject to conflicting interpretations. Alan Perry, a canon law expert from the diocese of Montreal, said there is nothing in the church’s canons or constitution that prevents a diocese from going forward with same-sex blessings now that General Synod has said they do not contravene core doctrine. “The mechanism for the diocese as a whole to make such a decision would be a synod motion requesting the bishops to authorize such a liturgy,” he said. If a bishop decides to authorize such a liturgy, “then the deed is done,” he said.
General Synod, he observed, has not stated who, if anyone, has the authority to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions.Bishop Chapman, in his written statement, said this year’s diocesan synod “might be even more significant than others” because the diocese will be spending the bulk of its time discussing a five-year strategic plan to be presented to synod members for ratification. The plan recommends closing eight seldom-used rural chapels and allowing another 34 to go on without subsidies. It also suggests buying land in areas with potential for further growth and increasing resources in most of the remaining 89 churches.