“All of us belong to God,” said Canon Douglas Graydon to Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, at a gathering held to discuss same-sex marriage in the Canadian church. “The question is whether we belong to the church.”
It was a question many LGBTQ Anglicans brought forward in a question and answer session that took place February 16, after a talk Hiltz gave following the “queer Eucharist” service hosted monthly at the Anglican Church of St. John’s West Toronto.
Passions ran high in the hour-long conversation, moderated by Graydon, an associate priest at St. John’s who is in a same-sex marriage. The event saw about 150 people-including several LGBTQ clergy from the diocese of Toronto-come forward to share stories of pain and discrimination, and to call on the church to honour their struggle and their equality.
“What I want from our bishops, and from our primate, is the kind of language that restores hope, that will allow a 17-year-old thinking that suicide is maybe better, to say, ‘No-no, there is hope,'” said the Rev. Alison Kemper (deacon), a professor at Ryerson University. “We are who we are, and if the Anglican church chooses to deny us, we will get married, and we will have careers and we will have churches. What you need to do is claim your authenticity as our leader.”
Her thoughts were seconded by her wife, the Rev. Joyce Barnett, incumbent at St. Matthias, Bellwoods, who stressed the importance of publicly calling out homophobia and exclusion.
“It is time for us to stand up and shout how proud we are to all who can hear that we have gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered and questioning people in our midst, and we have to shout it over and over and over again to undo the damage that we have done,” said Barnett.
Others spoke of what they described as damage done by clergy who hold more conservative views on human sexuality. Clayton Chrusch, a student at Trinity College, spoke of hearing a colleague speak proudly of having convinced an older gay man to leave his partner of several decades due to the supposed “sinfulness” of the relationship.
“For me, that is spiritual abuse…do you see that as abuse? What can we do, what can you do as well, to try to protect vulnerable people…from that kind of misguided pastoral care?,” Chrusch asked Hiltz.
Hiltz agreed that the example Chrusch brought up was spiritual abuse, and said that the church needs to provide better formation for its leaders around such issues to ensure this does not happen.
“That is undoing someone-it is undoing their lives, their love, their commitment to their partner,” he said. “In a church that claims to be interested in creating safe places, we need to make sure that not just clergy, but anyone who is licensed by a bishop to offer pastoral care and counsel, that they’re adequately trained so that that kind of approach…never happens.”
The most pointed question, however, came at the end of the evening, when a young woman named Jessica Davis-Sydor asked Hiltz about his personal views on the issue.
“I never actually heard you come out and say that you supported, that you support what is going on, that you are fighting to try and get same-sex marriage in the church,” she said. “Do you fully support it, deep down, what is happening?”
Hiltz responded by saying that while he personally supports same-sex marriage in the Anglican church, his position as president of General Synod places limitations on what he can or cannot say as a representative of the Canadian church.
“Before I was elected primate, people knew that I was supportive of gay and lesbian and transgendered people in the life of our church, that I was supportive of their unions, and I think people know in our church that I am supportive of same-sex marriages,” he said. “That’s a personal position; I also have some responsibility by virtue of the office I hold right now, to continue to enable the church to have this conversation…my role in the General Synod is complicated, because in our church the primate has no authority to direct, no authority to simply make pronouncements, no authority to make declarations.”
In his comments before the open forum, Hiltz apologized for “the many ways in which you have been hurt in the church and by the church,” and thanked the congregation for “being the church” and for its “patience with the church” before giving an overview of where the church currently stands in relation to same-sex marriage.
General Synod will be voting on a motion calling on the Canadian church to change its laws to allow for same-sex marriage during its meeting in Richmond Hill, Ont., this July, and Hiltz spoke at length about the work that has been done in preparation for this event, most notably in the report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon released in September 2015.
Hiltz explained that he had planned on meeting with LGBTQ Anglicans at St. John’s in April, but due to the conversations around same-sex marriage that happened at the Primates’ Meeting in January, he asked that the event be moved forward. The Primates’ Meeting imposed “consequences” on The Episcopal Church (TEC) for the decision it made at its General Convention in July 2015 to allow same-sex marriages. Concerns were subsequently raised by Canadian Anglicans about what this would mean for the Canadian church’s upcoming vote on same-sex marriage.
Hiltz said the decision about whether or not to move forward with same-sex marriage rests with General Synod alone. But he noted that many other churches in the Communion are also considering this issue.
“The global landscape on this matter is rapidly changing,” he said. “Canada is having the conversation and making a decision, Scotland is, the Church of England is, Wales is, Ireland is, Brazil is about to…this is not just a North American phenomenon.”
When the Anglican Journal spoke with Graydon following the event, he said the evening exceeded his expectations.
“I thought it went brilliantly,” he said. “It was, in my mind, exactly what we were hoping for: the opportunity for a frank and open and honest conversation, and I think Fred made himself considerably vulnerable to the people who were gathered there.”
Due to the structures and governance of the Anglican church, Graydon said that LGBTQ Anglicans often feel that they must “talk to other people who then carry our voice and our message into other committees or bodies within the church that make the decisions,” and that it is rare to have “the authentic voice speaking to the governing body per se.”
He added that while conversations around homosexuality and same-gender marriage in the Anglican church have been happening for “a very long time,” they are often slowed down by the way the church’s polity functions.
“There have been all sorts of forums in the past for allowing the hearing of people’s stories and experiences and reflecting them back to the church,” he noted, “but then there is always the next wave of people who are either elected or appointed to those bodies that govern the church that are coming to the issue for the first time, or haven’t really engaged in conversations.”
Graydon expressed the hope that Hiltz will support more events of this kind, but acknowledged that his role as primate limits his ability to act independent of an explicit invitation.
“I think Fred by being there last night was sending out a message that is very clear, that he is willing to participate in similar events between now and General Synod, but the primate needs to be invited to places, so people need to send him the invitation to make it happen.”