London, Ont.A group of Canadian Anglicans on the liberal, or “progressive,” side of issues concerning homosexuality and the church have urged Anglican bishops to “proceed to (the) full inclusion (of gay and lesbian people) by providing access to all sacraments and sacramental rites of the church,” including marriage.
The letter was addressed to the bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, who are holding their fall meeting here from Oct. 25 to 30.
The group issuing the letter met at a conference called The Widening Circle on Oct. 25 and 26 at Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church in London, diocese of Huron. About 50 clergy and laypeople attended from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.
Delegates noted that the church’s national governing convention, General Synod, last June called for an examination of the canon, or church law, regarding marriage. They also acknowledged that the house of bishops last spring issued a pastoral letter which allowed certain celebrations of a gay relationship, such as a eucharist service, but meeting delegates said it is not enough.
“The pastoral letter is not full inclusion,” said Canon Garth Bulmer of the diocese of Ottawa, in an interview. Rev. Neil Fernyhough of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster, which has permitted blessing ceremonies (but not weddings) for gay couples since 2002, noted that civil gay marriage is now legal in Canada. “Civil society has offered the full meal,” he said.
Several conference delegates said they felt that the voices within the church that feel homosexuality is a sin and contrary to the Bible have been louder than the progressive majority. “It is important progressive voices be heard,” said Rev. Judy Herron-Graham of Toronto. “We are the other half of the Anglican church. How do we reach out to gay and lesbian people with a message of hope?” asked Andrea Brennan of Dorchester, Ont.
Delegates also discussed the recent General Synod decisions that said blessing gay relationships is not contrary to core church doctrine, but declined to affirm the power of dioceses to allow such ceremonies. They also heard from Bishop Ralph Spence of Niagara about developments that led to the bishops’ pastoral letter.Rev. Rae Fletcher, rector of Bishop Cronyn church and a conference organizer, said that after General Synod, he heard from clergy colleagues who wanted to know where they could go “to find the voice of the liberal church.”
The statement from the conference said it “initiates a movement within the Anglican Church of Canada to affirm and reclaim the traditions of our branch of the Christian faith; one which is orthodox, comprehensive, and catholic.”
Several delegates said progressive voices need to reclaim the word “orthodox” from such conservative groups as Anglican Essentials – a Canadian group that holds a conservative view of sexuality – and that “orthodox” really means, in the Anglican context, broad inclusiveness.
“It’s time that the majority of Anglicans who believe in a comprehensive church take a stand,” said Mr. Fernyhough, of Sechelt, B.C. He and Mr. Fletcher at the end of the conference were designated spokespersons for the group. The conference also decided to establish ongoing working groups in the areas of theology, liturgy, communication and education and to set up an Internet presence for moderated dialogue and discussion. Attendees also urged meeting again in several months, possibly in Vancouver.
The group also discussed the current international proposal for a worldwide Anglican covenant, an agreed statement of faith that, in its most controversial section, would refer disputes to a meeting of the primates, or national archbishops. Conservative Anglicans see this as necessary while liberals argue that it would be overly rigid and that Anglican tradition allows for a variety of approaches to theology.
The concluding statement from The Widening Circle urged the house of bishops “to reject any initiative which would seek to remake the Anglican Communion into a confessional expression of Christian faith governed by a magisterium (an authoritative body that determines doctrine).”
Mr. Fernyhough commented in an interview that “Integrity Vancouver (a support group for gay Anglicans) sent me in response to un-Anglican trends that are driving the (international Anglican) communion to be a confessional church that sets out comprehensive sets of belief, practice and doctrine.”