Editors note: This report has been modified from the original version.
The blessing of civil marriages between same-sex couples can now take place in the Anglican diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
A resolution giving priests and parishes the option to bless same-sex unions was approved, by a majority vote, at the 143rd synod of the diocese on May 27 in Halifax.
Parishes and clergy are free to opt out of blessing same-sex unions, the diocesan bishop, Sue Moxley, told Anglican Journal. Interviewed via e-mail, Bishop Moxley added that parishes will need “to decide where they want to be with a pastoral response” on the issue.
Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island becomes the eighth diocese within the Anglican Church of Canada to move forward with same-sex blessings, an issue that has divided Anglicans here and abroad. The other dioceses are New Westminster, Montreal, Niagara, Huron, Ottawa, British Columbia, and Toronto. The Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI) has also passed a motion asking its bishop to allow clergy “whose conscience permits” to bless same-sex unions.
“I was pleased to see it (pass),” said the Rev. Randy Townsend, rector of Saint John’s Anglican Church. The tone of the debate around the contentious issue was “excellent, it was very respectful,” he added.
The Rev. Stephen Ashton, rector of Trinity Anglican Church, said he and his congregation were “very disappointed” with the decision. “The blessing of same-sex and in fact, homosexual activity, is contrary to Scripture,” he said.
Asked whether some parishes opposed to same-sex blessings might follow in the footsteps of parishes from other dioceses that have left the Anglican church, Ashton said it is “still early days.”
Townsend said he does not foresee a deluge of same-sex couples wanting a blessing as a result of the resolution. “We rarely get a request to perform marriages between heterosexual couples in church anymore, let alone a request to bless same-sex civil marriages,” he said. “I don’t think it will make a huge change.”
The approved resolution states:
“That this Synod request the bishop or bishops to adapt the Pastoral Letter of October 1, 2010 as a Bishop’s or Bishops’ Guideline. If a parish, after prayerful discernment, decides to move beyond the current level of pastoral response, to the blessing of same-sex couples, such a decision reflects the diversity of ‘local discernment, decision, and action,’ and will be accommodated within the diverse pastoral practices of the Diocese of NovaScotia and Prince Edward Island as we respond in our missional context.”
The pastoral letter issued by diocesan bishop Sue Moxley, had laid out the Anglican church’s various responses to the issue of same-sex blessings and asked parishes to inform the bishop’s office about where they are in the “discernment process.”
Bishop Moxley said “work still needs to be done still before it (guideline) is ready to go.”
Meanwhile, three other motions related to the issue of blessings and marriage, in general, were rejected at synod. Resolution 9, which sought to keep a roster of parishes and clergy amenable to the blessing of same-sex civilly married couples, was defeated after debate on whether that would subject priests supportive of same-sex blessings to ostracism.
Resolution 10 sought a liturgy for couples in “covenanted or committed unions outside of marriage.” This was also defeated, as was Resolution 11, which asked that clergy of the diocese cease performing marriages altogether.
Bishop Moxley said the synod also acted on resolutions that would provide a more “flexible” organizational structure for the diocese, and help it pursue its social justice agenda.