Same-sex blessings issue goes before focus groups

Published March 1, 2003

A series of facilitated focus groups will help determine how the question of same-sex blessings will be handled when it comes before General Synod in 2004.

Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of faith, worship and ministry for the Anglican Church of Canada, said her department’s standing committee decided at its recent meeting to hire a facilitator to consult with groups including provincial synods, the Anglican Council of Indigenous People, the house of bishops, members of Essentials and Integrity.

(Many conservative Anglicans, like Essentials supporters, disapprove of same-sex blessings. Integrity, a gay and lesbian ministry, supports the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians.)

“We will ask people what they think the questions should be for General Synod,” said Ms. Barnett-Cowan.

In October, the house of bishops, after issuing a statement acknowledging that it was deeply divided over the issue of same-sex blessings, referred it on to General Synod 2004 for “discussion and, if possible, resolution.”

Ms. Barnett-Cowan said that the faith, worship and ministry committee included “the full range of views” on the issue. “So we’re pretty happy when we have agreement on how to proceed,” she said.

The committee members were clear that they did not want to produce more resources for the church to study the issue. “We have done enough of that.”

The committee’s agenda at its recent meeting was full, and included the development of an ecumenical vision statement that now heads to the May meeting of the Council of General Synod for adoption. The statement will be included in a binder for ecumenical resources including suggestions for worship services, and summaries of agreements with other churches.

As well, the committee is proposing to develop a text that looks much like the Book of Alternative Services comprising information on Canadian Anglicanism, history, the New Agape covenant, the primate’s apology to native people and its acceptance.

“It will help define who we are as Canadian Anglicans,” she said.

She said the committee is proposing full communion, along with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, with the Moravian church. The Moravians have a North American province and work closely with Anglicans in their missions along the Labrador coast, Ms. Barnett-Cowan said.

Eileen Scully, ministry and worship consultant at General Synod, said that after soliciting information on clergy wellness from the dioceses and receiving an uneven response, the committee decided to “step back and map out the big picture.” (Clergy wellness was identified as an area of priority at General Synod in 2001, and a task force was struck to examine the issue, under the leadership of Bishop Fred Hiltz of Nova Scotia and P.E.I.)

“We wanted to look at the health of persons within the health of the church,” Ms. Scully said.

Committee members will write a series of articles for MinistryMatters magazine’s spring issue. Each will reflect on clergy wellness from a different perspective, Ms. Scully said, including that of a bishop, a female priest, and a health care worker who will discuss physical and social health issues facing those who work in the church. Ms. Scully said she would contribute an article including theological reflection on the health of the church.


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