The synod of the diocese of Ottawa by a vote of 177 to 97 approved on Oct. 13 a motion requesting its bishop to allow clergy “whose conscience permits, to bless duly solemnized and registered civil marriages between same-sex couples” and to authorize rites for such blessings.
But despite what he called a “strong majority” (65 per cent in favour) and “a clear directive,” the diocesan bishop, John Chapman, cautioned that the approved motion was only “a recommendation and is not binding on the diocese or bishop.”
With its vote, Ottawa became the first diocese to consider the matter since the triennial meeting in June of General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada’s national governing body. It agreed 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.
Robin MacKay, chancellor (legal advisor) of the diocese of Ottawa, told the Anglican Journal that the motion approved by diocesan synod was legal. He said that although the national General Synod did not approve the motion affirming the authority of dioceses to offer same-sex blessings, “it doesn’t affirm the opposite.” He said the motion “doesn’t deny the jurisdiction of bishops to (allow) same-sex blessings; it’s just that General Synod failed to act in that area.”
After the vote, Bishop Chapman told a news conference he could not say when he would announce his decision on the motion, adding that he would take the matter to the house of bishops, which was scheduled to meet in late October. He added that there would be more consultations with the diocese, and other Anglicans at the national and international level. “I really don’t know when I’ll make a decision. I just want to see the ground settle,” he said, adding that his immediate concern was “for those who voted in opposition to the motion; I want to make sure that they’re okay.”
He added: “It’s not helpful for us to walk alone. We’re not afraid to walk alone, but we don’t want to walk alone.” (Opponents of same-sex blessings warn that churches and dioceses who move forward with the issue would cut themselves off from the Anglican Communion.)
Bishop Chapman said approval of the motion does not mean that clergy can now bless same-sex couples. “I would expect the clergy to honour the decision-making processes in the diocese and that continues until a decision is made,” he said. “I expect them to toe the line.”
He also said that the motion does not set a deadline for his decision. “It could be one day to 10 years.”
Before announcing the result of the simple majority vote, Bishop Chapman told synod members that, “there are no winners or losers in this … it’s just where we are.” The vote, announced at 2:46 p.m., followed more than two hours of emotional debate that saw more than 50 members queue to speak for or against the motion.
Ron Chaplin, a lay member of St. John the Evangelist, who presented the motion, said he was “very pleased” with the outcome of the vote. “The margin was substantial,” he noted, adding that he hoped other dioceses would follow suit. The diocese of Montreal was scheduled to vote on a similarly worded motion at its synod Oct. 19-20, after the November issue of the Anglican Journal went to press.
Mr. Chaplin also expressed the hope that “we in North America and England, will really engage our partners in the Anglican Communion in a conversation about how we engage with our culture in bringing the message of the Gospel to our place.”
George Sinclair, rector of St. Alban’s, Ottawa, who is a member of the Anglican Network, a grouping of Canadian Anglicans who believe homosexuality is contrary to Scripture, said that he was disappointed but not surprised by the vote. “It was a wrong decision which will continue to tear the fabric of the Anglican Communion,” he said. “It’s a departure from Anglican teaching.”
In a statement, Bishop Chapman said, “This decision will be welcomed by some but not by others. However, it is the Anglican way to allow diverse opinions to live in the same house.”
He added: “Christians who are opposed to the blessings see this as a fundamental issue of Scripture, while those Christians in favour see it as a fundamental issue of bringing gays and lesbians fully into the full life of the church.” If people decide to leave the Anglican church, “for one reason or another, then they would walk apart … That is their decision and we will grieve their decision,” he added.
During the debate at the plenary, Rev. Frank Kirby, rector of St. Barnabas church, urged the synod to vote against the motion calling it “a provocation and a serious flouting” of the requests of other members of the Anglican Communion for a moratorium on same-sex blessings and the consecration of gay bishops. “We’re pushing the envelope far beyond what our sister churches can tolerate.”
Others who were in favour of it also addressed the issue of unity. “Unity doesn’t mean uniformity,” said lay member Monica Patten.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa synod also approved a wide-ranging strategic plan that outlined nine strategic priorities for the diocese until 2010. Among the priorities identified are: leadership development, congregational development, communications, infrastructure, “seeking the seekers,” and “serving God’s world.”