Synod speaker sparks debate

Published November 1, 2003

Members of the ecclesiastical province of Canada debated the choice of the senior bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) as the guest preacher at the closing ceremony of General Synod next year. The debate, which took place at the Oct. 18-21 meeting of the provincial synod, came after synod members heard a presentation from General Secretary Jim Boyles which detailed plans for the national meeting next spring. General Synod is scheduled for May 28-June 4 in St. Catharines , Ont. One of the first orders of business will be the election of a new primate on May 31 to succeed Archbishop Michael Peers, who retires next February. The new primate’s installation will take place June 4 at Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ont. (The province of Canada, which includes the three Newfoundland dioceses, Fredericton, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Montreal and Quebec, has no legislative jurisdiction in General Synod matters.) A controversy arose when some members suggested that the presence of Bishop Frank Griswold, ECUSA’s presiding bishop, might prejudice synod’s debate on the blessing of same-sex relationships. Some members argued that Bishop Griswold is seen to have sided with liberals in issues of sexuality. ECUSA’s national convention last August approved the election of the church’s first openly gay bishop and tacitly accepted the blessing of homosexual relationships. “I am concerned that all sides be fair and be seen to be fair,” said Rev. William MacMullin, of the diocese of Fredericton who introduced the motion asking General Synod planners to reconsider the choice of the American bishop as closing speaker. “The perception is that it is a foregone conclusion (that synod will approve same-sex blessings) and he is giving the victory speech.” Others argued that since the address will come at the end of synod, the debate would not be compromised. “The issue is already prejudged by both sides,” said Rev. Yves-Eugene Joseph of the diocese of Montreal . “We need to listen to each other instead of polarizing ourselves more. This is what being in communion means.” The motion was defeated, as was a second motion asking the General Synod planners to keep the perception of bias in mind when choosing a speaker to open the week-long meeting. Synod also endorsed an amendment to the national church’s canon (law) on marriage. General Synod 2004 will have second reading of a resolution to eliminate marriage commissions but the provincial synod supported an amendment to permit dioceses to maintain their marriage commissions if they so desired. (Marriage commissions are responsible for considering whether those who had been divorced should have permission to remarry. There has been a movement to allow priests to make the assessments instead of the commissions.) Synod members also:

  • began the approval process for a sexual misconduct policy that will be in force for provincial meetings;
  • participated in focus groups organized by the national church’s faith, worship and ministry department which is trying to determine how the discussion about same-sex blessings should be held at General Synod 2004.

The synod ended with a eucharist at Quebec ‘s Cathedral of the Holy Trinity which also marked the beginning of a year of bicentennial celebrations at the historic building.


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