Toronto blessing passes quietly

By on October 1, 2003

Toronto A Toronto parish has performed what may be the first public blessing of a same-sex marriage in Canada’s largest diocese. Alison Kemper and Joyce Barnett, two Anglican deacons who have worked actively for the recognition of same-sex marriage, had their recent civil marriage formally blessed on Sept. 6 at Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity, a downtown parish with close ties to the city’s gay and lesbian community. The couple, who have two children and have been together for almost 20 years, were married in a civil ceremony at Toronto City Hall in June, just days after a ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Ms. Kemper and Ms. Barnett were among the eight same-sex couples who initiated the court challenge. “ What happened to us was substantial and something of great joy, and we wanted to celebrate that with our religious community and our friends and neighbours,” said Ms. Kemper. “ We’re deeply grateful that we had that opportunity,” she said. “I felt that it really expressed the big tent of the Anglican church.” As the diocese of Toronto has not endorsed the blessing of same-sex relationships, the incumbent at Holy Trinity, Rev. Sara Boyles, asked Archbishop Terry Finlay for permission to perform the blessing, which he said he declined. “Holy Trinity welcomes gays and lesbians and has been requesting permission for this for some time,” said the archbishop in an interview. “In terms of this particular situation, I’m not surprised, but I certainly did not give permission for this blessing to take place … Now that I know this has happened, I will be asking the incumbent to have a conversation with me.” Archbishop Finlay allowed that similar same-sex blessings may have happened in the past in the diocese without his knowledge. He did not specify whether the parish would be sanctioned but the archbishop has publicly stated his support for the so-called local option, which would allow individual parishes to decide whether or not to bless same-sex relationships. Holy Trinity will bring a motion to the Toronto diocesan synod in late November requesting that any parish be allowed to ask the bishop for permission to bless same-sex unions, and that granting that permission be at the discretion of the bishop. Ms. Boyles said the parish is aware of the sensitivity of the issue of same-sex blessings and emphasized that the September event was in no way intended to be political. “We did it with an awareness of the consequences,” she told the Journal. “But it was really a pastoral thing we were doing.” She used a liturgy for the service that was developed by the parish a few years ago to celebrate the love between two people. “For us, it seems quite natural that we would welcome people and bless their relationships,” she said. In June, bishops of the diocese of Toronto released a statement in response to the Ontario court ruling saying that “Marriage in the historic tradition of the Anglican church continues to be between a male and a female. This basic teaching has not changed and is not affected by recent court rulings or proposed legislation.” John Schofield is a Toronto freelance writer

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