Two long or two short?

Published March 1, 1999

Vancouver AMID WELL-WISHES and a rousing Happy Anniver sary to You, Jamie and Dean Powers cut a cake to mark their 25 years together, after a regular Sunday morning worship at Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral.

With their deaf and partially-blind daughter, now 22, who came to them as a two-year-old foster child, they were warmly applauded when Very Rev. Peter Elliott acknowledged their anniversary during the January service.

Ironically, their bishop, Michael Ingham, indirectly told the two men just the day before that they will have to wait at least two more years before they can be seen as just another family, through the eyes of the Anglican Church, anyway.

After weighing a request for the blessing of same-sex partnerships, passed by a skimpy and surprising nine-vote margin, 179-170, at the Diocese of New Westminster’s annual synod last May, Bishop Ingham handed the divisive question back to his 80 parishes, asking them to take another long, hard look.

At the 2001 synod, if a “substantial majority” of delegates OK the move and if there are no legal roadblocks, Bishop Ingham said he will then authorize such blessings. It would be a first for the Anglican Church in Canada and for the church outside the United States.

For the Powers, who long ago put aside their surnames in favour of a common family name, even a blessing wouldn’t have been enough. “We would like the legal status of marriage,” Dean Powers said.

After 13 years at the cathedral, it would have been a start. “Jamie and I were disappointed,” he said. “We think the church needs to move into the 21st century. I guess we expected the decision to be positive.”

However, Bishop Ingham’s centre-of-the-road judgment sits easily with many others in the church, on both sides, who’ve anxiously watched as an Anglican-style Great Schism loomed on the horizon.

“It’s the most sensible way in which the bishop could handle the situation he’s created for himself,” said J.I. (James) Packer, an Anglican priest, a semi-retired professor at Vancouver’s evangelically inclined Regent College and an articulate opponent of the blessing of same-sex unions.

“I never thought it would be realistic that he would go back on his wish to do this,” Mr. Packer said. “But with a razor-thin majority, he couldn’t go ahead. He had to get out of it.” The United Church started blessing homosexual partnerships in the late 1980s. But Bishop Ingham failed in a personal 1997 bid to the national House of Bishops for such blessings. And, at the international church’s once-a-decade Lambeth Conference last July, bishops voted down the question by an unquestionable 526-70.

Still, last spring’s grass-roots movement led by three Vancouver churches – the cathedral, St. Margaret’s Cedar Cottage on the city’s east side, and the West End’s St. Paul’s – may be spreading, at least as far as the British Columbia Interior. There, the Diocese of Cariboo, headed by Bishop Jim Cruikshank, a former dean of the Vancouver cathedral, became the second to consider the matter, at least briefly, by tabling a similar motion at its synod last October.

Stephen Leung, rector of Vancouver’s Church of the Good Shepherd, one of three predominately Chinese churches in the New Westminster diocese, which all vehemently opposed the motion, is relieved to have more time to consider a question that was suddenly made real to so many parishioners only last spring.

“My feeling is we pushed ourselves into a small corner (with the vote),” said Mr. Leung. “I don’t see that we have a mature dialogue between different groups of people.”

But dialogue there’s going to be and lots of it over the next two years, for any of the diocese’s 28,500 Anglicans who care to join in.

In the bishop’s five-point plan is a commission on gay and lesbian voices, so parishes hear first-hand the experiences of homosexual Christians; a commission on faith and doctrine to put together parish study papers on the biblical and ethical issues involved; a canonical and legal commission to look at the legal implications; the preparation of a blessing ceremony; and the twinning of parishes to talk one-on-one.

“It may have been the only good decision,” said Dan Gifford, associate priest at Vancouver’s strongly-conservative St. John’s, Shaughnessy, the largest Anglican congregation in the country. “It was very premature to do something like that. There hadn’t been enough groundwork done.”

“I believe the voice of tradition and Scripture hasn’t been heard clearly in this debate,” Mr. Gifford said. However, given the diocese’s preoccupation with the subject in recent months, “I hope this issue will not be the one that dominates over the next two years. The mission of the church is to share what Jesus has to say to the world.”

That includes feeding the hungry and reaching out to the poor and marginalized, he said, “not going on and on about an issue that’s not central to the church or the Gospel.”

To some, however, the prospect of all those commissions and their inevitable offspring – committee meetings by the score – seems more exhilarating than exhausting.

“I think the realistic among us do anticipate another two years of unrelenting pressure,” said Mr. Packer. “But this will galvanize us into fresh action to demonstrate to the church that this is not the way to go.”

“Yes, it’s the same old stuff,” said Maureen Ashfield, a St. Margaret’s synod delegate who voted for the motion. “There are lots of people who are really tired.”

However, St. Margaret’s has proclaimed itself a “reconciling community,” working to include gays and lesbians in the church. “That’s how we live it out,” said Ms. Ashfield. “We take part in this willingly.”

“Two years is not that long to wait really, in the great scheme of things.” When those two years are up and the motion once again goes to the floor of Synod, she said, the answer will then be unequivocal, and no future bishop will be able to overturn it.

“You can’t say you haven’t had the time or the opportunity to think about it. Whatever way you vote, you’re going to be responsible.” Anne Fletcher is a freelance writer based in Vancouver.



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