The controversial clause affirming the “integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships,” which was part of a resolution approved by General Synod in June, has caused at least two conservative priests and some parishioners to leave the Anglican Church of Canada.
(There are more than 2,000 active clergy in the Canadian church.)
Tom Needham, former rector of Holy Trinity church in Qu’Appelle, renounced his orders in a letter to diocesan bishop Duncan Wallace in June. “He’s (Mr. Needham) been quite upset about the trend that’s been going on in the church for the last three years,” said Bishop Wallace in an interview. “The motion to affirm was the final straw. I got a letter from him with his licence. I wrote him back that I regretted the way that he left.”
Bishop Wallace, who voted in favour of the clause, said there has been mixed reaction to the resolution in his diocese but that he saw no “very clear trend” of priests or parishioners leaving en masse.
In Nanaimo, B.C., diocesan bishop James Cowan asked Tom Semper, rector of St. James church, to resign after the priest called for a vestry meeting to vote on a draft petition to leave the diocese of British Columbia and the Anglican Church of Canada because of “the decision to allow the blessing of same-sex unions and our inability to remain in formal fellowship with those who allow such ‘blessings.'” The petition also asked for oversight of an alternate bishop “who will declare and defend our convictions” and made a bid for continued use of the St. James building and property plus complete financial and structural autonomy from the diocese of British Columbia.
Bishop Cowan, who was on vacation at the time the petition was circulated, asked his commissary, Archdeacon Bruce Bryant-Scott, to meet with Mr. Semper on June 9. The commissary told Mr. Semper “that nothing was changing in our diocese with regards to this position,” said Bishop Cowan. “He said that he was aware but that the word ‘sanctity’ was just as bad as allowing for a blessing, that it was a theological question and a theological word.”
Mr. Semper, for his part, said that for several months he had “tried to be transparent and to keep the diocese abreast of the situation” through letters but that he had gotten no response.
The priest maintained that he “wasn’t encouraging people to leave the church,” but that he had helped draft the petition because “it’s part of my job to give voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to speak; to define reality and put it on the table.”
Bishop Cowan said, however, that the decision was not arbitrary. Mr. Semper, he said, “has an oath of obedience to the canons of the diocese. It’s the canonical process — encouraging the parish to leave — not his theological perspective that I questioned.”
The bishop issued a pastoral letter after Mr. Semper’s resignation which stated that he would take similar action if a member of the clergy “representing the other theological extreme” were to perform a blessing of a same-sex union, which is not permitted.
Bishop Cowan said that almost 40 parishioners in the 90-member congregation (Mr. Semper’s figure is 30 out of 50) left St. James after Mr. Semper’s resignation.
On the other side of the spectrum, there has been little sign of gays and lesbians, who have expressed disappointment with the deferral of a resolution on same-sex resolutions until 2007, leaving the church. “I haven’t heard of huge numbers leaving, though there is a constant leakage, and certainly there were some very disillusioned by General Synod and (who say) ‘enough is enough,'” said Chris Ambidge, a Toronto leader of Integrity, an international ministry of gay and lesbian Anglicans. (Please see p. 5 for a letter from a gay Anglican man who has left the church.)
He said that if the affirming clause had not passed “there would have been a significant number of people leaving.” The motion, along with the 2002 decision by the diocese of New Westminster to permit same-sex blessings and the consecration of gay bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire have been “helpful from an evangelism point of view … it says ‘the Anglican church is making space for you at the table,” he added.