Uncertainty in wake of ELCIC vote

By on August 30, 2006

Delegates of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s (ELCIC) Eastern Synod voted July 6 to allow congregations to decide whether same-sex unions may be blessed in their parishes.

However, a cloud of uncertainty remains as to whether the synod (a geographical grouping of congregations like an Anglican diocese) has jurisdiction over the matter or whether it resides with the national convention, which last year defeated a similar motion. The ELCIC’s National Church Council is expected to decide on the matter when it meets this month. ELCIC national bishop Raymond Schultz also plans to make his own recommendation during that meeting. Bishop Schultz also said that Council has the authority to examine the issue of jurisdiction.

Michael Pryse, the bishop of the Eastern synod (which covers Ontario to the Maritimes), has stated that if the National Church Council decides to put the issue to the church’s court of adjudication (an appeal court that hears questions of appropriate due process), he would ask pastors to refrain from blessing same-gender unions until clarity is achieved.

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The 11th biennial convention of the Eastern Synod, which met at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., voted 197-75 to allow the so-called “local option” on same-sex blessings after about an hour of intense debate.

Opponents of same-sex blessings later tried to appeal the decision and have it referred to the court of adjudication via the NCC, but their motion was defeated.

Local option allows a pastor to bless the unions of same-sex couples but only after a two-thirds majority vote by his or her congregation and after consultation with the bishop.

“If I’m assured that they’ve met the conditions with the proper vote of both clergy and laity then I would say go,” said Bishop Pryse in an interview with the Anglican Journal. Under Lutheran polity, a bishop cannot veto a decision made by a synod or congregation. Bishop Pryse maintained that the synod had jurisdiction over the matter of same-sex blessings.

In a pastoral letter issued after the synod, Bishop Pryse that while the action was “quite controversial,” he was, nonetheless, “very supportive” of it. “In my view, it represents a reasonable accommodation that allows for diversity of pastoral practice.”

Anglican officials, meanwhile, were reserving comment on the vote and its implications for Canadian Anglicans. “We’ve always respected each other’s decisions,” said Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the primate. “But it would be premature at this point to say anything.”

(A 2001 agreement between Anglicans and Lutherans established full interchangeability between clergy of both churches and permits full “communion rights” among members.)

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