U.S. meeting a glimpse of our possible future

Published August 30, 2006

The fractious meeting in June of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. (ECUSA) and the fallout since has given Canadian Anglicans a glimpse of the potential outcome of our own General Synod, which will take place next June 19-25.

In many ways, the churches in Canada and the United States are similar – certainly, many in the Anglican Communion lump the two churches together, in the same way that people beyond our borders often erroneously refer to Canadians as Americans (“Well, you are North Americans”). We share so much in common that, for years, we have exchanged members – partners who attend the other church’s governing meetings and share their observations and ideas. It is a valuable relationship, with partners bringing some of themselves and their church to the other’s gatherings and also, happily, carrying some of the gathering back to their own community.

So, Canadians who traveled to Columbus, Ohio, for General Convention had a front-row seat for ECUSA’s deliberations on how to respond to the Windsor Report, a document produced by an international Anglican panel that examined how to maintain unity in the face of disagreements over issues such as homosexuality. Asked by Windsor to declare moratoria on electing gays to the episcopate and authorizing rites for blessing gay couples, the U.S. church ultimately could not do it.

It did not apologize for its decisions on the place of gays and lesbians in the church (including consenting in 2003 to the election of a gay man as bishop of New Hampshire and the reality of same-sex blessings taking place in dioceses across the country). This means that ECUSA will continue to live with a 2003 vote declaring that “local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.” The church did, however, vote to ask dioceses “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of a candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.”

(Specifically, Windsor recommended that ECUSA “be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration” of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.)

The wording that emerged from Columbus was dismissed by many as waffling, or a typical “Anglican fudge,” with some conservatives calling it “clearly and simply inadequate” as a response to Windsor and suggesting “it means what anybody wants it to mean.” On the other end of the spectrum, some liberal Episcopalians also disassociated themselves from the decision, saying its language ” too much echoes past attempts by the church to limit participation of those perceived to be inadequate for full inclusion in the ordained ministry.”

Either way, it led to the Archbishop of Canterbury to muse aloud about a two-tier Anglican Communion, with “constituent” churches limiting their autonomy under a formal covenant with each other, and “associated” churches (presumably the U.S. and Canadian churches, among others) playing the role of “observers.”

On these shores, ECUSA’s actions led to one Canadian group, Essentials, to declare that the move means the U.S. church intends to “walk apart” from the Anglican Communion of churches which are in fellowship with the Church of England. It also said the actions “have increased greatly our concern for the Anglican Church of Canada, which has also been called to address and respond to the recommendations of the Windsor Report at our General Synod in 2007.”

So, will the Canadian church face a similar situation next June in Winnipeg, when it debates its response to the Windsor Report?

Besides New Westminster, the only Canadian diocese to approve a rite for same-sex blessings, there are other dioceses (not to mention individual Anglicans) that would like to see the blessing of same-sex couples in their churches. Votes on the matter in the dioceses of Toronto and Niagara would certainly bear this out. So, it may only be a matter of time before such blessings are a reality in other dioceses besides New Westminster.

Asked to express regret that it breached the “bonds of affection” within the Anglican Communion by authorizing same-sex blessings in 2002, the diocese of New Westminster instead expressed regret for “the consequence of our actions.”

Similarly, Windsor called on those bishops who “believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own” to express regret for the consequences of their actions and to enact a moratorium on further interventions. The expression of regret was not forthcoming from either bishops from overseas or here at home, and the interventions continue. These individuals, too, must be doing what they believe is right and just.

Put simply, it is a difficult thing to ask a body as vast as an Anglican province to apologize about something for which a great deal of its members are not at all sorry.

And, where the Windsor Report is concerned, that is the challenge facing the Canadian church a mere nine months from now.


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