From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Canadian diocese first to pass rite for same-gender blessings

Date Mon, 17 Jun 2002 12:10:08 -0400 (EDT)


Canadian diocese first to pass rite
for same-gender blessings

by Jan Nunley

(ENS) For the third and final time, Canadian Anglicans in
the Diocese of New Westminster have voted to approve
a rite for blessing same-gender relationships. The June 14
vote, held at the annual diocesan synod in Vancouver,
was 215 in favor and 126 opposed, a margin of 63

Similar motions at previous synods, in 1991 and 1998,
passed by margins of 51 and 56.5 percent, but Bishop
Michael Ingham had said he would not implement the
change until the margin exceeded 60 percent. Ingham
immediately gave his assent to the measure. 

"No one is being excluded from our fellowship today. We
have not taken sides with one group in our church against
another. We have chosen to live together in mutual
respect," Ingham said in a statement released after the
vote. "In this we ask for the support of the wider church,
not condemnation, and patience from those who live in
very different social contexts from our own." 

First to bless

The vote makes the diocese the first in the Anglican
Communion to authorize a rite for the blessing of
same-gender unions. The ceremony carries no legal
weight and does not resemble the Rite of Holy
Matrimony. The measure allows priests to perform the
ceremony if the priest and congregation agree. 

While the original motion before the synod had asked for
a rite for the blessing of same-gender relationships while
still providing a "conscience clause" for those opposed,
the movers withdrew it in favor of an alternative proposal
by Ingham which included the appointment of an
"episcopal visitor" for parishes and clergy which
disapproved of the change in diocesan policy. No priest
or parish will be forced to provide the rite for
same-gender couples. 

Conservatives walk out

Immediately after the announcement of the results, the
Rev. Trevor Walters of St. Matthew's in Abbotsford rose
to withdraw his own motion asking for the creation of a
non-geographical diocese within New Westminster,
declared a state of "pastoral emergency" and led the
walkout of nine conservative parishes. 

The churches whose members walked out included Christ
Church, Hope; St. Andrew's, Pender Harbour; St.
John's, Shaughnessy; St. Martin's, North Vancouver; St.
Matthew's, Abbotsford, St. Simon's, North Vancouver;
Church of Emmanuel, Richmond; Church of the Good
Shepherd, Vancouver and St. Matthias and St. Luke,
Vancouver. The last three are Chinese congregations. 

Walters said the nine parishes that walked out and
"members of at least six other parishes" are in touch with
primates of Anglican provinces worldwide and will decide
their future soon. 

The Rev. Ed Hird, rector of St. Simon's, North
Vancouver and a spokesperson for the conservative
Anglican Essentials group, read from a letter signed by
five current and two retired primates of the Anglican
Communion who said a positive vote by New
Westminster "would be viewed not only as a grave affront
but will also set in motion deliberations on breaking
communion" with their provinces. 

The letter was signed by David Gitari, Archbishop of
Kenya, Bernard Malango, Archbishop of Central Africa,
K.J. Samuel, Moderator and Primate of South India,
Yong Ping Chung, Archbishop of South East Asia, Rev.
Drexel Wellington Gomez, Archbishop of the West
Indies, plus retired primates Harry Goodhew, former
archbishop of Sydney, and Maurice Sinclair, former
presiding bishop of the Southern Cone. 

Members can leave, parishes can't

Neale Adams, communications officer of the diocese,
said that while members of congregations are free to
leave the church, parishes cannot. "If members leave, then
the remaining members are the parish and they maintain
the facilities. This is not a congregational church." 

Steve Schuh, president of Integrity/Vancouver and a
member of one of the walkout parishes, said the walkout
"says to me that they have a great deal of contempt for
gay and lesbian people. It says to me they can't be in a
church which accepts me." Schuh said he planned to
worship at St. John's in Shaughnessy on Sunday despite
the walkout. "It is my parish," said Schuh, a
self-described evangelical Anglican. 

--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of
Episcopal News Service. Portions of this report
were derived from CBC News Online and the
Anglican News Service (Canada).

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