From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Canadian Anglicans sort out implications of same-gender blessing decision

Date Thu, 20 Jun 2002 14:43:09 -0400

June 20, 2002


Episcopalians: Canadian Anglicans sort out implications of 
same-gender blessing decision

by James Solheim

(ENS) Canadian Anglicans are sorting out the implications of a 
decision by the Diocese of New Westminster at its meeting in 
Vancouver June 15 to bless committed same-gender relationships. 
The diocese had voted in favor of the motion at two previous 
meetings, in 1998 and 2001, but Bishop Michael Ingham withheld 
his consent until the vote was more decisive. The measure passed 
by a vote of 215 in favor and 129 against.

Reaction immediately following the vote was swift and 
visceral. A group of delegates and visitors walked out of the 
meeting after Ingham announced the results. "This is a tragic 
moment in history," fumed the Rev. Trevor Walters. "We must 
declare a state of pastoral emergency." He called the vote 
schismatic and said that parishes opposed to the action were 
consulting with the primates of other churches in the Anglican 

Dismissing a provision intended to protect dissidents by 
providing an "episcopal visitor" from outside the diocese, 
Walters said that the motion was illegal under church law, 
contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture against 
homosexuality, and defies a resolution of the 1998 Lambeth 
Conference of the world's Anglican bishops warning against such 

On the other hand, Steve Schuh, president of the Vancouver 
chapter of Integrity, said, "At long last the church has found a 
way to give us a space to recognize God's blessing in our life. 
It's been a long time coming." His home parish, however, one of 
the largest in the diocese, was among those that walked out of 
the meeting.

The task of reconciliation

Addressing the meeting after the walkout, Ingham said, "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. We are deeply 
aware that there is much more work to do to build up mutual 
understanding and reconciliation."

Archbishop Michael Peers, primate of the Anglican Church in 
Canada, said that Ingham had acted responsibly and that the 
diocese had not acted contrary to church law. Refusing to answer 
questions about his personal opinions, he did point out that the 
House of Bishops was on record that it was "not prepared to 
endorse" such blessings. Peers explained that "what I supported 
was the way the bishop proposed to deal with people who would be 
unhappy with the decision."

Responding to a proposal by opponents calling for a 
jurisdiction with its own bishop, Peers said that is "not 
possible." In a June 16 letter to other primates of the Anglican 
Communion, he said that he recognized that the decision would 
create tension, but he asked them "to recognize and to respect 
the authority of the bishop and synod within the Diocese of New 
Westminster." He reminded them that one of the major principles 
common within Anglicanism is "the understanding that a bishop 
has no authority to intervene in the life of a diocese other 
than his or her own, unless the bishop of that diocese has given 
permission to do so."

A source of confusion

A group of 13 Canadian bishops issued a statement expressing 
"regret" over the decision which they said is "in conflict with 
the moral teaching of Holy Scripture and the tradition of the 
universal Church." They said that "matters of moral teaching and 
Church order and discipline are beyond the jurisdiction of a 
single diocese acting alone...It can only cause confusion for a 
local expression of the Church to purport to bless that which 
Anglicans globally and nationally have decided they cannot 
bless." They called on the diocese to "withhold implementation" 
of the motion.

And a letter signed by five current and two retired primates 
from the Anglican Communion, sent before the vote, warned, "It 
is important that you understand that the adoption of blessing 
of same-sex unions by your diocesan synod would be viewed not 
only as a grave affront but will also set in motion 
deliberations on breaking communion" with other dioceses around 
the world. Ingham told the synod that bishops in the Episcopal 
Church in the USA have allowed blessings but that they were 
still in communion with the archbishop of Canterbury and other 
churches in the Anglican Communion. "The Anglican Communion 
consists of those in communion with Canterbury and with its 
bishop. There is an episcopal link which binds them together," 
he said, adding that many of the primates who signed the letter 
come from "very different contexts" than the Diocese of New 

Departure from tradition

Archbishop of Canterbury George L. Carey, appealed to 
Canadian Anglicans to continue to work together over the 
dispute. Responding to an appeal from Walters following the 
decision, Carey said that he still stands firmly behind the 
Lambeth resolution and that, despite criticism, "I do not accept 
that homosexual relationships can be treated as being on a par 
with the man-woman ideal portrayed in Holy Scripture."

He said that he was saddened and could "fully understand the 
dismay this causes to those in the diocese who disapprove of 
this departure from the Anglican moral tradition and the views 
of the majority of their fellow believers throughout the 
Anglican Communion." Yet Carey added that he was sorry to learn 
of the walk-out and was "alarmed by the statements of those who 
appear to be determined to look elsewhere for episcopal 
oversight in place of the extended episcopal support which 
Bishop Ingham has offered."

His letter concluded, "Let us make no mistake, these are 
difficult and painful issues--both for those who hold strong 
views on each side of the argument, and for those who remain 
undecided." While the dialogue continues, he said that it was 
wrong to walk away.


--James Solheim is director of the Episcopal News Service. This 
report is based on coverage by the Canadian press.

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