Saturday, 7 March 2009

Canada: developments on blessings

Updated Sunday evening

Same-sex blessings are in the news again in Canada.

The Anglican Journal reports that Ottawa diocese appoints committee to consider ‘blessings’ and there is material in the March issue of Crosstalk in a PDF file. See cover story and then on page 2, Bishop John Chapman has written a column. The Journal reports:

The bishop of the diocese of Ottawa, John Chapman, has appointed a doctrine and worship committee to determine whether same-sex unions can be blessed on a limited basis in the diocese.

If the committee recommends that such blessings be allowed “in the spirit of experiential discernment,” Bishop Chapman said it would only be offered in one parish, St. John the Evangelist, an inner city parish which has long advocated for the rights of gays and lesbians.

“In the event that I instruct the parish of St. John the Evangelist to proceed, this is as far as I am prepared to move on the matter until General Synod 2010,” he said in his March column at the diocesan newspaper, Crosstalk…

Update His March column can be read in full as a web page here.

The National Post reported this under the headline Anglican diocese will defy and bless but also reported that the diocese denied it was breaking a moratorium:

…In a press release issued on Monday night, the diocese said: “Just as the Church was not able to come to a clear mind regarding the benefits of the ordination of women to the priesthood until it experienced the priestly ministry of women, Bishop [John H.] Chapman has taken the process of discernment with regards to same sex blessings to a place beyond discussion.”

and this was confirmed by a spokesman for the Anglican Church of Canada who said:

…what the Diocese of Ottawa is doing is not a breaking the ban but rather a continuation of their “discernment process.”

The same Anglican Journal report goes on to cover a related development in the diocese of Niagara. Bishop Michael Bird reports here on his recent visit to Lambeth Palace. Here’s an extract:

…In that interview I reviewed with him the multitude of task forces, hearings, Bishop’s statements, regional and parish meetings and the long list of Diocesan and General Synods that have discussed and wrestled with this issue since 1976. I gave him a full account of our dealings with dissenting parishes and the court proceedings we have been involved in. I shared with Archbishop Rowan our experience of the incredible contribution that gay and lesbian people have made and continue to make in every aspect of our Church’s life and witness, and expressed the overwhelming desire on the part of two Synod’s to move forward with the blessing of committed same-sex relationships for couples who have been civilly married. I also indicated to him my intentions with regard to my giving permission for these blessings to begin to take place.

One of the most powerful moments in the course of my fifty minute meeting with the Archbishop was the opportunity to describe the process of how our new Vision has emerged and how we believe that God is calling us as a Diocesan family to enhance and develop our work together under the five key areas of focus that are outlined in the Vision. In fact I indicated that it was my sense that the challenge the Vision offers us around the work of prophetic justice-making has made us even more determined to become a more open and inclusive Church.

Archbishop Williams listened carefully to my presentation and there was no doubt that I had his full attention. He thanked me for such a full and detailed report and he indicated how important this opportunity was for him to hear from me personally. We went on to have a very helpful and frank conversation about the implications involved and I expressed my own personal commitment and the strong desire of the Diocese of Niagara to remain in communication and dialogue with our sister and brother Anglicans around the world. I made it clear that we very much value and hold dear our membership in the Anglican Communion and we are grateful for his leadership and ministry…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 7 March 2009 at 5:10pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Canada

Tea-leaf readers, what do we make of Bishop Bird's report? ("a very helpful and frank conversation about the implications involved" made me {gulp} . . . but perhaps I'm being paranoid?)

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 7 March 2009 at 8:20pm GMT

A dangerous innovation ?

'Limited basis blessing' is certainly innovative -- you gotta hand it to them !

Meanwhile the body politic has leapt ahaead and is marrying everyone who is in love and commiting ...

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Saturday, 7 March 2009 at 9:13pm GMT

Per Bishop Bird of Niagara: "Archbishop Williams listened carefully to my presentation and there was no doubt that I had his full attention."

Well, it's good to know that someone from this side of the Atlantic can get Canterbury's full attention....

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Saturday, 7 March 2009 at 9:34pm GMT

not a breaking the ban but rather a continuation of their “discernment process.”

Methinks that rather a tortuous way to look at it, or at least some people might reasonably say so.

Admittedly, I think any such ban on same-sex blessings is immoral, so we're into double-negative territory already.

Posted by: Tim on Saturday, 7 March 2009 at 10:11pm GMT

And just how can you break a ban when there is no ban?

Posted by: Nom de Plume on Saturday, 7 March 2009 at 10:45pm GMT

One of ther real paradoxes here - about the prospect of same-sex blessings, is that, in the present climate, it may well be that the couples involved may be subjected to a more thorough discernment process than many heterosexual partners contemplating a life-long relationship in their celebration of a Church wedding - the same-sex couples no doubt having to go through more hurdles than the traditional ones.

The courtesy with which the ABC has really *listened* to Bishop Michael Bird is patently more respectful than that of some of the other Primates who promised to facilitate a 'Listening Process' at Lambeth 1998, but refrained from doing carrying out that important process.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 8 March 2009 at 12:53am GMT

To add to Nom de Plume's post of 10:45 GMT,
... or when the ban can't really be enforced? Or when there really may be no authority to issue such a ban? Or to say that to break that particular ban will cause the End of Western Civilization, but to wink at, mock, repudiate, ridicule, and ignore the ban on diocesan poaching -- oh, I'm so sorry, "cross-border intervention" -- is perfectly OK?

Posted by: peterpi on Sunday, 8 March 2009 at 5:47am GMT

And this was a Church that refused re-marriage to divorcees before 1962.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Sunday, 8 March 2009 at 12:52pm GMT

Robert Ian Williams

And this was a Church that refused re-marriage to divorcees before 1962.

And your point is?

Posted by: Andrew Innes on Sunday, 8 March 2009 at 7:00pm GMT

That the defectors from the Canadian Church have very short memories..when they talk about changes in sexual morality, as their reason for leaving.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Sunday, 8 March 2009 at 7:59pm GMT

RIW: That would be 1967, after 76 years of debate.

Fr Smith: I don't know what kind of scrutiny is proposed for same-sex couples. I would hope it would be as rigorous as that for heterosexual couples. You should read the Anglican Church of Canada's Canon on Marriage in the Church. It is quite comprehensive, with only one obvious omission. But the point to look for is the requirement for comprehensive preparation of the couple for marriage, including a Schedule containing a list of 10 points that are required to be covered in that preparation. Norman Doe has called this provision "exceptional."

Posted by: Nom de Plume on Sunday, 8 March 2009 at 10:26pm GMT

Andrew, I too have found R.I.W.'s contributions to the debate on this site confusing. On the one hand - his seeming acceptance of the need for Anglican reform on issues of sexuality, on the other - his more rigorous attitude towards divorce, per his new R.C. affilitation.

Nom de Plume, I too hope that the preparation of same-sex couples for marriage blessings would be in keeping with the solemnity of their potential relationship; but not more rigorous than that proposed for heterosexual couple for marriage. This was point I was trying to make earlier.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 8 March 2009 at 11:29pm GMT

Nevertheless it is a change in where have the Canadian conservatives been for 42 years. Despite what Nom de Plume says the Canadian Anglican Church is a divorce mill.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Monday, 9 March 2009 at 6:19am GMT

Bravo Bishop John! 'Experiential discernment' is the perfect way to reconcile irreconcilables. It allows advance on the divisive matter of blessing same sex marriages, and it does so in a way that has the endorsement of Scripture.

The story of Rabbi Gamaliel in Acts 5 gives precisely the recipe for experiential discernment in a case of deep disagreement among religious voices: give the innovation a try -- "if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them [sc. the apostles] -- in that case you may even be found fighting against God".

I just don't see any way in which conservative voices can complain about Bishop John's way; it is Gamaliel's way. And Gamaliel's way saved the lives of Peter and the apostles.

Let's mark this breakthrough in wisdom by giving +John an honorary epithet; let's call him Bishop John Gamaliel.

Posted by: John Thorp on Monday, 9 March 2009 at 3:03pm GMT

John Thorp, I appreciate your point. However, that is a point on which conservatives have already opined and taken exception. It was suggested in the American and Canadian responses to the last meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council that Gamaliel's suggestion be followed. My thought at the time was for North America to be sort of the Communion's "Research and Development" arm, which would work well with the idea of "experimental discernment." Unfortunately, the thought then was met with rejection and derision; and I expect it will be again.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Monday, 9 March 2009 at 3:29pm GMT

"And this was a Church that refused re-marriage to divorcees before 1962."

Around the time that the Chruch you left Anglicanism to join started worshipping in the local tongue, and even then it required a Papal fiat that to this day is causing dissent! A Church that doesn't listen to its laity, and can't seem to learn from at least two rather public and humiliating failures at handling priestly sexual abuse. Beams and motes, RIW, beams and motes.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 9 March 2009 at 3:35pm GMT

John Thorp, thank you for your mention of Rabbi Gamliel's quote in Acts 5. It's one of my favorite verses. Rabbi Gamliel is a very famous rabbi of that era. Although, to be honest, I somehow thought that quote was uttered by Nicodemus during the Gospels' account of Jesus' trial.
As far as "experimental discernment", it is nice to see the US and Canadian provinces doing a lot more for "discernment" than most African provinces are doing for the "listening process".

Posted by: Peterpi on Monday, 9 March 2009 at 4:17pm GMT

The blessings innate to all of this probably involve consistency. Canada for a number of reasons has been able to proceed in a more widely consultative and orderly fashion in its SSBs than USA.

Having federal civil marriage equality no doubt helped that along, significantly; since to some extent outside church life, there was consistency in law and applications. USA has no such consistency, as the federal is balanced with state rights, and all are varied from outright constitutional bans on marriage equality, to state law bans, to various types of state bans plus state domestic partnerships, to no bans, and all the way over to state marriage equality in Massachusetts and Connecticut (pending NJ? Slow pending NY?).

Insofar as he has clearly expressed himself, Canterbury says that orderly change and consultation are preferred over more local change with less consultation. RW regards his own positive views on these hot button matters as having failed, so I guess that is that is that.

But positive views have not failed in other parts of the global communion, and indeed those changes are now increasingly embedded in a complex mix of additional changes in a number of different domains. RW says he has no interest in diminishing the equality or humanity of LGBTQ folks, yet he truly seems more comfortable now with British closets (silence+invisible) than with any other consistent forms of LGBTQ life. Secret meetings, secret prayers - all seems very Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

How all of this credibly allows Canterbury to reply frankly to Canada about impending uproar and punishment is, well, frankly beyond my ken. We are not even quite clear yet, about just what policing and punishment will be key to our much vaunted new Anglican Covenant - and RW has still not quite yet digested and inwardly marked what Canterbury's new role might be, as Chief of Anglican Communion Police.

Still. Glad that Canada spoke frankly. That Canterbury spoke frankly. And that none of that will stop the Canadian discernment for which believers in Canada are still powerfully responsible. Expect RW to still midly by, while any number of loud voices from rightwing Anglican churches speak loads of trash about Canada, then. It's RW's calling, that pastoral sitting by. (SF Psychiatrist Eric Berne called the game, Let's You and Him Fight.)

Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 9 March 2009 at 5:38pm GMT

Fr Smith: I don't know what kind of scrutiny is proposed for same-sex couples. I would hope it would be as rigorous as that for heterosexual couples.

Personally, I meet with engaged couples no less than six times in which we cover a variety of topics relating to marriage.

I happen to serve in a diocese that does not allow SSB's at this time, and while that prevents me from officiating any marriages/unions/commitment ceremonies (or whatever we're calling them), it does not prevent me from offering the same pre-marital prep to homosexual couples as I offer to heterosexual couples.

As of yet, however, that offer has not been accepted.

Posted by: Reverend Ref on Monday, 9 March 2009 at 7:17pm GMT

"As of yet, however, that offer has not been accepted." - Reverend Ref. -

Yet, it's good to know that you are ready and able, once called to do so for SameSex Blessings when they are approved. In the meantime, R.R., it is probable that you, like me, would offer care and advice to all gay couples who want to try to integrate their relationship in ways that are in accord with the Great Commandment of Christ - to Love, contained in the Gospel.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 9 March 2009 at 11:52pm GMT

St John the Evangelist? O pray for gay and lesbian Anglican couples in Ottawa with good taste in liturgy.

Posted by: Geoff McLarney on Tuesday, 10 March 2009 at 7:18am GMT

RIW: "the Canadian Anglican Church is a divorce mill."

Wrong. The Canadian Anglican Church (known to some as the Anglican Church of Canada) makes no provision for the granting of divorces. It does make provision for the granting of annulments, and has done for 63 years, but these are very rarely requested, if ever. The Anglican Church of Canada also makes pastoral provision for the granting of dispensation from the impediment of prior bond, with a rigorous process for making the application, to allow divorced persons to remarry within the Church where pastorally appropriate.

Now, if you want to talk about divorce mills, how about the numerous applications, at very high cost, for annulments in the RC Church? Marriage tribunals are a very big business over in Rome. And the cost is high enough (financially, emotionally and spiritually) as to drive divorced RCs to the Anglican Church for weddings.

What do you suggest the Church do? Accept the reality on the ground and deal with it sensitively and pastorally, or reject the reality and sneer at people for their failings? No need to answer; I think you've been quite clear on this point.

Fr Smith: point understood. As rigorous - neither more nor less. The key is that the process is pastoral, aimed at helping couples to build a strong foundation for their life together.

Posted by: Nom de Plume on Tuesday, 10 March 2009 at 12:27pm GMT

I take your point Nom de plume about the abuse of annulments in the N American churches, (which has caused concern to the Vatican). just as with clerical immorality etc. it does not disprove the validity of any Church doctrine.

However the Church of England and in Canada had a very high standard as regards marriage, and that seems to have gone over night. We live with in memory of a King-Emperor being forced to abdicate,

It should be noted that it was evanagelicals like George Carey who promoted divorce and re-marriage. The very Evangelicals now ringing their hands about the gays.

Hence the reason why I harp on.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 6:27am GMT

"Hence the reason why I harp on."

You harp on for the same reason I harp on, to point out hypocrisy, at least such hypocrisy as our blinkers allow us to see. The things is, you left Anglicanism for Rome. This does not disqualify you from commenting, of course, though it does give you an air of smug judgemental superiority, not to mention the way your ignoring of the many faults of Rome makes you look. So, you indeed have a right to comment. But, given the way such comment makes you look, the question is, do you want to? That's a big difference between Canturbury and Rome. Rome makes laws you have to follow, Canturbury makes suggestions as to what is good, if you choose not to follow, that's between you and God. So, a good suggestion would be that it isn't all that good a thing to smugly criticize a Church you left while ignoring the faults of the Church you joined. It makes you look bad. Now, if you want to look bad, fill your boots.

Posted by: fordelms on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 11:57am GMT

Yes, strange that Carey and his Evangelical friends can see their way to dealing with reality with respect to remarriage after divorce, but not with respect to same-sex marriage.

As regards the Canadian acceptance of remarriage in the Church, you should note that the debate started officially in 1889, beginning with modest proposals that at least the "innocent party" should be permitted to remarry rather than having to choose between faith and enforced celibacy or remarriage and excommunication. Doubtless many chose the latter and simply switched ecclesiastical affiliation. One of the leading clergy of the day argued that forcing "innocent" divorcees (i.e., typically those who had been abandoned) to remain single for the rest of their lives was contrary to Natural Justice. Hard to argue against that now.

The problem with annulments, in my view, is not the frequency to which they are resorted, but the fact that they are the only avenue to remarriage in the Catholic Church. Why is it that the impediment of prior bond cannot be dispensed? The trouble with the "very high standard" with respect to marriage is that it leads to other kinds of abuses and not a little hypocrisy, turning marriage from a relationship of loving, caring partnership into a Procrustean bed. Human fallibility must be taken into account, and the Christian faith normally does so. So why the blind spot on marriage?

Posted by: Nom de Plume on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 12:23pm GMT

Nom de Plume I think archbishop Carey had personal reasons for his change of position. All these have to be personal in the final analysis --not just theories and stats. I regret that Carey couldnt carry his own experience of facing the divorce of others and its pain could not inform his attitude to other loving relationships.

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 5:08pm GMT
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