Bishops prepare for synod aftermath

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Niagara Falls, Ont.
Canada’s Anglican bishops looked toward General Synod’s anticipated discussion on homosexuality by considering how they can pastorally respond, to whatever synod decides about the blessing of same-sex unions.

Meeting in a two-hour closed session on April 19, the bishops developed suggestions that were then presented in open session; they will be e-mailed to the bishops for further work and are intended to be presented to General Synod.

Among the pastoral responses would be statements that the church’s bishops hope that baptism, communion and confirmation would not be denied because of a parent’s or couple’s sexual orientation or marital status. Another response would be that a civilly-married gay or lesbian couple may celebrate a eucharist (with the bishop’s permission) that includes appropriate intercessory prayers, but not a nuptial blessing. The bishops also expressed an intention to recognize the ministry of licensed gay and lesbian clergy and acknowledge the pain and conflict they experience.

The bishops said in the draft document that the pastoral provisions are “not the same as the authorization of the blessing of same-sex unions or marriage.” They acknowledge that they “await the outcome of General Synod,” and say the provisions are “consistent with the doctrine of the church and our membership in the Anglican Communion and fit within the pastoral guidelines of the Windsor Report.”

Conservative bishops, while agreeing that pastoral care is needed, objected to some aspects of the document. “Our clergy will say this is one more step leading to recognition of homosexual marriage,” said Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk of the diocese of the Arctic. Bishop William Anderson of Caledonia said it “reaches out to gays and lesbians” but would be seen as a “slap in the face to orthodox Anglicans.”

Speaking in an interview after the closed session, Bishop Ralph Spence of Niagara noted that he, a liberal on sexuality, and Bishop Patrick Yu, suffragan (assistant) bishop of Toronto and a conservative, have been working together on the issue of a pastoral response to the upcoming General Synod’s decisions. “If a liberal bishop and a conservative bishop can find a generous solution,” then that could be a way forward, he said.

The pastoral suggestions were a result of a discussion in the closed session of a statement from the bishops of the 10 western Rupert’s Land dioceses that requested General Synod to refer again the question of same-sex blessings to a theological commission. This time, the commission would be asked to consider whether it is “consistent with core doctrine.” While the house of bishops discussed the statement in their closed session, they did not vote on the matter.

The statement responded to a resolution passed in March by the Council of General Synod asking the June convention to consider that church blessings for gay couples are “consistent with the core doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada.” The 2004 General Synod referred the blessings issue to the Primate’s Theological Commission, chaired by Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton, which found that it is a question of doctrine, since it touches upon marriage, but not such core doctrine as the divinity of Christ.

The Rupert’s Land statement also said the resolutions do not “squarely address the effect of passing those resolutions on our membership in the Anglican Communion.” It recommended that General Synod “develop a vehicle for considering whether it is better for us to stay at the table and insisting on ongoing conversation … or to walk away now from our Anglican brothers and sisters.”

In other business, the bishops not only nominated candidates for the primacy (see related stories), but also asked General Synod to review the nature of the office of primate.

Bishop Mark MacDonald, the new national indigenous bishop, was attending his first Canadian house of bishops meeting. He told his colleagues that his appointment as pastor for native Canadian Anglicans was an “expression of renewal” in the church that went beyond a political response to the recent crisis that has seen hundreds of natives seek compensation for their treatment in the residential school system. Bishop MacDonald ended by talking of hope that the church can bring to native communities and saying, “I promise you we’ll do it together.”

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Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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