Parishes and priests not on board with the openness of the diocese of Montreal and its bishop to the blessing of same-sex unions may get access in the new year to spiritual guidance from a bishop more in tune with their views.
Bishop Barry Clarke told delegates to the annual diocesan synod October 15 that he will make a formal presentation to the diocesan council in January on “shared episcopal ministry.” The proposal would permit parishes to have “episcopal oversight” from a fellow-bishop. He emphasized that this episcopal ministry would be shared with his own.
“This does not mean that I am abdicating my responsibility as the diocesan bishop to those clergy and parishes,” he said in his opening address to the synod. “I emphasize the fact that it is a ‘shared’ ministry with a fellow bishop. This is a pastoral response to a particular need at this time in our church. The clergy and parishes that may be involved in this shared episcopal ministry will still have to meet their full responsibility to live within the canons and the constitution of our diocese and of our church.”
Shared episcopal ministry was proposed in the 2004 Windsor Report, produced by the Lambeth Commission on Communion. The commission was trying, as Bishop Clarke put it, to find a pastoral solution and a “way forward for communities who may feel alienated when a diocese makes a decision to move in a particular direction that they may not feel comfortable with.”
The idea has also received sympathetic consideration from the Canadian House of Bishops. However, no other Canadian diocese has actually implemented such an arrangement.
The bishop said that in recent years discussions and debates over human sexuality and the place of gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals in the church “have been challenging and at times, painful” and have caused tensions and disagreements and in some places, “have pushed people to leave our church over decisions we made…”
Bishop Clarke said he consulted with the Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and with Archbishop Claude Miller of Fredericton, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Canada, which takes in much of Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, over requests he has had from some clergy and parishes in the Montreal diocese.
“I have met in prayer and in consultation with those members of the diocesan family who have made this request of me. It is my intent to move forward and honour their request.”
The bishop’s comments follow other moves toward a more open attitude to blessing same-sex marriages. In 2007 a resolution of the synod asked the bishop to authorize a liturgy for the blessing of duly solemnized and registered civil marriages, including those between same-sex couples, and some people in the Montreal diocese have been proposing shared episcopal ministry since then. A liturgy and protocol for implementing same-sex blessings were put in place last June and two such blessings have been quietly performed since then.
There was no formal debate on same-sex issues at the synod. However in a brief but emotional moment, the bishop returned to Rev. Canon Joyce Sanchez, priest-in-charge of Christ Church Cathedral, the document that authorizes her to perform marriages as a priest. Canon Sanchez, an assistant priest at the cathedral at the time, had surrendered it to the bishop in 2005 rather than be party to what she considered a system that discriminates against gays and lesbians.
“I pray that God will continue to challenge us to move forward with love and justice,” she said after accepting the document from the bishop.
She later said the agreement followed a conversation with the bishop over her activity as the chair of the committee that drew up the protocol on same-sex blessings. The bishop pointed out that Canon Sanchez would require her licence to participate in carrying out the very policies she had helped to draft. Canon Sanchez continues to believe that Anglican priests should be allowed to marry same-sex couples and not just bless their civil unions, but she thinks the new protocol is a step in the right direction.
Harvey Shepherd is the editor of the Montreal Anglican, the newspaper of the diocese of Montreal.