Bishop Michael Ingham told Diocesan Council this month that he could not agree with a statement issued by the Canadian House of Bishops that recommends that the June General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada again delay decisions regarding the blessing of same sex unions.

“I voted against it,” said Bishop Ingham, adding that he knew some other bishops failed to agree with the statement also, although the vote count was not made public.

Bishop Michael Ingham speaks to Diocesan Council meeting at St. Dunstan's, Aldergove. On left is Executive Archdeacon Ronald Harrison, and right is Chancellor George Cadman.

The bishop told the 40 member council, meeting at St. Dunstan’s Aldergove on May 8, that he was opposed for two reasons.

“I felt it inappropriate for the House of Bishops to take a position before General Synod on any matter,” he said. He said in his own diocese he has a practice of first listening to the clergy and lay people in Diocesan Council or Synod before giving his own opinion.

The bishop said he felt it important for the leaders of the Church – its bishops - not to approach a Synod with their minds made up before hearing from their people.

The statement was also not helpful in its content, Bishop Ingham said. It suggests that whatever the vote in the national Synod, blessings won’t take place. “This effectively renders the question moot in the General Synod.”

The statement by the House of Bishops was issued by the secretary for their meeting, Bishop Donald Phillips of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land (Winnipeg).

The final draft had not been completed at the bishops’ meeting in Niagara Falls in mid-April, which was busy with sessions with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and the task of nominating four of their number as candidates in the election of Canadian Primate at the General Synod, June 19-25.

The bishops asked Bishops Ralph Spence of Niagara and Patrick Yu, a suffragan (assistant) bishop of Toronto, to complete the draft, which they and sent around by email. The statement was approved by an unspecified majority.

“I was quite surprised [by the statement],” said Bishop Ingham, who had left the meeting a day early to lead a retreat in the Diocese of Kootenay.

The House of Bishops is an advisory body only, except when it meets as one of the three parts of General Synod. On their own, bishops cannot pass laws or regulations that apply to the whole Church. However each diocesan bishop has specified powers in his or her own diocese, including – as the diocese’s chief liturgical officer – the issuing of rules regarding blessings.

The statement suggests guidelines for bishops after the action of the General Synod June 19 to 25, which is being asked to deal with several resolutions regarding the blessing of same sex unions.

The statement suggests that when a civilly married gay or lesbian couple seeks the Church’s reception of their marriage, bishops could give permission for a parish to celebrate a Eucharist with the couple and pray for them, but they should not be allowed to exchange vows, and the priest should not give a nuptial blessing.

Bishop Ingham has said that the Diocese of New Westminster continues to believe that pastoral same sex blessings are within the jurisdiction of its Diocesan Synod to request – as happened in 2002 – and for its bishop to authorize – as he did in 2003.

Since then about 20 blessings have taken place in the eight (out of 79) parishes in the diocese whose Vestry meetings have requested that they be places where same sex blessings take place.

At the last General Synod of the national Church in 2004, a so-called “local option” resolution would have expressly affirmed that bishops, with the concurrence of their diocesan synods, could authorize the blessing of committed same sex unions. The motion was deferred till this year.

Implying that the motion should again be deferred, the bishops’ statement this month suggests General Synod request reports be submitted to the next General Synod, which will take place in 2010.

For the complete statement by the House of Bishops go here.