The Rev. Angus Stuart of St. Francis-in-the-Wood

Diocesan Council decided last month to submit a resolution to the national General Synod that would affirm the continuation of same sex blessings in the Diocese of New Westminster.

The diocese faces the possibility that General Synod could adopt the St. Michael Report, prepared by the Primate’s Theological Commission.

The St. Michael Report states that same sex blessings are a matter of doctrine-although not core or “credal” doctrine-and as such fall under the jurisdiction of the national Anglican Church of Canada, and not individual dioceses.

Before agreeing to the request of the 2002 Diocesan Synod to create a rite of blessing, Bishop Michael Ingham asked a legal commission of three lawyers expert in Canon (church) law whether he had the authority to do so, and they replied he did. The St. Michael’s Report, by theologians, differs with the lawyers’ opinion.

Bishop Ingham told Diocesan Council that what might follow-”inadvertently perhaps”-is that if the St. Michael report is adopted, the diocese might have to end use of the rite. It is allowed in eight parishes in the diocese at present.

The resolution going to the General Synod next June recites the history of adoption of the same sex blessing-which took votes at three Diocesan Synods-and notes that there is a “conscience clause” which provides that no one, clergy or lay, must participate in a rite of blessing if they believe they should not.

Drawn up by a committee headed by the Rev. Angus Stuart of St. Francis-in-the-Wood, the resolution quotes the St. Michael Report itself where it states that “history...demonstrates that clarity emerges when thought and action occur simultaneously.”

It asks that the General Synod recognize “that the provision of this rite has enabled gay and lesbian people to feel safe, respected, and included in the full life of the church and that the sudden withdrawal of the rite would seriously undermine the progress that has been made.”

The decision to submit the resolution passed the 40-member Diocesan Council with one dissenting vote. Brian Strehler of St. James, Vancouver, spoke against the motion in January. He said he felt the motion was “rubbing salt into the wounds” of Anglicans in the diocese who oppose the blessing.

Strehler did vote at the previous council meeting to send two “memorials” or formal messages to the General Synod which, in essence, gave the diocese’s opinion of the St. Michael’s Report.

One was prepared by two priests, the Rev. John Oakes, who opposes the blessing, and by the Rev. Richard Leggett, who favours it and helped write the rite. It states it agrees with the St. Michael’s report in several parts, notably that the blessing should not be a “Communion-breaking issue,” although other aspects were “problematic.”

The second memorial was prepared by Leggett alone, and asks the General Synod to affirm the blessing in dioceses which go though a process such as that the Diocese of New Westminster undertook from 1998 through 2003.