The blessing of a same sex couple may take place only in one of the eight parishes of the Diocese of New Westminster already performing blessings, Bishop Michael Ingham has decided.

A moratorium that forbids the extension of the blessing to any of the diocese’s other 71 parishes will continue for the time being, he told Diocesan Council’s regular December meeting.

The eight parishes that were by 2006 authorized by the bishop to host same sex blessings – following favourable votes by their membership -- can continue to hold these blessings.

But there is a new requirement: priests now may bless only gay or lesbian couples who have been married by civil marriage commissioners.

Bishop Michael Ingham and Chancellor George Cadman at the December meeting of Diocesan Council.

The bishop made his announcement after receiving a report from Diocesan Chancellor George Cadman. The Chancellor, the diocese’s chief legal officer, had been asked to study two resolutions relating to the same sex blessings issue that came out of the national Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod this summer.

The General Synod, meeting in Winnipeg in late July, refused to “affirm” that diocesan synods and bishops could authorize the blessing of homosexual couples. However the General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada’s supreme legislative body, also voted that the blessing of same-sex unions is “not in conflict with the core doctrine (in the sense of being creedal)” of the Canadian Church.

The Chancellor said he consulted with two other experts in Canon (church) Law, the Rev. Alan Perry of the Diocese of Montreal, and Dr. Beth Bilson of the Diocesan of Saskatoon, and others, before advising the bishop that the same sex blessing as practiced in the diocese “appears not to be in conflict with the Canon Laws of the Anglican Church of Canada.”

Currently, the eight parishes (of 79) where blessings may be performed are Christ Church Cathedral, St. Paul’s, St. Mark’s, and St. Margaret Cedar Cottage, all in Vancouver; St. Barnabas in New Westminster; St. Agnes, North Vancouver; St. Laurence, Coquitlam; and St. Hilda’s, Sechelt.

Most of the approximately 20 blessings performed since the rite was authorized in the diocese in May, 2003, have taken place at the Cathedral, and almost all have been of couples already married by civil marriage commissioners. Same sex marriage by provincial marriage commissioners became legal in 2003 – in Ontario in June, in British Columbia in July, and throughout Canada in 2005.

Since the General Synod last summer of this year, the synods of three more dioceses in CanadaOttawa, Montreal, and Niagara – have voted to ask their bishops to institute rites of blessing for couples who have been married by civil authorities, and the bishops have agreed. However, in these three dioceses, no rites have been issued and authorized yet.

Cadman recommended that civil marriage be a requirement for the blessing in the Diocese of New Westminster, in order to bring diocesan rules into line with those in other dioceses, if and when they begin blessing same-sex couples.

Dean Peter Elliott

Dean Peter Elliott of Christ Church Cathedral concurred with the Chancellor. “It makes it very clear what it is that the Church is offering a blessing for – couples who are intending to live in life-long, faithful love to each other. I think that has always been our intention.”

Bishop Ingham told Diocesan Council that he had accepted his Chancellor’s advice, and will send a letter to the eight parishes currently authorized to host blessings, informing them that only married same sex couples can be blessed. (Priests still are not authorized to actually marry same sex couples.)

As to continuing the moratorium on the number of parishes authorized to perform blessings, Bishop Ingham said he felt that in the current climate, and with the Lambeth Conference coming next summer, it would not be wise to lift the moratorium at this time. The Lambeth Conference is a meeting of all of the Anglican Communion’s bishops that takes place every ten years.

The moratorium, agreed to by Diocesan Synod in 2006, was in response to the Windsor Report, made to the Archbishop of Canterbury by an international Anglican panel. It has been the Canadian Church’s interpretation of the report that it asked that no additional parishes be authorized as places of blessing at this time.