This fall, dioceses and parishes have been asked to study the St. Michael Report in preparation for the meeting of General Synod in June 2007. What is it all about?
The Anglican Church of Canada has been discussing for many years questions related to human sexuality, and in particular, the blessing of same sex unions.
In 2004, the Primate's Theological Commission was asked to consider and report whether the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine. This request is important because it determines the way in which General Synod will decide on this matter.
A canonical change on a matter of doctrine requires voting at two consecutive General Synods, voting by order with a 2/3 majority in each of the three orders: bishops, other clergy, and laity. A decision on the blessing under these rules could not be made at least until 2010. A motion on a non-canonical matter requires a simple majority at one Synod. Such a decision could be reached at General Synod in 2007.
The Commission, whose members represent a variety of theological positions, completed its report by May 2005. It declared the blessing of same-sex unions to be a matter of doctrine, while acknowledging that doctrines change over time. It agreed that "the blessing of committed same-sex unions is not a matter of what is often referred to as 'core' doctrine, in the sense of being credal doctrine."
St. Michael Report Day
Saturday, December 2
A day to study and reflect on the St. Michael Report will take place at Christ Church Cathedral early next month. The session begins at 9:30 am and ends at 3 pm.
The day is designed primarily with the laity in mind. Clergy attended a day on the subject in May. However clergy who missed the May session, and anyone else interested in the subject, are encouraged to attend and participate.
Bring a copy of the report. It is available here, or from the Synod Office, 604 684 6306.
Christ Church Cathedral is at
The report also stated, "The Commission .does not believe that this should be a communion-breaking issue." The Commission discussed a wide range of subjects which bear on the question: scripture, liturgy, culture, and the doctrines of salvation, incarnation, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, theological anthropology, sanctification, and holy matrimony.
Members were mindful of the pastoral issues involved and the need to be respectful of the dignity and integrity of gay and lesbian members of our church. The question then still seems open to interpretation.
How do we distinguish between "doctrine" and "core doctrine” If it is not a communion breaking issue, is it then one on which we can permit a diversity of practice? What should the decision making process be at General Synod? How have we made decisions in the past?
Chancellors (the legal officers of synods) and others will be looking at precedents for decision making. The dropping from contemporary language versions of the creed of the filioque clause (the phrase in the Nicene Creed which describes the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father AND the Son) was passed by a simple majority at one synod. Though dealing with creeds, this was seen as an ecumenical rather than a doctrinal decision.
In the Anglican tradition, our liturgical texts are a record of our doctrine. So the revision of The Book of Common Prayer required two readings at General Synod, in 1959 and 1962. A draft of The Book of Alternative Services, on the other hand, was sent to General Synod in 1983. The Synod authorized the Doctrine and Worship Committee to complete work on the book and to take it to the National Executive Council for permission to publish for use, where permitted by the diocesan bishop. Though the book contains a number of restatements of doctrine particularly with regard to Christian Initiation, it did not require a second reading at General Synod but was approved for use in 1985 by the NEC, then the group making decisions between synods?
Dioceses and parishes have been asked to study and comment on the St. Michael Report as a way of being informed before General Synod. Copies of the Report are available through Canterbury House at
When you hear the word "doctrine," what do you think about? What doctrines can you name? How has doctrine changed over time? How have church practices changed with regard to ordination, confirmation, and marriage?
Are there some doctrines you consider to be more important, less important than others? Are there "core doctrines," and how do we determine what these are?
Do we need to have agreement on all matters of doctrine before we can live together in the community of faith?
How does the Anglican Church of Canada make decisions about doctrine? Where do we find examples of diversity in terms of teaching and practice? Insights and comments may be sent to the national church c/o Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan (firstname.lastname@example.org). These responses will help us all grow in understanding the mind of the Canadian church on this issue.
The St. Michael Report is not binding on General Synod. The synod can accept and act on the report, or can thank the Commission and choose not to act on its recommendations. The Council of General Synod, which makes decisions for the church between synods, will have the responsibility of deciding how these matters will be discussed in June 2007. It is important for all of us to take our part in these conversations.
Patricia Bays is a member of the diocesan and national Faith, Worship and Ministry Committees. This article first appeared in Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Diocese of