The Canadian House of Bishops met in Niagara Falls 23-26 February 2016, in a special session dedicated to a discussion of matters relating to the upcoming gathering of the General Synod where proposed changes to the national Marriage Canon will be considered.
The meeting began with a moving and intimate account of our Primate’s experience of the Canterbury gathering of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in January. In reliving these moments with him, we grew in our understanding of the complexity of relationships in the Communion, and were filled with gratitude and pride by the grace, humility and leadership provided by our Primate.
While in our last meeting we considered in some detail ‘This Holy Estate’, the report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon, we regret that there has not been much engagement with this document across the Church since that time. We felt that we needed to recommit ourselves to promoting the document for study, and especially among our synod delegates.
We spent a considerable amount of time discussing the theology of marriage and our episcopal role and responsibilities as chief pastors, and as guardians of the Church’s faith, order and unity. We concentrated on the relationship of the bishop to the Church locally, nationally and with our Anglican Communion partners, and alongside and within synods. These conversations led into considerations about the nature of our relationships within the House in light of the deep differences we have on the matter of changing the Church’s teaching on marriage.
In our exploration of these differences it became clear to us that the draft resolution to change the Marriage Canon to accommodate the marriage of same-sex partners is not likely to pass in the Order of Bishops by the canonical requirement of a 2/3rds majority in each Order. Some of us talked of being mortified and devastated by this realisation. We feel obliged to share this with the Council of General Synod as they give consideration to the process for handling this resolution at General Synod. We have grappled with this issue for three meetings of the House, and we feel a responsibility to convey our inability to come to a common mind in discerning what the Spirit is saying to the Church. We share this out of respect for the considerable work that the Church has invested in preparing to debate this motion at General Synod. We continue to wonder whether a legislative procedure is the most helpful way of dealing with these matters.
We have been conscious that the presence of this motion has brought distress to some, and we acknowledge the deep pain that our statement will cause both within and beyond the Church. And we are all saddened that we do not seem capable of unity on this issue. Nevertheless we are committed to work toward the deeper unity for which Christ died, and we pray daily that God would mend our divisions. Our hope is not in ourselves, but in Christ, and so we are committed to staying together that we might witness the miracle of our healing.
In our deliberations, we affirmed a commitment to continuing conversations and engagement with the Report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon, and to achieving the greatest pastoral generosity possible. There is a desire among us to explore other options for honouring and fully embracing committed, faithful same-sex relationships. We will also engage Indigenous and minority cultural perspectives in our Anglican family in our understanding of marriage.
The meeting was entered into in the grateful consciousness that a great many in the Church were praying for us and it was framed by daily Eucharist and Bible study using ‘Gospel Based Discipleship’, an Indigenous way of praying the Gospel. We have discovered a richness in our sharing and a timeliness in our readings that we believe is evidence of God’s Spirit at work in our midst.
Despite the pain and distress we feel at our own differences, yet we strongly affirm that we are united in striving for the highest degree of communion possible in the spirit of St Paul’s teaching of the nature of the body of Christ and our need for one another in Christ, where no one can say, ‘I have no need of you’ (1 Corinthians 12.21).