Over 100 people, both ordained and lay, met at Christ Church Cathedral in early December to discuss the St. Michael Report of the Primate’s Theological Commission on the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions. This event was in response to the 2006 synod decision to instruct the Diocesan Council to compose a memorial, or position statement, on the report for General Synod 2007 after consulting widely within the diocese. The gathering considered and commented on drafts of two memorials

Dr. Walter Deller, Principal of Emmanuel St. Chad Theological College, who was a member of the Primate’s Theological Commission, provided background to the report and detailed explanations of each section. He pointed out that the members of the commission held diverse opinions on the blessing of same-sex unions and their resulting report was a consensus view of the doctrine surrounding the issue. Deller inferred that their final determination on the matter is only an opinion and that, within the Anglican Church of Canada, there are other views.

The Rev. Dr. Richard Leggett and the Rev. John Oakes had prepared the first memorial together. Leggett and Oakes hold opposing opinions on the blessing of same-sex unions and this is not the first time they have worked collaboratively on the issue – they also prepared the Diocese of New Westminster's draft response to the Windsor Report for the diocesan synod held in May 2006.

Acknowledging their work was one of compromise, both said that their draft memorial on the St. Michael Report intended to draw the diocese together, rather than divide. This memorial expressed thanks to the commission, but clearly stated that some in New Westminster find the report’s definition of “doctrine” problematic. Leggett and Oakes listed six points about the St. Michael Report that the diocese can support. The first states that “the blessing of covenanted same-sex unions, is related (my italics) to the doctrines of salvation, incarnation, the work of the Holy Spirit, etc.” Two other key areas of agreement included:

  • “...the blessing of same-sex unions is not a matter of core doctrine in the sense of being creedal, as defined by the Commission”
  • “...because the blessing of same-sex unions is not a matter of ‘core’ or ‘creedal’ doctrine, this should not be a ‘Communion-breaking’ issue’”

The last three points of affirmation were more general, though no less important and concerned discernment on the issue, the necessity of continuing dialogue, and the view that “history…demonstrates that clarity emerges when thought and action occur simultaneously.

The second memorial, written by Leggett alone and not supported by Oakes, specifically addressed the clause concerning the “local option” for dioceses that General Synod deferred in 2004 when it debated resolution A134 on the blessing of same-sex unions. This statement, which will be read by all General Synod delegates though not debated, requests General Synod to “authorize...dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada to facilitate the blessing of committed, life-long unions of adult, gay and lesbian Christians...” under certain conditions. Leggett incorporated three provisions, including:

  • the protection of and a conscience clause for any clergy who feel they cannot perform such blessings
  • blessings should only take place in parishes where the majority have voted to request permission of the bishop to be a place of blessing
  • supplementary episcopal oversight should be available for dissenting congregations.

In frank and respectful conversations, small groups of participants discussed the two memorials and, after an hour, reported back. Each group made some suggestions, but overall supported the first position statement as an accurate expression of the Diocese of New Westminster’s reaction to the St. Michael Report. All groups, but not everyone in each group, supported the second memorial, and thought that its description for New Westminster’s “local option” for the blessing of same-sex unions should be available to delegates attending General Synod. The next step is for Diocesan Council to approve both memorials.

Afterwards, Leggett expressed satisfaction with the day’s work, especially the commitment to open conversation and the deep respect shown to individuals holding different positions. He also recommended that Diocesan Council develop a strategy for General Synod next June, so that the New Westminster delegates are ready to respond to any eventuality when the national church again debates the blessing of same-sex unions. Oakes chose not to comment at the end of the study day.

Steve Schuh, president of Integrity Vancouver and a delegate to General Synod, echoed Leggett’s sentiments.  He also said, “I am thankful, as a gay person, that this diocese has found a way to move forward, protecting those who have a different point of view while being very clear where the majority stands." 

However, Schuh did remark that he thought the Primate’s Theological Commission had been asked the wrong question and that their report provides no real insight into the issues confronting General Synod, leaving the place of gay and lesbian people in the Anglican Church of Canada all the more uncertain.

Bishop Michael concluded the event with a commendation of the commission’s work, saying that it was the product of “some of the finest minds of our church.”  He gave a detailed explanation of what delegates should expect at General Synod 2007 and what each scenario might mean for New Westminster. Ingham also reminded the participants, “There is a long way to go and [perhaps more] procedural surprises” in store for the diocese.

Julie H. Ferguson is the author of Sing a New Song: Portraits of Canada's Crusading Bishops (Dundurn 2006) and attends St. John the Apostle in Port Moody.© Julie H. Ferguson 2006.

The proposed memorials are available here.

The St. Michael Report is available here.  See here for links.