Two parishes in the Diocese of New Westminster have voted to ask to be added to the list of places where same sex blessings may take place.

St. Mary’s Kerrisdale in Vancouver, and the Church of the Holy Spirit in Whonnock, Maple Ridge (formerly St. John’s Whonnock), by large margins voted to ask Bishop Michael Ingham to grant his permission for the parish to conduct services for persons in committed, monogamous same sex relationships.

At present, same sex blessings may take place only in eight parishes of the diocese.

A moratorium on allowing further parishes to hold blessings was imposed in 2006 after a Synod vote and the Bishop’s decision. The moratorium came 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 Windsor Report that it asked that no additional parishes be authorized as places of blessing at this time.

In 2002, Diocesan Synod asked for the blessing by just under a two-thirds majority, and Bishop Michael Ingham provided a rite of blessing the following year–with provision that priests need not be involved in blessings if they in conscience do not agree with the practice, and that blessings can take place only parishes have asked to be a place of blessing after so voting at an annual or special membership meeting.

Last December, the Bishop reported to Diocesan Council that a panel of three lawyers expert in Canon law gave an opinion that nothing the national Church had done at its triennial meeting (General Synod) last summer required that the Diocese end the practice of blessing.

The national Church 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.

Still, last December Bishop Ingham said he was continuing the moratorium. In the current climate, and with the Lambeth Conference of all Anglican Bishops coming next summer, it would not be wise to lift the moratorium, he said. The Lambeth Conference is a meeting of all of the Anglican Communion’s bishops that takes place every ten years.

The Bishop said parishes could still request that if and when the moratorium is lifted they be made a place of blessing.

At St. Mary’s on February 25th, the motion to ask for the blessing was proposed by Rector’s Warden John Spencer and seconded by Andrew Young. After debate, it passed by a vote of 160 to 19, with four abstentions and three spoiled ballots.

With a reported membership of 1,233 baptised members over 16, St. Mary’s is currently the largest parish in the diocese that reports its figures to the Diocesan Synod office.

The Church of the Holy Spirit in Whonnock, a community in the municipality of Maple Ridge, is one of the smaller parishes in the diocese. Its vote in favour of asking to be a place of blessing was 25 to 1.

The Rev. David Findley-Price, priest-in-charge, said that Holy Spirit’s annual meeting then unanimously passed a motion stating “that the parish of the Holy Spirit expressed its loyalty and support for our diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Ingham, and gives thanks for his leadership.” St. Mary's had also passed a similar resolution without dissent.

Currently, the eight parishes (of 78) 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. In total, about two dozen blessing have been performed in the past five years.

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.