Same gender blessings

Excerpt from Pastoral letter to clergy, 2011
I have been pleased with the experience St. John the Evangelist, Ottawa has had and, following further consultation…I now feel confident and comfortable to offer other parishes this pastoral courtesy, individually and free of precedent. That is, if a priest and community feel that a request for a blessing from a same-gendered couple civilly married is appropriate, the priest, with the full support of corporation and council will request permission from me, in writing. Permission must be sought for every occurrence. Practical guidelines

  • Permission must be sought from the bishop, in writing, and signed by incumbent and wardens with concurrence of parish council
  • Same-gendered couple, civilly married, must be in an existing pastoral relationship with the clergy and parish
  • At least one of the couple must be baptized
  • No formal liturgy is outlined or sanctioned, however there are seven guidelines to be observed.
Background reading: "Open Communion", by Dr. John Gibaut, Canon Theologian, included in the pastoral letter
Pastoral letter to clergy, 2011

Excerpt from the Bishop's Charge to Synod 2009

Regarding the inclusion of all Christians into the blessed company of Christ.

Before we can even begin to attend to the specific challenge of the place of same-gendered couples, we must look broadly at our capacity to include anyone who lacks historical presence in our communities of faith. I will say it again for the third Synod in a row. One of the few and only complaints that I hear when travelling the diocese is, "When I arrived in this parish, no one spoke to me or tried to help. I think they think that they are friendly but not from where I sit." I ask you again to make sure that hospitality remains a standing item on your parish council agendas. This is a very important matter that ought to be discussed every time parish leadership gathers.

Related to this appeal, and certainly more controversial, I will address again the matter of the blessing of same-gendered couples civilly married.

The Diocese of Ottawa, along with the rest of the Canadian Church and the Anglican Communion, has been debating the place of gay and lesbian people within the life of the Church for many years. Some of the seminal events, nationally and locally include:

1976, Canada's House of Bishops first "sought advice" on pastoral issues related to gay and lesbian people in the Church. In 1979, the House of Bishops issued a statement that it did not condone homosexuality, but would not call into question the ordination of homosexual persons committed to abstaining from homosexual activity.
1978, the world's Bishops at the Lambeth Conference first "recognized the need for deep and dispassionate study on the question of homosexuality," a commitment re-affirmed at the 1988 conference.
1991, the House of Bishops recommended a study guide on homosexuality, Hearing Diverse Voices, Seeking Common Ground.
1997, the House of Bishops endorses proposed amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
1997, the Diocese of Ottawa created the task group on Gays and Lesbians, with a mandate to promote discussion of homosexuality and to encourage full participation of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the Church.
1998, New Westminster Synod first votes in favour of a resolution calling on the bishop to approve a rite of blessing for same-sex unions. Bishop Ingham denied assent.
1998, the Lambeth Conference announced "it could not advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same-gender unions," while at the same time committing themselves to "listen to the experience of homosexual persons."
2002, the House of Bishops "was unable to speak with a unanimous voice" on the issue of homosexuality, and referred the matter to General Synod.
2002, the Ottawa Diocese faced with two opposing motions, creates a task force on the Implications of blessing same-sex unions.
2003, after 3 successive synods in favour, New Westminster bishop, Michael Ingham approves a rite of blessing for same-sex unions.
2004, the Lambeth Commission issued the Windsor Report, calling for moratoria on: a. The Blessing of Same-Sex relationships; b. the consecration of bishops in same-sex relationships; c. extra-territorial interventions by bishops.
2004, The Primates Task Force on alternative Episcopal oversight submitted its report on Episcopal care for parishes, which disagreed with their Bishops on important issues.
2004, General Synod deferred questions regarding the blessings of same-sex unions, referring the issue to the Primates Theological Commission; and approved a resolution affirming the "integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships."
2005, the Ottawa Synod received the final report of the diocesan Task Force on the Implications of blessing same-sex unions.
2007, General Synod voted that the blessing of same-sex relationships was not to be considered "core doctrine, in the sense of being creedal." It refused to decide whether or not individual dioceses could proceed and called on the Council of General Synod to re-examine the Marriage Canon.
2007, the Ottawa Synod approved a motion requesting the bishop approve a rite for the blessing of same-sex civilly married couples.
2008, Bishop Chapman advised that he would instruct the Doctrine and Worship Panel to investigate the issue and recommend an appropriate rite to be used in a limited and "experiential" manner.

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At the Synod of 2008 I made the following statement:

With the benefit of scientific and medical knowledge we know sexual orientation is a given and a gift from God in the lives of all people. Our challenge is to determine how all persons may rejoice in and celebrate this God given gift so it honours our creator and gives dignity to the creatures of God. I believe our dealing with the issues of human sexuality is fundamentally a pastoral matter. How is God calling us to proclaim the gospel, the good news of Jesus, to those whose sexual givenness has resulted in their marginalization and has often made them victims in their communities, families, and churches?

Following, I made this statement to the Canadian House of Bishop's, as promised to Synod of 2008:



That, we, in Ottawa, begin to explore experientially, the blessing of duly solemnized and registered civil marriages between same-sex couples, where at least one party is baptized; to charge the Doctrine and Worship Panel with the responsibility to develop an appropriate rite for this blessing. Upon the authorization of a rite, I will give my permission for one parish within the Diocese to offer the blessing of civil marriages between same-sex couples. Discernment continues! This hope is not and must not be understood as a conclusive statement affirming that the Church must and ought to proceed with the blessings of same-sex civilly married couples. In order to further the discernment process, we must "experience" the issue as Church before clarity of heart and mind might be attained. For this reason, I hope to proceed, but slowly and cautiously. This would be an initial step from which we can observe and learn. Our process will allow ourselves to be better informed as we go forward to General Synod 2010 where this issue will be discussed again.

I did refer the matter to the Doctrine and Worship Panel requesting that the Panel consider for you and for me, the theological dimensions of blessing the civil marriages of same-gendered couples. As well, I asked the Panel to provide appropriate protocols for how such a blessing would be conducted. The Panel has provided me with a written report. Following careful study of their recommendations, much prayer, ongoing input from the international and national Church and mindful of the 2007 Diocese of Ottawa Synod motion, I have decided to proceed in the following manner.

Mindful of my understanding that:
Same-sex couples who are civilly married and seek the Church's blessing of their marriage must be welcomed with the same care and solicitude that the church would extend to any other of its members; and, that when the church blesses the marriage of anyone civilly married it does so recognizing that the couple is already married and that the blessing celebrates and deepens a reality that already exists;

I give my permission to the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Ottawa to begin offering a rite of blessing to those same-sex couples civilly married where at least one party is baptized, utilizing the rite of blessing for civil marriages found in the Book of Occasional Celebrations, published by the Anglican Church of Canada.

The preamble to the rite points out that the role of an ordained minister in a marriage service is to pray for God's blessing on the marriage, which the couple has ministered to each other.

I have not chosen to create an entirely new rite as has been offered by at least two dioceses in Canada. My intention is to embrace a liturgical process that will not discriminate between members of the Church on the basis of sexual orientation. This will be Ottawa's offering to the ongoing discernment that is happening throughout the Anglican Church of Canada.

It is my conviction that the process of discernment proposed here is fundamentally conservative and traditional. That is, the process of experiential discernment is witnessed clearly within Holy Scripture. A significant instance may be examined in Acts chapter fifteen. There the Church determines to do something, which, on the face of it, is against a plain reading of many other scriptural texts. The reinterpretation of these texts is held to be done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to bring "new things out of old" as they are found in the new creation instituted by the death and rising of Jesus Christ. Such reinterpretation is witnessed to elsewhere in both Testaments and in the subsequent life of the Church.

Experiential discernment is something that is clearly provisional and ad hoc. While I believe we are working out the implications of the Gospel for our day and context, I acknowledge that now, we walk by faith and not by sight. None of the steps we take are irrevocable. In order to be true to the call to discernment, I acknowledge the need to maintain the fullest degree of communion with other Anglicans and full communion partners since the rest of the Church must evaluate what we may believe to be prophetic. No one has any guarantee to the possession of the fullness of truth. For us, to move deeper into all truth, we require the gifts, reproof, insight and experience of the whole Body.

Some may conclude that by offering limited provision for the use of the rite of blessing of civil marriage for same-sex couples, the Diocese of Ottawa is stepping beyond the limit of the Church's Canons. I believe that there is sufficient need for a new pastoral response to a situation that the current Canon could not have imagined. By submitting the process of discernment to reflection and critique in the hope of consensus building, I believe that we stand within the Canon Law tradition.

Guidelines for practice will be carefully articulated to the clergy of the diocese in a Pastoral Letter that will be sent to them later this fall.

I am very excited to tell you that the Diocese of Ottawa, in partnership with three other Canadian Dioceses, has been selected by the Archbishop of Canterbury to engage in a project that he is giving the highest priority. He has, with the assistance of other global Anglican leaders organized a pilot project that will enable a continuation of the ongoing dialogue (Indaba) between dioceses that are in disagreement on critical issues. Our particular project will be discussing human sexuality. We have been paired with the Diocese of Mombasa, Kenya. While we have already shared papers one with the other, in February 2010, at the invitation of Archbishop Williams, we will gather at St. Andrew's House in London to meet face-to-face sharing ideas and continuing the dialogue. This is a marvelous opportunity for us to continue dialogue on difficult issues with our Communion partners in other parts of the world. I will be making a full report to the Diocese in due course.

Excerpt from Bishop John's Charge to Synod 2008

Excerpt from Minutes of Synod 2007

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Study and resource material
The views expressed in the following list of papers and abstacts represent both sides of the issue. Where feasible, a short synopsis has been produced by members of the Task Force.


Theology
Scripture
Union, blessings and marriages

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The Task Force has prepared a List of Suggested Readings for Parish Discussion as well as a supplementary List of Additional Readings. These materials have been developed to assist those parishes who would like to investigate in a more in-depth manner, various issues surrounding the questions of sexuality, same sex relationships, faith and the Church.

The Task Force offers some suggestions for parish prayer on the topic of same sex blessings.

The Task Force has also made some recommendations as to how the reading list can be used to stimulate group discussion. The document—Suggestions for Organizing Parish Discussion—suggests a number of ways that parishes can utilize these materials.

The Task Force invites parishes to submit a short report to the Task Force on the results of their parish discussions based on these (or any other) resource materials. These submissions should be sent to Marg Wood, Task Force Co-Chair a margwood@magma.ca.




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