A task force appointed by the Canadian House of Bishops, headed by the Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Victoria Matthews, has recommended the provision of alternate episcopal oversight (AEO) for minorities that dissent from church decisions on the blessing of same-sex relationships. The report from the task force says AEO has received only “grudging acceptance” as a temporary measure and as “a last resort to prevent schism”.
In advance of the report, four Anglican Primates had offered temporary oversight to parishes and clergy who formed the Anglican Communion in New Westminster in response to diocesan approval for blessing gay unions. the report says the way forward is “the voluntary agreement of some bishops to some temporary ceding of jurisdiction”. It offers several models of AEO for consideration by the Bishops at their meeting in April.
The Task Force said that the need for AEO was urgent but that the provision of an alternative bishop should only be temporary, on the basis of renewable six-month terms that could not exceed six years. Stringent rules accompanying the proposal for alternative Episcopal oversight would prevent church planting by parishes.
Canadian Synod to vote in May
Anglicans in Canada are to vote on same-sex blessings this May in an attempt to resolve the issue of whether dioceses are permitted to make up their own rules on homosexual unions.
The Canadian general synod is to be asked in May to affirm a local option on the blessing of same-sex unions. Any diocesan synod, with the bishop’s agreement, would have authority to allow such blessings. If that resolution is approved, “dissenting and distressed” parishes would have the option of being placed in trust by the diocesan bishop, and an outside metropolitan bishop, as their advocate, would choose an AEO bishop for them.
A second model relates directly to New Westminster. If the general synod should vote against the local option, then the Bishop of New Westminster, the Rt Revd Michael Ingham, and the Metropolitan of British Columbia & the Yukon, the Rt Revd David Crawley, would volunteer to cede jurisdiction temporarily to another metropolitan, who would assign them another AEO bishop “to allow for the healing of relationships”.
A third model, not strictly AEO, would allow informal arrangements.
The Council of the Canadian General Synod has ignored the recommendations of its own consultants in tabling the motion that would permit bishops and dioceses to allow same-sex blessings. It said that the blessing of same-sex unions should not be a matter on which the church’s unity was impaired. A following motion requests a committee to assist the Church in implementing same-sex resolutions by preparing liturgies and resources.
Linda Graff, a consultant who was hired to help the Church resolve the impasse, said that she and her colleagues had more than 120 years’ experience in the non-profit sector and had never encountered an issue this difficult. She said that it couldn’t be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. She argued that local option did not seem as acceptable on this issue as it had been around the ordination of women and outlined the need for leadership in the Church. She recommended that the Anglican Church of Canada avoid taking a final decision about same-sex blessings until the meeting of General Synod in 2007.
Fifth Primate joins New Westminster
The Diocese of New Westminster has already taken that decision, causing a split among a few of its Vancouver parishes. A fifth Anglican Primate has joined a group offering ‘temporary Episcopal oversight’ to parishes in New Westminster that have rejected the authority of their Bishop, Michael Ingham, the first to allow same-sex blessings. Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya has joined Primates of Central Africa, Congo, Rwanda, and South East Asia.