The Bishop of Niagara, a diocese in south central Ontario, has authorized his clergy to begin offering blessings of same-sex couples from September 1. The Niagara Rite has been authorized by Bishop Michael Bird for the “voluntary use of priests who wish to offer a sacrament of blessing regardless of the gender of the civilly married persons who wish to receive the blessing of the church and wish to affirm their life commitment to each other before God in the community of the church.”
The rite is a means “for the church to extend affirmation, support, and commitment to those who present themselves seeking a sign of God’s love in response to the love and commitment they express for each other and have already affirmed in a civil ceremony,” and was designed for the blessing of “any couple who have been civilly married.”
At the 2007 meeting of the Niagara Synod members voted 239-53 to ask the bishop to allow those clergy “whose conscience permits” to bless gay marriages. In Oct 2008 the Canadian House of Bishops called for a stay of liturgical experimentation for gay weddings. The bishops said Canada’s General Synod would take up the issue in 2010. However, at the November 2008 synod, Bishop Bird said he would charter a commission to produce a rite for same-gender couples married under Canada’s gender-neutral matrimonial laws.
In January the bishop of met with Dr Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace to brief the archbishop about his plans. Writing in the March issue of his diocesan newspaper, Bishop Bird said the diocese’s call to “prophetic justice-making has made us even more determined to become a more open and inclusive church” and break the Canadian House of Bishops and Lambeth moratorium on the introduction of gay blessings. Bishop Bird wrote that the archbishop had thanked him “for such a full and detailed report and he indicated how important this opportunity was for him to hear from me personally.”