New Westminster Synod votes to limit blessings within the diocese

The Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster on May 14 voted to limit same sex blessings within the diocese. Eight parishes where parish members have already voted to have their church be a place of same sex blessing can continue to hold the blessing rite, the Synod decided. But none of the other 70 parishes in the Vancouver area diocese will be allowed to carry out the rite of blessing – at least not until the national Anglican Church of Canada takes up the issue in 2007.

In so doing the Diocesan Synod of about 300 priests and lay people meeting at Capilano College, North Vancouver, rejected the pleas supported by about a third of the Synod that imposing any limit on blessings would send the wrong signal to gay and lesbian Anglicans. But the Synod also turned down the arguments of more conservative members of the Synod who wanted rite discontinued everywhere.

“I believe we have taken the Anglican Communion very seriously,” said Bishop Michael Ingham, after the final vote to limit places of blessing. At the same time, by allowing blessings to continue in some parishes, the Synod continues to affirm gay and lesbian Christians, the bishop said.

The delegates had been working from a report prepared jointly by the Rev. John Oakes, rector of Holy Trinity parish in Vancouver, and the Rev. Richard Leggett, theology professor at Vancouver School of Theology. Although most Anglicans agreed that such labels are a simplification, Oakes is “conservative” in his theology and has taught at Regent College, Vancouver. Leggett has been designated as “liberal,” and participated in formulating the rite of blessing issued in 2003. Oakes told the Synod he personally favoured stopping all same sex blessings, and Leggett has said he personally wanted them to continue, with more parishes being allowed to apply to conduct them. However, both men said they had to shelve their personal preferences to find a solution that most Anglicans in the diocese could support.

Debate on the report took about two hours of discussion in the morning. Almost as long was spent on debate during the afternoon on the formal motion to adopt the report prepared by the two men. During the proceedings, one vote was counted. It involved an amendment to the report that would have continued to allow all parishes to apply to be allowed to conduct blessings. It lost, 104 to 192. Another amendment would have imposed a moratorium on all blessings. It lost by a show of hands.

Oakes said that both he and Leggett had concluded that ignoring the Windsor report’s recommendation for a moratorium altogether would be a slap in the face to the Anglican Communion. He and Leggett also agreed that not responding to the international report would further alienate many theologically conservative members of the diocese.

The 2002 Diocesan Synod voted to ask Bishop Ingham to authorize a rite of blessing of same sex unions. But it stipulated that blessings should take place only in parishes where the priests in conscience agreed with the blessing, and the parish Vestry (all parish members 16 or more) had formally voted to ask the bishop to designate their parish as a place of such blessings.

After the Synod’s vote, parishes that can continue to hold same sex blessings are St. Mark’s, St. Margaret’s, St. Paul’s, and Christ Church Cathedral, all in Vancouver; St. Laurence, Coquitlam; St. Agnes, North Vancouver; and St. Hilda’s, Sechelt. The Bishop announced after the vote that he had approved blessings in an eighth parish, St. Barnabas, New Westminster. That parish had voted on April 3 to be a place of blessing, but the bishop said he had decided not to announce his decision until Synod took place so as not to be seen to attempting to influence Synod’s decision.

Chairing Synod, bishop took no part in the discussion whether to adopt the report, but he had stated in a sermon during the day’s opening worship that “now it is time to pay attention to relationships and the strain our actions have caused.” “We have heard at this Synod that there are still levels of deeply felt anxiety among the parishes and people of our diocese, that will not go away. We have heard a call to reconciliation and healing. We must now put the same effort into re-building broken relationships that we put into ending the discrimination against some people in our church,” he said.

Also attending the Synod was Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, Primate of the Canadian Church. He had to leave before the final vote was taken, but praised the group for struggling “opening and honestly” with the issue.

Whether to impose a complete or partial moratorium on same sex blessings made up only a small part of the report by Oakes and Leggett, but it was the only contentious item. The delegates agreed that sections of the Windsor report suggested too much centralization of power in the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. They also agreed that the Windsor report was wrong to state that the diocese had made no serious attempts to consult with other churches within the Anglican Communion before authorizing blessings.

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