Anglicanism Today: A Reflection on the Issue of Same-Sex Blessings (THAW October 2006)

Posted: November 26, 2012 by Ty in Archives
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Down through history of the Celtic Church there have been issues that have arisen that would destroy the church- shatter the Anglican Communion. Each time a heresy has arisen there has been a movement of spirituality to counter.[1] Today another such issue faces not only the Province of Canada, and the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, but the world wide Anglican Communion. The question that has emerged is whether or not the blessing of committed, monogamous same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine or not? (St. Michael’s Report, p.3). The Most Rev. Andrew Hutchinson (Primate of Canada) commissioned the St. Michael’s Report in 2004 to explore this issue. Now the question arises for reflection is simple: is this the issue that will tear the church apart or is it just another form of renewal where we need to ask ourselves what is God doing here?

Paul Avis’ worked from the thesis in his book: Anglicanism and the Christian Church that one cannot use the term church to describe Anglicanism. For the term church as it is used today describes a church with a confession (ala Lutherans) or a Pope/Patriarch (ala Orthodox or Romans), whereas the Anglican Church International is not bonded by these matters, but rather by the coming to the Altar each Sunday for the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (The Eucharist).

For the Communion to have survived for so many centuries it comes from walking the Via Media unlike most forms of ecumenicism, this middle path does not translate into he lowest common denominator. In fact it involves embracing both the Romanist and Protestant traditions, while at the same time using the Liturgy to create theology and doctrine.

Within the issue of Same-Sex Blessing arises another important part of Anglican History, the Anglican Communion started out as the Church of England (which dates back to shortly after the time of Christ as the Celtic Church that joined Rome, then left Rome). The Communion started as a state church, which meant that the church and state crafted what marriage meant. In the modern era there is a separation of church and state, yet there is still a mentality of the people in the pew that there should not be or that the separation is actually oppression from the government.

Since the Government of Canada has endorsed civil same-sex marriage is this a catalyst to the Anglican Church of Canada blessing them? An intriguing note is that in Europe quite a few churches are out of the marriage business altogether, and the Anglican Church there has a blessing service for civil marriages between a man and a woman (the most famous being Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles). This removes from the Priest the investment from the country, state, or province to marry.

As well saying because a civil marriage is possible, means that it is a catalyst for a church blessing in Canada ignores two key points. The first is that the priest and/or bishop have the right of veto for any marriage of a heterosexual couple within the church. Especially if it is a second marriage where permission of the Bishop needs to be sought. The blessing motif as opposed to marriage would remove much pressure from the clergy. If everyone had to be married by the Justice of the Peace, then it would only be the committed that would seek out the church’s blessing and remove the challenge from the priest. Within the Anglican Communion to have the sacrament of Marriage only one of the couple need to be baptized within the Anglican Church.

One side note is important here: The Sacrament of Marriage is not a Sacrament of the Priest, but rather of the Laity. The couple being married are the presiders of the sacrament, and it is to one another, not the priest to who the vows are said. The blessings work the same way. Using the benchmark of lawful marriage by the Government of the land for those unions that will be blessed also raises a whole other question the Communion is side stepping. Under Alberta Law, you are lawfully married to your significant other after six months of cohabitation (common law); if the law is the benchmark then a common law couple should be able to seek a blessing as well.

This brings us back to same-sex blessings, some say it is a matter of Biblical Interpretation or Hermeneutic, if this is the case then is it worth tearing apart an almost 2000 year old communion over hermeneutic? Within Canada, the Primate’s Theological Commission reported in the St. Michael’s Report did find that this issue was one of doctrine, but not one that was worth breaking communion over.

A doctrine is when the church speaks out on an issue, and by speaking out on that issue are revealing something about the nature of God (St. Michael’s Report, p.11). An interesting question that the report raised for the church (and I believe the church universal) needs to explore is that of what sexuality is? (St. Michael’s Report, p.8). A further statement from the report is what Same-sex Unions meant, that being a relationship that was committed, adult, monogamous, intended life-long same-sex relationships that include sexual intimacy (St. Michael’s Report, p.6).

Bishop Ingham in the Diocese of New Westminster gave his ascent to the blessings of Same-Sex Union, unlike what has been reported the true story is that it was n the third time the question had been raised and voted on at the Diocesan Synod. The first two times Ingham refused ascent because below 70%  and that was not a clear enough majority for approval. On the third time it was above 70% but also the Bishop’s hands were tied as any question that passes three Synods according to the Canons of this particular Diocese had to receive ascent.

Since this passed Synod approval with a majority of Synod delegate support the assumption would be that these are parish representative and the majority of the parishes supported as well. That would also be a false assumption, for it breaks down each Parish sends x number of delegates to the Diocesan Synod. These are Synod Delegates for the Diocese not the Parish they come from; they are Laity and clergy. For anything to pass requires a majority from the House of Clergy and the House of Laity. When the Synod opens the delegates prayerfully need to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

This is the “Hot Button” issue for the Diocese of Calgary election of a new Bishop on June 24, 2006. So much so that it was one of the eight questions posed to the eight candidates at a discussion forum put on DVD for the Parishes to view. What would they do if Same-Sex blessings passed at a Synod or the General Synod of Canada passed it. Everything from resignation to approval was voiced.

Here is the unique way of design of the Anglican Church; the Province of Canada (the national church) can pass it; even the Province we are apart of[2] can pass ascent. But the kicker is the Primate (head of the national church) and the Metropolitan (head of the regional province), have n say over whether or not each Bishop will grant ascent. For example in the Roman Church, the Pope can walk into any parish in the world and preach; for the Primate or Metropolitan to come in and preach in a church, they need to be invited by the Diocesan Bishop and the Priest of the Parish. For a church planting metaphor, think of the mother-daughter church method. The Diocese is the Church; each parish is a daughter of the mother (ala what Rockpointe Alliance is doing for church planting). Each Priest does not work for the parish, but rather for the Bishop.

All this to say is that it is not as easy as the Pope saying Same-Sex blessings are wrong, and that is the end of the discussion, each Diocese needs to make the decision themselves, so as people looked down on Bishop Ingham for saying that it comes down to whether or not the priest of the parish wanted to bless them or not, was empowering the priest with the power they already held over blessings of relationships.

As the national church, the provincial church and the diocese continues discernment on this issue, one need to understand the full complexity of how the Anglican Communion functions. Internationally big news was made in the media of the North American churches being removed from certain commissions, the unique part is that no where was it reported that these were commissions the North American churches had never served on in the first place. The communion is diverse, some Diocese ordain women, others do not, some Dioceses are more liberal that Bishop Spong, others are more conservative than Franklin Graham. But it is not our polity or hermeneutic that unifies us as a Communion, it is the simple act of the Liturgy that leads us to kneel at the Altar beneath the cross of Christ in spite of our differences, as family. Just as Christ showed the bond of family at the base of the cross on Good Friday by giving the Beloved Disciple to his Mother Mary; just as the Holy Family showed the church; just as the Disciples and Christ so does the church need to remember that we are diverse, we all have different interpretations of the scripture; but what are make and break issues for each member of the church?

Each generation has had to face a crisis within the church and we have endured. Each generation has had to rediscover Christ for their world, and the church ha grown because of God’s blessing and love. The question is not whether or not to bless same-sex unions; but for me the question arises is what is God doing with his people in the midst of this crisis?

For if we can discover the heart of God, the revival of faith in the world will be amazing.

[1] Archbishop’s Rowan Williams book The Wound of Knowledge takes the reader on a spiritual journey through the church from the New Testament times up to St. John of the Cross.

[2] Here is how it goes: Internationally there are provinces, the Anglican Church of Canada is known as the Province of Canada; that then breaks down to four provinces nationally, that also includes a Province of Canada. Alberta and the Diocese of Calgary falls in the Province of Rupert’s Land, where currently the Metropolitan of Rupert’s Land is serving as Interim-Bishop of the Diocese of Calgary.



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