CANADA: Diocese of Huron moves toward same-sex blessings

May 25, 2009

Bishop Robert Bennett of the Diocese of Huron has asked a committee to begin to develop liturgies for a celebratory Eucharist and prayers for same-gender couples, but the service will not provide a nuptial blessing. He announced the plan, which closely resembles an approach previously chosen by bishops in the Diocese of Toronto, at the start of the Huron diocesan synod (annual meeting) taking place from May 24 to 26 in London, Ontario.

Bennett asked the diocesan doctrine and worship committee to "synthesize and make available the most recent and relevant material to aid in this discernment" and then to "develop appropriate protocols, guidelines and evaluative tools to enable us to move forward with appropriate liturgies to celebrate the love, mutual fidelity and support that gay and lesbian Anglicans model every day for the church and wider community." He said he envisions that the service would be "eucharistic in nature with approved intercessory prayers but with no nuptial blessing."

Relevant documents include statements from the House of Bishops, the Rothesay and Galilee reports released at the Council of General Synod's (CoGS) meeting in May along with CoGS' communiqués, the Windsor Report, the Anglican Consultative Council statements, communiqués from the primates (national archbishops), reflections from the Lambeth Conference (the decennial meeting of bishops in the worldwide Anglican Communion) and the Anglican Covenant process, he said.

In his written charge to the synod, Bennett confessed that he was "quite torn on the issue . On the one hand, I agree with the national house of bishops' desire to 'develop the most generous pastoral response possible within the current teaching of the church.' On the other hand, my catholic sensitivity of whom we are as church mandates that I take very seriously the Archbishop of Canterbury's request that we embrace a 'season of gracious restraint' in the matter of same-gender blessings."

The Diocese of Huron's approach, he said, respects the moratoria requested by the international Anglican Communion on the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of bishops in same-sex relationships, and cross-border interventions. "For me, this season of 'gracious restraint' will take us to Halifax 2010. We find ourselves in an 'in-between time' that must be used to prepare for the national gathering and beyond," he said. The next meeting of General Synod (the governing body of the Anglican Church of Canada) will be in Halifax in 2010.

Bennett said that initial reaction to his charge at the synod seemed "reasonably positive," but a bishop's charge committee would provide a formal response later in the meeting. Last year, the diocese voted to ask the bishop to give clergy permission to bless same-sex marriages "where at least one party is baptized" and to authorize an appropriate rite. Then-bishop Bruce Howe "gave concurrence" to the motion based on the large percentage of votes in favour but said he would consult with other bishops before acting. Howe retired in September and Bennett was elected.
The synod will also discuss the finances of the diocese that have been strained by sharply declining revenues from investment income, the closing or amalgamation of congregations which has the effect of reducing apportionment revenue, additional staff costs and unbudgeted litigation costs.

Former parishioners from St. Aidan's Windsor initiated a lawsuit against the diocese for control of the church building after they voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada over theological differences, including their opposition to the church's position on same-sex blessings. Bennett said the lawsuit is a financial stress, but the diocese has an obligation to defend the small community of St. Aidan's that remained and continues to be an integral part of the diocese.

Other major topics of discussion included a new strategic plan for the diocese, indigenous ministries and international partnerships.

The Diocese of New Westminster synod met in Vancouver, British Columbia, on May 23 and 24 where a motion to ask the bishop to increase the number of parishes where blessings can take place failed. There are currently eight parishes where the blessing of same-sex unions is authorized and six more have asked for permission. The diocese voted in favour of blessing same-sex unions in 2002, but in 2005 agreed to freeze the number of parishes where the blessing is authorized. The vote to affirm the moratoria and not extend the number of parishes passed 142 to 123.

Bishop Michael Ingham thanked synod delegates for their "civility, respect and mutual listening" during the discussion. "We shall continue to hold out our witness for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people and we shall continue to exercise generous restraint as requested by the Anglican Communion in order to facilitate this same process of consideration in other parts of our church."