After this week's discussions with bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, Bishop Barry Clarke of Montreal plans to launch a process to work out a rite for blessing same-sex couples in the diocese who have been married in civil ceremonies.
In an opening statement October 24 to the annual synod of the Diocese of Montreal, the bishop said he believes that in the current debate about same-sex issues some are being called to speak with a prophetic voice, others with a voice of caution.
"For reasons, perhaps known only to God, I believe we, in the Diocese of Montreal, are among those who have been called by God to speak with a prophetic voice," he said. "It is our voice that is called to affirm that all people are loved, valued and precious before God and the church. It is our voice that is called to affirm that all unions of faithful love and life-long commitment are worthy of God's blessing and a means of God's grace. In time our voice will either be affirmed by the body, or stand corrected."
About a year ago, the 2007 Montreal synod adopted a resolution calling on the bishop to grant permission for clergy, under certain conditions, to bless duly solemnized civil marriages, including same-sex marriages. Clarke, like the bishops of two other dioceses where such motions were passed around the same time, has not yet implemented it by authorizing such blessings.
Speaking at this year's synod, the bishop described his decision as one that "does constitute an incremental step forward, which is consistent with the wishes of synod, all the while observing the cautious posture voiced and upheld in other parts of the Anglican Communion" and expressed at the Lambeth Conference of the world's Anglican bishops this summer.
Delegates to this year's Montreal synod took no further action on the issue except to debate and vote down, by clear although not overwhelming majorities, two resolutions presented by people opposed to same-sex blessings.
One resolution asked the bishop to refrain from implementing same-sex blessings until there had been extensive consultation with the Anglican Communion worldwide, until the diocese had established a process for consulting its members, until the General Synod of Canada changed the marriage canon, and in any event not before the 2010 Montreal synod.
The other resolution asked that, if the bishop did authorize the blessings, a process called shared episcopal ministry be made available to parishes and clergy requesting it. (Basically, this could mean that, with Clarke's assent, a bishop opposed to the blessings would provide certain services, probably including confirmations, in similarly minded parishes. Last May, Eddie Marsh, retired bishop of Central Newfoundland, carried out a confirmation service for candidates from two parishes in the Montreal suburban area known as the West Island. Clarke authorized this, at least with regard to one of the parishes, and the experiment was considered by some to be a trial run for shared episcopal ministry.)
The two motions were rejected, although their sponsors used conciliatory language in presenting them.
David Johnstone, rector's warden of the evangelical St. Stephen's Church in Westmount, said the motion on consultation would not reverse the 2007 decision but would help to preserve Anglican unity in a situation where "the diversity once cherished by Anglicanism has been stretched beyond limits."
The Rev. Timothy Wiebe of two churches in the Eastern Townships described the motion on shared episcopal ministry as "creative, generous and fully inclusive of all points of view" and "an Anglican solution, a via media."
In his opening address, Clarke said that, shortly after the meeting of the House of Bishops (October 27-31), he would establish a commission with the responsibility of drafting an appropriate rite for the blessing and guidelines for implementation.
"In this process, I am committed to an open dialogue, and to this end, I will provide opportunities on a formal basis for listening, dialogue and further discernment," he said. He added that the diocese would work alongside the faith, worship and ministry committee, which had been charged by General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada's governing body, to develop a process to engage dioceses and parishes in study of the Christian perspective on human sexuality in light of scripture, reason, tradition and current scientific understanding.
"Let me make it absolutely clear that in this process, no cleric and no congregation will be required to participate in any future blessing of same-sex civil marriages," said Clarke.