CANADA: Ottawa diocese appoints committee to consider same-sex blessings

Niagara bishop meets with Archbishop of Canterbury
March 6, 2009

Bishop John Chapman of the Diocese of Ottawa has appointed a doctrine and worship committee to determine whether same-sex unions can be blessed on a limited basis in the diocese.

If the committee recommends that such blessings be allowed "in the spirit of experiential discernment," Chapman said it would only be offered in one parish, St. John the Evangelist, an inner city parish which has long advocated for the rights of gays and lesbians.

"In the event that I instruct the parish of St. John the Evangelist to proceed, this is as far as I am prepared to move on the matter until General Synod 2010," he said in his March column at the diocesan newspaper, Crosstalk. The 2007 General Synod asked for a review of the marriage canon, which currently limits the sacrament to female-male couples, before the 2010 meeting in Halifax.

Chapman said that he has asked the committee to "create a liturgy, appropriate protocols and procedures, and an evaluative process." The process "will determine whether or not the blessing of same-gender couples civilly married will become a practice among supportive parishes within the Diocese of Ottawa, as requested by the 2007 synod of the Diocese of Ottawa." In a resolution passed by a vote of 177-97, that synod had requested the bishop to allow clergy to "bless duly solemnized and registered civil marriages between same-sex couples where at least one party is baptized."

In a related development, Bishop Michael Bird of the Diocese of Niagara said he met in January with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to brief him about recent developments around same-sex blessings in his diocese, including his intention to give permission for them to begin to take place.

Bird announced in November that he asked for a rite to be developed for the blessing of same-sex couples who have been civilly married, "along with a process to enable these blessings to take place that will at the same time honor the diversity of tradition and theology that exists across Niagara."

Bird said that he gave Williams "a full account of our dealings with dissenting parishes and the court proceedings we have been involved in." He said that he shared "our experience of the incredible contribution that gay and lesbian people have made and continue to make in every aspect of our church's life and witness, and expressed the overwhelming desire on the part of two synods to move forward with the blessings of committed same-sex relationships for couples who have been civilly married."

In a letter to his diocese published in the March issue of the diocesan newspaper, Niagara Anglican, Bird said one of the "powerful moments" during his 50-minute meeting with Williams was a discussion on the New Vision developed by the diocese. "I indicated that it was my sense that the challenge the Vision offers us around the work of prophetic justice-making has made us even more determined to become a more open and inclusive church."

During their meeting, Bird said Williams thanked him "for such a full and detailed report and he indicated how important this opportunity was for him to hear from me personally."

Bird visited Lambeth Palace during a two-week visit to the United Kingdom, which included his attendance at the Canterbury New Bishop's Program at Canterbury Cathedral.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he has adopted a "wait-and-see" attitude regarding the proposal recently made by the primates' meeting for a "professionally mediated conversation" among churches at odds over the issue of sexuality.

Hiltz said he indicated the Canadian church's willingness to participate in such conversations, both in person and in writing to Williams.

He underscored that such a conversation will only be successful if all parties agree to come to the table. He reiterated his "frustration" that a meeting among primates involved in cross-border interventions did not take place at the recent primates' meeting in Alexandria, Egypt. Briefing staff at the national office in Toronto, Hiltz said that he left the meeting with a sense that, for a majority of the primates, the debate over sexuality "was not a communion-breaking issue."