THE Canadian House of Bishops has recommended to the rest of the Anglican Church of Canada that it pulls back from the outright blessing of gay couples.
The issue is on the agenda for the Canadian General Synod in June. The House of Bishops had a preparatory discussion when it met last month, a meeting attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The House ran out of time to conclude its debate on the blessing of same-sex relationships. As a result, email voting was necessary in order to approve this week’s pastoral statement.
In it, the Bishops acknowledge their divisions. Nevertheless, it says, “we believe it is not only appropriate but a gospel imperative to pray with the whole people of God, no matter their circumstance. . . To refuse to pray with any person or people is to suggest God is not with them.”
From this the Bishops conclude that ministers should not refuse to participate in ceremonies to celebrate a civil partnership. The statement gives two examples:
“When a civilly married gay or lesbian couple seeks our Church’s reception of their civil marriage and asks their parish’s recognition, it may be possible, with their bishop’s knowledge and permission, to celebrate a eucharist with the couple, including appropriate intercessory prayers, but not including a nuptial blessing.
“When a gay or lesbian married or committed couple seeks to hold a reception or celebration in a church for their life in Christ, again, intercessory prayers for their mutual fidelity, the deepening of their discipleship, and for their baptismal ministry may be offered, not including the exchange of vows and/or a nuptial blessing.” The Bishops go on to affirm the ministry of gay and lesbian clergy “as deeply valued and appreciated”.
The statement says that the Bishops’ recommendation is “less than the blessing of same-sex unions or marriage”. The reason is that, “as of today, the doctrine and discipline of our Church does not clearly permit further action”.
The statement goes on: “To those who fear that these pastoral provisions have gone too far, we assert that this discipline is entirely consistent with the doctrine of the Church and with our membership in the Anglican Communion, and fits within the pastoral guidelines of the Windsor report.”
The Bishops hope that no one will be refused baptism or communion as a result of being in a committed homosexual relationship. And they ask for a report on the theology of same-sex relationships, to be produced in time for the 2010 General Synod.