March 2009

Bishop John Chapman

I feel the time has come for me to again address the issue of same gender blessings and, as promised, make a clear statement as to where we are currently on the matter and what you might expect to see or hear between now and General Synod 2010. As I address this issue, I would like to extend my deep gratitude to the people of the Diocese for their patience with me and others as we sort out together the matter of “Blessings.” I also want to acknowledge that many feel there are other issues which also require prayer, discussion and our best thoughts. May I assure you, I am joined by many who are indeed giving time and serious attention to the many issues facing the church. 

The issue of “Blessings” has been a part of our collective discussion for many, many years; culminating with our Diocesan Synod 2007 passing, with a sizable majority, the motion, “... requesting the Bishop grant permission for clergy, whose conscience permits, to bless duly solemnized and registered civil marriages between same-sex couples, where at least one party is baptized; and that he authorize an appropriate rite and guidelines for its use in supportive parishes. 

As you know, I did not move on the 2007 Synod motion immediately. I wanted to avail myself of the full and deliberate conversations that would take place with Bishops from the entire global communion at Lambeth. Following Lambeth many Bishops might suggest that clarity seemed apparent following our lengthy deliberations.  I was not numbered among them. As I have said to you in other venues, the notion of gracious restraint and more importantly, a moratorium on actions including the blessing of same-gendered couples was not clear. Numbers alone might indicate a majority wished to uphold the moratorium. However, when one listens to voices from Dioceses much like our own and from countries similar to Canada, there was clearly no consensus of opinion throughout the Communion.  For many of us, the Lambeth deliberations were a painful time of prayer and reflection. For me, what emerged from this painful time was the unambiguous realization that:

a) Lambeth affirmed for ALL present a deep desire to stay in communion with each other;

b) The Diocese of Ottawa was very clear in its desire that I begin the practice of blessing same- gender couples;

c) While there are dioceses in the Canadian Church that share our common mind and heart, there are others who do not;

d) I must be committed to honouring the church’s need to observe gracious restraint and as well, honour the prayer and discernment that has unfolded in the Diocese these last many decades.

With these concerns in mind, I proposed to Synod 2008 that I would bring before the Canadian House of Bishops the following intention:

That, we, in Ottawa, begin to explore experientially, the blessing of duly solemnized and regis- tered civil marriages between same-sex couples, where at least one party is baptized; to charge the Doctrine and Worship Committee with the responsibility to develop an appropriate rite for this blessing. Upon the authorization of a rite, I will give my permission for one parish within the Diocese to offer the blessing of civil marriages between same-sex couples.  Discernment contin- ues! This hope is not and must not be understood as a conclusive statement affirming that the church must and ought to proceed with the blessings of same-sex civilly married couples. As the church was not able to come to a clear mind regarding the benefits of the ordination of women to the priesthood until the church experienced the priestly ministry of women, so we must take the process of discernment to a place beyond discussion. In order to further the discernment process, we must “experience” the issue as church before clarity of heart and mind might be attained. For this reason, I hope to proceed, but slowly and cautiously. This would be an initial step from which we can observe and learn. If we are to interpret our scriptures using prayerful reason in interpretation and application as generations before us; most especially on matters that reflect a historical context and appear inconsistent with a scriptural mandate, e.g. divorce, slavery, usury or the role of women, then, we must engage discernment fully and completely. What I propose will allow for a continuation of our discernment process without obligation or a non-negotiable commitment. Our process will allow ourselves to be better informed as we go forward to General Synod 2010 where this issue will be discussed again.

I am somewhat bolstered by the prayers and support, if not agreement, by many in the House of Bishops. As well, I found the words of our Primate following the Primates’ meeting in Egypt this month comforting and caring for those of us who are positioned in a more precarious situation. He states:

The moratoria on the selection of Bishops in same-gender unions, rites of blessings for same-sex unions and cross-border interventions were much discussed. The Primate’s letter acknowledges that deep differences over these matters are held with great conviction. There was a continuing call for gracious restraint on all three fronts.

Reflecting on this call in our context, I am reminded of what the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his letter to the Bishops of the Communion following the Lambeth Conference – that while the majority of Bishops agreed that the moratoria was necessary, "They were aware of the conscientious difficulties this posed for some. ... How far the intensified sense of belonging together will help mutual restraint remains to be seen." In our Church the moratoria have been affirmed by the majority of Bishops until General Synod in 2010. "While recognizing the difficulty this commitment represents for dioceses that in conscience have made decisions on these matters, members of the House of Bishops have committed themselves to talking together and holding each other in prayer."(Statement from House of Bishops, October 2008)

My observation is that in those dioceses where resolutions have been passed requesting the authorizing of rites for blessing same-sex unions the Bishops have shown gracious restraint. They have called for continuing discernment in some cases through the drafting and testing of such rites in a limited manner and have advised the House accordingly. I am of the opinion that while our church struggles to honour the call for gracious restraint in blessing same-sex unions, those who are the proponents of cross-border interventions have and continue to show no restraint. I have endeavored to address this situation since the Lambeth Conference and I regret to say that to date a conversation with the pertinent par- ties has not been possible. I am disappointed and dis- mayed. My feelings are grounded in my care and concern for the Bishops and dioceses most adversely affected by these cross-border interventions. (A Reflection from our Primate, February 8, 2009)

So my friends, with a faithful heart, a wish to continue learning, and the desire to experience more deeply the will of Jesus on this matter of blessing same-gender couples, it is my intention to move forward in our ongoing spirit of discernment. I am appointing a Doctrine and Worship Committee, under the capable leadership of The Reverend Professor Kevin Flynn, to create a liturgy, appropriate protocols and procedures and, an evaluative process. This 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.

Upon receipt of a detailed report from the Doctrine and Worship Committee, and, if their report contains the direction that we should move forward in the spirit of experiential discernment, the parish of St. John the Evangelist, Ottawa has agreed to embrace this practice as the only parish in the Diocese able to proceed, and only when I have determined that the time is right.  

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.

Before I leave this topic for other issues that weigh upon the Church, and indeed, other glorious examples of “God with us,” I do want to provide clarification to a few bits of misinformation that I pick up from time to time as I travel the Diocese.

First, our ongoing conversation is about blessing and not marriage. It is important that it is clear our current discussions about blessings are focussed on same-gender couples who are civilly married and come to the church seeking a blessing.  This may change, but for now, what is under discussion is the matter of blessing. 

Second, engaging the word discernment is not done frivolously. Conclusions on how the church responds to same-gender relationships have not yet been drawn. Our task and our calling is to listen to God’s spirit as we seek to recognize, honour, and bless our sisters and brothers in Christ who have been graced with same-gender attraction.

I continue to be so thankful to God for the generosity of spirit, the willingness to speak and act in love, and the commitment to holding our Church in prayer that I find as I meet people in all parts of the diocese.  While the issues are many, the solutions complex, and the time lines demand our patience, I remain hopeful as we continue the journey our Lord sets before us.