by Leanne Larmondin
7 July 2001
Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster has apologized to gay and lesbian Anglicans for how slowly the church is moving on deciding how to minister to them. The apology came during a General Synod presentation on sexuality, particularly how to give pastoral care to gays and lesbians.
"At the request of the diocese of New Westminster, and on my own behalf, I would like to apologize to gay and lesbian members of our church for the slowness of the process of your full inclusion in the Body of Christ," said Bishop Ingham. "We apologize to you for your treatment, and sometimes mistreatment, in the life of the church, for our slowness in recognizing you as sexual beings, created in the image of God, desiring a deeper communion with God and the freedom and responsibility of life-long permanent and committed unions in body, mind and spirit with those you love."
Bishop Ingham, whose British Columbia diocese has struggled with its ministry to its large gay and lesbian population, gave a short history of New Westminster's dialogue on sexuality. His diocese has twice in recent years voted by a narrow margin to ask the bishop to bless same sex unions but Bishop Ingham has declined, stating he would require a greater majority. After last June's vote, after which Bishop Ingham withheld consent despite a diocesan synod voted favouring same-sex blessing by 56.5, synod asked him to apologize to gays and lesbians for how slowly the church is moving on fully welcoming homosexuals.
Bishop Ingham, who has publicly stated his wish to one day perform same sex blessings, said during the General Synod presentation that he withheld his consent "out of concern for the impact it would have on my church and the wider communion."
But, he said, he continues to question what is the place of gays and lesbians in the church. "How do we express pastoral care to them and to those who are gay and lesbian who are asking for (blessings)? I believe pastoral care happens when people are listened to, when they are respected and accepted for who they are.
"I believe pastoral care happens when people know themselves not to be a problem to be fixed and changed, but as human beings to love and cherish. For gay and lesbian people, it means affirming their dignity as human beings, their committed relationships, their lives as sexual beings, persons created in the image of God and desirous of a deeper relationship with God."
The panel also heard from Rev Sarah Tweedale, a British Columbia priest, who said her conservative colleagues were feeling marginalized in the dialogue about sexuality.
"I have become convinced that neither side has it right," said Ms. Tweedale. "Do we dare risk admitting that we don't know what to do?"
While not claiming to have the answers, she said that all sides of the issue needed to find "a new way to be together."
Also on the panel was Chris Ambidge, a Toronto member of Integrity, a gay and lesbian support group across the Anglican Communion. Mr Ambidge, a self-described cradle Anglican, who spoke of a "huge, albeit silent leakage" to other churches "not just of (lesbians, bisexuals and gays), but also our families and our friends, leaving because of the way the church treats (lesbians, bisexuals and gays) and that is a pastoral problem."
He added, "We must not outsource our pastoral care of (homosexuals)."
Keewatin Bishop Gordon Beardy spoke of a very different experience than that of Bishop Ingham's.
"Michael Ingham and I come from two different worlds," said Bishop Beardy. "He comes from a diocese with many lesbians and gays, where he can see them as they struggle. I come from a diocese which is the opposite of his world."
In his diocese, which is composed largely of native communities in northwestern Ontario and northeastern Manitoba, ministry to gays and lesbians is simply not an issue he said. But, he said, he was glad to be part of the sexuality discussion particularly when the family of a lesbian approached him for pastoral care. Then and now, he said, he prayed about how to help the family discuss the situation openly. He continues to pray, he said, as the church struggles with the question "where is the spirit in this?"