[Diocese of New Westminster, Anglican Church of Canada] Clergy in six parishes within the Diocese of New Westminster have been authorised to perform a rite of blessing of committed same sex unions. In so doing, all provisions of the motion passed by Diocesan Synod in June, 2002, are now fulfilled.
That motion (Motion 7) requested that Bishop Michael Ingham authorise a rite of blessing of homosexual couples.
It was the third time the synod had by majority vote requested the rite. The bishop did not consent to the request in 1998 and 2001, but did consent last year.
Parishes authorised to use the rite are the following: St Margaret's, St Mark's, St Paul's, and Christ Church Cathedral, all in Vancouver; St Agnes, North Vancouver; and St Laurence, Coquitlam. The bishop issued the rite of blessing to the parishes on Friday 23 May, in advance of the Diocesan Synod, May 30-31.
In a letter accompanying the rite, Bishop Ingham distinguished between the blessing of gays and lesbians, and marriage, which in the church is a sacrament for heterosexual couples.
"This is not a marriage ceremony, but a blessing of permanent and faithful commitments between persons of the same sex in order that they may have the support and encouragement of the church in their lives together under God."
He stated that couples who seek the blessing must receive preparation and instruction, and be supported and sustained by the parish throughout their lives together.
"The church recognises that homosexual couples face the same challenges and share the same responsibilities as other people in living out the costly demands of love," said the bishop in his letter.
"Our purpose is to encourage and strengthen fidelity and mutual supportiveness in family life on which the stability of our wider society depends."
The synod's motion last year required that blessings will take place only after a favourable vote of the parish Vestry, and the agreement of the priests involved.
To date, the six parishes (of 80 in the diocese) are the only ones to have held Vestry meetings and requested that their churches become a place where same sex blessings occur. In each case, the priests involved are willing to perform the rite. When the blessing takes place is a pastoral matter to be determined by the priest in each parish.
The bishop noted that two days after he had issued the rite of blessing, a statement by the Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in Brazil stated that "as a body" the Primates could not support a blessing of same sex unions.
He said he was not surprised that the Primates could not agree on the matter, since divisions within the Communion have been in evidence since the last Lambeth Conference in 1998.
"The Primates are faithfully reflecting the lack of theological consensus in the Communion," he said. "And yet they are also recognising that gay and lesbian Christians are part of the church and are not going away."
Bishop Ingham said that he and his diocese agreed with the Primates that there is a "duty of pastoral care that is laid upon all Christians to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations."
The rite of blessing of homosexual couples is the pastoral response which the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster had requested three times - in 1998, 2001, and 2002 - and to which he gave his consent last year.
The following is the text of a letter from the Rt Revd Michael Ingham, Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster, which was sent to six parishes in the diocese authorising a rite of blessing of committed same sex couples. The rite and other materials will be posted on the diocesan web site at www.vancouver.anglican.ca:
May 23, 2003
Dear Friends in Christ:
Please find enclosed a Rite for the Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Covenants which I am authorizing for use in the Parish of [Parish Name] in accordance with Motion 7 of the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster 2002.
This is not a marriage ceremony, but a blessing of permanent and faithful commitments between persons of the same sex in order that they may have the support and encouragement of the church in their lives together under God.
In taking this step, the diocese is affirming our belief "as Christians that homosexual persons are created in the image and likeness of God and have a full and equal claim, with all other persons, upon the love, acceptance, concern and pastoral care of the church. The gospel of Jesus Christ compels Christians to guard against all forms of human injustice and to affirm that all persons are brothers and sisters for whom Christ died." (Canadian House of Bishops Guidelines, October 1997)
Homosexual persons, like all persons, take strength and comfort from the overwhelming witness of Scripture to the unconditional love of God. The Bible urges the church to put into practice the compassion of Jesus towards all who suffer prejudice, discrimination and rejection because of their particular human differences and uniqueness. This Rite of Blessing is one response to that clear biblical imperative.
Couples who seek this service of the church should be adequately prepared and instructed by the clergy beforehand, and supported and sustained by the Christian community afterwards. In offering its care in this way, the church recognizes that homosexual couples face the same challenges and share the same responsibilities as other people in living out the costly demands of love. Our purpose is to encourage and strengthen fidelity and mutual supportiveness in family life on which the stability of our wider society depends.
Thank you for your willingness to extend the church's pastoral ministry in this way. May God grant joy and prosperity to all who rightfully receive it.
The Right Reverend Michael Ingham
For further information please contact:
Diocese of New Westminster