sex talk on sunday morning

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The reporting session – what has been happening in the sexuality discussion at the church level over the past few years – was this morning.  I don’t process stuff as fast as I might, so this will be incomplete, but a few passing impressions.

There were reports from different sources:  Bp Linda Nicholls (as chair) and a couple of other members of the Primate’s Theological Commission spoke of their work in the last 7 years (a mandate finished with this GS); Janet Marshall and Leila Zimmer spoke of the discussions of the Faith, Worship and Ministry committee; we heard from two bishops (Bird of Niagara and Johnson of Toronto) on discussions they and three other Canajun bishops had with bishops from elsewhere in the communion, in London; and the Primate walked us through the discussions of the House of Bishops, and actions in various dioceses in the last triennium.

It was a significant information dump, and not a whole lot of it was new to me.  The PTC came up with the St Michael report for GS07 (same-sex blessing is a question of doctrine, but not core/credal  doctrine); and they were unable to come up with an agreed on theology (or theological reflection) for the blessing of marriage / same-sex marriage / unions; and uncomfortable so didn’t come up with theological underpinnings for blessing same-sex marriages.

Faith Worship and Ministry held a series of consultations, and Janet Marshall (chair, reporting) said that the committee was, after much discussion, “cautiously conservative”.  We heard about what they did, and what people discussed (and didn’t).  Some groups did do homework assigned by General Synod 2007, others felt [correctly] they had already done that work, and others just didn’t do it.  The discussions just came up with a series of  dipoles “some of us thought/felt A and some of us thought/felt  B”

Bishops Bird (Niagara) and Johnson (Toronto) reported on discussions that they and three other Canadian bishops had with other bishops from, shall we say, more conservative parts of the world, in London, meetings set up by Lambeth.  They were fruitful, especially when discussing mission (as opposed to Them Thar Homo Things), and will continue.  A classic case of understanding when you meet and see the whites of eyes – +Colin Toronto told of being in Uganda and a layman being incredulous after a visit and prayers that he (Colin) could be an north American bishop, as he (the Ugandan) had been under the impression all NAmerican bishops were dreadful heathens, but this one proved to be Christian.

The Primate brought Synod up to date on the situation with the House of Bishops.  They made a statement in spring 07 commending fullest pastoral generosity (a situation ++Fred acknowledged is insufficient / inadequate for many – including yr scribe, in the long run); and again in October 08.  The statements made then form the current policy, and will advise our discussions tomorrow and the rest of the week.  They referred again to ‘gracious restraint”, observing moratoria (no homo bishops, no blessings, no crossborder interference).  The primate is still committed to avoiding crossborder interference from other provinces, though he admits his efforts and discussions with other primates have not met with a lot of success).  He mentioned that the commitment from several dioceses to moratoria was until this synod – so who knows (I add) what will happen come Saturday when GS10 is past?

There have been moves in the landscape since then – both in secular society in this country, and in church-land.  He gave a summary of various dioceses:

  • Huron has passed a motion 08 to bless civil marriages of same sex couples, and the bishop has consented
  • Rupert’s Land provincial House of Bishops have issued a statement that they would maintain moratoria
  • Saskatoon narrowly defeated a motion similar to Huron’s
  • Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior requested blessing of civil marriages, pointing out that their predecessor diocese Cariboo approved full inclusion in 2000.
  • Diocese of Ontario [Kingston area] had a motion similar for blessing, ruled out of order by the chancellor [yr scribe isn’t convinced that wasn’t at the request of the bishop, but that’s purely speculation]
  • Rupert’s Land diocese passed a similar blessing motion, with a clause awaiting approval of General Synod
  • Toronto has pastoral guidelines for blessing unions/marriages (which initiative came from the bishops, rather than by vote of synod), and which was later discussed in diocesan synod indaba groups.
  • Ottawa passed the same bless civil marriages motion, and has one parish (St John’s in Ottawa city) as the designated venue
  • Niagara passed  the same resolution, and has developed a rite.
  • Diocese of BC (Vancouver Island + gulf islands) passed motion requesting blessing in spring 10.
  • New Westminster has a limited number of parishes who have been blessing couples for seven years now.

What the primate didn’t say was there have been blessed marriages in Niagara, Ottawa and Toronto in the last three years.  I think the recitation of this list may have had an impact.  Nine out of thirty dioceses, and nearly all the major urban centres, and the dioceses containing the vast majority of Anglicans, have all moved.  It’s the smaller population, rural, northern dioceses that have not moved.

“All across the church, many dioceses have had significant discussions, and some development.  This is our changing landscape.  The 2008 House of Bishops statement (full text is here ) remains the House position; alongside a changing landscape.  What I hear is a plea for us to walk together, talk, pray, stay together”

As I said, nothing was new here, though hearing it all delivered in a lump is somewhat disheartening.  I don’t sense much of a problem in my diocese, my part of church-land; but that’s not the case across the country.  My fear is that we’ll talk , not do a whole lot, and that will be it.  GS will have “done” sexuality and move on.  Bishop Linda spoke of a lot of “issue fatigue” out there, and I can certainly understand that.  Heck I’m tired of it.  I really don’t have a sense of where we as a synod will be going.

I’m sure there will be motions coming forward from various places, and I don’t envy the resolutions committee their job of sifting through them.

I must allow, the “we really didn’t like being asked to come up with only one side of the argument” stuff from the Primate’s Theological Commission smelled strongly to THIS teacher of excuses for not doing their homework.  I’m sure they DID have extensive discussions, and I’m sure they were distressed at the apparent one-sided nature of the questions asked of them (which I have not fully rehearsed above).  My answer to that is, ok, fine, then cast complementary questions and come up with responses to both.  But don’t be petulant and refuse to answer questions you don’t like.  Do your homework.

That ire, however is aimed at water well under the bridge, so I’ll just write it off as letting off steam on my part.  There were information sessions in various venues afterwards, but I didn’t have the oomph to go to them.  I did have a significantly long and very helpful (and supportive) talk with +Linda afterwards, and I need not to shoot the messenger – she was just reporting, I’m not blaming her.  The lack of progress over the last triennium was deflating.

So instead I went up to the display and relieved the gumball machine of several Smarties™, and harassed Patti, who was getting the invitations to the Integrity Eucharist ready for the printer.  Shortly after that, I saw all of the staff people off as they went to the printer and thence to lunch, abandoning the display as everyone else was off-site.

This afternoon was a big celebration at an arena just outside of Halifax – this is in honour of the 300th anniversary of Anglican worship here, and in Canada; and 100yr of the Cathedral.  Very impressive (all of synod, and many many NSPEI Anglicans), very purple (all the bishops, including (a personal fave of mine) Bishop Susan Johnson [big-chief-bishop of the Lutherans] – she came in in the middle of what looked like an honour guard of our four metropolitans), very big (I’m guessing 4-5000), vice-regal (the Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, mit aide-de-camp, was in attendance), very long (just over 3hrs).  Everyone had the evening off, and most dioceses took all their people out to dinner – Niagara and Toronto on a boat that toured Halifax harbour.  I’m not sure if the rocking was the boat, or the two glasses of wine.  But I’m back here, the rain is making a lot of noise on my window, and it’s time for bed.

We’re discussing sexuality stuff in groups of three Galley groups (ie about 25 people) tomorrow.  Further bulletins to follow, &c


Written by Chris

June 6th, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Posted in General Synod