2 min

St John’s Anglicans protest church’s stalling

Gay and lesbian parishioners protest delay on marriage decision

AT THE BACK OF THE CHURCH. St John's calls on Anglicans to bless same-sex unions. Credit: Rob Thomas

Gay and lesbian Anglicans in Ottawa are upset at the decision of their church’s national body to delay blessing same-sex marriages.

So parishioners at St John the Evangelist Church have turned it into a civil rights stage by segregating themselves into pews at the back of the church.

The members are protesting the Anglican Church of Canada’s decision on Jun 3 to withhold a verdict on Resolution A134, which would have allowed the blessing of same-sex unions by the church. The Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod has put off the decision until 2007, after a review by the national Theological Commission.

“Some of us were talking over dinner about the decision and trying to show how we felt without hurting our fellow parishioners at St John’s,” says Jackie Manthorne, author of the Harriet Hubley mystery series and longtime activist. “We felt that sitting in the back of the church would show that we felt like second-class Anglicans.”

The pews, designated by small pride flags at the end of them, have seen as many as 22 people supporting the protest sitting in them since the action began on Jun 6. Both the Rev Canon Garth Bulmer and the rest of the congregation have been very encouraging.

“We’ve had people come up every week wishing us support, and to tell us they feel terrible about what’s going on,” says Ross Hammond, a consultant who attends the church every week with Albert Klein, his partner of four years.

Hammond says that the group is also looking at writing into several Anglican journals and becoming a more active voice in the church.

The General Synod is the chief governing and legislative body of the Canadian church. It meets every three years to set policies for the church and pass resolutions and laws. While declining to bless same-sex marriages, the Synod agreed to affirm the integrity and sanctity of same-sex relationships, a move that has provoked 22 of the 38 primates in the worldwide Anglican church to call for the expulsion of the Anglican Church of Canada.

“One of the big problems that exists still today is the definition of what the scriptures say,” says Bulmer. “Some people take it one way and others take it another way.”

Klein brings to light another metaphor that can be used, the story of ancient philosopher Galileo, whom people did not believe when he said the earth was round, because the scriptures said it was flat. He was convicted of heresy and sentenced to life imprisonment. It wasn’t until 350 years after his death that he got an apology from Pope John Paul II for indeed being right all along.

“People can bring their pets to church and have them blessed,” Klein says, “but you can’t bless a long-term relationship with people. It makes no sense.”

For many, like Manthorne, the delay for the blessing of same-sex marriages has gone on too long. “At the end of the day, my spouse and I had to get married elsewhere, at the First United Church,” says Manthorne.

In the major cities of Ontario and British Columbia, such as Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto, the church is a lot more open to same-sex relationships. One breakaway diocese in BC already performs blessings for same-sex unions. Acceptance isn’t so easily seen across the smaller areas and more conservative parts of the country where gay rights issues are not discussed.

At the church he attended before, Klein says that any openly gay member would be disciplined by the elders and clergymen, told they are sinning and must change their ways.

“There is a movement for talk, but churches move slower than the government,” says Klein.

Archdeacon Pat Johnson of the Ottawa diocese asked at the Synod, “What are we afraid of at this time and how long will we have to wait?”

For gay members of St John’s, it’ll be at least another three years at the back of the church.