“Be yourself,” was the message of Archbishop of York John Sentamu in his sermon celebrating the election of the new Archbishop of the Anglican Church Of Canada.
But the leadership was sending mixed messages. Even pro-gay Anglicans dodged making explicitly pro-gay statements. And of course, as has been well reported elsewhere, the Church voted that there’s no doctrinal reason not to approve of gay unions — but Canadian Anglicans are still not allowed to bless them.
The outcome of the latter would have changed had one anti-gay bishop changed his mind.
“Homosexual behaviour is not in line with Scripture of my prayer book. We can call it sin. My desire is for people to be whole and come back into line with God’s will,” Bishop Larry Robertson of the Arctic said at the Saturday debate.
Canadian Anglicans meet once every three years to debate policy and elect a new leader. The blessing of gay marriages is an issue that was carried over from the 2004 meeting.
Primate Frederick Hiltz, installed Jun 25, will lead the ACC for three years, when it will meet for its 39th General Synod — and be pressed to make a decision on the blessing of same-sex marriages.
At the reception following Hiltz’s installation of the new Primate, the primarily elderly and white crowd are very cautious.
“It’s a really lovely tradition,” says Marie Chalmers, a Synod volunteer.
About the same-sex blessing debate, Chalmers says, “I’d rather not comment on that.”
“I need time to digest what’s happened.”
Hitlz says that the Synod’s decision only means that the Anglican Church needs more time.
“Well, we’ve been talking about it for 30 years,” Hiltz says.
“I think people are looking to the Church to make a statement, a decision one way or the other. The outcome of the decision, for many people was very painful — for gays and lesbians — because it means we’re into another three years of further study and discernment.
“And for others, who welcome that time for discernment and study, it was a very good decision.”
Asked about how the decision will affect the Anglican Church Of Canada’s relations with other churches that haven taken positions on gay marriage, Hiltz says that the three-year delay is good news for the Anglican Church, “that we’re not moving, as some people would say, unilaterally, or too quickly.”
Hiltz says he believes “in the Synodical process — and I am certainly prepared, if the Synod were to move in that direction, I would be supportive of it.”
The Synod worked hard to discern God’s will — and will keep working, says Rev. Canon Murray Still, an aboriginal mission developer in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land, in Northern Manitoba.
“We chose not to bless same-sex unions at this time. The Bishops gave us their wisdom, that we need more time for discussion, more time for getting more knowledge and more discussion in our communities, in particular the aboriginal communities,” says Still.
“We have a lot of work to do in our aboriginal communities to make sure we feel inclusion in the Church, so we’re working hard at that; our Church is patient, and onside with us.” He adds that the election of the Canadian Church’s first-ever Indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald was an important step.
The installation was held at St. Matthews Church, in an inner-city neighbourhood in Winnipeg. A group of local teens, all black, danced at the closing ceremony.
“The most interesting part [of the Synod] was the way people were together, right? And they were singing and dancing and enjoying stuff, so mostly everyone was communicating together,” says 14-year-old Rebecca Garang, a dancer for the Youth Immanuel of St. Matthews.
In addition, the runner-up for Primate was a female, the first time a woman has ever run for the position.
The Synod invited delegates from the Episcopal (US Anglican), United, and Lutheran Churches, in addition to representatives from the local Jewish and Muslim communities.
Gail Allen, an ecumenical officer and coordinator for Interchurch and Interfaith with the United Church, was impressed by the communication and “how people listened to each other.”
Allen says she hopes that in future debates on same-sex blessings, the Church will enable everyone to listen to each other — and, eventually, agree with the United Church and bless same-sex marriages.
“I hope that we’ll be able to remain — well, be — with our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church as they look for ways to do that,” Allen says.
“Some people are very upset about the bishops’ decision, says Ben Stewart. “I’m not sure. You can ask my dad, he was there.” Asked if the bishops have too much decision-making power, he replies, “a lot of people have been saying that.”
David Ball, a parishoner at St. Matthews Anglican Church, thinks the same-sex blessing issue will keep coming up.
“It’s so clear that the laity and clergy are behind it. So it’s only two bishops off.”
Ball and Gwen McAllister, both involved with the Student Christian Movement Of Canada, question the role the bishops played in voting down the blessing of same-sex marriages.
“There’s something beautiful about the traditions and stuff — the robes, and the ceremony — so I wouldn’t want to get rid of it. But [the bishops] should listen to the people,” says Ball.
“It makes me wonder who gets made a bishop, and why,” says McAllister. “How it is that the people who become bishops aren’t necessarily representative of the laity.”