COGS hears updates on human sexuality work

This past weekend marked another milestone in the Anglican Church of Canada’s discernment around issues of sexuality, as the Council of General Synod (COGS) heard updates on several related pieces of work at its meeting in Mississauga, Ont.

At the 2007 General Synod, members made several important decisions around sexuality. Since then, the Faith, Worship, and Ministry Committee (FWMC) has overseen the follow-up work, although several different church bodies have also been involved. The recent COGS meeting marked a critical report-back time before General Synod 2010.

“This is a period of discernment where General Synod wanted a lot of study, a lot of dialogue,” said the Rev. Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of Faith, Worship, and Ministry (FWM) after the COGS meeting. “We’re helping people with resources and conversations as they sort through the interrelated matters that are before us.”

What follows is a shortened version of a longer progress report, prepared by the Faith, Worship, and Ministry Committee, with descriptions of General Synod’s requests and summaries of the work done. Related responses from COGS have also been included.

1. Amending the marriage canon:

  • General Synod 2007 asked COGS to consider a revision of the marriage canon, including a theological rationale to allow marriage of all legally qualified persons (this was later specified to mean “same-sex couples”).
  • COGS decided not to ask General Synod 2010 to change the marriage canon. The council received the Rothesay Report and requested FWMC to expand it to include a broader spectrum of thought on the question of same-sex marriage.

2. Theological questions of same-sex blessing and integrity and sanctity

  • General Synod 2007 asked the Primate’s Theological Commission to consult with the church and report before General Synod 2010 on these questions:

a) The theological question whether the blessing of same-sex unions is a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine

b) Scripture’s witness to the integrity of every human person and the question of the sanctity of human relationships

  • COGS received this report and its accompanying materials, and commended them to the church for further study. The council also noted that more work needs to be done on distinctions between different kinds of unions (a blessing versus a nuptial blessing, etc.).

3. Implications for our Church and Communion

  • General Synod 2007 asked the Anglican Communion Task Force to report before General Synod 2010 on the implications of blessing same-sex unions and/or marriage for the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Communion.
  • The Anglican Communion Task Force has not yet addressed this question directly, but will likely meet in fall 2009 or winter 2010 to do so.

4. Generous Pastoral Response

  • General Synod 2007 asked the church to support and encourage dioceses to offer the most generous pastoral provision possible within the current teaching of the church to gays and lesbians and their families.
  • The House of Bishops has developed guidelines around this provision, and these have been used and adapted across the church.
  • COGS requested that General Synod 2010 affirm these guidelines.

5. Study of Sexuality

  • General Synod asked FWM to develop a process to engage dioceses and parishes in a study of the Christian perspective of human sexuality through the lens of Scripture, reason, tradition, and current scientific understanding.
  • FWM has gathered related resources online. As well, they have trained 20 facilitators to hold focus group discussions about sexuality. Eight focus groups have met and more are planned for 2009.

The Rev. Canon Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa, FWM’s  coordinator for dialogue, has set up several conversations about homosexuality between Canadian dioceses and African dioceses.

  • COGS received this work with thanks to FWM staff. It encouraged Canadian dioceses to participate in dialogues like those Mr. Kawuki-Mukasa has established and also asked for continued study, discussion, and discernment around “the blessing of unions, the blessing of civil marriages, and marriage in the church, of same-sex couples.”

COGS also requested that the General Synod Planning Committee build a listening  process into the agenda for General Synod 2010 that would include a report on all of this work, as well as a time for dioceses to share their experiences around sexuality in their own contexts.

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