First blessing waits for liturgy

The “when” is uncertain, but who will likely be the first same-sex couple formally blessed in a New Westminster parish is almost certain.

Maureen Ashfield and her partner, Laura-Lynn McBain, parishioners of St. Margaret’s, Cedar Cottage are among three couples at the parish hoping to have their unions blessed before year’s end. While the other two couples have chosen not to make public their intentions, Ms. Ashfield has been forthright about her family’s (the couple has an eight-year-old daughter) desire for a blessing.

As a St. Margaret’s delegate to the diocesan synod, she seconded a motion asking Bishop Michael Ingham to move ahead with same-sex blessings. She and the mover, Rev. Robert Korth later withdrew the motion in favor of another which endorsed a proposal from the bishop which provided for the blessing of same-sex relationships, plus a conscience clause and episcopal visitor for those who did not support the blessings. That motion passed by 63 per cent.

Ms. Ashfield, who hopes for a blessing in the fall, said in an interview that the two other couples waiting for a blessing are content to let her and Ms. McBain be the first couple to have a ceremony in the first diocese in the Anglican Communion to officially vote for same-sex blessings.

While she understands the event might receive a good deal of attention, she is uncertain whether she and her partner wish to share the day with the public.

“It is a happy occasion, but we still want it to be our event,” she said. Being the first doesn’t really faze her because “it’s already been so long.”

She and Ms. McBain met at Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral and have been together for 12 years. Their priest, Rev. Margaret Marquardt, said Ms. Ashfield and Ms. McBain and their daughter are deeply involved in the life of the parish, in music, prayer, as sidespersons.

“It seems a very natural thing to participate with them in recognizing and celebrating their relationship,” said Ms. Marquardt.

St. Margaret’s, a small parish in east Vancouver, is the first in New Westminster to ask Bishop Ingham’s permission to perform a same-sex blessing rite.

The parish, which has just 86 members and an average Sunday attendance of 50, voted in 1998 to commit itself to full inclusion of gays and lesbians. Because of that conscious decision, said Ms. Marquardt, it was no surprise that its vestry voted unanimously in early July to ask their priest to seek Bishop Ingham’s permission to perform blessings of same-sex couples.

Some parishioners say it feels quite natural to be the first parish in New Westminster to offer blessings, said Ms. Marquardt.

“Different communities give leadership in different ways,” she said. “We have very thoughtful gay and lesbian people who have helped the congregation with this.”

Bishop Ingham told Ms. Marquardt that he would not authorize a same-sex blessing until after the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in September. By then, he hopes to have a rite prepared and a covering letter to accompany the rite which explains to parishes their pastoral responsibilities.

Great care is being taken, said Ms. Marquardt, that the rite of blessing does not closely resemble a church wedding. The bishop and the diocese’s legal and canonical commission have already rejected one draft of a rite because it was too similar to a marriage ceremony. All matters of doctrine, including the doctrine of marriage, fall under national church canons and a single diocese would not be able to alter the marriage ceremony.


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