gs2001-Communion wine okay, but watch those ‘acts of licentiousness’

Eileen Scully laughed out loud when she saw the headline of the advance General Synod story about the joint service to be held with the Lutherans. “Joint synod service: on ice, with a twist”, read the headline.

How true it was.

The ice was certainly going to be there: the worship service would be held on the ice surface of a local hockey rink, with boards laid over the ice.
The twist turned out to be another matter altogether: a snarl of red tape and bureaucracy at its finest.

Entrusted with the local arrangements for the joint service between Lutherans and Anglicans during their national meetings, Ms. Scully began a long journey through bureaucratic maze of one local liquor control board, two provincial ministries and a provincial ombudsman’s office before acquiring the permission to hold a worship service, complete with sacramental wine, in a local hockey arena.

Organizers planned for about 4,000 at the service, scheduled for two days after the two national churches’ expected endorsement of full communion. No area church was big enough so the Waterloo Recreation Centre was a natural choice.

The centre told Ms. Scully, an Anglican theologian, that it would have to charge a corkage fee for the communion wine expected to be consumed at the eucharist.

A corkage fee is a common surcharge levied by banquet halls and restaurants to open alcohol brought in from the outside.

“Corkage fee?” asked Ms. Scully. “Surely churches were exempt?”

Surely not.

The centre recommended that she secure a special occasions liquor permit to avoid the corkage fee.

She filled out the application form at a local liquor store, but once a clerk saw that the service was scheduled for 10 a.m., Sunday, July 8, the bureaucratic roadblocks began to form.

“You can’t serve liquor before noon on Sundays in public places,” said the clerk.

(Churches are not considered public places by the law.)

Ms. Scully replied: “Surely there must be an exemption for churches for religious purposes!”

Surely not.

And so began her climb through levels of civil servants at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. Ms. Scully spoke with at least 10 different civil servants, both at that ministry, then the ministry of consumer and business relations, all of whom were unanimous that there was nothing they could do: the law was the law.

On a serious note, Ms. Scully said the organizers of the joint service felt the marginalization of religious institutions in Canada.

“We just don’t fit in these laws,” she said.

Ms. Scully said she kept the Lutherans and General Synod planning staff at the national church office apprised of the situation and they, too, were unanimous: the churches would not bend. They would not serve de-alcoholized wine because it went counter to their theology.

Finally reaching a high-level bureaucrat at the consumer relations ministry, Ms. Scully found some salvation: an Anglican with a sense of humour.

“I’m an Anglican and I know all about the Waterloo Declaration and was planning to attend some of General Synod,” the man told Ms. Scully, while laughing at the situation. He advised that she take her story to the provincial ombudsman.

Just 24 hours later, the ombudsman’s office had processed the complaint and the alcohol and gaming commission was ready to talk to Ms. Scully.

The questions began: what was the size of the arena? Was there tiered seating? How many exits? Would people be walking around while consuming alcohol? Would people be climbing stairs while consuming alcohol? Would there be children present?

Then that ministry put its lawyers to work for four days, combing through legal books for a way out.

They found it in the province’s Religious Tolerance Act. That act, which was quoted in part to Ms. Scully in a letter advising that her permit had been issued, allowed for the consumption of alcohol as long as it was not made an excuse for “acts of licentiousness”.

And so it was that the province allowed for 3,400 Lutherans and Anglicans to celebrate their coming together with bread and wine.

After the service was over, Ms. Scully wondered aloud, laughing, what the ministry would have said about two bishops, holding hands, hugging and dancing around the entire arena.

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