Primate’s statement on New Westminster approval of a rite for same-sex blessings

The following is a statement by Archbishop Michael Peers, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, on the distribution of a rite for same-sex blessings in the diocese of New Westminster.

Last year’s decision by the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster to ask their bishop for a rite for the blessing of persons in committed, life-long same-sex unions created an occasion for reflection and discernment among Anglicans in the diocese, in Canada, and throughout the Anglican Communion.

That reflection and discernment has happened in a number of places, including the New Westminster synod itself, the Council of General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Canadian House of Bishops, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates of the Anglican Communion.

The synod’s decision has also led to the formation of smaller groups within the church at the diocesan, national and global levels, dismayed by the decision of the synod and convinced that it should not be implemented.  Seven parishes in New Westminster have responded to the offer of Bishop Terry Buckle of the Yukon to serve as their bishop.  Additionally, the Synod of the Diocese of Yukon supported Bishop Buckle in extending this offer.

In early May [2003], Bishop William Hockin of Fredericton accepted the invitation of Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster to serve as Episcopal Visitor to parishes in the diocese seeking such a ministry.  The House of Bishops (in two motions subsequently supported by the Council of General Synod), has urged Bishop Buckle to withdraw the offer and appealed to the seven parishes to explore the possibility of receiving Bishop Hockin’s ministry.

The Primates of the Anglican Communion have issued a pastoral letter, identifying the tensions surrounding this matter, and unable to come to a common mind, have declared themselves unable to support the authorization of a rite of blessing:

“The question of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy.  The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and there is no theological consensus about same sex unions.  Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites”.

I share their assessment that the absence of consensus makes it impossible for me to speak with one mind in support of the actions of the Synod and Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster.  At the same time, reports that characterize the Primates’ letter as a direct and unanimous repudiation of those actions are wrong.  The Primates do not, at our meetings, either move resolutions or take votes.  We seek the deepest possible expression of unity in whatever terms are available to us.  In this case, our common mind accurately reflects the potential for division and the absence of theological consensus among us and within the churches that make up the Anglican Communion.

As Primate, my personal opinions and views are not the issue.  A synod of the church, together with its bishop, has decided, and that decision has now been implemented.  The Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod of 2004 will take up this issue.  These are the canonical settings in which this issue now is set, and it is not my place as Primate to interject my personal opinions at this time.  Neither is it my role to pass judgment on the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster or to anticipate the deliberations of the 2004 General Synod.  I believe that the order of the church is a particularly vital and important resource when profound disagreement overtakes us, and I am committed as Primate to sustaining that order so that it may continue to serve us well.

The Bishop of New Westminster’s provision of a rite for the blessing of persons in committed, life-long, same-sex relationships completes the commitment he undertook a year ago.  He made that commitment only after refusing on two previous occasions to consent to the synod’s decision.  For my part, I understood the provision of this rite as a response not to the Primates of the Anglican Communion (whose pastoral letter was issued after the bishop’s decision to release the rite and authorize its use in six parishes) nor to the House of Bishops, nor to any other body than the synod of the diocese whose congregations elected the synod, and whose members the bishop serves.

Nor on the other hand do I see the Primates’ letter as in any way an attempt to exercise jurisdiction in the life of the Diocese of New Westminster.  In fact, it makes clear the Primates’ commitment, as a body, to recognize in other provinces “the sincere desire to be faithful”, and their commitment “to respect the integrity of each other’s provinces and dioceses”.

Finally, the Primates’ letter speaks of the life of the Anglican Communion in terms of having been “irrevocably called into a special relationship of fellowship with one another”.  Communion is not something we accomplish, but a gift from the Father, given through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Moreover, it is not something we choose, but a fact of our common life, a reality established among us at great cost.  Finding a way to embrace that communion in times of profound disagreement and conflict is not likely to be easy.  It is, however, the hard and holy work to which we are called as we follow Jesus on the way of the cross that leads to new life.

Michael Peers

Archbishop and Primate

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Contact:  Vianney (Sam) Carriere, Acting Director, Communications, 416-924-9199 ext. 306; [email protected]

Michael Thompson, Principal Secretary to the Primate, 416-924-9199 ext. 277; [email protected]

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