This week I read with interest the article in The Telegram concerning the annual celebrations commemorating St. Francis of Assisi at the Anglican Cathedral, incorporating the blessing of the animals. While reading the article, my youngest daughter asked why we did not attend and have our dog, Brodie, blessed. I paused for a moment, reflecting upon my reasoning for our absence at this annual occasion.
For me, this decision comes because of my questions relating to the nature of blessing, and of the role of the church in setting things apart as sacred and holy in the sight of God and the community of faith. It seems, in our Anglican patterns and traditions, we have little difficulty setting apart individuals, animals, objects, liturgical items, books, buildings, and property. All these can be blessed. Yet, when considering the nature of relationship, the Anglican Church in this province has been deathly slow in examining the presence of God in same sex relationships. The Anglican Communion, to varying degrees, has examined at various levels discussions on the place of homosexuals and lesbians in the life, witness, and ministry of the church. In this diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, this has no doubt been as a result of our previous Bishop`s abandonment of our fellowship in his retirement, as he joined with other clergy, and left to partner with the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, rejecting our diocese, and the Anglican Church of Canada. I commend our Bishop, Cyrus Pitman, for sidestepping these issues for the past ten years, so as to focus on the unity of the diocese and its mission to proclaim the kingdom of God in Christ in this place.
Ten years have passed, and the Anglican Church of Canada outside this area has continued to grapple with the discernment of the Holy Spirit in the life and witness of the church in relation to homosexuality. In the meantime, this diocese has not actively entered into dialogue, as we have grieved the parting of bishops, clergy, and laity from the fold. This year, General Synod passed Resolution C003, asking the Council of General Synod to prepare and present a motion to change the church’s Canon 21 on marriage “to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite sex couples” http://www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/same-sex-marriage-vote-in-2016. Because of this landmark resolution, our diocese, and our worshipping communities have to grapple with same-sex marriage and its place in the church.
This month I have once again dusted off my resources concerning the Anglican Church and Homosexuality. There has been much written, since 1978, about the journey the church has engaged in concerning homosexuality http://d1cp1qz2o8x44l.cloudfront.net/faith/files/2010/10/hsrh.pdf. I encourage one and all to engage in dialogue, in prayer, and reflection, as we prepare to take our place with others throughout the Anglican Church of Canada, and discern the voice of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. We must find ways to have open, relational conversation, so as to hear the valued voice of clergy and laity in the church.
The dialogue is essential; the dialogue is inflammatory. We are the people of God and we love deeply. Opinions concerning the nature of God, of blessing, of Christian community, and of human sexuality often produce much hurt and discord. We must recall the variety and depth of the expression of Christian community in our midst. We must celebrate the diversity that comes in faith communities, and our commitment to stay together as we strain and struggle. In The Homosexuality Debate: Faith Seeking Understanding (2003), Bishop Patrick Yu (Area Bishop, Diocese of Toronto) addresses the pastoral challenges that continue to be before the church. He states,
Attention should be given to the challenges raised by this discussion to congregational life. The church`s response to homosexuality has uncovered important issues that go beyond the specific decisions in this controversy. It raises questions as to what kind of community we wish to be, how we in fact treat each other and outsiders, how we can be a distinctive witness in our culture.
We must pray. We must be informed. We must welcome and engage the whole community in the dialogue. We cannot offer blessing with one hand, and, on the other hand, ignore the plight of those in our community who are longing to be seen as equal and be accepted in the life of faith.