Toronto Bishop Makes Room for Same-Sex Blessings

( [email protected] ) Nov 05, 2010 10:35 AM EDT

A bishop within the Anglican Church of Canada will begin granting permission to a limited number of parishes to bless same-gender unions.

The Archbishop of Toronto, the Most Rev. Colin Johnson, issued pastoral guidelines this week to accommodate those in "stable committed same gender relationships" seeking a blessing of their commitment.

The guidelines, he acknowledged, will not be welcomed by all, with some opposing it and others feeling it is not nearly enough. But he stressed that those who disagree with same-gender blessings and those in favor of it are both recognized and affirmed in the diocese.

"The diversity of our diocesan community demonstrates that we are called to witness to the faith in a variety of ways, and though such witness is rooted in differing interpretations and understanding of holy scripture and the tradition, they are recognizably Anglican," the guidelines state.

In June, the legislative body of the Anglican Church of Canada agreed not to take any legislative action in response to differing views on same-sex blessings. The General Synod determined that they could not come to a common mind on the controversial issue, that a legislative approach would not be appropriate at the time, and that there are and will be a variety of practices across the Canadian church body.

With that, the Synod agreed to have "more conversation" on the matter.

The Anglican Church of Canada, representing 800,000 Anglicans, does not formally allow same-sex blessings and remains committed to the moratoria Anglican leaders worldwide agreed to in 2004. But a number of Canadian dioceses have already permitted the blessing of same-sex unions, which in turn contributed to the widening rift within the global Anglican Communion.

Conservative Anglicans have repeatedly denounced the pro-gay actions of the West and distanced themselves from their more liberal brethren. Last year, parishes representing some 100,000 conservative Anglicans in the United States and Canada constituted their own body, separating themselves from the Anglican Church of Canada and the U.S. Episcopal Church – which has so far ordained two openly gay bishops.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, archbishop of the newly formed Anglican Church in North America, declared last month that they are the fastest growing denomination in the United States.

Amid the ongoing tension, Toronto Bishop Johnson tried to provide something of a compromise between the moratoria on same-gender blessings and the call for "pastoral generosity" within the Anglican Church of Canada toward gays and lesbians.

The new guidelines make it clear that while select clergy will administer the blessing of same-gender couples, the blessing is not the same as the sacrament of marriage. And to distinguish the blessing from a marriage liturgy, the act of worship will not include an exchange of consents, a declaration of union, or the signing of a marriage register.

Notably, clergy who object to blessing same-gender relationships will be asked to "exercise pastoral generosity" by referring the couples, if requested, to a more favorable priest. The guidelines also state, "It is expected that no one will be excluded from receiving the eucharist or baptism in any parish on the basis of their sexual orientation or their views on the issue of same gender blessings, whether in favor or opposed."

Matt Kennedy, conservative Anglican blogger at, believes the guidelines are not very accommodating for orthodox Anglicans.

"Up to this point it has been possible for an orthodox priest or deacon to remain in even the most liberal diocese in the [Anglican Church of Canada] and [The Episcopal Church] without compromising his integrity. No more," Kennedy wrote. "This is the first diocese in North America in which orthodox 'loyal dissent' is no longer possible. I am certain it will not be the last."