In the weeks since General Synod I have reflected on what I might say to the clergy and people of the Diocese. I am writing this letter to the clergy and members of the Diocesan Executive and you can share it as you see fit. A copy will be posted on our Diocesan website.
On Sunday morning I attended the 8:30am service at St. Martins. It was a Book of Common Prayer Eucharist with the appointed BCP readings for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity; Luke 6.27ff,
Jesus said, ” Love your enemies… pray for them which despitefully use you…as ye would that people should do to you, do ye also to them likewise… Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful”. Such beautifully poetic words of challenge, for any of us who have fallen short of the Glory of God, for these words do not call us to a change of behaviour but to a change of attitude.
Any of you who followed the General Synod debate, particularly on the internet, would have noted that almost every speaker invoked the Holy Spirit in their remarks, but following the vote, any reference to the Holy Spirit has all but disappeared. For the most part injunctions to the Holy Spirit have been replaced with condemnation of ” the other side”, and the assigning of blame.
It is my belief that every person who voted at General Synod voted the way we did for the very same reason. We felt, for a whole myriad of reasons; some sound, some, perhaps, not so sound, that our vote was the right vote. I cannot claim to understand the path, along which the Holy Spirit is calling us, and I am not certain of what the final destination will look like; but what I do know, with every fiber of my being, with everything in me that yearns for God, is that the Holy Spirit is present in this journey and that in the end we can come closer to God and to one another. The greatest fear I have for our church is that we, who are its imperfect members, will fail in Jesus call to love our enemies, fail in Jesus call to be merciful. The fear I have is that we will fail, not in our behaviour, but in our attitude.
In the meantime, it seems to me, based on the discussion at our Diocesan Synod and in conversations with individuals, that our Diocese, generally, leans toward a traditional stance concerning the issues around sexuality. We have generally understood scripture and tradition not to be supportive of same sex blessings and we have a deep concern about how moving ahead with blessings will affect our relationship with the wider communion. I think this was clearly reflected at Diocesan Synod, although, I am certainly open to a continuing conversation to discern where all members of the Diocese find ourselves.
Indeed, we need to understand that large numbers of committed Canadian Anglicans, interpreting the scripture faithfully, in response to the Holy Spirit, as they discern the movement of the Spirit, and in pastoral concern for gays and lesbians have come to very different understandings. These understandings have been arrived at just as prayerfully, under the guidance of the same Spirit, as those who have come to more “traditional” understandings. Therefore, we will have to develop ways of working, worshiping, proclaiming the Gospel and ministering to all communities, while respecting those different understandings .
I reaffirm what I stated in my first “Bishops Charge”; I am a member of the Anglican Church of Canada and I will not leave it. As imperfect as we are, Anglicans, on all sides of a whole range of issues, have shown a generous patience with each other and we have continued a public conversation when many others would have given up or gone into hiding. We have always been a church which made it possible for people of widely differing views, to worship and work together. I agree with the St. Michael Report and see no reason why this issue should divide the Canadian Church or the Communion or indeed, our Diocese, and if it does happen it will not be at my encouragement or with my support.
Hopefully, as we come to a better understanding of one another, fostering the merciful and forgiving attitude to which Jesus calls us, the Holy Spirit will guide us toward a greater unity of purpose if not practice.
In relation to practice, I have appended a copy of the Bishops Pastoral Statement, and commend it to your attention. I would also share some directions and thoughts of my own concerning the Bishops Statement.
It is my expectation that no child in the Diocese of Central Newfoundland be denied baptism, solely on the basis of the sexual orientation, or the marital status, of the parents and no baptized Christian in our Diocese will be denied communion or confirmation because of being in a committed homosexual relationship or because of their marital status.
Further, I would, in the spirit of the Statement, ask rectors to offer “the most generous pastoral response possible within the current teaching of the church.”
Finally, I remind you that this issue cannot so overwhelm us or sap our energy that we fail to offer the many and varied ministries conducted in our congregations. The sick must continue to be visited, the broken hearted lifted up, the grieving comforted, the Good News preached. The whole work of the Church must continue.
In closing I would commend to your prayers those whose understanding is different from your own, asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit for all of us, so that Gods will be done in each of our lives and that regardless of where the Holy Spirit leads, we pray that we can follow with courage and humility.