Unmarried couple Kit Pearson and Katherine Farris

Anglican churches move towards equality

Christ Church Cathedral's congregation voted overwhelmingly last week to allow same-sex blessings in the church.

By Daniel Palmer and Kyle Wells/News staff

Victoria’s Christ Church Cathedral can now hold same-sex blessings.

The congregation voted overwhelmingly last week to allow same-sex blessings in the church, more than a decade after Vancouver-area Anglican churches did the same.

“The Anglican church has been talking about this for more than 30 years,” Rev. Logan McMenamie says. “In some ways it’s disabled us, but it’s an important decision. It’s really a justice issue.”

The 148 to 14 vote in favour of the blessings means gay couples can now hold such ceremonies inside Christ Church Cathedral, although McMenamie still cannot conduct the legal portion of same-sex ceremonies.

“The vote was a formal recognition that we are welcome and we are equal,” says parish member Kit Pearson who, with her partner Katherine Farris, has attended the church for five years.

“Of course, it’s not absolutely equal because we can’t get married. … It’s just a step along the way.”

Pearson, 66, says she and Farris have never experienced prejudice under the cathedral’s roof.

They have chosen to remain a part of the Anglican church despite its delayed embrace of homosexual equality.

“I think a church, like any other institution, is run by humans, and humans have many faults,” she says. “You could be married in the hall by a justice of the peace, then go into the church and have your marriage blessed, which is a little ridiculous.”

At St. Mary of the Incarnation in Metchosin, like all Anglican churches, the congregation will decide whether to perform  blessings of same-sex relationships.

Rev. Rob Hutchison said discussion has started at the parish level but it’s not yet known what direction the church will take.

In Hutchison’s opinion, if more people will find comfort in the church, it’s a positive move.

“The church needs to be relevant,” Hutchison said. “If this helps people come to terms with who they are and how the church can fit into their lives, then I think it’s a good thing.”

As someone who refused to perform heterosexual marriages for three years in protest of not being allowed to offer a similar service to same-sex couples, Rev. Canon Ken Gray welcomes the change. His Church of the Advent in Colwood agreed at an annual meeting of parishioners on Feb. 10 to allow the blessings.

The congregation voted 59 in favour and six opposed.

“In my view that represents fairly the mood and understanding of the parish,” Gray said. “I have for a long time advocated that we offer this ministry and I’m glad we’re now at a point where we can do so.”

As per the rules of the national church organization, the couples must already be civilly married and at least one person must be baptized.

Diocese could bow out of marriage

The outgoing bishop of the Anglican Diocese of B.C. hopes allowing same-gender blessings will become the norm for all couples in the church.

Bishop James Cowan supports ending a centuries-long tradition of civil marriages in the Anglican church and hopes its national governing body embraces the “European model” – performing only religious consecration ceremonies.

“If marriage is something that the state wants to keep an eye on, then let state officers do it,” he said. “Why should the clergy be instruments of the state, and (do it) for free?”

Currently, Anglican parishes in B.C. can conduct both civil and religious blessing ceremonies for heterosexual couples, while local parish members can choose to allow same-sex blessings.

Rev. Canon Ken Gray of Colwood’s Church of the Advent, thinks the idea of the church refraining from performing marriages altogether is a good one. Under this proposed model a couple of any makeup would get married civilly and then seek the blessing of the church.

“I think that clarifies a whole bunch of awkward situations that clergy, including myself, have faced over the years,” Gray said.

The possibility of ending church-administered marriage was broached in 2010 at the Anglican Church of Canada’s national conference, or general synod, Cowan said. Clergy and canon lawyers weren’t able to agree to the definition of “European model”.

Anglican church leaders on southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands seem split in their opinion, Cowan said, but he remains hopeful.

“I was actually surprised with the (positive) response,” he said.

The next Anglican general synod takes place in Ottawa, July 3 to 7.