Anglicans mull new direction on marriages

Traditional weddings could be removed from Victoria church's offerings, pending a national decision

The outgoing bishop of the Anglican Diocese of B.C. hopes a recently adopted decision to allow same-gender blessings will become the norm for all marrying couples in the church.

Bishop James Cowan supports ending a centuries-long tradition of legal marriages in the Anglican church and hopes its national decision-making body embraces the “European model” of 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. are able to conduct both civil and religious blessing ceremonies for heterosexual couples, while local parish members can choose whether or not their church can perform same-sex blessings.

On March 3, Victoria’s Christ Church Cathedral approved the decision to include same-gender blessings with the support of Rev. Logan McMenamie, dean of the parish.

“There might be a time for the church to bless all marriages. … It really depends if the clergy are willing to move in that direction,” McMenamie said.

The possibility of ending church-administered civil marriage was broached in 2010 at the Anglican Church of Canada’s national conference, known as general synod, Cowan said.

Clergy and other church members gather every three years to discuss major ministry decisions, including marriage policies.

At the 2010 conference, clergy and canon lawyers weren’t able to come to a consensus on the definition of a “European model” of marriage, so no progress was made.

Carol Throp volunteers as a steward at Christ Church Cathedral and was raised and married in the Anglican tradition. She also supports the idea of offering blessings only to all couples.

“Married couples would be coming to the church to celebrate and affirm their union in the presence of God,” she said. “My children, who are in their 30s, don’t think twice about equal gay rights (in society). If blessings are acceptable for gay couples, why can’t we all do that?”

Throp acknowledged, however, that many fellow churchgoers want traditional marriage ceremonies to remain a part of the church’s offerings.

Anglican church leaders on southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands seem split in their opinion of the move, Cowan said, but he remains hopeful. “I was actually surprised with the (positive) response.”

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

dpalmer@vicnews.com