Last night, I attended a special meeting at St. Aidan Anglican Church with Bishop Rob Hardwick of the Diocese of Qu’appelle. I was there to listen to his explanation of his vote at Synod, and to discern his vision for the diocese over these next several years.
Bishop Rob, in a move that surprised many lay people, voted in favour of the motion to change the marriage canon to allow same-sex marriage. While he did say that to do so meant that he had removed “himself” from the vote (i.e., he voted against his conscience), to vote for the good of the church, he would not say explicitly that come 2020, our diocese would not authorize SSM. He did emphasize that at a diocesan level he has the right to veto, but he did not say whether he would veto any diocesan level endorsement of SSM.
On the one hand, I do see Bishop Rob making an effort to protect clergy who hold to a traditional understanding of marriage. His support of the “opt in” amendment included an emphasis on allowing a priest who chooses to refuse to perform a SSM to use the Bishop as the excuse: “My Bishop has not authorized me to do this, you may talk to him.”
On the other hand, the subtext of the conversation seemed to clearly point to the likelihood that come 2020 Bishop Rob will authorize someone in the diocese to perform SSM. There are several reasons why I see this. First, Bishop Rob is a moderate and is trying very hard to hold two sides together, in a “Third Way” type of dialogue. (I am not convinced that this will actually work, see the GAFCON statement). Second, when asked about the statement from the seven conservative bishops, Bishop Rob, instead of expressing support and solidarity for that statement upholding the traditional view of marriage, expressed his anger at their statement, likening them to flipside of the bishops who have vowed to go ahead with SSM without waiting for the next vote. Third, the dean of our cathedral in Regina (which is usually a very powerful/influential position in the diocese) is very much in favour of the motion, and if anyone were to be authorized it would probably be him.
Archdeacon Dell Bornowsky noted that part of the problem with the motion at Synod is that the commission behind “This Holy Estate” was tasked with presenting an affirmation/rationale for SSM, but no document was commissioned presenting a rationale against SSM. His hope is to write one. He also expressed interest in partnering with the Dean of the Regina Cathedral to create a dialogue between the two positions, possibly even having himself and Dean Mike Sinclair “flip” positions and argue for each other’s side.
If you had asked me three weeks ago, I would have said that ours is a mostly conservative/evangelical diocese, not just related to issues of sexual ethics, but related to scripture and tradition. Given my week at camp, I have to come to see that our diocese is not really as conservative as it seems, and that it only appears so because we are small, mostly rural, and rapidly aging. When the vote came down and then was reversed the next day, I was at our diocesan camp, cooking for the pre-teen camp. Several of our volunteers were ordained clergy. It became apparent quite quickly that the clergy on camp were in favour of the motion to authorize SSM, some excitedly so. As the conversation progressed into the evening, including the boasting about all the clergy in the diocese who are in favour of the motion, it became abundantly clear that the evangelical/traditional position on marriage was, at best, on its way to being irrelevant within a generation or two, or at worst, a supposed detriment to the gospel and example of the church being on the “wrong side of history.”
What is the future of the Anglican Church of Canada?
From what I see, the second vote to amend the marriage canon is inevitable. Schism is also inevitable. And schismatics are not necessarily the ones who leave. The Church is fractured. At the very least, the Anglican Church of Canada as a whole, with a general Synod, has become irrelevant, given that several bishops have chosen to thumb their nose at the process and do their own thing anyway. The Anglican Church in Canada cannot hold together nationally, and is headed to a loose federation of dioceses. This actually works, ecclesiologically, as the Bishop is usually the final authority. If we end up having these regional centres of Anglicanism, based on bishop’s authority, then this gives space for the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) to be a viable alternative for evangelical, traditional, conservative Anglicans. There can be loose affiliations/networks of dioceses working together based on theological commitments, social justice projects, proximity, and distinct community needs.
It will be impossible for a diocese to hold a third way and have priests and parishes teaching that both traditional and progressive understandings of marriage are equally valid. It will create theological whiplash, to have one church teach a traditional view of marriage, while another church teaches the opposite. It will create a pastoral care crisis, because a person who comes for care (or who ends up being under discipline) at either church could simply go to the opposite church to hear what they want to hear.
While I appreciate the calls for unity, the reality is that unity is meaningless without discipline. And in several parishes, and even at the national level, unity is being used as a bullying bludgeon, where unity means “you have no choice, you have to let us do what we are doing.” The call to unity is one sided and there is no attempt for the progressives to say, “maybe we shouldn’t do this, for the sake of unity.”
So what does all of this mean for the Hackney family?
We love St. Aidan. It has been a wonderful place for our family. Two of our kids were baptized in that congregation. It is because of St. Aidan that we do morning/evening prayer together as a family. The rhythms of liturgy have shaped us, as has the weekly participation in communion.
If this was just about St. Aidan, we would stay. Dean Pinter preached a fantastic message out of Colossians on Sunday morning about being rooted in the Word and faithful to the Gospel. But the reality is, St. A is not Pastor Dean’s church. As was noted at the introduction of Bishop Rob’s talk, St. A is the Bishop’s church. So can we sit under a bishop who will not affirm explicitly the traditional view of marriage as the view for this diocese?
For the past several years I have been trying to find a place to serve. As St. Aidan toyed with the idea of being an abbey (sending) parish, there was talk of me becoming a licensed lay reader (i.e., lay preacher) and the possibility of doing pulpit supply across the diocese. But when it came to be commissioned, Bishop Rob decided it was not the right time. I am not faulting him for this. He wants to commission a group of lay readers simultaneously, which means I have to wait 17-24 months for others to go through the training (which I basically have on account of my 2.5 theological degrees). But this has felt like an inexplicably closed door. At one point, while I was at Wycliffe, I was asked why I am not on the ordination track and my response, jokingly, was “I can’t even get licensed as a lay reader in my diocese!” It was then that I learned that me being licensed as a lay reader should not be as difficult as it has been, and thus I realized that God was keeping the door closed, for some reason.
At one point in the discussion with the Bishop last night, it was mentioned that there is a lot of theological work to do in the diocese concerning this issue, and that not much had been done, theologically, scripturally, etc. I raised my hand to point out that we need to be careful to say not much has been done, and to think that we have to start from scratch, when in fact there are incredible theological resources available. Here I referenced Wycliffe and its faculty who have offered to be a theological resource for dioceses across Canada, the series of essays at the Living Church that examined several faulty exegetical and theological assumptions in This Holy Estate, and even my own availability to serve as a resource.
Part of the decision to attend Wycliffe over McMaster’s Religious Studies program was because I am convinced that theology is done in and for the church. But two completed theological degrees, and now working on a terminal degree at an Anglican seminary does not appear to be sufficient to do anything more than carry a candle once every six weeks. My continued cries of “here I am, use me!” appear to be bouncing off a closed door.
If we didn’t have children, we would probably be able to stay, and be salt and light. But we have our kids to think about. As parents we cannot raise our children in the faith alone. We need the church to come alongside us to help us catechize our kids. But, given what I have seen this week, there are leaders/teachers in our parish who hold to a very different understanding of marriage and sexual ethics, sometimes aggressively so. As a parent, I need to be able to trust my children to the care and teaching of their Sunday school teachers, and I don’t know that I can at St. Aidan at this time.
Our family is in an interesting position. I have been confirmed in the Anglican church, but Chuck and the kids have not. I am studying at an Anglican seminary. I am in love with Anglican liturgy.
So what do we do? Do we stay? Do we go? Where do we go? (There is no ANiC church in Moose Jaw.) Can I be an Anglican in exile, until such time as we are living somewhere that has either an ANiC church, or are living in the diocese of one of the seven orthodox bishops? Or is it time to close the door on our Anglican journey and appreciate the season that it was? What does this mean for when I return to school in September?
It has been an extremely hard week. The Synod vote was not unexpected, but Bishop Rob’s vote was a shock. I needed to hear him say that he voted no. I needed to hear him say that he stands with the seven bishops, that he affirms traditional marriage, and that our diocese will not be authorizing a change to the canon at a diocesan level come 2020. The thought of leaving St. Aidan is gut-wrenching, and I have cried all week. This whole situation is not unlike grieving a death in the family. And at a spiritual level, my soul feels like it wants to throw up. But here’s what I know: Jesus is faithful. The Church is larger than our parish, diocese, or the Anglican Church of Canada. God is at work, and God works not just in blessing, affirmation, and comfort, but also in judgment, discipline, and punishment. Through the Holy Spirit, our Triune God tends the branches, pruning, propping up, fertilizing, and re-planting.
Pray for me. Pray for my family. Pray for my pastor. Pray for my bishop. Pray for my church. Pray for the Church.