Monday, May 31, 2004

Vancouver's Peter Elliott to be second-in-command at church meeting on same-sex blessing
Douglas Todd
Vancouver Sun

The Very Reverend Peter Elliott has been elected to the post of prolocutor of the Anglican church in Canada. He will play a significant role at the coming General Synod.

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. -- The Canadian Anglican Church's top governing body on the weekend elected an openly gay Vancouver priest as second-in-command for its historic General Synod, at which delegates will be holding a contentious vote on same-sex blessings.

Peter Elliott, dean of downtown Vancouver's Christ Church Cathedral, was elected prolocutor, or chair, of the once-every-three-year convention by a vote of 161 to 116 over his nearest competitor, Reverend Peter Irish of Fredericton, New Brunswick. The prolocutor is, next to the primate, the senior officer of General Synod.

An essay by Elliott, in which he comes out publicly as a gay man living in a relationship, was published in the brand new book, Living Together in the Church: Including Our Differences, published by The Anglican Book Centre.

CREDIT: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun

In his autobiographical piece, Elliott says he felt compelled to move "from secrecy to openness" to reach out to other homosexuals who are considering the ministry, but may fear rejection in the church.

Bishop James Cowan, of Vancouver Island, nominated Elliott for the influential role, saying the long-time dean of Christ Church Cathedral is "exceptionally well-organized" and has a "sense of humour that can defuse tense situations." Elliott had served as deputy prolocutor at the last General Synod.

The Synod will decide if individual dioceses have the right to authorize same-sex blessings. Disagreement on the issue is profound and considered a threat to worldwide Anglican unity.

Vancouver School of Theology Professor Richard Leggett, one of 310 delegates to General Synod, said Sunday the election of 50-year-old Elliott (who, by coincidence, was born in St. Catharines) was a positive sign for those in the 700,000-member Anglican Church of Canada who support same-sex blessings.

"I think it's a good indication, at least, that the issue of same-sex blessings will get a fair hearing," said Leggett, noting the Vancouver-area Diocese of New Westminster in 2002 became the first in the country, and perhaps the world, to formally endorse the same-sex rites.

"I don't know what the General Synod will decide, but this is a clear indication from General Synod that delegates from the Diocese of New Westminster are not pariahs."

However, University of B.C. history professor George Egerton, a prominent conservative who wrote the book, Anglican Essentials: Reclaiming Faith Within the Anglican Church of Canada, said Sunday that Elliott's elevation to the role of prolocutor is another sign the national Anglican denomination is heading for trouble.

Egerton said Elliott's election shows that "the revisionist establishment that is currently in place continues to be successful. But they will face very hard times ahead. They're facing a church in crisis, which they can only partly manage."

In other developments before the Wednesday vote on the divisive issue of same-sex unions, delegates heard a plea for civility from B.C. Archbishop David Crawley, who is acting primate of General Synod until a replacement for recently retired primate Michael Peers is elected today.

The national and international Anglican debate over same-sex unions "has been harsh and vituperative to an unacceptable degree," said Crawley, who personally believes the church should support committed homosexual relationships.

"We all feel deeply about this issue, but that is no excuse to descend into the depths. The judgmentalism and the profoundly personal nature of some of the comments, both private and public, could never reflect the realm of God, no matter what you understand it to be."

During opening presentations on the homosexuality debate on Saturday, a high-level Anglican who serves on an international church commission set up to deal with the bitter split over same-sex blessings, cautioned General Synod delegates there will be negative fallout from their vote -- no matter which side wins.

Canon Gregory Cameron, secretary to the Lambeth Commission on Unity, congratulated the church for its courage in engaging in the same-sex debate. But he said many Anglicans, particularly in the fast-growing church in Africa, Asia and South America, vehemently oppose the blessing of same-sex unions and have cut their ties with the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal (Anglican) Church USA, which recently consecrated a gay man as Bishop of New Hampshire.

If General Synod says no to the motion to allow Canadian dioceses to bless same-sex unions, "there is a danger that you will be letting down thousands of gay and lesbian people who are part of your Canadian church family," Cameron told delegates, meeting on the campus of Brock University.

"If you say yes, then the work of the Lambeth Commission becomes horribly complicated because the reaction of many other provinces will be that the Anglican Church of Canada refuses to hear their voices or concerns."

Egerton, who attends the disaffected Vancouver parish of St. John's Shaughnessy and is observing General Synod as a volunteer for a Canadian group known as Anglican Essentials, urged North American Anglicans to take heed of the dire warning with which Cameron concluded his speech.

That's where the visiting Anglican emissary told General Synod delegates: "You must do what you believe God is calling you to -- as your acting primate [Crawley] said -- to do what will expand the realm of God.

"But I would be unfaithful to the task I have been set if I did not say that the implications of your decision for the unity of the Anglican Communion, perhaps even its very survival in its current form, are just about as serious as it could get."

The Vancouver Sun 2004

Same-sex Blessings