INTEGRATOR, the newsletter of Integrity/Toronto
copyright 2004 Integrity/Toronto.
The hard-copy version of this newsletter carries the ISSN 0843-574X
Integrity/Toronto Box 873 Stn F Toronto ON Canada M4Y 2N9
ABANDONING SILENCE IN FAVOUR OF DIALOGUE
Faith, Vocation and Intimacy, My Journey from Secrecy to Openness,
by the Very Rev Peter Elliott
there's a growing list of 54 parishes that welcome LGBT folk to their pews
ONE MORE PARISH EMBRACES THE RAINBOW
Gary van der Meer reports from St John's West Toronto
ALL THE INTEGRITY NEWS, AT THE SPEED OF ELECTRONS
Integrity Canada's email news group
TORONTO SPECIAL SYNOD ON SAME-SEX BLESSINGS
LAMBETH COMMISSION REPORTS
The Windsor Report was released on 18 October 2004
Chris Ambidge reports, with Integrity's reaction
Faith, Vocation, and Intimacy
My Journey from Secrecy to Openness
By the Very Rev Peter Elliott
When I was asked to write this essay, it was assumed that the writer would be anonymous. On reflection, I realized that this assumption was at the heart of the challenge to our church. Why would a priest have to hide his name when writing an essay that told his story? As a priest, I have always valued the Anglican pastoral tradition of being a "parson" - an old English word that means "person." It is our identity as persons that shapes the way we minister as priests, and my identity as a gay man has been both a help and a burden in my priestly ministry. I offer my story as a way to reach out especially to lesbian and gay young Christians who feel called to ordained ministry, but are anxious about living in a church that may not accept their gifts. My hope is that one day we will be able to live in a church that celebrates openly the gifts that lesbian and gay laity and clergy bring to it.
When I was in my twenties, the rector of our parish shared some wisdom that has guided me for thirty years. He said that young adults had to face three critical questions: What would be your life's faith? What would be your life's work? Who would be your life's partner? Faith, work, and intimacy: three areas of life that call for serious thought. Through my life's experience, I have learned that all three are closely linked.
My life's faith was set early on. I was baptized as an infant and nurtured in a Christian home. The church was part of our family's life - a place for worship and community where the deepest concerns of life were addressed. My parents and siblings were actively involved in the life of our parish church, and as a family we engaged in discussions about theology and spirituality. I also was actively involved, singing in the choir, serving at the altar, participating in the youth group, and teaching Sunday school. But much of parish life seemed more social than spiritual. It was the presence of God I sought, not a comfortable pew. So I got involved with evangelical and charismatic young Christians in my hometown. Jesus Christ was a living reality for these people, and I became aware of Christ's presence in my life, especially when together in the group, we lifted up our lives in prayer.
It seemed natural to consider ordained ministry as my life's work, but there was a problem: I could not find a way to resolve my deep faith with my homosexual feelings. I prayed about this. I guess I was bargaining with God. In my journals I wrote about praying that God would take away my homosexual feelings. I gave thanks whenever a day passed without experiencing attraction to men. But the feelings were as strong and persistent as the call to ordained ministry, and it seemed that my sexuality made it impossible to embrace my life's faith and work. I did not seek counsel or help because I was ashamed of my feelings and worried about speaking of them out loud. It was a lonely and confusing time.
Just before graduating from high school, my best friend was killed in a plane crash. Everything I had believed seemed trivial compared with the shock and grief that resulted. Although I carried on with church activities, my faith was shattered, and the easy answers that had seemed so compelling no longer made any sense. I wanted to get away from God. So I chose to go to a university that had no particular religious affiliation to study literature and philosophy.
Surprisingly, I found a renewed faith through intellectual pursuits. Philosophy and English literature opened up a world of ideas and raised deep questions. The university community offered a mix of pleasures and pain: the parties were great, but finding a balance between social life and study was a challenge. I dated women, but my homosexual feelings persisted. Then I began a relationship with another male student. When he dropped out of university, I felt abandoned, and the pain and depression lasted for the balance of my university days. Yet a tiny flicker of faith remained. As I read and wrote and thought and walked and prayed, my life's faith emerged again more strongly: Jesus Christ continued to be a living presence in my life, and a call to serve Christ through the ordained ministry would not let go of me. I decided to study theology.
Seminary days were exciting - a time of profound spiritual, personal, and emotional growth. I loved the combination of academic life with daily prayer, and was challenged to grow in my understanding of the Bible, theology, and ethics. In the parish, where for two years I worked as a student intern, I found that my gifts and skills could flourish. My life's faith seemed to be meeting my life's work, and the depression of university years was lifting at last.
But there was a new reality with which to deal. At the seminary there was a strong gay and lesbian community of faculty and students. For the first time I met people who were Anglican and Christian and also self-affirming gay men and lesbians. At first I wanted nothing to do with them. Deeply hurt by my only gay relationship and feeling more and more called to ordained ministry, I assumed that it was impossible to be both gay and a priest. By my second year at seminary, I was fortunate to have a steady girlfriend, but all my prayers and even the love of a beautiful young woman were not enough to stop my attraction to men. I broke off the relationship and sought psychotherapy.
At the university health clinic I described to a doctor, for the first time out loud, the struggle I was having. So began a long process of therapy. When the psychiatrist told me that many homosexual people lived productive and happy lives and were able to sustain healthy, life-long partnerships, an avenue opened that I had never considered. Through therapy, first with a psychiatrist, and later with a Jungian analyst, and through spiritual direction, I began to discern that God loved me, and that being gay may have been God's gift to me. In the final year of seminary, I met with an eminent priest, a scholar both in psychology and spirituality. When he heard my struggles with sexuality, he responded that Christ would use my whole self so that God's name would be glorified. He told me to put my fear away and let God work through me. It was a life-changing conversation.
So I presented myself to the bishop for ordination. I was anxious going into the candidacy process, even though I knew I met the guidelines of the church that allowed homosexuals to be ordained as long as we were celibate. I was ordained and appointed to a parish, where I soon learned that the practice of ministry was indeed my life's work. There I met many lesbian and gay parishioners, and in time came out to them. I didn't date, and although I attended parties at the homes of some gay parishioners, I couldn't imagine having a significant relationship with another man while remaining a parish priest. I moved into educational and administrative positions, hoping that this ministry, removed from the public nature of parish life, would provide an opportunity for me to develop a significant relationship.
As with many of my heterosexual friends, my first experience of an intimate partnership did not last for long, nor did the second. The ending of both relationships was very painful. The decision to keep my relationships secret from most colleagues, especially from ecclesiastical authorities, contributed to the stress that ended these relationships. Yet the church also gave me wonderful opportunities to meet gay and lesbian people with great faith - faith that sustained me through some very difficult times in my life, particularly during painful periods following the end of my first two long-term relationships. Many people within our church - clergy and lay, straight and gay - are supportive and caring to gay clergy, and I appreciated the care I received.
The position I held just before returning to parish life offered the privilege of travelling across Canada representing and working for the General Synod. In almost every visit to dioceses and parishes across the country, I met - although it was not my plan to do so - lesbian and gay people, clergy and laity, who were longing for a day when our church could be more honest about who we are. We dreamed of a day when we would be able to abandon enforced celibacy and silence, and speak the truth about our lives without fear of rejection or persecution. Knowing the stories of lesbian and gay deacons, priests, and bishops, and hearing of the pain they carry, I have felt like a keeper of family secrets. This culture of secrecy has caused deep pain in the church.
The cost of secrecy came to the fore when a former colleague, Father Warren Eling, was brutally murdered in Montreal in the early 1990s. At his funeral, the homilist reminded the congregation that Warren had wanted nothing more than to live with a committed same-sex partner, but unwilling to depart from our church's official policy, he had lived a single and lonely life. Sadly the church's silence and secrecy contributed to his death, and we lost his great gifts in ministry. His death coincided with the end of my second attempt at a long-term relationship, and I despaired for our church and for my ministry within it.
Yet, as I have found so often in my life, God transforms pain and despair into new life and possibility. I was encouraged to apply for the position where I currently serve, and have found life as a parish priest to be fulfilling. Long before my arrival, the cathedral parish had faced issues of inclusion and decided to welcome all. It is a community where all - old and young; single, married, and partnered; straight and gay; rich and poor - together seek to follow Jesus Christ. To be accepted as a priest who is a partnered gay man and be included as a couple in social events is a great joy.
As with many gay men my age, it takes time to make the transition from not speaking about one's sexual orientation to feeling included and therefore comfortable enough to be open. There are others in our church who have been more publicly open than I about their sexual orientation, and I have always admired them. My journey toward openness has been a long one. But recent events in church and society have created a climate where I believe that it is important to speak the truth about my life.
Some years ago while presiding at a eucharist for Integrity, the gay Anglican organization, I spoke publicly for the first time of our community, our struggle, and our hopes. Describing to a counsellor some time later this first experience of being public about my sexual orientation, I found myself speaking about God's Holy Spirit encompassing me and knowing that I was loved by God as a gay man. I believe that all the baptized are one in Christ, who was named at his own baptism as God's beloved son. In the community of the baptized, we are all beloved by God, and I believe that Christ's love transcends all our differences. In Christ, as St. Paul says, we are one body.
I had come out to my parents and family sometime before moving to Vancouver. Within my family, acceptance did not come easily at first, but we have grown to appreciate being able to speak the truth in love to each other. It was a great joy when my family came to Vancouver when I was installed as dean, and our visits back and forth were, and continue to be, very important. On one of those visits to Vancouver my father suddenly took ill and died. As sad as it was, I had a sense that his work was done when he saw that all his children were settled in their lives, and that he knew who we were. I am grateful that he was able to know who I am and that he honoured and respected my sexuality. One of my sadnesses is that he did not know my present partner.
At the personal level, then, at last I can celebrate a faith that I find sustaining, work that I find challenging and fulfilling, and a partner with whom I can share the good and bad things that life inevitably brings.
I believe that when God calls a lesbian or gay man to ministry, great gifts are made available to the church - not only for the gay community, but also for all. Our journey toward self-acceptance has taken us to difficult places, and we can therefore identify with those who live on the edge of society and bring compassion and caring to those that Jesus particularly loved: the poor, sick, weak, and lonely. The spirituality and sensitivity of lesbian and gay clergy are gifts greatly needed by the church in our time.
In my ministry, I have been accepted by people who know I'm gay and by people who don't. As relationships in ministry deepen, it is often tough to know whether or not to be open about my sexual orientation, but when I have, a deeper level of acceptance often follows, together with a greater honesty in talking about our lives. On occasions when this openness has been too difficult for people to accept, it has been painful when they have distanced themselves from me. In fact, it is seldom easy to know how best to express oneself in the church. I remember a meeting of bishops and senior diocesan executives at the national office, which began with each person sharing something about their home and family life. I was living with a partner at the time. What was I to say? How could I be honest about my domestic life without disclosing my sexual orientation?
Being a priest in the Diocese of New Westminster through our much-publicized debates and decisions on the issue of blessing same-sex unions, has often been distressing. One of the early dialogue days on sexuality was organized to encourage everyone to participate. Lesbian and gay clergy were in a difficult position because we knew that we were supposed to "share" in the groups, and to share honestly would mean that we would "out" ourselves. Most of the gay clergy chose not to attend. In the debates at our synod meeting, there was anxiety that some that were opposed to the blessing of same-sex unions would "out" one of the gay clergy. To their credit, those opposed kept the debate focused on principles.
Our diocesan decision to bless same-sex unions was an acknowledgement that homosexuality is a normative variation of human nature, morally neutral in and of itself. Therefore, to bless same-sex unions would serve as a way to support and encourage all committed long-term faithful relationships. New Westminster's decision and the subsequent election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire have created one of the most exciting periods in recent church history. But painful divisions have emerged. It is hard to find grounds for reconciliation between those who support inclusiveness and those who believe that gay people are going to hell because of who we are. Some of those who claim a "traditional conscience" on matters of sexual orientation hold that their integrity is at stake. For some of them, homosexuality has been elevated to being a "salvation issue." They take the view that remaining in a church that supports gay and lesbian people and our committed relationships makes them complicit in a sin and places their mortal souls in danger. Reconciliation is difficult for people who take such an extreme position.
However, I have met and spoken with people who are theologically conservative, yet choose to stay connected with their lesbian and gay sisters and brothers in Christ rather than to separate. The relationships with them are among the most precious ones that I have in the church these days. Being able to be open about my life's faith, work, and intimate partnership with someone who may have some questions but would rather keep in relationship is a great privilege and gift. I believe that it is possible, within Anglicanism, to have an asymmetrical pattern of relationships, where some parishes and communities welcome and affirm lesbian and gay people and bless our partnered relationships, while others do not. This ability to be in communion with those with whom we differ has always been characteristic of Anglicanism. Long before issues of homosexuality dominated debates within our church, we have lived in a state of impaired communion. While some dioceses and provinces of the church ordain women to the episcopate, others do not. Yet we have, as Anglicans, found a way to stay together in a state of impaired communion.
Anglican history has always found a middle way, a broad path that holds people who choose to stay together, even if we have deep disagreements with each other and even if the path is uncomfortable to walk on. We can, if we will, choose to find our unity in Christ, rather than in shared theological propositions, and continue the way forward, even in this difficult time. We can choose to look beyond our differences to the one who was among us as a servant, calling us to serve and love one another.
The secrecy that has plagued our lives endangers not only our individual health, but also our health as a community. The divisions that have emerged are painful, but the truth that is now being set free is more powerful still. That truth is a vision of the church that includes all people. In this church we would witness to our baptismal covenant by telling the truth about our lives, by seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and by respecting the dignity of every human being. In a world of suspicion, separation, and enmity, this church would bring people together. In this church, the gifts of gay and lesbian clergy, always valued by the church with the proviso that secrecy be maintained, would flourish and be gladly received by a truth-loving community. Anglicans are especially well situated to build on a history of avoiding extremes of religious intolerance. In a church that embraces diversity, a great diversity of people can find a home.
I long for that vision of the church to come true. I still long for a time when it will no longer be necessary to listen to the painful stories of young lesbians and gay men who have been told that they are sinners who need to change their sexual orientation or go to hell. I still long to be a priest who is gay, not just a gay priest. I still long to take my place with other clergy, gay and straight, women and men, living our lives openly with our partners.
One day, I hope to be able to pass on the advice given to me so many years ago, and counsel younger people about the importance of life's faith, life's work, and life's partner, straight or gay.
There is a growing number - 54 at last count - of Anglican parishes who want it known that LGBT people are welcome in their pews, individually or as couples. The parishes stretch from Victoria to Halifax. You can find the list at:
If you can think of other parishes (yours, or somewhere else) that aren't listed yet, but should be, please send email to: email@example.com , and lets let people know about open doors from coast to coast.
by the Rev Gary van der Meer
St. John's Church, West Toronto became the third parish in the city to formally pass a vestry motion seeking the "local option" to be a parish that blesses same-sex unions - at such time as the Diocese decides to proceed by this route. However, unlike the other two, the Church of the Holy Trinity and the Church of the Redeemer, St. John's does not have a significant lesbian/gay presence in the pews, so our initiative did not arise out of a desire to be more inclusive with those who are already here.
Instead, the people of my parish made a connection between the real welcome of gay and lesbian people and the already longstanding inclusiveness of our community. Some twenty years ago, the parish got past the argument that children should be seen and not heard only to encounter families with children with special needs, such as autism, who had not been welcomed in other churches. St. John's welcomed them. Since then, worship at St. John's has included sounds that, as a matter of justice, the people have determined are not interruptions. One of our parishioners wrote an Open Letter to the Parish, published in the November 2003 newsletter, commenting on how her sister's relationship with her lesbian partner was a blessing to the whole family and the wider community. She challenged the parish to make the connection from our existing baptismal understanding of inclusive community.
The parish passed motions at the annual vestry, seeking the local option, and to proactively seek change in the church and in society. The second part was the impetus for a major event in the life of our church. On Sunday 26 September, we entitled the 10:30 liturgy, "Embracing the Rainbow: Supporting Same-Sex Relationships in our Church." We wanted to listen, before God, to share our experiences of relationships with gay and lesbian people. But where would the gay and lesbian participants come from? That morning, there were 25-30 gays and lesbians, including 10 invited through Integrity, various friends of parishioners, and a few that received the flyers that we delivered throughout the neighbourhood.
The service began with a children's focus that illustrated some of the family configurations found in the bible (there are about 38 of them). Brian Murray, who heads the marriage preparation institute Humanitas, encouraged people to laugh at the dynamic in many relationships, gay or straight, of "trying to convert that weirdo to be exactly like you". As an extended Liturgy of the Word, the congregation then reconfigured as five forum groups through random selection. The bulletins were in five of the colours of the rainbow: Join the people who have the same pink as you! People shared their stories and experience of the gifts and challenges of being in relationships, being single, and being in the church. People really heard each other. We reconvened for the Prayers of the People and the Eucharist, and announced that as a parish we would debrief and make decide on concrete steps the next Sunday.
Our debriefing session included many positive comments about now appreciating the "reality" of gay and lesbian relationships, that despite differences they heard (legal issues, discrimination, decisions about being closeted), it seemed that all relationships are about one person loving and being loved by another person. When it came to decisions, the community was unanimous: We want the rainbow on the church sign; we want to report and share our experience with church, government, and the local press; we want to be in touch with churches of a similar position on the journey to the 27 November special synod, and network with inclusive churches generally, and we want to develop our pastoral sensitivity to the families of people in same-sex relationships. Our ministry of being an inclusive community is expressed in our passion about ministry with children and people with special needs, active involvement in our local foodbank, and our worship itself. Now we have also fully embraced the rainbow.
Integrator comes out more-or-less bimonthly (sorry about the gaps this year!) to keep you up-to-date with current events and theological reflection on inclusion of lesbigays in the Anglican church. Recently, events have been happening rather faster than that.
Integrity in Canada has an email list, where news is distributed and discussion happens, with a much faster turn-around than is possible for a paper newsletter. If you would like to join, please send email to:
In November 2003, Toronto diocesan Synod decided to spend a year studying the questions around blessing same-sex unions, and have a special synod in fall 2004 to consider them. The diocese sponsored four day-long educational sessions for synod members and wardens this past spring, and over 1100 people attended.
There have been many parish and deanery study evenings in the intervening year, as well. The special synod is scheduled for Saturday 27 November. Stay tuned for further details, and keep the members of synod in your prayers as they prepare for the synod.
The Diocese of Toronto website has more information on the educational sessions and the special synod.
by Chris Ambidge
Just over a year ago, the Lambeth Commission, chaired by Archbishop Robin Eames of Ireland, was asked to look at the difficulties arising in the world-wide Anglican Communion from same-sex blessings in New Westminster, and the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson. They wrote the Windsor Rreport, which was published on 18 October of this year.
The headline news was that the report called for apologies from New Westminster and ECUSA for the deep offence that these actions caused "many faithful Anglicans" in other parts of the communion. It called for a moratorium on further blessings, or consecration of other homosexual bishops, or interventions by bishops crossing diocesan boundaries to assist parishes at odds with their own bishop.
Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, the only Canadian member of the Lambeth Commission, drew a distinction between expression of regret for hurt caused (which the report calls for), and apologies for the actual actions (which are not called for). She indicated that the Commission would hope that one of its members, Archbishop Malango of Central Africa, would likewise express regret for his interventions with conservative parishes in North America.
The Commission also called for a common Anglican Covenant between the member provinces, and some mechanism to assist the communion decide divisive issues in future. It called for a very restricted form of delegated episcopal oversight in the case of congregations at odds with their bishop.
Expressions of regret have been forthcoming from both Bishop Michael Ingham, of New Westminster, and Bishop Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of ECUSA. Neither bishop was apologising or backing away from the actions that caused distress, but did regret the upset and sadness that others felt at the blessings and ordination.
Bishop Ingham said in an interview, "To the extent that people feel hurt or injured by our decisions, I apologise. But not for the decisions themselves." A more formal statement enlarged on this: "We in this diocese will continue to respect the dignity of every human being, as our baptismal covenant says. We will continue to affirm the presence and the contributions of gay and lesbian persons in our church, within whom the spirit of God moves. This will not change."
Likewise, Bishop Griswold reaffirmed his support of Bishop Robinson, and of all gays and lesbians in the Anglican communion: "as Presiding Bishop I am obliged to affirm the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church and in all orders of ministry. Other Provinces are also blessed by the lives and ministry of homosexual persons. I regret that there are places within our Communion where it is unsafe for them to speak out of the truth of who they are."
The report calls for wider study and consultation throughout the communion before further movement on either blessings or gay bishops. It also emphasises various Lambeth resolutions calling for consultations, including talking with lesbian and gay people.
To be fair, the commission was looking at how Anglicans as a whole come to decisions, not at the substance of the "gay questions" themselves. Nevertheless, calls for continued delay to wait for other parts of the world are frustrating for Integrity people, who have been working on this for thirty years now.
Nevertheless, Integrity continues to be committed to our mission of full membership for LGBT people in the Anglican Church. Steve Schuh, President of Integrity Vancouver, commented: "The Anglican Communion appears to be content with its long-standing practice of asking its gay and lesbian members to wait while church leaders debate our future. We will not wait quietly, nor will we apologise for the work of God in our lives. As long as God continues to bless same-sex couples in their committed relationships, and to bless gay and lesbian clergy with gifts for ministry, we will continue to press toward our full inclusion in the Anglican Church of Canada. We are bound by both our conscience and our commitment to Jesus Christ to follow the Holy Spirit wherever she will lead, regardless of which other church structures are ready to follow."
Integrity looks forward to the ongoing discernment process throughout the communion that this report envisages. Gay and lesbian Anglicans have been baptised, and we continue to claim our place at God's table.