#GS2010 Day 8: “Full” Inclusion for Gays and Lesbians

I feel the winds of God today
Today my sail I lift
Tho heavy oft with drenching spray
and torn with many a rift…

We have been singing this hymn throughout our synod. Today I feel free to lift my sail and embark into the stormy sea.

We have been part of a long, tentative process over the past 5 days. We have gathered in discussion groups with the goal of listening to one another on the issue of blessing same sex unions*. I heard different voices but nothing was “for” and “against”. We spoke from our experience and our experiences are heard.

I don’t know if anyone was as surprised as I was when, after a very, very, VERY long day yesterday, the recorders of our conversation announced they had a pastoral statement from our conversations. A common mind? Doubtful! I feared it was a compromise that said nothing. As the mover to adopt the statement, The Ven. Peter Hobbs, said today, “We seem to be a church that has embraced relentless incrementalism”.

And yet, we have. I was stunned at the people who have violently opposed my position who said they could live with this.

We are a body that, above all else, are committed to maintain community. When we are divided, our mission is impaired, and while this justice issue is important, it is one of many on which we speak and act. We can not jeopardize our voice and action on the environment, gender equality, refugees, natural disasters, education, children’s health, aboriginal issues etc. by being further divided. Nor could we be silent and say that where we are right now is ok, or even united.

Many said the way to maintain unity, maintain our voice, maintain our action, was to do nothing on same sex blessings at this time. That’s what the Anglican Communion has tried to bully us into doing. We rejected that.

I thought of my friends in Antigonish, and of my brother through all this debate. I know this is not enough for you. All I can ask is to look at me, what I have tried to do with you, and see that as a sign of the possibility for my church.

For those who need a crash course in how we work, we are a communion made up of regions called dioceses. There are 3o dioceses in Canada, each headed by a bishop (some with some assistant bishops). Dioceses make their own decisions on some things, with assent of their bishops, and many in Canada have moved to bless same sex unions. This has made some in our worldwide Communion angry at the Anglican Church of Canada. Basically, this statement says that, as a national body, we will respect the dioceses’ efforts to be as generous as possible, and those who can not be generous in the same way.

I am dismayed that completely void in this debate was the voice of bisexual and transgendered people. Maybe because we are speaking specifically of relationship, I don’t know. We even had a lengthy debate on whether or not to include so called ex-gays in a related motion, but nothing about the experience of bisexual and transgendered people. I know it is inadequate that all I can say is, “Maybe next time”.

* We do not speak of same sex marriage…yet. Many dioceses are moving towards offering a nuptial blessing to those who have celebrated a civil union. Same sex marriage would require changing our canons, a process which takes many many years, even if we agree at first reading. We are responding in the most expedient way.


#GS2010 Day 5: Discussion of the Day

Monday was a day greatly anticipated, whether with excitement or fear depends on the delegate.

Last week the Herald informed me that I would be debating same sex blessings. That’s not quite accurate…yet. We have been meeting most mornings with a galley group, a group of 6-10 people from across the orders and the country to do Bible study and have conversations. Three galley groups come together to form a discussion group and, on Monday, we had our first one. We were asked one question: What do you hope to see come out of this General Synod in regards to same sex blessings?

Respecting the confidentiality of our group, I will only say I was moved by the honesty, frankness yet overpowering spirit of respect and love that was in our group. On Tuesday a report was released compiling all of our conversations and presented back to General Synod.

In the meantime, I learned Monday evening that while the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion spoke to us and said he would not interfere in our processes, he has told the communion (through the press…nice!) that members of the Episcopal Church have been removed from key Communion committees and a letter has been sent to our House of Bishops asking if we have done anything that would warrant a similar response.

In an earlier post I expressed my mistrust of some Instruments of Communion up until this point. This has not helped. However, through my discussion and galley groups, my trust of my fellow Canadian Anglicans has increased immensely.

Discussion groups . The conversations are everywhere!

#GS2010 Day 4: Let the conversation begin

This morning, before we departed for the diocesan celebration, we began the process of “Sexuality Discernment”. We heard from the Primate’s Theological Commission, Faith Worship and Ministry, and the Primate. These groups and many others have spent the past triennium and then some trying to answer some fundamental questions our church has posed in regards to same-sex blessings.

There was nothing, I don’t think, that was supposed to be surprising. It was a way for us to frame our conversations in the context of what our church has already discerned.

It was obvious to me, from all the presentations, that these people have worked with great integrity, prayer, commitment and faithfulness. They were courageous enough to suspend their convictions and listen to one another for the good of the Church…for us. When they finished, I felt incredibly incredibly grateful. I could see they were tired, but also grateful for the growth they had experienced. I was grateful that they agreed to do this for us, for me. The National Church asked them to take on this huge task. They could have said no, this is too much. They did, in some instances, change the terms of reference, but they carried out the task faithfully.

From here, we will join with discussion groups of 15-20 to begin the conversation on Monday morning.

The Anglican Covenant: A Matter of Trust

One of my favourite people to visit is Claire (not her real name). Claire is originally from Northern Ireland and moved with her husband to Canada to escape “the troubles”. She has a quick wit, and always leaves me laughing, wondering if I should be. But she laughs along too.

The other day she was talking about a man who had made a delivery at her home. “He was sleeky,” she said. “Sleeky?” I said. “Claire, did you make that word  up?” “No!” she replied, “It’s a real word. It’s even in the Oxford  Dictionary,” (It’s not in the one I have, but I did find it online). “It means,” she paused, “Sleeky. It means mistrustful, like he was up to something, or would be up to something if given the chance.”

Well, that’s how the Anglican Covenant feels to me. Sleeky.

This post is not a critical analysis of the document, because my reaction to reading it was not very critical. It was more visceral.

I was encouraged by the first line and most of the first two sections: God has called us into communion in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1.9). As one who chose the Anglican church as a young adult, having been a loved member of different churches, this is what I stress; that our communion is not with anyone on Earth or any structure, but in Jesus Christ. It also acknowledges the different manifestations of the expression of God’s love and mission through different church families.

Throughout it I was waiting for the “but” moment. It all reads as a document most Christians could agree to in our diversity. That also means it is open to many interpretations. That’s OK by me. Scripture works that way, and I give thanks for the many expressions that come out of our Christian tradition. But in the back of my mind this thought rolled over and over: I agree with that. Others agree with that. But many have judged me and said I am not living faithfully. I uphold the authority of Scripture. You uphold the authority of Scripture. What happens when that looks different? Majority rules? That doesn’t make great theology.

As my friend Mark Chiang, a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Canada, said, “Sounded lovely to me until Section Four which, to a Presbyterian, seemed very dark and scary.”

As an Anglican, it seems pretty dark and scary to me, too. We have never done well in this system. We have always honored the authority of national churches, provinces and dioceses (as long as we have had them) and loved one another through differences in doctrine, liturgy and pastoral practice. Every time we have tried to have one single expression of Anglican thought on any doctrinal matter, heads have rolled. Literally.

Except that we vehemently fight about sex. I can’t think of anything in recent history that has produced more vitriol and bile amongst ourselves than the place of genders other than straight men in our institution. Over those years, I have been called revisionist, selfish and heretical among other things. At our last diocesan synod, I and others of my persuasion were publicly told we were in violation of our ordination vows. Now them’s fighting words.

I’ll just say it. I don’t trust all my sisters and brothers in the Anglican Communion. And that makes me very sad. Many have called me names, committed violence against people I love, slandered my vocation, and have forced people out of the church that I love (four out of my tiny congregation of 40 alone). I’m sure many of my sisters and brothers don’t trust me, either.

And now I am placing my “membership” in their hands. With a document that, at first glance is a no – brainer to sign. But I would sign it with the a foreboding that I am signing something that, no matter how hard I work at it, I’m gonna fail. I’m signing up for failure.

I know this has happened on both sides. I can only write from where I am. We are not reconciled. We need reconciliation. I need reconciliation. I need reconciliation and peace in my heart to sit along side those who differ from me, and I need genuine expressions of regret and reconciliation for the violence that has happened. Without a sincere reconciliation, a covenant isn’t worth the paper it is written on, particularly one that threatens me with expulsion while, at the same time, removes my voice from the councils of the Communion. I need some reassurance that you can hold my trust, because I feel bullied, excluded and hurt.

I don’t know where reconciliation will lead us. It may lead us to different paths. It certainly has before. It may lead me down a different path. But I’m not there yet. I don’t think I can move right now until there is an attempt at forgiveness.

What do I give in return? I don’t know if it will be enough, but it is all that I have. I will share a place at the table in our disagreement. I will accept the Body and Blood from you even though you will not accept it from me. I will listen without defense to how you have been hurt. I will not ask you to perform a rite that causes you a crisis of faith and conscience. I will honour your expression of God’s love as I would hope you would honour mine. I will continue to acknowledge Christ in you.

Is that enough of a covenant, for now?

Nova Scotia and PEI’s newest delegate to General Synod 2010

General Synod is the governing body of the Anglican Church of Canada, made up of episcopal, clerical and lay delegates from our 30 dioceses, meeting every three years. We gather June 3-11 in Halifax, Nova Scotia to debate motions and discuss matters before our church.

I had just gotten myself organized. Last night Marc and I had a very productive purging session, sorting out goods for our multi-family yard sale and throwing out five garbage bags of stuff that has moved with each of us over the years. Last night and today I updated my various to do lists, my electronic calendar and was feeling quite productive and organized.

Then, the phone rang. Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. After regaling the woman on the other end with my progress in organization, she said, “Well, I am calling to put a wrench in your plans.”

In short, I have been called to take my place as an alternate delegate to General Synod 2010 – Feeling the Winds of God–Charting a New Course June 3-11. Yeah, that is next week, 8 more sleeps to be exact.

At first, while overwhelmed from a dramatic day before the phone call, I was quite excited. A lot of friends are coming from across the country and it will be wonderful to show them around my town. It is an opportunity to see my national church at work, to hear from Anglican leaders from around the world, participate in some important discussions for the future of our church. Yes, it means 8 less days (plus prep time) to prepare for my departure, but it will take years for me to be elected to such a position again. I frantically called the hospital and nursing home, fellow clergy to take care of pastoral emergencies, downloaded the 800+ pages of material and registered online TODAY because the online registration is coming down tomorrow.

I even cut out of wings night at Piper’s early so I could get started.

Walking the dog before I got started was the first chance I had had all day to breathe. I started to reflect on this new place I have in the councils of my church, no longer an observer, but an active participant.

That’s when I realized it. I am angry.

Just a bit. Not enraged. I am not going to storm out. I am angry because as I consider the circular, I realize how reluctant we are to be blown by the gale of the Holy Spirit. If I may pick up on our sailing metaphor (as too many of us are in our blogs and comments on the national website), I don’t feel like we are charting a new course. I feel like we are arguing about where to place our anchor in a sea of uncertainty. In more practical terms, every time I am told we will “discuss” sexuality…again…I hear “our previous discussions have not borne fruit, that we have not been praying properly or using the right language, and that once we get that sorted out and we find the right process, then the Holy Spirit will blow a gentle breeze and there will be peace.”

That is not the Holy Spirit I encounter in the Pentecost. In fact, I see our church moving and shifting all the time. I see Canadian Anglicans moving ever closer to graciousness, to affection, while others outside of us want to impose restrictive legislation to keep us in dock or else threaten to cut us loose.

As an observer, I have been free to roll my eyes and throw up my hands in loud frustration at the ineffectiveness of General Synod. I can criticize Church House in Toronto from the far distance of Nova Scotia, these Upper Canadians (mostly retired) who seem to have all the time in the world to just travel around to sit and talk. But now, I am a part of it.

I am not proud of these judgements. I write them here because those three fingers are now pointing at me to take responsibility for the course of our ship for the next three years.

As a rector, I understand, on a micro scale, how difficult it is to manage so many different views. For the past year or so, I have been following the General Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Bruce Reyes-Chow, on Twitter. I am grateful for his honesty, because I have gained a new respect for our national bodies, and how hard those within the system work and pray to participate in the Kingdom of God. They take responsibility for difficult choices. They relinquish their right to roll their eyes and dismiss the body as dead weight.

I have been called by my church to enter into further discernment at a new level. I am being called to open my mind and heart once again to grapple with difficult issues. To open my mind and heart means to accept that my mind may change, that I may be the one blown away by the Holy Spirit.

Now that that is off my chest, to page one of the Convening Circular…

Divinity grad tackles same-sex issue

Dawn Dickieson, who will be ordained later this year, graduated Saturday from the Atlantic School of Theology. (Eric Wynne / Staff)

Ummm, this wasn’t the title I was expecting in the Sunday Herald on Sunday morning when I agreed to be interviewed for this piece for AST. Still, the article turned out very well. When I went to preach in Tangier later that morning, I received very positive comments and have received more from here, PEI, NB and even Ireland (no, not Marc, although he liked it too).

I was glad to do this for AST. They told me my research got us out of the Living section and on to page 3 of the front section, so yeah for AST!

By RICK CONRAD Staff Reporter
Yes, Dawn Dickieson believes that God created gay people.

Yes, she believes a gay relationship is just as valid and sacred as anyone else’s.

And yes, she is going to be an Anglican priest.

The 31-year-old, originally from the small town of Souris, P.E.I., will be officially ordained later this year. Today, she’s one of a couple of dozen freshly minted master of divinity graduates from the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax.

Twenty-three students got their divinity degrees at ceremonies Saturday from the tiny south-end school. Another student was awarded a master of theological studies degree, while three others received their graduate certificates in theological studies and four others their adult education certificates in theological studies.

When Ms. Dickieson, rosy-cheeked with an easy laugh, gets assigned to her own church, she wants to make it a welcoming place for everyone, including gays, lesbians and their families.
“You need to know that wherever you go is going to be safe,” says Ms. Dickieson, who is straight, but whose older brother came out when she was 16.

“And you’re not going to go to someone who’s going to say, ‘You need to exorcise this demon out of your child’ or ‘If you continue to support your child, we’re going to throw you out of the church.’ But people still want to deal with it on a spiritual level, because if God created (their) child this way (they) need to know what to do with that.”

The topic was so important to her that she made it the focus of her graduate research project this year, including interviews with three couples, two moms and six teenagers about their family’s coming-out experiences.

“It feels like sometimes we’re talking a lot about people and not talking a lot to people. I just wanted to be able to make that contact with people who are gay, or whose families are gay, who are sitting in our pews every Sunday, just to say, ‘Let’s not forget that . . . there are same-sex couples who are very active in our congregations who love one another and who love us.’ ”

It’s important to keep in mind that Ms. Dickieson is no zealot. She feels the Anglican Church of Canada has been “honestly grappling” with the issue of same-sex unions.

“There’s something comforting that we’re not just going to go with what the world tells us to do. On the other hand, we’re not just going to go with what tradition’s always told us to do. We’re going to look at them and try to bring them together and determine where God is calling us to be right now.”

For Ms. Dickieson, God kept tugging her toward the pulpit. A former youth minister, she planned a career in economic development in her home province after earning her geography degree from Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Que.

When that didn’t pan out, she came to Halifax for work and wanted to take a course at AST. They persuaded her to take the whole three-year degree.

“I needed a jolt to get going,” she says, laughing.

That’s exactly what she got when she spent a three-month internship in India through the Anglican Church last summer, working on HIV and AIDS awareness and education with the Church of North India.

“It was life-changing in so many ways,” she says of her time in Delhi, Calcutta and Maharashtra.
“And you come back quite angry for a time because you look at how much we have here. We just have no idea how much we have.”

She spent most of her time in the cities but also travelled to rural villages with a mobile clinic, training the nursing students and doctors about the benefits of condoms. She helped lead workshops trying to break down some of the stereotypes about HIV-positive people.

Partly because of her experiences in India and through her research with gays, lesbians and their families, she says she has a much broader view of what the church should be.

“Community for me is not about parish barbecues anymore. It’s about how vital relationship is to our being. Part of the challenge to my ministry is about building bridges and building relationships with the gay and lesbian community, with communities outside of Canada or within our own communities.

“Because that’s what Christ did; he would dismiss the people of the synagogue to spend time with people on the margins.”