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Canadian Anglicans Approve Liturgies for Gender Transition

The Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod authorized “Pastoral Liturgies for Journeys of Gender Transition and Affirmation” June 30, but added the provision “where authorized by the ordinary.”

All liturgies must first be authorized by General Synod, but ordinaries (diocesan bishops) have authority over the liturgical practices in their dioceses.

So, while Resolution A122 passed easily with the amendment, those theologically conservative diocesan bishops who do not support such liturgies need not approve their use.

The ACC met in Calgary in collaboration with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada from June 27 to July 2, but the Anglicans and Lutherans did not vote on each other’s resolutions.

The texts for the liturgies were available in the synod’s Convening Circular, a thorough guide to the scheduled discussions and advance resolutions. Some delegates already were familiar with the rites, as they had been used on a trial basis in a few parishes over the past year. They have also been online for some time.

It was not clear from the debate whether these rites would be offered to minors, or whether they would require parental permission.

The Faith, Worship, and Ministry Coordinating Committee submitted the motion. In a background note, the committee explained:

“The fact that transgender persons are active members in good standing — clergy and laity — in our church has been recognized and welcomed and was not a question for debate in beginning this process, but a fact of the life of our church which we understand to be a call to pastoral presence and support. A group of transgender and gender non-binary persons along with their chosen allies formed the foundational consultative group to shape the theological, pastoral, and liturgical lenses to shape these liturgical rites and the careful pastoral introduction to them.”

Those delegates in favor said such liturgies would evangelize and bring people into the church for the first time, or bring them back. Bishop Stephen London of Edmonton said the liturgies were “well-written,” “scriptural,” and “theological.” He added: “We can’t evangelize if people don’t trust us.”

Bishop Sandra Fyfe of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island said, “I hope these liturgies will save lives.”

Those opposed to the motion spoke of it as being rushed, and Hannah Wygeira, a youth delegate from Calgary, called it both rushed and “a divisive resolution. … The resources and theology behind it have not been made readily available.”

The Rev. Ann Martha Keenainak of the Arctic asked, “Why is it such a rush? We are not to lean on our own understanding. We are to lean into God.”

David Parsons, Diocesan Bishop of the Arctic, said that while he welcomes everyone, “It’s not correct to politicize the church,” and that the church was being “politicized by the world.”

The Rev. Marnie Peterson, who seconded the motion and has used the trial liturgies in New Westminster, said that “no one is forced to use these rites” but “they were tools to remind us that we are beloved before God.”

The provision for diocesan bishops to block the gender-transition liturgies closely parallels the approach taken by the Episcopal Church regarding same-sex marriage rites.

The 2015 General Convention authorized the use of marriage rites for same-sex couples in the United States, with the approval of the diocesan bishop. More than 90 Episcopal bishops granted approval, while eight did not.

At the following General Convention in 2018, the bishop’s veto power was eliminated after emotionally charged debate. Conservative bishops thereafter could ask another bishop to provide oversight for same-sex weddings, while continuing to advocate for the traditional view that marriage should be a covenant between a man and a woman.

The change touched off a struggle lasting more than two years between the church and the single bishop who continued to prohibit same-sex marriages. Bishop of Albany William H. Love left the Episcopal Church in early 2021 after a church court found he had violated the vow of obedience he took at ordination.

This story has been corrected to reflect that the gender-transition rites were available to delegates in General Synod’s Convening Circular.

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