Resources help with marriage canon dialogue

Posted on March 9, 2018

By Stuart Mann

The diocese’s Canon XXI Task Group has posted several documents to help Anglicans learn about same-sex marriage and to have informed, respectful conversations on the subject leading up to the next regular session of Synod in November. The resources include:

  • A history of the dialogues, decisions and key moments in the discernment process in the Church.
  • An article outlining the structures of authority in the Anglican Communion.
  • Information on processes and decisions in different denominations and attitudes in the Anglican Communion.
  • A bibliography of key resources.

The group also plans to have available the names of people who can lead facilitated discussions in churches.

“We want people to talk with each other, as opposed to talking about each other,” says Marge Watters Knebel, ODT, chair of the group. “We’re encouraging individuals and groups to have deep, face-to-face conversations with people who have differing views.”

The Canon XXI Task Group was formed by Archbishop Colin Johnson last year to assist the diocese’s Synod to consider the proposed changes to the marriage canon to incorporate provision for marriage of same-sex couples in the Anglican Church of Canada. General Synod voted in favour of the changes in 2016 by the required two-thirds majorities in all three houses (laity, clergy and bishops); the second, required vote is planned when it convenes again in 2019. In the intervening time, the motion was sent for consideration, although not a vote, at diocesan and provincial Synods.

The purpose of the Canon XXI Task Group is to develop a process that will help the diocese have a dialogue about same-sex marriage and the proposed changes to the marriage canon. The diocese’s Synod will have a discussion – but not a vote – on the subjects when it meets on Nov. 9-10.

Ms. Watters Knebel says Archbishop Johnson set the tone for the diocese’s dialogue in his Pastoral Statement on Commitment to Diverse Theological Positions in the Diocese of Toronto, posted last September. In the statement, he writes: “All of us need to extend to each other the most generous Christian charity that Jesus Our Redeemer calls us to exercise as we, together, seek to discern and live out God’s will.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, expressed similar sentiments in a pastoral letter to Canadian Anglicans in July 2016: “More than ever, we must make efforts not to turn away from one another, but rather to one another; not to ignore but to recognize one another; not to walk apart but together.”

Ms. Watters Knebel says the group is committed to providing resources and a process that will accommodate the widest range of viewpoints. “In his statement, Archbishop Johnson writes about honouring and safe-guarding the diversity represented in our parishes and clergy, and that’s what we are trying to do.”

In addition to Ms. Watters Knebel, the group includes Chris Ambidge, ODT, the Rev. Canon Susan Bell, Pamela Boisvert, the Rev. Chris Harper, the Rev. Canon Philip Hobson, the Rev. Ian LaFleur, Ryan Ramsden and the Rev. Mark Regis. It is facilitated by Janet Marshall.

The group made a presentation to the diocese’s Synod last November and asked members what they needed to have a dialogue. It received 530 suggestions. The primary needs were for facilitated conversations and helpful resources.

“At a high level, people wanted an opportunity to hear and talk more fully about the rationale and convictions held by people with differing views across the spectrum,” says Ms. Watters Knebel. “They want opportunities for facilitated dialogue.”

To that end, the group will provide the names of people who will act as facilitators for conversations in churches. “We encourage parishes that want to have a conversation to have a facilitator, preferably a neutral one who is not involved in that parish community,” she says.

She encourages people to have informal conversations as well. “I would encourage anyone, if they haven’t already done so, to get to know another person who holds a different view. Spend time with that person and find out where they’re coming from and where they’re at. Sit with another person who shares a commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and listen to them talk about what they understand, think and feel.”

More information about the work of the Canon XXI Task Group and the dialogue in the diocese will be published as it becomes available. To contact the group or to arrange for a facilitator to lead a discussion in your parish, contact Pam Boisvert, the diocese’s Secretary of Synod, at