Sunday, September 30, 2007

Impressions of General Synod

It was clear from the outset that much of the interest of Synod was focused on the discussion of motions about the blessing of same sex unions. Those motions did not come to the floor until the fourth day of Synod debate, but previous to that, other discussions connected with the issue. Bishop Victoria Matthews presented the St. Michael Report of the Primate’s Theological Commission, outlining the Commission’s thinking on matters related to our understanding of doctrine. She said that the Commission had not been asked to reflect on the specific question of the blessing of same sex unions but that it was ready to do so and looked forward to exploring these matters in future meetings. The Synod accepted the Commission’s finding that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine but not of core (credal) doctrine, and should not be a communion-breaking issue.

I attended the General Synod as chair of the Windsor Report Response Group, to present to synod members the response to that report developed after wide consultation with Canadian Anglicans. The response, affirming our commitment to full membership in the Anglican Communion while suggesting areas where further work should be done, was endorsed by Synod and forwarded to the Communion office. A proposed amendment, to express unqualified support for the whole of the Windsor Report and calling for a moratorium on the blessing of same sex unions even in dioceses where it has been approved, was defeated. The defeat of the amendment, I think, was the first skirmish in the debate on same sex issues.

The discussion of the motions related to the blessing of same sex unions lasted almost four hours, extending the time originally allotted to this topic. Motions prepared by the Council of General Synod were debated and passed by the Synod: that the blessing of same-sex unions is consistent with the core doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada, and that CoGS be asked to consider revision of the marriage canon to include the celebration of marriage of all those legally qualified. The debate reflected a wide variety of points of view and, in general, the tone of the debate was respectful.

Finally Synod came to the resolution deferred from the 2004 General Synod, which would allow any diocesan synod with the concurrence of its bishop to authorize the blessing of same sex unions. A motion to require sixty percent approval was defeated. This meant that the resolution would require only a simple majority in order to pass. I think that those in favour of the resolution were hopeful that it would pass, because the previous resolutions, including the one which said that the blessing is consistent with the core doctrine of the church, had passed with sufficient majority. It looked as though things were moving in that direction. However, that did not prove to be the case. In the end, the clergy and laity voted in favour of the “local option” but the bishops voted “no” by a narrow margin of two votes. It was a standing vote and all eyes scanned the delegates to see how their votes were cast. There was profound disappointment among supporters of the motion.

The information received in preparing the Canadian response to the Windsor Report indicated to me that about ¼ to 1/3 of Canadian Anglicans are strongly conservative on this issue, but about 2/3 of church members would fall in the middle and liberal parts of the spectrum of Anglican opinion. I think that this was shown in voting patterns at General Synods in 2004 and 2007. And I believe that a church that has voted to accept “the integrity and sanctity of committed same sex unions” (2004) and has said that the blessing of such unions is “consistent with core doctrine”(2007) is committed to moving forward on this issue. We have passed motions affirming the full acceptance of gay and lesbian members of the church and I do not believe that General Synod will retreat from that position. The church is now faced with a delay in passing a motion to allow dioceses to proceed to authorize such blessings, but I believe that such a decision will come. The instruction to CoGS to begin to revise the marriage canon certainly suggests to me that the process of moving towards this change is beginning.

A full day with the Lutheran National Synod members focused on the theme of water, looking at biblical resources and environmental questions, with an excellent keynote address by Sallie McFague of the Vancouver School of Theology.

Synod authorized the Faith Worship and Ministry committee to begin to prepare principles and an agenda for revision of liturgical texts. There was a rumour that there might be strong opposition to this proposal from those who are opposed to further liturgical change but, in the end, the motion passed with very little comment. First Nations speakers asked that they be part of discussions on new liturgies, with more effort being made to see that such liturgies are translated into their languages.

Other highlights of synod included the election of Bishop Fred Hiltz as Primate. It was a close race, and for a time was deadlocked with a majority of the laity supporting Bishop Hiltz and a majority of the clergy supporting Bishop Victoria Matthews. There was wide speculation about which order would switch its votes. If the synod failed to elect on the fifth ballot, the decision would then be made by the House of Bishops. In the end, Bishop Hiltz was elected on the fifth ballot and his installation took place as the last act of Synod. A farewell dinner was held to celebrate the ministry of Andrew Hutchison as Primate and to thank him for his ministry among us.

Patricia Bays, Ottawa

Reflections on General Synod

I am writing this a full month after the end of General Synod, so I have had time to rest and reflect. To be honest, I did not expect that this Synod would accept the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions because I was convinced that pressure from the “Anglican Communion” would win the day. It may have done so, but I think that there were more complex reasons why the motion failed to pass in the House of Bishops.

There was clearly a well-organised effort by the opposition to scuttle the motions in any way possible. We went through prolonged debate on amendments to postpone or neuter the motions, or to require an enhanced majority to pass them. During all this time, no one said that they were opposed to the blessing of same-sex unions! The opposition spoke of needing more time to study, of not wanting to offend the wider church, and of the importance of the decision and the need to demonstrate a strong majority in order for it to pass. Only after all these stalling tactics failed did the first person stand to say that he was opposed to these blessings on scriptural grounds. This was a lay person. I have no recollection of any of our bishops standing at any time on the floor of Synod to express their honest view that same-sex unions are inherently sinful and cannot receive a blessing. Not once did an opposing Bishop speak of anything other than the need to delay or refer the matter. My respect for our Bishops took a great blow. It left me with an image of twenty-one cowards in mitres!

So we are left having to guess at their true feelings. Are they really worried about the Anglican Communion? Well, I will start to believe them when the Anglican Communion condemns and expels Archbishop Akinola from our midst. In September of last year he publicly congratulated the government of Nigeria for proposing a law which would subject homosexuals and their supporters to up to five years in prison. The law was condemned by the US State Department as a violation of human rights. But that is just fine, it would seem. I haven’t heard a whimper from our House of Bishops or the Anglican Consultative Council about that. So I am to presume that it is acceptable to throw us in prison, but it is not acceptable to thank God for the blessings manifest in our committed relationships. Akinola is welcome to Lambeth whereas Bishop Robinson is not. Bishops, look at what you are doing! You are supporting institutionalised hatred. Surely some of that hatred must be found in your own hearts.

But perhaps it is their love of Scripture and Tradition which moved our bishops to vote against the motions? I asked from the floor of Synod if our support for the Lambeth Resolution 1998—Resolution 1.10 which “upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” would mean that we would be condemning divorce. I asked whether the scriptural morality we would be embracing was meant to apply to some and not to others. Unfortunately, it was taken as a rhetorical question. Our House of Bishops would seem to set great store by scriptural condemnation of sexual practices and relationships in the ancient world which have little to do with the concept of modern same-sex marriage. At the same time there is not a peep about divorce, which is condemned by Jesus Himself. No mention of the injunction that a bishop may not have more than one wife. Now why would that be? Not until the “conservatives” start condemning “scriptural immorality” in their own midst will I start to believe that this is anything other than hypocrisy.

Ladies and gentlemen in the House of Bishops, we have moved on. People who are going through the pain of a divorce now receive our prayerful support rather than our opprobrium. In Quebec, where I live, gay marriage was greeted with widespread social approval. Society does not seem to have collapsed in Canada as a consequence of gay marriage. I cannot help but observe that the same people in the church who used to condemn the “gay lifestyle” (which they imagined to be frequent, anonymous sex) are the same ones who are not happy that we are now getting married! The House of Bishops is confirming in my mind what I have long known: this is not about “morality”. This is about hatred.

Bishops, please be honest with yourselves and the church. Tell us what you are thinking. And please stop using God to justify your own feelings. There is not a gay Anglican in this country who cannot detect the fraud.

Douglass Dalton, Montreal

Love or Unity?

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. Matthew 10: 34-36 (NASB)

The biblical verse declaring that God is love is the sort of verse almost everyone likes. Love is the quality most often associated with God, and hearing the phrase “God is love” stirs warm feelings in the hearts of most believers. The other verse I chose for this article does not stir warm feelings. In fact, this is one of the verses that frighten people. I would like to suggest, however, that both of these verses are very closely related, and that both speak to the current debates in the church relating to homosexuality.

Many commentators have noted the cordial, respectful tone of the recent debates at General Synod in Canada. Generally, people seem to be very happy that the debate on same sex blessings was respectful and dignified. I can recall similar debates in the Diocese of Massachusetts (where I am originally from) a few years ago—they were also mostly cordial, but had a few unpleasant moments. One speaker began reciting a lengthy list of questionable behaviors that gay people are purported to engage in with frightening regularity. I won’t go into detail, but apparently if it’s perverse, gay people do it in massive numbers. This is, of course, an absurd argument. Even if it were true (and this list, by the way, has been widely discredited) it would not mean gay people should not marry. In fact, every time I hear this list of gay perversions, I always stop and think: “So why stop them from getting married? It sounds like these people, more than any other, really need to settle down and get married!”

Nowadays, however, it’s a little harder to get away with the sort of extreme gay-bashing argument that attributes every variety of perversion to gay people, and we hear these silly gay lists less often. Believe it or not, I actually miss them. At least then those opposed to gay rights had an argument. A sad, silly, nonsensical argument—but at least there was an argument. Now we are frequently assaulted with something nicer sounding, but more sinister. We must not allow gay people to be treated the same as straight people because we have to be concerned with “unity”. A schism must be avoided at all costs, so this argument goes, and therefore gay people cannot be allowed to receive all the blessings and benefits of Christian marriage, because too many in the church would not tolerate it. This sounds like a nicer argument, but it’s not. In fact, it’s not an argument of any sort, it’s a capitulation. It gives veto power over church policy to whoever is angriest. It’s also insulting to the traditionalist opponents of gay marriage. I disagree intensely with Archbishop Peter Akinola’s position on homosexuality, but I am not going to pretend our differences are smaller than they are and then offer him some concessions to placate him. I respect him and the office he holds enough to say, clearly and without fear, the truth as I see it: his views on homosexuality are hateful to the point of being a grievous sin, and it’s my hope that he repents of this evil. It may be easier to wring your hands and say “Can’t we all get along?”; but it’s also condescending, and it’s not honest. If you honestly believe that gay people are loved by God, and that the love they share is of God, have the courage to say it clearly and boldly. If you do not, feel free to say that as well. I will never ask anyone to leave the Anglican Church because of our differences on the issue of homosexuality. This, despite the fact that Akinola and many of his admirers support legislation in his country that would throw gay people in jail for up to five years simply for the "crime" of being gay. After your five year prison term is over, if you are still gay (which seems likely), you can be arrested again. Maybe I've seen too many movies, but I find it impossible to believe that after five years in prison a person will come out less gay than he was when he went in. The recidivism rate for "gayness" must be astronomical. The point I am trying to make is that I am willing to share a church with a person that thinks I am not fit to be. If I can share a Communion with people who have such hostile intentions towards people like me, then I believe I have earned the right to stay in the Church. Is it reasonable to say that I, and other gay people and their straight supporters, are the ones threatening church unity? We have never asked anyone to leave the church, we have never threatened to leave the church and start a new communion, and we have certainly never advocated killing our opponents in this debate. Homosexuals do not threaten church unity. All we ask is equal treatment, and even though we’ve never got it, we remain in the Church, and do not ask anyone else to leave, no matter how strongly we disagree with them. Our desire for unity, however, does not mean we should deny what we know to be true: if gay people share real love, and they do, then that love is of God, and God lives in us as we live in him. That is why I quoted the passage from 1 John. God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. Attacking the love we share is literally to attack God. If you are attacking God, the only loving thing I can do for you is to try and convince you that you are wrong and pray that you repent. If I do any less, even if it is for the sake of unity, I am not showing you any love at all. That’s the problem with the debate on homosexuality today: we are afraid to speak the plain truth for fear of disrupting unity, when what we should really be afraid of is our refusal to acknowledge the presence of God in the lives of millions of loving gay couples.

This is why I included the second quotation. Unity is not our highest good; love is. We must not hide our love in a closet, even if it means divisions will occur. If we do that, we are giving more value to unity than love, and that is unchristian. Christ knew divisions would occur, and he wanted to make sure we did not allow our fear of conflict to prevent us from following him.

If love is more important than unity, and if gay people share real love that is of God, then they must be treated the same way straight people are. I not only believe the Anglican Church should bless same sex marriages; the church should be performing these marriages. Gay people should not only be allowed to serve as priests, they should be able to do so without staying in the closet and hiding their love, and they should be allowed to serve the church they love in any capacity, including the episcopate.

The only argument that can be made against this view that love is more important than unity—and therefore that the love gay people share must be defended even if it causes division—is that gay people don’t actually share real love: that homosexuality is not a normal, natural part of the human condition, but a random perversion, like pedophilia or bestiality. The problem with this argument is it’s been proved false. Look up the research done by virtually all of the major professional organizations representing mental health care providers, including the Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association, the Canadian Medical Association, and all of their counterparts in the U.S., and you will find they are unanimous in their support of equal treatment for gay and lesbian couples. Long term scientific studies going back decades have been completed by respected social scientists like Dr. Nanette Gartrell and John C. Gonsiorek, they have been subjected to rigorous peer review, and the results are clear and irrefutable: homosexuals are perfectly capable of entering into and maintaining stable, long-term, loving relationships; they can raise healthy, happy children; and they are almost always happier and healthier when they come out of the closet. This research cannot be duplicated using polygamous unions, which usually end up treating women like cattle; or pedophilia, which is obviously injurious to children; or bestiality, which is absurd to even suggest. There are such things as perversions, but homosexuality is not one of them.

Even without the overwhelming body of research supporting the recognition and normalization of gay unions, we know that gay people are capable of participating in stable, healthy relationships that are based on real, shared, romantic love from the witness of millions of gay couples worldwide. There are too many happy, healthy gay couples to ignore, there are too many excellent gay priests and deacons to deny, and there are too many children being raised happily in gay homes for us to continue treating gay people as if they were different from or inferior to straight people. In my own family, the relationship that I share with my husband is indistinguishable from the heterosexual relationships my siblings share with their spouses; and we are not an exception, there are literally millions more just like us.

I understand the desire to maintain unity. I don’t want anyone to leave the church because of me. I do not wish to see a schism and for that reason I am happy to tolerate and even love those who would deny my marriage and my love. But I must continue to insist that homosexuals share real love, and God is love. While I do not desire conflict or division, we know from the teachings of Christ that divisions are inevitable, and we must not shy away from them in fear. Love is the highest Christian virtue, it is the essence of our faith, it is the highest possible good. Love is, in a real way, God. And we must be prepared to defend love, and to defend God, even if it results in serious divisions.

Dan Josselyn, Toronto

General Synod “holds the tension”

As a self-described “rampant lay woman” and a lover of group discussion and decision-making, I went to General Synod with a sense of real burden. While I personally want my gay and lesbian friends (and those whom I don’t know too) to have the opportunity to have their life-giving and long-lasting relationships blessed in their parish churches across Canada, I’m also a “systems” person. I had always hoped that General Synod, and the church in Canada for which it speaks, would embrace this action. And I knew that wouldn’t happen. So, I went, prepared for tough and sometimes rough debate, and decisions that would run the risk of a win/lose disaster. Some would triumph; others would leave upset, disturbed, and furious, many of them eyeing other church homes or no church life at all because of their defeat.

That didn’t happen.

What happened was that the debate/discussion/conversation was, on the whole, respectful. People were given a large chunk of time (the agenda got rearranged to allow for the utmost attention to the burning questions) and they used it well. They spoke their hearts and minds with clarity and vigour over close to three full days. To my count, only three or perhaps four speeches, both pro and con, bordered on the disrespectful. That’s a small percentage of the almost hundred speakers (although it must be said that some speakers chose to address us rather frequently, on every motion or amendment!) and a far smaller percentage than we endured in the previous Synod’s debate.

So, the level of respect for each other, for other points of view was there. As was a growing awareness, I believe, that the time was coming when we would make this decision to affirm same sex blessings in the Anglican Church of Canada.

What else made this work, despite the final answer that was not quite what some of us would have wanted?

§ The generous chairing by the Primate and the Prolocutor allowed people to speak, not always on the topic of the moment. People were not called to keep to the point, or rebuffed at the microphone. They were given freedom to speak what they wanted to say to the body gathered.
§ While much has been said about the Synod drowning in process, I think the process of amendments, of “friendly amendments”, of alternate routes, was mostly that . . . an attempt to seek the mind of the Synod and to discern what the Spirit was calling our church to do at this time.
§ So many aspects of the issues were expressed: our concern about justice and the call of Jesus to love one another; our concern to keep our faith on a Scriptural base, our worries about the impact of anything we did on the worldwide Anglican Communion, our geographic and theological differences in Canada, our sense of gay and lesbian ministries among us, and so on. We left few if any stones unturned.
§ The value of time well used. Last Synod, many aboriginal leaders spoke of the need for time to absorb the various aspects of this topic and come to discernment. This Synod, a few aboriginal leaders spoke out in favour of “local option”, and some spoke against it . . . but they had spent the three years in between meetings doing the discernment they had requested time for. That hard work they had done helped the Synod immensely.

In my mind, we did what Parker Palmer, in A Hidden Wholeness, calls us to do as a community of faith. We opted to “hold the tension” that we were in, to explore it further. We made some decisions along the way, some decisions of great significance, but we opted not to legislate same-sex blessings at this time. While encumbered with old ways of doing business (motions, voting by houses etc.), we somehow reached the point where we realized there was not consensus on any way forward and so did not go there, consensus being the capacity of all to feel they could live with any decision even if they did not agree with it. And, to defend the bishops who have been much maligned for closing down the decision, I would say that they realized the lack of consensus in the church that they are called to unify, and named it.

What now? What do we need to do?

1. I think we must return to listening to the stories of gays and lesbians, of the parents and friends of gays and lesbians, something we have long been committed to, but a stage we thought we had “finished” with. There are new people at General Synod every time . . . many said they had not studied the issue, so I suspect they had also not heard the stories. Old fogies like me who have been to so many meetings and Synods on this topic of homosexuality have retained the stories, but others have not. So, let’s hear the courageous stories from many people . . . loud and clear. Write the stories, tell the stories, come out of the closet, connect one with another so no one who goes to General Synod next time has not heard about the pain of exclusion, about the love of God that sustains.

And those of us who want action on this sooner rather than later must also be prepared to listen to those whose theological roots make it difficult to accept. Let’s hear their pain, their confusion, too.

The whole Anglican Communion is committed to a Listening Process. I think we thought we had “done that”, and were off the hook. But we have much more to do. Let’s not listen to more of the debate style of back and forthing our own views, but let’s listen to the real world that some of us know only too well, but others have forgotten and still others have not yet heard.

2. We have also been called to further study. (“O Lord, how long??!”) I hope that very little time is spent trying to pull together study guides . . . we have Hearing Diverse Voices, Seeking Common Ground from the mid-nineties that needs only a brush-up, and there are many more such guides out there. But we do need to engage our parishes in the study of these resources. We have allowed this topic of homosexuality and same-sex relationships to become an either/or debate . . . whose side are you on? . . . where it ought to be a thoughtful, prayerful, respectful discussion among Christians about how their faith can be lived out within a church and in a country where we are finally open about what we have hidden for so long.

Again, to quote Palmer, “How can we keep the circle open to diverse views while keeping it focused on difficult truths?” (p.81). It’s no longer good enough to avoid the topic . . . we must spend time together in our small groups, in our parish groups, looking at all the aspects we need to in order to feel that we are indeed a church united even though with diverse views. Our clergy cannot duck this; our bishops cannot duck this; lay leaders cannot duck this. What if bishops added on a session in each parish they visit for an open conversation using one of the exercises developed for this purpose, one of the ways they as a House of Bishops could bring the diverse voices together in the faith and in the church they love? Challenge the congregation to continue the dialogue . . . and lay out some ground rules for ways to respect each other within that ongoing conversation

3. We need also to respect the call for theologians to do further work, to help lead us toward a “theology of sex” as suggested recently by Bishop Michael Ingham. But we need to claim the ability of the Whole Body of Christ gathered to do theology. We do it differently; we do it with our awareness of the academic theological information we receive uniquely tied to our lived experience as Christians. When lay and clergy gather, we are called to do theology. We cannot hand this task over again and again to “experts” and expect them to do it for us. They can help, but they cannot do it for us.

4. There needs to be an increased attention to the historic nature of the Anglican Church. Not just the popular media, but the members of our church, have swallowed some absolutely inaccurate information about what our particular brand of the Christian faith stands for, has stood for, over the centuries. We’ve been catholics and protestants; we’ve been charismatics and aesthetes; we’ve been high church and low church and mixes of the two; we’ve been social justice advocates and holier than thou’s. We have “held the tension” over centuries, and to have it destroyed by fundamentalists who are wrong is not on! “Holding the tension” is the ongoing context of the Anglican Church throughout its history and ought to continue to be the modus operandi of our Anglican family. Sermons and educational series need to highlight our history, need to teach about our denomination. (And there are many books and programs to help us do that teaching and learning . . . no new study needs to be called for there!) We need to continue to “live the questions” as we have done in the past, not buy into the either/or state that our friends from the Global South and our “separatist” Canadian equivalents appear to be wanting us to accept.

5. The Church nation-wide needs to spend more time discerning what the Spirit is calling our church to do and be, and less time wondering how it will be seen elsewhere in the world. Not to ignore the Anglican Communion at all . . . that is important to us. But to responsibly name what is best for God’s people in this place, as Synod was challenged to do by Archbishop John Sentamu. Canada is a diverse, non-hierarchical country. We need to learn to be faithful and responsive to God’s call, whatever that may be, and go about explaining our response to others later. This needs to be done in the spirit of Anglican pluralism we have helped to shape through previous decisions we have made about our own life and the life of our partner churches in the rest of the world.

After General Synod, we as a denomination may have looked to the outside like a church of indecision, or a church divided. I saw it differently. And, while slightly uncomfortable “holding the tension” for somewhat longer than I would have wanted on this question, I am hopeful. Grace abounds in our church and much grace was in Winnipeg with us!

Suzanne Lawson, Toronto

Scripture cuts both ways on this

In a news report on Saturday, June 23, the CBC interviewed David Neelands, Dean of Divinity at Trinity College Toronto, on the question of same-sex blessings and the ongoing debate at General Synod. He pointed out that both sides had been using the Bible to make their case and added: “The Bible really cuts both ways on this.” Several correspondents wrote to him to question this assertion. Below are a few of the questions, and his reply.—Ed.

“I recently read in the paper that you think that same sex blessings are mentioned somewhere in the Bible. I believe your quote was ‘it cuts both ways’. As a student of the Bible, I would like the passages that promote this way of thinking that it is acceptable to the Body of believers.”

“I just read on, this quote attributed to you, ‘The Bible really cuts both ways on this’ in connection with the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada deciding on the question of blessing same-sex unions. I would really appreciate knowing how you believe the Bible cuts both ways on this issue.”

“Re CBC article Anglicans delay vote—D. Neelands states both sides are using the Bible to make their case—‘The Bible really cuts both ways on this’—What does he mean?”

I. What were Anglicans talking about at General Synod?

My comments were made as a background observation with respect to a series of debates at the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada at its meeting in Winnipeg, June 18th to 25th, 2007. At issue, among other matters, was the question of whether the General Synod should allow local churches to approve church ceremonies of blessing of committed same-sex unions of men or women.

For Anglicans, a scriptural warrant is normally not required or expected for the approval of ceremonies. As Article 20 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion puts it, “The Church hath power to decree Rites and Ceremonies . . . Yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written.” This principle we share with a broad range of Christian groups.

With respect to the relation of Scripture to human behaviour of all kinds, Anglicans (like most traditional Christians) hold that the civil precepts of Mosaic law, like the laws touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christians. On the other hand, we hold that all Christians are to obey the moral commandments, which are the Ten Commandments as summarized by Jesus—the love of God and the love of neighbour. In addition, Christians read the Bible, not just for doctrine, but for [good and bad] “example of life and instruction of manners”, that is, illustration of examples with respect to how we are to behave that may be inconsistent with the precepts of the law and may go beyond them (Articles 6 and 7). Further, Christians ought to be guided by Scripture, even when they recognize that the laws promulgated in Scripture do not automatically apply to them, and that they are left with a wide range of judgement and discernment in formulating their principles of action.

Thus Anglicans believe that their church has the authority to create new services, such as services celebrating blessings, and they believe that, in doing so, the Church should not, according to its own principles, create services that involve anything forbidden in Scripture. In making these decisions, I believe that Scripture “cuts both ways”, that is, that there are passages in Scripture that could be used to justify such services of blessings and passages that could be used to argue against such blessings. It was interesting to note during the debates that both “sides” referred to Scripture, which is just what I would have expected.

II. Traditional Condemnation of male-male same-sex behaviour

It will not be a surprise to many that there is scriptural basis for a negative evaluation of male-male same-sex behaviour, since this is often pointed out. There is a well-developed tradition within the Church that reinforces societal suspicion of homosexuality, and this suggests that the Church should not authorize blessings of same-sex unions if some forms of sexual behaviour might be involved.

The passages in question begin with the incident narrated in Genesis of the apprehended male rape of Abraham’s visitors in Sodom (Genesis 19). They continue with the legal prohibitions against certain male-male sexual behaviour in Leviticus (18.22; 20.13); the removal of the male prostitutes from the first Temple in Jerusalem praised in Kings (1 Kings 14.23-24; 15.12-13; 2 Kings 23.5-7, cf. Deuteronomy 23.17, 18); Paul’s reference to some pagan same-sex sexual behaviour as an illustration of the sinfulness of pagans (Romans 1.26-27); Paul’s inclusion of this behaviour as typical of Christians’ earlier behaviour and behaviour incompatible with inheritance of God’s promises (I Corinthians 6.9-11); and the Pastoral Epistles’ identification of the proper as opposed to the improper use of the law (I Timothy 1.8-11). For most of Christian history, when questions of male homosexual behaviour were considered, these passages, taken as a whole, and some taken alone, suggested that all such behaviour was sinful and sub-Christian. Only occasionally were same-sex relationships held up for approval and church recognition, and it is not clear what the physical sexual assumptions were in those that were recognized.

About fifty years ago, these conclusions came to be questioned consistently by Christians. One early contribution to this movement was a pamphlet published in Britain, Towards a Quaker View of Sex. This pamphlet was followed by a number of other works, and by now there is a considerable body of literature, popular and scholarly, on the subject. With respect to the list of passages I have just given, several things became clearer, and especially careful consideration suggested that they may have been addressing different matters, but there was no clear indication that they referred to behaviour that was based on a homosexual orientation or committed friendship, but rather that they were concerned with rape, cultic practice, prostitution, or promiscuity, none of which had much to say about same-sex sexual unions. I, and many others, have concluded that Scripture knows nothing of homosexuality as an orientation (as opposed to certain kinds of male-male sexual behaviour) and that it never clearly addresses same-sex committed relationships.

III. Scriptural support for proceeding with blessings of same-sex unions

It appears less well known that there are a considerable number of Biblical passages that are cited in support of developing church services to provide for the blessing of same-sex committed couples that are part of the Christian community.

(a) Scripture describes cases of passionate friendship (1 Samuel 18.1-5, 20; 2 Samuel 1:17-27), apparently with approval and despite criticism that they are perverse and a source of sexual shame (1 Samuel 20.30).

(b) The Gospels are full of descriptions of Jesus’ reaching out and including those relegated to the margins by religious authorities and society, even to the point of treating their impurity under the accepted religious legal standards as irrelevant, as with a woman with a hemorrhage (Matthew 10.18-26; Mark 5.24-34; Luke 8.43-48) and several lepers.

(c ) Scripture describes Jesus’ own attitude, scandalous to some religious authorities, to the sacred traditional law and its regulations, and sets an example for others, “who have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2.16); consistently, Jesus makes clear that the regulations are made for people and not people for the regulations (Mark 2.23-28; Luke 6.1-11; John 5.10-18).

(d) In its mission to the Gentile world, the church of the New Testament was guided by what has been called a “missiological pragmatism”: (1) acknowledging that the role of Old Testament law had changed with the coming of Christ (Galatians 3.23-27); and (2) accepting the social arrangements and accepted roles of the culture, rather than inherited religious cultural standards (I Corinthians 11.1-16); (3) despite the fact that all things are lawful (I Corinthians 6.12; 10.23); and (4) despite the fact that in Christ all the social distinctions of these cultural standards have been broken down (Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11). The Acts of the Apostles describes a decision by a definitive apostolic council in Jerusalem, acting through the Holy Spirit, that Gentiles who adhere to the way of Christ are not to be required to observe the strict demands of the Law, including the purity codes, but are simply to refrain from eating meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from “fornication” (15.13-30). Many of these practical standards of the Gentile mission became a new Christian law, but even of these many have changed over time. Thus, although “fornication” is still now considered incompatible with the Christian way, the prohibition from eating blood is apparently not now considered binding, especially in cultures where such food as blood sausage is eaten. And marriage of a man with his father’s widow, once considered scandalous to pagan and observant religious person alike (1 Corinthians 5.1-5, compare Leviticus 18.8; 20.11) and until recently forbidden in Church and secular law, is now permitted. But above all, when there is a difference of opinion on these things in the Church, Christians are to live lives of acceptance despite their lack of agreement (Romans 14.1-15.13).

There is much that has been written about the matter of living in loyalty to Scripture as we debate these issues and perhaps make changes to our common practice and understanding. I have been particularly moved by two books, Strangers and Friends: a New Exploration of Homosexuality and the Bible (Hodder & Stoughton, 1995), by an English Evangelical Michael Vasey, and A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality (Continuum, 2003), by a Roman Catholic Dominican Gareth Moore.

I hope this is helpful to you.

David Neelands, Toronto

G. C. Rawlinson: the Claims of Intellect, the Authority of Experience

Rawlinson, G. C. An Anglo-Catholic’s Thoughts on Religion. ed. by W. J. Sparrow Simpson. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1924.

An Anglo-Catholic’s Thoughts on Religion is hardly a title calculated to make copies fly off the shelves. Yet when I saw it on the shelf of a second-hand bookshop years ago—where it may have sat unregarded for years—I grabbed it and hurried to the cash register, for I was fascinated by all aspects of this phenomenon called Anglo-Catholicism. The book was not quite what I expected, just as Gerald Christopher Rawlinson was not quite what the good people of St. Barnabas’ Pimlico expected when he arrived as their curate in 1902. Like me, they were about to encounter one of the oddest and most original minds of the Catholic movement, and one whose forthright opinions have surprising relevance to some of the upheavals that the Anglican Communion is now undergoing.

In some ways, Rawlinson was a typical product of that high-water-mark era of Anglo-Catholicism. A lifelong Francophile, his conceptions of theology and spirituality largely formed by voluminous reading in French Roman Catholic sources, he took with alacrity to the Ultramontane Anglo-Catholic subculture of the late nineteenth century—a subculture which culminated in the Congresses of the 1920s and ’30s, which seemed to have so little to do with the mainstream C. of E., and which brashly aimed to transform that C. of E., and England itself, in its own image. Anglo-Catholics in those days not only worshipped differently from “ordinary C. of E.” people: they talked differently, read different publications, attended different colleges and formed their conceptions along quite different lines. They were a world apart. St. Barnabas’ Pimlico, where Rawlinson arrived a mere seven years after his priesting, had been one of the battleground parishes of ritualism and rioting and he was to remain there as a curate until his death twenty years later. He said Mass, heard confessions, gave spiritual direction, preached and directed the annual children’s play, all the while supplementing his modest income with writing and journalism. He made his reputation as one of the principal writers for the Church Times (an Anglo-Catholic party organ in those days), while also writing articles on mysticism for the Treasury, and publishing a book characteristically entitled Recent French Tendencies, a Study in French Religion. Many other plans for books gave way before the pressure of parish work and his need to make money through journalism. It was only after his death that his friends drew together a collection of his sermons, articles and addresses, together with a set of his unpublished journal entries—“thoughts” on various subjects, some long, some short, rather in the style of Pascal’s Pensées—and published them as An Anglo-Catholic’s Thoughts on Religion.

Rawlinson may have been a priest of the Church of England; but for him, what mattered was “the Catholic Church” and “the Catholic religion” pure and simple. One can hardly imagine him pronouncing the words “Anglican Catholic”, let alone “reformed Catholic”. As to so many clergy of the period, Catholicism seemed to him to be a perfectly integral and intelligible whole about which one could speak with conviction. As he says in his sermon on “The Contemplative”: “Moderation is not a characteristic of the Catholic religion. Possibly this is one reason why it is not very popular with Englishmen, for Englishmen generally like moderation and detest extremes.” Or later in the same sermon: “We are, then, to try to cultivate the Catholic mind” and “see life through Catholic spectacles.” Closely allied with this, and also shared with so many of his contemporaries, is his ascetic romanticism. As he writes in his essay “A Twentieth-Century Solitary (Charles de Foucauld)”: “Probably there are not a few who, like the present writer, used, when they were young, to read the stories of the old hermits with a certain wistfulness.” Later he complains that nowadays religion is “as devoid of all romance as a solicitor’s office.” That wistfulness and longing for the romance of religion haunted the nineteenth century, and still haunts some today, and it too formed part of the Anglo-Catholic mindset. Given his romantic and integral conception of Catholicism, Rawlinson could also be, by our standards, quite outrageously anti-ecumenical. The flip-side of seeing Catholicism as an intelligible whole is to see Protestantism as an utterly alien thing; and Rawlinson is not immune to this, as in his sermon on “The Ascetic”: “It might not be too much to say that the natural result of Catholic asceticism is the saint, and the natural result of Protestant asceticism is the millionaire.” Nowadays we might think this is at least a little too much to say.

But ultimately Rawlinson’s mind was too big for the integrist Anglo-Catholic mindset; he resisted it even as he embraced it, and it is here that he becomes most interesting. He belonged to a movement mainly preoccupied with church politics and ritual, but his own bent was towards mysticism and spirituality. His writings in this collection include a sermon on “The Contemplative”; a series of essays called “Studies in Mysticism” (including a peculiar essay on “Dante, the Mystic”); and his address on “Meditation and Mysticism” given at the First Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1920. At High Mass on great festivals, he would step into the pulpit of St. Barnabas’ Pimlico to preach on the life of some obscure Frenchman or some point of ascetic discipline, with hardly a reference to the feast itself. As the editor of the present volume writes: “This, not unnaturally, produced a feeling of disappointment.” But he held to Baron von Hügel’s dictum that religion had three sides—the institutional, the speculative or intellectual, and the mystical or experimental—and he thought that Anglo-Catholicism had become so preoccupied with the institutional side that it had become woefully inadequate on the mystical side.

And on the intellectual side as well. Rawlinson had a complex relationship with the various “Modernisms” of his day—Roman Catholic Modernism proper, as exemplified by Loisy, which he knew well as a voracious reader of French theology; and the more advanced forms of Liberal Protestantism (also, confusingly, known as “Modernism”) then current in the Church of England. As a member of the Catholic party, Rawlinson inevitably found himself on the anti-Modernist side, but always with a certain discomfort, a certain sense that some important nuances were being lost in the “fight” against it. He saw what so many of his fellow clergy did not see: that the various “Modernisms” were not a vicious assault on “Holy Church”, but an attempt to do, albeit inadequately, a task that needed doing. As he says in his journal note on “The Failure of Modernism”: “It started as a gallant attempt to provide the Church with a new apologetic in place of the apologetic which is no longer valid.” But (he continues) “[t]he authorities and clergy generally are so ignorant that they were not aware of the need of a new apologetic.” The clergy of his own party were, in Rawlinson’s view, certainly not exempt from this. In his note on “Modernism” he writes: “The Modernist ideas may prove perilous guests in many men’s minds. So do all good and noble ideas in minds that are not fit to receive them. . . . It is especially difficult, however, to-day, as a certain number of people are intellectually centuries ahead of the majority. All this makes a restatement of dogma very difficult.” His fellow Anglo-Catholic clergy, many of whom had gone whole-hog for the “fight”, might have been a little dismayed to find the humble curate of St. Barnabas’ describing them as intellectually delayed by several centuries; but in these informal notes Rawlinson was not writing for publication and was free to speak his mind. As he writes in a journal note on “The Future of Ritualism”: “The intellectual calibre of the Ritualists. Low. It gets the majority of the young clergy, but they are not now the best products of the University. The movement never has been intellectual, and has never cared for intellectual culture.” Again and again he expresses his discouragement that the party to which he belongs so fails to meet the intellectual challenges before it. His recurring fear is that many Anglo-Catholics would wish to suppress Modernism by some exercise of authority instead of through the freedom of debate, and this is deeply repugnant to him, for alongside his love of Catholicism he always continues to hold a certain affection for the mixed and untidy character of Anglicanism. In his note on “Religious Controversy” he writes: “I find also the Church of England more satisfactory because I can live in it a mental life more unhampered. I can’t stand the D.O.R.A. (Defence of Rome Act) of the Roman Catholics. And regret that my party in the Church of England is inclined to take the same line. Their denunciation of Modernism seems to me almost unintelligent. For it seems to me you must allow a certain laxity, if you are to defend your continuance in the Church of England.”

Underlying all this is Rawlinson’s conviction that intellectual integrity is paramount and ultimately must trump obedience where the two conflict. Rawlinson the liturgically Ultramontane and intellectually Francophile did not have a great deal in common with the quintessentially Anglican “Liberal Catholic” Charles Gore, and I am sure they could not have agreed on the proper manner of celebrating Mass. But he sounds startlingly like Gore when he writes, in his note on “Fellowship with the Church”: “Better far to be an outcast from the Church in this world than to remain in her at the cost of a lie. Better to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church than to excommunicate oneself from that other Church which consists of all who love the truth.” And he is prepared to apply this idea even if it means the destruction of the institution itself, in language applicable to our current Communion-wide controversies, when he writes (in his note on “Religious Controversy”): “If the present controversies in the Church of England tear it in twain, it will mean that in the interests of truth this ought to happen—that it could only hold together so long as nobody thought.”

As Rawlinson’s emphasis on the intellectual element in religion flows from his belief in intellectual integrity, so his emphasis on mysticism flows from his belief in the authority of lived experience. In this, he is equally uncompromising and remarkable. In an address on confession and spiritual direction, given to the Oxford Convention of the Federation of Catholic Priests in 1921, he recommends the usual study of moral and ascetic theology, but then goes on to suggest that confessors and spiritual directors should make a study of good novels—particularly those of Fielding, Balzac, Thackeray and the Russians—as a way of gaining insight into human nature. “I have often thought I would like to set an examination to priests—if some bishop would appoint me his chaplain—on novels. My paper would contain questions like these: What advice might have been helpful to Becky Sharp when she was leaving Mrs. Pinkerton’s? How could the impression made on Maggie Tulliver by reading the ‘Imitation’ have been reinforced? What methods might be adopted in dealing with the Forsyte family in Mr. Galsworthy’s novels? Such questions at least would make us think over some very real problems of direction.” In his paper “Meditation and Mysticism”, delivered to the first Anglo-Catholic Congress, he asserts that mysticism exists “not as the conclusion of an argument, but as the result of an experience,” and endorses the view of Emil Durkheim that the origin of religion is not intellectual but experiential. In his discussion of the validity of Anglican orders in his note on “The Christian Priesthood” he writes brusquely: “[T]he true test, pragmatic. If use of sacraments produced no results, looks as if ministry was invalid. But if opposite, then valid. Proof of ours:—that the increase of frequency of Sacraments has led to a great increase of devotion, holiness, and love of God. So don’t tell me that Anglican orders are invalid.” He is fully prepared to apply the experiential test to the formulation of Christian doctrine. In his note on “The Divinity of Our Lord”, he writes that the Nicene Creed is “the clothing in words of an experience,” namely the growing consciousness of Christ’s divinity in the life of the Church. He is prepared to contemplate a reformulation of the Creeds, since they are not verbally inspired and any new formulation can in principle be valid if it remains true to the experience. It is only on the last point that he finds attempted Modernist reformulations unsatisfactory.

We have heard a good deal of late about the dangers of invoking experience on doctrinal questions, as though this were some sort of peculiar modern heresy. Rawlinson would hardly have understood such a point of view, for his tendency was always to see Catholicity as a conversation about experience over space and time. As he says in his note titled “Mentalité catholique”: “What is the place of Authority? It is educational, paternal. To guide, to save wasting time in futile quests. Not to relieve from the personal search. It represents largely the wisdom of the past.” And he continues: “Of course, this implies development (not the once for all delivered to the Saints theory).” From this conversation over space and time, our own place and time can hardly be excluded, nor can we be mere passive recipients of an experience already formulated. But the triumph of the institutional element, without an appropriate counterweight, can mean that intellectual inquiry is squelched and experience is ignored. On the level of the individual believer, Rawlinson makes the point again (in “What Mysticism Is”): “Unless religion is in some way experimentally justified by a soul it is very soon abandoned.” If doctrine does not answer to experience, and continue to do so, the Church will in the end consist of no one but those in whom intellect and lived experience have been artificially suppressed—the power-hungry and the cowed, the stubborn and the silly. From this vision Rawlinson has no recourse but to “that other Church which consists of all who love the truth.” But as a lover of the Catholic Church in its Anglican embodiment, he continued to hope for better things from the institution, as many continue to do.

Jeff Creighton, Toronto

Book reviews

Dennis Lee, Yesno, House of Anansi Press, 2007

Dennis Lee is well-known (and deservedly so) as a children’s poet, the author of Alligator Pie among other books. A rather smaller number of people know that he is also a significant writer of poetry for adults, poems marked by a preoccupation with the civic and social community of Canada. His two most recent books, Un and Yesno, are linked volumes exploring, through a radical deconstruction and partial reconstruction of language, our current environmental crisis, a crisis which Lee follows back to our own souls and our understandings of our selves and our place in the world. Un, published in 2004, was a very dark book (the cover was plain black), ending with a projection into a possible future of planetary extinction, “terminal ought and deny”. In Yesno, published this spring, Lee is searching for a way to balance pessimism and hope, and, more than in the earlier book, works with theological concepts to do so; his frame of reference is wide, and he references writings and ideas from many faiths, but the central metaphors tend to be drawn from a Christian context, with the images of the saviour-child and the “carnival logos” recurring throughout, undoing and remaking being, rewiring our selves from the building blocks of the word.

Yesno is not on any level an easy book—it asks of the reader both a level of comfort with experimental poetry, and enough knowledge of a very wide range of literary and religious texts to recognize and play with references and etymologies. But as an example of a very vivid, immediate and challenging use of Christian (and other) traditions to address the world as it is, Yesno is outstandingly important.

Andrew O'Hagan, Be Near Me, McClelland and Stewart, 2006

Scottish author Andrew O’Hagan has a wide and curious range of interests; his previous books have dealt with subjects including missing people in Britain, and the anorexic pop singer Lena Zavaroni. His latest novel, Be Near Me, sounds rather familiar on the surface—a Roman Catholic priest in a small town in Scotland gets himself into rather serious trouble with a young man in his parish—but O’Hagan handles the material with uncommon skill.

It is clear from the outset that Father David Anderton’s troubles are going to have a great deal to do with a clash of cultures. Though born in Edinburgh, he has spent his life in England before coming to Dalgarnock, a small and economically depressed Scottish village, and in some ways this is much more of a problem for the community than his sexual orientation or behaviour; the (largely unjustified) campaign against David as a “paedo” may be in significant part a cover for a campaign against the outsider, the colonizer, the “English” man.

O’Hagan’s most interesting achievement, though, is the character of David himself; fussy, pedantic, self-absorbed and childishly self-satisfied, but so carefully observed and fully drawn that we cannot help but sympathize with him. And his background is also not quite what one might have expected—eventually, we learn that David, at university, had a serious romantic relationship with Conor, a student activist. (This was evidently a publicly acknowledged romance; his mother still displays a picture of the two of them together). It was only after Conor’s death in a car crash that David decided to join the church, his vow of celibacy serving as a sort of overwrought youthful tribute to his dead lover.

It is not, then, so much that the church has forced David to suppress a profound part of himself; it is rather that he embraced that suppression, that he ran to the church as a refuge from adult sexuality, and from complication, from the loss and the acknowledgement of mortality that are also part of love. And O’Hagan makes it quietly clear that this has damaged David not only as a person but as a priest—that he is a poor pastor, superficial and disengaged (“addicted to sweet thoughts,” his mother says), because he has never really let himself grow up.

O’Hagan is quite good at turning stock characters into real people—David’s housekeeper Mrs Poole becomes a sort of tragic hero of the book, and Mark, the delinquent boy with whom David engages in a fairly silly flirtation (it is never much more than that) is oddly complex in his rages and ambiguities. While the book is quite specific to the cultural context of the post-industrial Scotland, O’Hagan’s people are rich enough, and complicated enough, to speak well beyond that.

Maggie Helwig, Toronto

Remember in Christ his servant: Gene Stewart 1928 - 2006

October marks the first anniversary of the death of Gene Stewart, a few months short of his 80th birthday. He was a member of Affirming Anglican Catholicism and a long time parishioner of St. Thomas’s Church, Toronto, where he served as People’s Warden.

Gene joined AffCath at a time when the Canadian Chapter was working to find a reinvigorated voice in the discussions surrounding same sex blessings and the ordination of gay and lesbian priests and bishops, as well as the continuing challenge to ensure that women’s callings are received with equal authority.

Unquestionably, Gene’s understanding of “catholic” meant universal and inclusive. His practical and humanitarian outlook brought a sense of solid support to any effort he joined. Particularly in the last years of his life, Gene became interested in finding ways to help the church become more helpful in the humanitarian and environmental challenges of our time. Certainly his participation in Aff Cath was part of that.

We remember his humour, intelligence, good will, and, especially, his focus on activity!

Carol Kysela, Toronto

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Re-discovering the rosary as an aid to prayer

While the title of this article might be considered off-putting by some Anglicans, I trust that the reader will approach the subject with an open mind. In fact, the rosary should not be offensive to Anglicans, at least to those Anglicans who might admit that there was some good in the spirituality of the pre-reformation Church of England (some of us may regret the Romans winning out over the Celts in an early period of English history, but that is another story!). Those who have read Eamon Duffy’s marvellous book, The Stripping of the Altars (1992), will recall his description of the rich devotional life that existed in England before and at the time of the reformation. The rosary is part of this treasury of devotional practices that was buried by the reformers’ over-zealous desire to purify the church of “abuse” and “superstition.”

The custom of using some method to “tell” or count prayers is apparently quite ancient in Christian history. As one commentator tells us, as early as the fourth century there is an account of an anchorite who would collect stones in his lap and throw one away for each prayer he said. The tradition of repeating the Lord’s Prayer as a simple way for the (largely illiterate) laity to imitate the monastic recitation of the psalms was an early form of the rosary (the area in London, England, known as “Paternoster Row” recalls the guilds who made rosaries out of bone or other materials for this purpose). It is St. Dominic, however, in the 13th century, who seems to have been most influential in the development of the rosary into the form we know today. The Dominican rosary evolved into the present day Roman Catholic rosary: a set of beads divided into five decades, each beginning with an Our Father, followed by ten Hail Marys, and ending with the Gloria patri (Glory to the Father, etc). In this form of the rosary, there are three sets of “mysteries”: the Joyful or Lucan mysteries (the Annunciation; the Visitation; the Birth of Jesus; the Presentation; the Finding of Jesus in the Temple); the Sorrowful or Matthean mysteries (the Agony in the Garden; the Scourging; the Crowning with Thorns; the Carrying of the Cross; the Crucifixion); and the Glorious or Johannine/Lucan/”traditional” mysteries (the Resurrection; the Ascension; the Day of Pentecost; the Falling Asleep and/or Assumption of Mary; the Crowning of Mary amidst the glory of all the saints). A fourth set of mysteries, the “Luminous mysteries” (the Baptism of Christ; the Wedding at Cana of Galilee; the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God; the Transfiguration; and the Last Supper) was devised by the late Bishop of Rome, John Paul II, and is now commended to the (Roman) Catholic faithful as a fourth option in addition to the earlier sets of mysteries. Each group or set of mysteries contains, as we can see, five episodes in the life of Jesus. Saying the rosary involves meditating on one set (i.e., five) of these mysteries while using the repeated prayers as a kind of mantra.

While I initially started saying the rosary simply because I thought it was the right “Anglo-Catholic” thing to do, I have—despite my pompous self—found it a great help and real aid to prayer. For example, on the longish walk from my house to my place of work, I often say the rosary (simply counting the prayers on my fingers)—partially as a way of calming myself before the beginning of the daily grind; and partially as a way of praying with Mary, who—for any Christian—should be seen as the disciple par excellence.

I begin with the usual custom of saying the Apostles’ Creed on the cross at the end of the rosary. Beginning with the creed—which is our baptismal profession of faith—reminds me that all prayer and all ministry finds its source in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. After this, I make a specific intention, focusing this particular recitation on a particular concern expressed through petition or intercession (i.e., prayer for myself or for others). I make this intention while saying the first Lord’s Prayer and “little decade” of three Hail Marys. I then begin to meditate on each of the five mysteries that I have chosen, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer and then immediately saying ten Hail Marys for each of the mysteries in the set.

I find it is not enough to simply picture mentally each of the mysteries. I find that I need to return to the gospel or to use some kind of commentary to help me enter imaginatively into each mystery. Let me illustrate this with the so-called Joyful mysteries: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation, and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. In these mysteries, St. Luke stresses the importance of the ordinary life of human beings, especially those who have been amongst those most marginalized and oppressed by the powerful in human society. As one commentary has pointed out, Luke is not concerned with “good taste” or “high culture” (both very Anglican preoccupations); he is not concerned with theological or ethical systems; nor is he concerned with preserving privilege or hierarchy; rather, he is concerned primarily with Jesus’ solidarity with the poor and dispossessed. There is not space here to speak of each of these mysteries in detail, so let me focus on one only: the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. While saying the rosary, if I am able (i.e., if I am not walking and have access to a Bible), I try to re-read and briefly meditate on each of the mysteries as they are recounted in the gospel. Over time, I have found that I start to focus on different parts of the narrative, which leads me into a kind of conversation with the passage (it is more like gazing upon a painting or other work of art than like analyzing a text). I have also found various commentaries helpful in this process of sinking deeper into each mystery. Herbert O’Driscoll’s wonderful book, Portrait of a Woman (1996), I have found particularly helpful. There are, however, many other commentaries easily available on the internet. Here is a portion of a feminist meditation on the rosary that I have found very helpful and interesting. Here, as part of a larger meditation on all of the mysteries of the rosary, the author reflects on the fifth Joyful mystery:

Anyone who has ever lost a child in a department store can relate to the fifth joyful mystery—the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. Consider the situation: It is the time of the Passover festival. Mary, Joseph, and 12-year-old Jesus have traveled from tiny Nazareth to the bustling city. Mary turns around, the boy has disappeared. I think of the sweat pouring down her back and between her breasts as she runs up and down the strange streets, searching every face for a clue, unable to find her beloved child. I hear street music; smell the food being sold by the vendors, see the goods being hawked—the temple doves, the fruits of the sacrifice. He is nowhere. And then, she finds him calmly sitting amidst the rabbis, who are amazed at his learning. I feel her beating heart. And the moment of rage that comes so hard upon the moment of relief. “Why were you concerned? Did you not know I was about my father's business?” The impulse to strike the child for being what my mother would have called wise. The wise child, with a wise answer, in both senses of the term. It is an answer that does not take into consideration her terror, the possibility of her loss: I must be about my father's business. You, mother, are my past. She is silent, because of course there is nothing for her to say. She knows he is right. He is no longer her child. How as feminists do we understand this thoughtless child's rejection of the world and the way of the mother? Perhaps by accepting the terrible truth: that in creating strong children, we automatically deprive ourselves of their company; that in being strong, we test ourselves, challenge ourselves, set ourselves in the midst of the elders and claim our own wisdom. During this mystery I become a supplicant: Keep my children safe, keep my children safe, I pray over and over, with each Hail Mary. Perhaps by the eighth Hail Mary I am able to enlarge my supplication: Keep all children safe. And perhaps there is a little room here for gratitude—gratitude for our tradition, which is one of concern for the private anguish and the larger terror of being lost in the larger world. (Mary Gordon, “The Feminist Rosary,” Boston College Magazine, Fall 2003,

This is part of a lengthy, but very interesting and useful, reflection on all fifteen mysteries of the rosary—where the author stresses the fact that the gospel is “good news” not because it props up the assumptions of the privileged castes in church or society (e.g., bishops and clergy) but because it privileges—like the Magnificat of Mary—the most marginalized group (which, for most of human history, has consisted largely of women). The author concludes by saying that “to be a feminist is to put oneself firmly, because one has experienced injustice, on the side of justice. And if one is on the side of justice, one is on the side of the afflicted” (Gordon 2003). Thus, the rosary—far from being captive to the hierarchy or patriarchy that is often associated with Catholic Christianity—is really a way of recalling and living the urgency of the gospel, which challenges all of our human divisions and neat categories.

In my own use of the rosary, I have started to appreciate Holy Scripture as mystery in a way that moves beyond my former approach to the gospel texts, which was primarily through the lens of historical-critical method. By consciously trying to meditate, regularly, on the gospel accounts which make up most of the rosary (one could argue that the fourth and fifth Glorious mysteries have no scriptural basis, but there are simple substitutions for them), I have, in a sense, started to live these holy mysteries in my own life. In this way, the rosary has become, for me, a source of contact with God in everyday life.

Robert Ross, Toronto

Useful links:

How to recite the rosary

Ecumenical/Anglican Prayer Beads

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Welcome to Affirming Catholicism Canada

For more information on the American branch of Affirming Anglican Catholicism, please go to the following link:

For more information on the U.K. branch of Affirming Catholicism, please go to the following link: