Some of the callers and writers were viciously, personally abusive, others were supportive, others disappointed and still others were confused. That was the range of reaction reported by Bishop Ralph Spence and Dean Peter Wall of the diocese of Niagara after Dean Wall married a lesbian couple last August at Christ's Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ontario.
Reflecting their different positions in the diocese - Bishop Spence is Dean Wall's supervisor - and their different roles in the event, Bishop Spence's mail was more critical than Dean Wall's.
"It was exactly as I predicted. There have been two reactions. Some were indifferent and some were furious - both clergy and laypeople," said Bishop Spence, referring to the dozens of letters, e-mails and phone calls he has received since a story about the wedding appeared in the Anglican Journal last December.
"A clear majority" of the messages he received were critical and opposed to gay marriage, he said. "Even people in favour of blessing same-sex unions were against jumping the process," he said, referring to the fact that all bishops except Michael Ingham of New Westminster have agreed not to permit blessing rites until General Synod considers the matter later this year. The diocese of New Westminster in 2002 approved offering blessings to gay couples.
However, he added, "some who were supportive of the issue were pleased that someone had the courage to do it." Others felt he should have been tougher in his disciplining of Dean Wall, whose licence to perform marriages was suspended by Bishop Spence for three months.
Dean Wall said in an interview that he has received about 125 communications and that the "overwhelming majority were very positive and very moving." The positive responses said "we're proud of you and we're pleased someone in the church is doing this," he said. People from other denominations also wrote to say that they are "proud of the Anglican Church for struggling with [this issue]," he said.
"Some people are calling me a prophet and a hero, neither of which is true. They said that sometimes it takes somebody to step out in front," said Dean Wall.
The critical responses generally fell into two categories, he said. "Some were very critical I would involve the church with a homosexual relationship. I would characterize (those responses) as homophobic. Some felt I broke the rules and embarrassed my church and my bishop," he said. Some of the correspondence was personal and abusive, he added.
In December, Dean Wall said, he held a "town hall" meeting to allow cathedral parishioners to express opinions on the issue. A total of 40 people attended two sessions. "People expressed dismay or anger, but there was a balance of voices. I think the people most dismayed with me just wanted to tell me that and I encouraged that, and I think at the end of it there was a sense that it's okay for us to walk together even if we disagree. We can have unity without uniformity," Dean Wall said.
Some people have suggested, both in letters to the Journal and to Bishop Spence, that the dean should lose his job and resign other positions he holds. He is a member of the national church's faith, worship and ministry committee and chair of the worship committee for General Synod 2004. He also holds the position of diocesan liturgical officer and is on the board of the Anglican Foundation. He is also chair of Liturgy Canada, a national organization that researches and publishes material concerning liturgy.
"I have offered to the groups I'm involved with to withdraw or resign and in no case has it been taken up," said Dean Wall. Bishop Spence, who did not know of the wedding beforehand and has said he felt "blindsided" by his friend and colleague's action, commented, "It's history now. I am so keen to go on with life at the cathedral and the diocese. I have worked hard in the last four weeks to put this behind us and get our act together as we go to General Synod. Niagara is hosting this event, we will have a new primate and there is a lot to look forward to."
His relationship with Mr Wall "has continued in a positive sense," but emotionally, he said. "I certainly went through the washing machine spin cycle on this."
Dean who married same-sex couple prayed he could 'welcome all people' http://anglicanjournal.com/129/10/canada12.html
Article by Solange de Santis