The official process of listening began in 1976 with the bishops commissioning a ‘Task Force’ to assist their thinking on issues of homosexuality. The report was only for bishops and in 1979 the bishops committed themselves to further study and requested the preparation of study materials which were published in 1985.
The House of Bishops in November 1992 reported on their process of further study which had been based on the Church of England booklet Some Issues in Human Sexuality. The study moved beyond this report and the following sentence in their report is illuminating:
A year earlier, we had suggested that bishops should seek opportunities in their own situations to engage in dialogue with members of the homosexual community. From the nature of our discussions, it was clear that many had done so.
The process had moved from “study about” to “dialogue with” homosexual people.
It was clear at the time that a serious engagement with the Scriptures was needed. The study process was also to include ‘the experience of gays and lesbians who are committed Christians’.
As a result the 1997 Statement by the Anglican Bishops included the following paragraph:
We are thankful to see a new sensitivity emerging towards gay and lesbian persons in the Church. No longer can we talk in the abstract. We are experiencing a growing awareness that the persons of whom we speak are among us. They are our sons and daughters. They are our friends and relatives.
The process had moved on form "dialogue with" to "discussion among ourselves", consciously and openly including gay and lesbian members. Homosexual voices have been heard at General Synod, including homosexual people who strongly endorse traditional teaching, as well as those who would seek its revision.
The Canadian church has been consistent in its rejection of discrimination of homosexual people in Canadian society because of a belief that all people are made in the image of God.
It is well publicised that the Diocese of New Westminster authorised a service of blessing for same sex couples, but this is not the policy of the Church. The Anglican Church of Canada is divided over the issues of the blessing of same sex relationships and of the ordination of clergy in same sex relationships. It remains the official policy of the church not to accept the blessing of homosexual unions and individual dioceses do not have national sanction to authorise such blessings in their dioceses. However, the General Synod of 2004 requested that the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee “prepare resources for the church to use in addressing issues relating to human sexuality, including the blessing of same sex unions and the changing definition of marriage in society.”
In response to this request there is a useful resource guide for Discussions on Human Sexuality on the official website of the Anglican Church of Canada which is intended to help churches engage in listening processes. The guide includes models of dialogues in dioceses such as Toronto and Nova Scotia and this is an indication of the extent of listening which has gone on. These resources are well presented. In addition the site offers a variety of good resources with the contents of each of them explained in a helpful format with bullet points describing the contents.
There is an awareness that listening processes take their own forms within aboriginal communities and the church is actively seeking to include aboriginal perspectives in the discernment process.
The conclusion of the 1997 Statement of the Anglican Bishops of Canada remains true for the church:
Our discussions over the past few years have taught us much. We do not have a common mind on all things. We see in part and we know in part. Where we disagree we need to continue to read the Scriptures together and to engage in dialogue, that we might listen for what the Spirit is saying to the Church today.