Monday, September 24, 2007

Christian Ethics and the sexually active adolescent

There is a certain dichotomous tendency in most Christian approaches to sexual ethics that I find unfortunate. The extent of the guidance many seem to be willing to give is "faithfulness in marriage [often defined as heterosexual marriage] or abstinence outside of it." This is certainly the ideal (though I define the sacrament of matrimony differently than most of my co-religionists), but what of those who fall short of this ideal? Are we then to consign them to a total absence of counsel on our part? Can we give them no ethical guidance whatsoever? It can only be vindictive to say to them "Obey the Church perfectly, or we'll give you no help at all." It seems to me that many of my friends in their teens who are sexually active believe that the Church has nothing to say to them about their sexual behaviour. (This despair is particularly evident amongst gay young people, but that is not my immediate concern in this column). They do not comply with the ideal, so we will not give them any advice at all.

Might it not be more helpful to adopt what social service professionals call "a harm reduction approach"? The parent who makes condoms available to her child need not condone his activities, nor the worker in the safe injection site who provides her charges with clean syringes. Rather, both seek to minimise the potential for resulting suffering. I recall my mother telling me, in my early adolescence, that if I ever wished to experiment with marijuana, she hoped I would do so under her supervision.

Can we not then learn to talk to those who are sexually active outside of marriage, rather than abandoning the Church's teaching ministry to them? They are not lost causes: their failure to remain chaste in the conventional sense does not give them liberty to abandon all respect for human dignity. Every sexually active teenager can tell of the partner who does not call, or who cavalierly transmits a venereal infection, or who is a bully in seeking to satisfy his wants. Why should we not show appropriate pastoral concern for such people, especially young people, and help them to avoid promiscuity, that is, to seek sexual relations only in stable romantic friendships? Even though they may not meet the Christian ideal, most could approach it far more closely than they now do.

Many of the stories my unchurched friends relate of their exploits are occasions for deep chagrin. Perhaps we, like the astute mother or the realistic social service worker, can alleviate their sadness and suffering, even if our ethical standards remain unchanged in and of themselves. There is simply no need to allow anyone who requires pastoral care to remain unassisted.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Holy Cross Day

Procession and Solemn Mass of Holy Cross Day at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto. It was the first of three Masses I will be attending for the feast (that one, tomorrow afternoon at Holy Cross Priory, and Sunday morning at the Church of the Nearest Sunday).

The vestments were a smart red set with black orphreys; ditto the full-length frontal (unusual for St. Mary mag; the altar normally wears a miniskirt). It was a modern set: no horizontal bars on either the dalmatic or tunicle, and no maniples in evidence.

The Mass was a homegrown Healey Willan Mass for the feast. The subdeacon's, shall we say, untrained voice made the Epistle rather painful. In lieu of a gradual, the psalm was said with a refrain accompanied by children on glockenspiels and sundry other percussion instruments, which was rather experimental for a Solemn Mass at SMM, but they pulled it off, in my opinion. The children later returned for the response to the Prayers of the People.

A new motet composed for the occasion by SMM's music director on the text of John 3.16 was quite haunting and lovely. The hymns were "The royal banners forward go" (Vexilla Regis), "When I survey the wondrous cross" (Rockingham), "All praise to thee, for thou O king divine" (Engelberg), and "Lift high the cross" (Crucifer). I fell in love with Engelberg the first time I heard it, so I was quite pleased.

Did anything distract me? Apart from the seemingly obligatory pierced-eyebrowed blond in low-rise jeans sitting ahead of me, there was a point during the offertory when someone in the chancel party began to brush up against his/her microphone for a painfully prolonged period of time, causing much mirth.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Sung Eucharist and Reception of Oblates at St. John's Convent for the Nativity of the BVM and the Foundation Day of the Sisterhood of St John the Divine. Neither of the main AC shops in town had anything beyond the usual weekday Low Mass, so I headed uptown to visit the sisters for their big day.

Smells but no bells for this Mass of St Denis by Barrie Cabena. Introit hymn: "Sing of Mary, pure and lowly" (to "Hermon"), a dreadful "Hymn of Oblation" written by one of the Oblates about pressing on in God's love "together with the Sisters". I forgave the lyrics because it was set to Abbot's Leigh. Offertory hymn: "Heavenly message". Communion: "Virgin born, we bow before thee". Post-communion: "The God whom earth and sea and sky". It wasn't the tune I'm used to singing it (as well as "O love, how deep") to, which is Puer nobis nascitur.

The homily opened with a great anecdote about Irish Nuns in Quebec but lost me after a while. The highlight of the Reception of Oblates was two of the women breaking down in tears. The Dismissal, which was noted as "Romanian" on the sheet, got up my hopes of something Byzantine, but seemed rather to have been an adaptation of a folk tune.

Overall, it was a reverent, joyful celebration (no kneeling whatsoever) and I look forward to my next visit.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Lift up your hearts

...But chiefly ought we to praise thee, gracious Glendon, for cancelling classes on major Jewish holidays, for though this statute clearly hath its origin at the main campus, which hath an higher concentration of Jewish students, yet thou dost bountifully allow us who are in the midst of WASPy Lawrence Park to benefit from its peaceful succour. Therefore with Angels ...

How I learned to stop worrying and love Reformation Sunday

A response to my friend

I was introduced to Reformation Sunday at a very liberal-catholic Lutheran parish, and no doubt its observance there was unorthodox. My pastor was a devoted ecumenist, had letters from Roman Catholic bishops on his office wall, and owned a biretta. When I walked into church on Reformation Sunday, I commented to him that I was uneasy with Protestantism. "I am not a Protestant!" he replied. "I am an Evangelical Catholic!"

The theme of the Mass was very much Reformation in general - he even tied in his views of same-sex blessings during the homily. As an Anglican, I see myself as both a Catholic and a reformed Christian. Throughout the calendar of saints, I celebrate my church's catholicity, so I don't feel bad celebrating its Reformation heritage once a year. Errors *were* corrected at the Reformation; I acknowledge that for the most part they have been corrected by Rome since then as well.

That's how I celebrate Reformation Sunday with a quiet conscience. I'm probably not typical, and there are likely parishes (probably Misery/Wisconsin Synod, or one of the non-Lutheran denominations that celebrate it, like the Christian Reformed) where it is an occasion to glorify Protestantism. But the bottom line is that I, a decided non-Protestant, have no objection to Reformation Sunday in principle. (Though, like a true Anglo-Catholic, I would rather celebrate Reformation Day with a High Mass on October 31 than transfer it!)

This year, I hope to go to St. Peter's Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Toronto for Reformation Sunday. Their English mass is early enough that I can still make it to my own parish ("the Church of the Nearest Sunday") for my regular mass. (Although, I'm possibly revising my Sunday morning schedule on the second and fourth Sundays of each month - details soon!)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

To do

Goals to accomplish this year:

*Take academic writing workshop
*Join Athletic Club
*Finish Jules Verne novel
*Date a Francophone
*Attend Solemn Evensong every Sunday
*Give up Facebook for Lent (except Sundays!)
*Visit friends in Guelph as often as finances permit

Theory busted

In Toronto, there is a parish called the the Swedish Lutheran Church in Toronto. I had been under the impression that they were dually affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (which is in full communion with the Anglican Church of Canada) and the Church of Sweden (which is in apostolic succession and blesses same sex unions). Can you see where this is going? I thought I had found a loophole. The Swedes not only include rings in their ceremony (unlike New Westminster) but have declared themselves open to allowing the actual wedding to take place in church if same-sex marriage (as opposed to civil unions) is legalised by their government. And in Canada, that's already the case...

But I was wrong. Here is an excerpt from an email I received from the congregation's Pastor Anna Runesson.

"You are correct in your understanding concerning same-gender blessings within the Church of Sweden. However, my position in Canada looks a bit different. I am an ordained pastor for the Church of Sweden, but the Swedish Church in Toronto does not officially belongs to this church. We are an ethnic church within Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCIC). This means that I officially work for ELCIC, which position, as you know, is not the same as the Church of Sweden in this question. I am, therefore, not eligible to perform blessings of same-gender unions in Canada as an employed ELCIC pastor. Personally, I would have preferred the order of the Church of Sweden in this matter."

Oh, well. We'll keep trying.


From the Anglican Journal: Legal experts tackle same-sex questions

So the dust has settled and General Synod has, at the end of the day, declined to pass a resolution affirming diocesan authority to permit the blessing of same-sex unions. But the fight's not over. No one is really happy: "liberals" don't get their SSBs (yet) and the "conservatives" are going to lose in 2010 (they won only by two votes in the House of Bishops).

Part of the confusions stems from the fact the resolution would not have "authorised" dioceses to allow SSBs, but rather would have "affirmed" their authority. This to some reads like an acknowledgment of existing jurisdiction, so that the resoluion's narrow defeat is in fact a moot point. I'm not sure I buy this interpretation, but certainly the lack of clarity is unfortunate. The Rt. Rev. James Cowan, Bishop of British Columbia, writes “There are those who argue that because General Synod did not pass a motion claiming its authority on the matter, it may be left to a local church (diocese, parish, or parish priest) to make decisions about moving forward with same-sex union blessings. I am not of that opinion...". Certainly "that opinion" may or may not be accurate, but wouldn't it have been easier on everyone if General Synod had made that clear one way or the other? Am I the only the one who thinks we need a Clarity Act like the one that sets the ground rules in Canadian law for any future secession of Quebec?

This ambiguity, combined with the resolution declaring that there is nothing in creedal doctrine preventing the blessing of same-sex unions, makes it unclear what in fact the consequences will be for anyone who blesses such a union. Fr Eric Beresford poses the question of “whether or not it is lawful to require obedience from a priest on something the General Synod of the church has declared to be matter indifferent.” Are we going to end up like the the Lutherans of Eastern Synod (Ontario, Quebec, Maritimes), where Bishop Michael Pryse has pledged to impose "the least severe forms of discipline" ( on pastors who bless or even marry same-sex couples? Already, the Dean of Niagara and a retired Archbishop of Toronto have been given slaps on the wrists for doing just that.

So what about the good news? It's threefold, as far as I can tell. 1) Priests can now offer Mass for civilly married same-sex couples, with intercessions for their union, providing that no exchange of vows or nuptial blessing takes place. 2) Any similar motion is sure to pass in Halifax in 2010. 3) and most importantly, a resolution asking Council of General Synod to study the possibility of allowing "all legally qualified persons" to marry in the Church has passed. So chin up, and keep praying.