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Dean who married same-sex couple prayed he could welcome all people

Dean who married same-sex couple prayed he could welcome all people

Staff Writer
Anglican Journal

Hamilton, Ont.

The decision to marry two women in Hamilton 's Christ's Church Cathedral
last August was either a moment of grace or a moment of error, said Rev.
Peter Wall, dean of the diocese of Niagara and rector of the cathedral.
Dean Wall confirmed in an interview that he was the priest disciplined
by Bishop Ralph Spence after performing a same-sex wedding in a Niagara

The wedding took place Aug. 25 in the cathedral with about 90 people in

Gay couples have been able legally to marry in Ontario since June, when
the provincial court of appeal ruled that limiting civil marriage to
heterosexuals was discriminatory and unconstitutional. However, the
canons, or church laws, of the Anglican Church of Canada restrict
marriage to male-female couples and the church is wrestling with the
issue of whether gay relationships should be blessed.

Bishop Spence announced in early September that a priest in the diocese
had presided over the wedding of a gay couple that he was suspending the
priest's licence to marry for an unspecified time and that the priest
would continue in parish ministry. Bishop Spence did not identify the
priest at the time. The marriage licence was restored Nov. 1.

This was a mind of heart over a mind of reason. Though I disagreed with
him, I understood that, said Bishop Spence.

Noting that British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario have legalized gay
marriage, Dean Wall said, I need to trust that God's grace may be
extended to same-sex couples. Here were two people who demonstrated to
me that the spirit worked within them, that the light shined through.

The couple has been together 14 years.

He had met with the couple earlier in the summer and learned that
they had been turned away from another church. I was showing them around
the cathedral. I always thought of the cathedral as a welcoming place
and I had either a moment of grace or a moment of error and I said, "It
is your choice if you wish to get married here," he recalled.

Dean Wall said he modified the marriage service in the Book of
Alternative Services to fit the female couple.

Breaking the rules is a dangerous thing to do, he acknowledged, but
sometimes the rules need to be bent. He considered, he said, the higher
purpose of living what we say we believe against the rules by which we
manage ourselves.

Bishop Spence said he learned of the wedding a day later, when Dean Wall
came to his office to inform him. Complicating matters was the fact that
Bishop Spence had sent an e-mail to all clergy in the diocese a few days
prior to the wedding, responding to a newspaper story citing rumours
that an unidentified Anglican priest was planning to bless a gay couple
in a garden ceremony. (The rumours proved to be inaccurate and were not
referring to the planned wedding at the cathedral.)

Bishop Spence's e-mail reminded clergy that the blessing of same-sex
couples was not permitted in Niagara and that such action would be a
matter for discipline.

After receiving Bishop Spence's e-mail, Dean Wall met with the couple in
his office, then prayed alone. I prayed that I could be someone who
could welcome all people into the church. I believe very strongly that
God loves us all with all of who we are. I hope I can be part of a
church that doesn't sanction so unkindly the way we live out who we are,
he said.

The status of gay people in the church strikes close to home, said Dean
Wall, who is married with two children. Significant people in=20= My
life have been gay. I had a brother who died of AIDS. They have taught
me a lot about what it is to be a real person, a whole person. I
consider myself enormously blessed to have lots of good examples of
same-sex couples who are deeply committed to each other, deeply
cherishing, he said.
Both Bishop Spence and Dean Wall said their meeting after the
wedding was very emotional. I felt blindsided, said Bishop Spence, who
subsequently told the fall meeting of the house of bishops that he has
tried to honour the bishops' resolution not to move on the same-sex
blessing issue until General Synod 2004 discusses the question.

Dean Wall said his intent was not to defy his bishop. I have the
greatest respect and affection for my bishop and I understand and accept
his disciplining of me, he said.

Bishop Spence said he has received criticism that his discipline of Dean
Wall was too light. I respected his ministry and did not want it to end,
said the bishop. He is a creative, dynamic individual; that is what
makes his ministry successful. He's been disciplined and told not to do
it again. He's made a promise to me he would not do it again. Peter's
ministry is going on.

A cathedral dean is considered the second-highest position in the
diocese, after bishop. Dean Wall, 52, 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 and
serves on the team leading national consultations on how the question of
same-sex blessings will come before General Synod. He is also the chair
of Liturgy Canada , a national organization that researches and
publishes material concerning liturgy.


Dear editor,

Hopefully the omission of Archbishop Ted Scott's participation in the
blessing of the civil marriage of deacons Alison Kemper and Joyce
Barnett was mere oversight by the/ Journal/ (October). Archbishop Scott,
the former primate, pronounced his archepiscopal blessing twice during
the service: first after the couple's declaration of lifelong promises
of commitment and again at the end of the eucharist. The 10th primate of
the Anglican Church of Canada (1971-86) participated with the prior
knowledge of Archbishop Terence Finlay and at the invitation of the
couple. He was vested, walked in the procession and participated fully
in the ceremony.

Hugh McCullum

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