TWO Church of Ireland rectors have broken ranks to reject Archbishop Alan Harper’s appeal for an end to discussion of the church’s first same-sex union involving a minister.
Amid growing impatience in sections of the church which has not yet made clear whether it accepts the controversial civil partnership, three weeks after the News Letter revealed the move, there are emerging warnings that if the church does not act evangelicals may find their own bishops.
In separate statements, the Rev Neville Hughes from the rural parishes of Mullabrack and Kilcluney near Markethill and the Rev Alan McCann of the urban parish of Woodburn in Carrickfergus rejected the primate of all Ireland’s call to halt discussion about the Rev Tom Gordon’s civil partnership.
On Tuesday the archbishop read a statement to the church’s influential standing committee appealing for space to allow the bishops to decide a way forward.
He asked the committee to “curtail” discussion of the partnership, and added: “In many parts of the church, the matter is seen as controversial. In such a situation it is important that great care be taken in anything that may be said.”
However, amid claims from both supporters and opponents of gay Anglican clergy that there has been a lack of leadership on the issue, there is growing evidence that at least some in the church are not prepared to wait for the bishops — who are divided on the issue — to agree a way forward.
The Rev McCann warned that some evangelical members of the Church of Ireland may follow their US counterparts who refused to accept their own bishops’ authority and appointed other bishops, some of them from outside the country, if the church accepts the Rev Gordon’s same-sex union.
The rector of Holy Trinity Church, who stressed that he was speaking in a purely personal capacity, told the News Letter: “Where do we go if they bring a fudge that we cannot support before general synod? Do we look outside of Ireland for episcopal oversight?
“Should we now be looking at the creation of an Anglican Mission in Ireland? The answer to these questions is probably that we may have no choice and have to look elsewhere for bishops to conduct confirmations, etc.
“Personally I cannot accept the oversight of a bishop who is not orthodox on this issue.
“My fear is that they will do what they have done in the past — kick it into touch by outlining their various viewpoints and we will be left not knowing who on the bench of bishops believes what. That is not acceptable this time.”
He also called for Dean Gordon to have his ministerial licence removed, arguing that he had “conducted himself in a manner unbecoming a clerk in holy orders” and that Bishop Michael Burrows, who approved of the partnership but has declined to comment publicly on it, should “at the very least be censured for his lack of episcopal oversight and discipline in this matter”.
Dean Gordon, however, said this week: “It’s not an issue in my parish, and isn’t mentioned here. All that I am saying is that I am enjoying my work.”
But the Rev Hughes, who began his clerical career in St Mark’s in Portadown, where Dean Gordon sang in the choir before moving south some 30 years ago, told the Portadown Times: “Burying our heads in the sand and hoping that by remaining silent, this will go away is not an option. Parishioners want to know the mind of their church now, especially in the light of the prime minister’s announcement that gay marriage is to be made legal in 2015.”
He added: “I can fully appreciate that Archbishop Alan Harper wants the bishops to discuss the issue, but we want to know the minds of our leaders now.”
His comments follow a hard-hitting statement he read from the pulpit of both his churches on Sunday in which he said that he could “fully understand members of our parishes asking ‘What is happening to our Church?’ This (the civil partnership) is not what we believe, not what our church teaches us”.
The Rev Alan McCann, who criticised Dean Gordon’s partnership after it was revealed by this newspaper, said that the “orthodox majority” in the denomination had not changed and therefore the onus was on those who accepted same-sex unions “to persuade Christendom that it has been wrong for 2,000 years on this issue”.
Speaking of the archbishop’s appeal to “curtail discussion” on the issue until the bishops meet, he asked: “Where does this actually sit in the listening process? It is obvious that Dean Gordon and Bishop Burrows did not listen to the Church of Ireland.”
He added: “Why are the bishops discussing this in secret? They appeal for openness in every other area of life. Why are they going into the shadows to discuss this?”
The Rev McCann said that the “orthodox biblical view on human sexuality is demonised, marginalised and despised, even by some in leadership within the church”.