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General Synod to consider expanded marriage blessings, ordination without confirmation, and more

General Synod to consider expanded marriage blessings, ordination without confirmation, and more

The General Synod of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia meets this Friday through next week. Taonga news reports, “A wide agenda focuses next week’s General Synod/Te Hīnota Whānui on the diverse mission field of these islands.”

On the agenda are items addressing the blessing of same sex civil marriages, and the effect of adopting such blessings on the ordination of clergy who are so married. The Way Forward report to the Synod reflects on the theology of ordination and of marriage:

The group perceives a distinction to be made between the Church’s theology of ordination and of marriage, and the statements in Te Pouhere, the Formularies, and the Canons which collectively express the Church’s doctrine. …

no single theological position emerging from these influences could be held to be that of the whole Church, and certainly not belonging to the whole Anglican Communion.  This fact is both consistent with Anglican theology down the centuries, and at the heart of the difficulty that confronts Anglicans today.  …


The proposed changes have an effect on who may be ordained by the Church.  This does not come about because of a change in either the Church’s doctrine of marriage or a change in its doctrine of ordination.  The Church still requires those coming to be ordained to either be celibate or in “rightly ordered” relationships; there is no suggestion that there is a lower standard now required.  However the proposals do expand the definition of rightly-ordered relationships to include those who are in a civil marriage and whose relationship has been blessed.  The reason for the expanded definition is that the group felt that the Church could not bless a relationship yet not consider it to be “rightly ordered”.  …

The theology of marriage

Because the motion that was passed at General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui in 2014 affirmed the “traditional doctrine of marriage”, there is no change to the existing formularies.  The group’s proposal (in line with its commission) to propose a service for the blessing of same-sex relationships does not (in the view of the majority of the members) impact the current doctrine of marriage.  It is accepted that the blessing of a relationship has some similarities with the rites of marriage, but even as the two are alike in many ways they are not the same.  Neither would a doctrine of same-sex relationships be the same as the doctrine of marriage.

The proposals of the working group will need to be considered over two General Synods: 2016 and 2018.

A number of other issues will come before the Synod, including a Bill to remove the requirement for Confirmation before Ordination, and motions to address climate change and carbon offsetting; gender violence; and the promotion of women’s leadership within the church.

Read more about the General Synod/ Te Hīnota Whānui here.

Image: A Way Forward:  Recommendations to General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui 2016. Processes and structures relating to the blessing by Anglican priests and bishops in the Province of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia of relationships where a civil marriage has occurred. 


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Paul Woodrum

If, say a baby, is baptized with water and then anointed with chrism blessed by the bishop, is not that person thereby also confirmed? Theologically I have no problem with giving communion to any child or person who has been baptized, with or without chrismation. But, psychologically, it seems to me we still need some sort of rite of passage, such as confirmation, in which an individual acknowledges God’s grace in their life
and publically moves from infancy to adult discipleship.

Presently we seem very confused with all sorts of parochial variations on the baptism, first communion, confirmation cycle, with some places not even requiring baptism for receiving communion, much less confirmation. I hope time and the Commission on Liturgy and Music will sort this out for us though I have no expectation of any pastoral uniformity in this any more than there is in following the Book of Common Prayer.

Ruth Meyers

According to the 1979 BCP and Canon I.17.1, a baby baptized and anointed with chrism by a bishop is not considered confirmed because confirmation also requires a “mature public affirmation of faith and commitment to the responsibilities of baptism.”

I agree, we are very confused. Sharon Ely Pearson’s book “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” gives a sense of the landscape today in the Episcopal Church.

Ruth Meyers

Confirmation didn’t exist until the early Middle Ages, and then only in the western church. By the second century, baptism included anointing and laying on of hands, and concluded with eucharist. A second baptismal anointing in the Roman rite eventually became a separate confirmation rite and spread throughout the western church.

Christopher Adams

In some ways, The Episcopal Church could already allow people to be ordained who were never confirmed in the proper sense. The current canons regarding baptism and confirmation suggest that an individual baptized as an adult in another tradition can be considered both baptized and confirmed, then reaffirmed by the bishop.

JoS. S. Laughon

Wait removing confirmation before ordination? What?

Gregory Orloff

The point (and discussion) behind the proposal is that baptism is full initiation into the church, full stop.

One isn’t less a member of the church, though baptized, until confirmed.

In the early church, baptism, confirmation and first communion at the eucharist were a three-stage sequence of initiation into the church, taking place immediately after each other on the same occasion.

It still is, in Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and some Anglican churches, and perhaps among others as well.

In the West, confirmation became disconnected from baptism because of its mode of delivery: the post-baptismal anointing with chrism and laying on of hands were deemed, a la Acts 8:14-17, the prerogative of apostles and, by extension, their successors in apostolic succession, the bishops.

No problem, so long as the bishops were heads of local congregations — big problem once bishops became heads of dioceses made up of many parishes, each performing baptisms in different locations, all of which the bishop had no way of being physically present for.

The East solved the problem by confirming the newly baptized with chrism consecrated by the bishop, thus preserving the link with the bishop in that manner.

The West opted to wait until the bishop could get around to confirm the newly baptized in person, no matter how long a time gap that might involved.

That disconnect eventually led the West to think of confirmation as something of a Christian “bar mitzvah,” a rite of passage signifying the reaching of maturity or the embracing of adult commitment when it comes to church membership.

But even the Roman Catholic catechism is quick to remind its readers: “Although Confirmation is sometimes called the ‘sacrament of Christian maturity,’ we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need ‘ratification’ to become effective.” (1308)

JoS. S. Laughon

Personally I would like to make sure clergy are 100% committed by ensuring they care enough to go through confirmation, but then again I am a major outlier here.

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