August 25, 2009: The Anglican Church in the southern part of Africa has taken a small step towards accepting gay people in “faithful, committed relationships” - although civil marriage between same sexes is not legal in any of these countries other than South Africa.

The Anglican Diocese of Cape Town, which includes Anglican bishops from South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Angola, passed a resolution at the weekend asking the church’s bishops to provide pastoral guidelines for gay parishioners living in “covenanted partnerships”.

The resolution was proposed by St George’s Cathedral clergy, as they said the parish had come to be seen as a “safe space” for gay Christians in Cape Town.

The Cathedral needed guidelines to help it provide pastoral care to gay parishioners in same-sex relationships.

Globally, the Anglican Church does not accept same-sex marriages. The Anglican Consultative Council, which represents Anglican Churches around the world, has put a moratorium on the “authorisation of public rites of blessing for same-sex unions”.

On Sunday, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said the synod’s resolution might be seen as tame, but he saw it as “an important first step to saying: ‘Lord, how do we do ministry in this context?’”

“I’m a developmental person. I don’t believe in big bangs. If you throw a little pebble into water, it sends out concentric circles and hopefully that way change comes from that,” he said.

He said the issue of same-sex partnerships has led to a schism in the Anglican Church in the United States. He wanted to avoid the issue becoming a source of division in the Anglican Church in southern Africa.

“In South Africa we have laws that approve a civil union in this context, but not in the other countries within our province. In central Africa and north Africa, both the Anglican Church and the state say ‘no’.

“The reason for this resolution was because we have these parishioners, and the law provides for them to be in that state, so how do we pastorally respond to that?” Makgoba said.

Asked how close the voting was, Makgoba replied: “I am not one for numbers, but for the quality of the debate.”

Resolution of the Diocese of Cape Town on Ministry to Gays and Lesbians in Covenanted Partnerships

August 23, 2009: The Anglican Diocese of Cape Town agreed on August 22 to a resolution asking the church’s bishops to provide pastoral guidelines for gay and lesbian members of the church living in “covenanted partnerships,” taking into account the mind of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Synod of the Diocese also resolved to ask Archbishop Thabo Makgoba to appoint a working group, representing church members of varying perspectives, to engage in a “process of dialogue and listening” on issues of human sexuality. This is in line with a “listening process” which is being pursued throughout the Communion.

The resolutions were passed in a session of the Synod, which was held at St. Cyprian’s Church, Retreat in Cape Town from August 20 to 22.

The resolution on pastoral guidelines was proposed by the Revd Terry Lester, sub-dean of St. George’s Cathedral, who said the parish had come to be seen as “a safe space, a sort of liberated space” for gay and lesbian Christians in Cape Town.

He said the cathedral needed guidelines to help it provide pastoral care to gay and lesbian members in “faithful, committed” same-sex partnerships.

In a meeting earlier this year, the Anglican Consultative Council, which represents Anglican churches around the world, reaffirmed a moratorium on what it called “authorization of public rites of blessing for same-sex unions.”

The original text of the synod resolution included language which some members of the Synod said would lead to the blessings of same-sex unions. This, said the Revd Dr James Harris, “will bring us into conflict with the wider Anglican Communion.” The language was later dropped.

The Revd Sarah Rowland Jones successfully proposed an amendment to the resolution which provided that the pastoral guidelines which the Synod requested should take “due regard of the mind of the Anglican Communion.”

Speaking after the Synod ended, the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba said:

“In Bible studies and discernment sessions during the Synod, I felt the people of the Diocese were committed really to wrestling with the Scriptures and with what they meant in our context.

“I was very encouraged by the way in which the Synod was sensitive both to the pastoral needs of gay and lesbian couples and at the same time affirmed the stance of the wider Anglican Communion, not charging ahead and doing our own thing but rather committing ourselves to a process of listening and dialogue on how to move forward.”

The full text of the resolution on gays and lesbians in committed partnerships reads:

This Synod,

Affirming a pastoral response to same-sex partnerships of faithful commitment in our parish families;

Gives thanks to God for:

–The leadership of our Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and his witness in seeking to handle these issues in a loving and caring manner; and

–The Bishops of our Province for their commitment to the unity of our Communion and Province, working together seeking God’s way of truth and reconciliation;

Notes the positive statements of previous Provincial Synods that gay and lesbian members of our church share in full membership as baptized members of the Body of Christ, and are affirmed and welcomed as such;

Affirms our commitment to prayerful and respectful dialogue around these issues, mindful of the exhortations of previous Lambeth Conferences to engage with those most affected;

Asks the Archbishop to request the Synod of Bishops to provide pastoral guidelines for those of our members who are in covenanted partnerships, taking due regard of the mind of the Anglican Communion.