HALIFAX—The head of Canada’s Anglican Church appealed Friday to hundreds of bishops, priests and laypeople that they not let talks on the thorny issue of same-sex unions further divide the church or take on the rancour of the past.

Rev. Fred Hiltz said at the opening of the General Synod that there are still varying opinions in the church about homosexuality, but that a new, more conciliatory approach might dull the passions around it.

“My hope clearly is that we will be able to continue this conversation, live with some difference and to do it with a degree of grace,” he said at the triennial gathering in Halifax.

“I know that our deliberations on these matters will be watched by many within Canada and around the world. I hope they see no evidence of rejection, condemnation or demonization but every evidence of respect, charity and patience.”

Hiltz, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he hopes the meeting will produce a pastoral statement on the issue which could lay out the church’s position on same-sex blessings.

But he suggested that it may simply state that the church wants to continue talking about it rather than produce a definitive opinion.

In the past, delegates debated difficult questions such as whether blessing same-sex unions was a matter of core doctrine, and whether or not to affirm that individual dioceses have the authority to approve same-sex blessings.

But this year, Archdeacon Paul Feheley said the roughly 350 delegates will form small groups and discuss the church’s opinions around human sexuality during the nine-day meeting, instead of debating contentious motions at the outset.

Their opinions would be collected to determine general themes around sexuality, with the possibility that they be crafted into a pastoral statement.

Feheley said that may result in a broad acceptance of the divergence of opinion on an issue that has deeply polarized the Anglican community.

“Instead of a winner-take-all statement, maybe we can be on two different sides here,” he said, adding that it may lead to better communications and understanding among delegates.

Bitter debates about whether to bless, or not bless, the relationships of same-sex couples has led to strained relations, the defection of dozens of theologically conservative congregations and to court battles over church buildings in Ontario and British Columbia.

Only two Anglican dioceses in Canada allow some form of same-sex blessings, with others experimenting with the practice.

Ron Chaplin, a delegate from Ottawa, said earlier that the small-group discussion is appropriate because there isn’t sufficient support to go ahead with a specific motion on same-sex blessings.

Chaplin is with the Ottawa chapter of Integrity, which promotes equal treatment for gays and lesbians in the church, and a member of the only parish in the Ottawa diocese that has the bishop’s approval to conduct same-sex blessings.

He would like to see the Synod endorse an individual diocese’s right to decide whether to establish blessings for same-sex couples, whereas conservative groups would like to see that denounced.

Delegates will also address a proposed covenant that deals with how disputes are settled between churches in the 80-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion.

Some worry that it includes provisions that might give new disciplinary powers to a newly appointed committee in Anglican Communion.

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