While fierce tornadoes wreaked havoc on homes and farms across Manitoba, a spiritual tornado of sorts swept through the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada as it debated same-sex blessings in Winnipeg June 19-25.

At the end of the triennial Anglican parliament, the one thing that was apparent to all was that the church they loved was deeply divided. All votes on the same-sex motions were so close that instead of a simple show of hands to settle the matter, delegates had to rise to their feet to be carefully counted.

Debate was often passionate, but always civil. All delegates had hoped for a clear outcome, but Synod seemed to create only more ambiguity.

For two hours on June 23, procedural motions were debated on how high a margin was needed to pass the same-sex resolutions. In the end, the bar was set very low: a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one in only one synod.

Resolution A186 stated: “That this General Synod resolves that the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine (in the sense of being credal) of the Anglican Church of Canada.” The motion passed by a vote of 152 for and 97 against in the House of Clergy and Laity and by a vote of 21 for and 19 against in the House of Bishops. Delegates then assumed that the second motion allowing for the blessing of same-sex unions as a “local option” would also pass.

Resolution A187 read: “That this General Synod affirm the authority and jurisdiction of any diocesan synod, with the concurrence of the diocesan bishop, and in a manner which respects the conscience of the incumbent and the will of the parish, to authorize the blessing of committed same-sex unions.” Laity voted 78-59 in favour of the motion and clergy voted 63-53 in favor. It seemed it would pass. But then, to everyone’s surprise, the House of Bishops rose and voted 21-19 against it. Two bishops had changed their position from the last resolution. Since the motion required a majority in each of the three orders to pass, it was defeated.

On the same day, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, by 181-200. defeated a motion at their biennial National Convention in Winnipeg to develop ways “to best minister to people who live in committed same-sex relationships, including the possibility of blessing such unions.”

Michael Ingham, Anglican Bishop of New Westminster, had allowed same-sex blessings in eight of his Vancouver parishes since 2002. He has not yet indicated what he will permit now.

Two churches – Holy Trinity in Toronto and St. Saviour in Victoria – have said they will bless same-sex unions, even though the “local option” resolution was defeated. It remains to be seen what discipline will be levelled.

A related motion was passed that sought to revise the church’s marriage laws to refer to “all legally qualified persons,” which in Canada would now include same-sex couples. Because it involves a change to church law, it still has to pass again in 2010 in a second consecutive synod if it is to take effect.

Former primate Andrew Hutchison, who chaired most of the Synod, warned that however the votes turned out, many people would be hurt. After the vote that narrowly defeated the local option, then primate-elect Fred Hiltz, who had voted for the local option, told the press, “There is disappointment – a lot of pain. Some people will be saying, ‘How long, O Lord, how long?'”

A resolution was also passed asking the Primate’s Theological Commission and the faith, worship and ministry committee to prepare a report and educational materials in advance of the 2010 General Synod about whether the blessing of same-sex unions is a “faithful, Spirit-led development of the doctrine of marriage.”

After the Synod, Victoria Matthews, bishop of   Edmonton, wrote to her diocese: “The Anglican Church of Canada General Synod consistently demonstrated that it is more interested in considering redefining marriage than continuing the debate about blessings.”

It remains in the aftermath of the Synod storm around sexuality to see what pieces can be picked up and restored and what is lost forever.

Some theological conservatives hope that like-minded conservatives in the global south of the worldwide Anglican Communion will provide spiritual shelter for them, with some sort of structural realignment in North America – and that that will be established before the next General Synod.

Sue Careless is the news editor of The Anglican Planet and the author of the series, Discovering the Book of Common Prayer: A Hands-On Approach . A version of this article appeared in the July issue of The Anglican Planet .