The archbishops have released the final report of the small working group charged with seeking “structural arrangements” to allow people who hold differing convictions about the blessing of same-sex relationships to remain within the church.
The six-person Motion 29 Working Group came into being following the 2016 General Synod which debated, at length, the Way Forward report.
At that time, however, there was no clear way forward.
The archbishops then convened the Motion 29 Working Group to focus on a narrower task: They were to steer clear of theological debate, and instead look for structures that would allow people who hold strong convictions about the blessing of same-sex relationships (in the working group’s own words) “to coexist peacefully in the same church”.
The working group presented an interim form of its report on July 1 last year, and invited readers to provide feedback on that to the General Secretary by mid-November last year.
Tweaks - not wholesale change
During that 20-week period, the working group received 26 submissions – and weighed each before revising and presenting their final report to the archbishops.
The convenor of the group, the Rev Katene Eruera – who is also Dean of Tikanga Maori at St John's College – describes the amendments to the initial report as "tweaks, basically.
"The content of the Interim Report hasn't changed that much.
"But we've definitely made tweaks – or in some cases clarified and further explained our position."
The group identified 10 themes from the recent submissions – formularies; declarations; constitutionality; preaching and practice; ordination; alternative episcopal oversight; extra-provincial diocese; orders of consecrated life; ministry unit approval and chaplaincy – and it has created a new, three-page preface to the report which briefly spells out the essence of the concern raised on each issue, then gives the group's considered response to that concern.
No to new orders...
Perhaps the most notable departure concerns the “Orders of Consecrated Life” that were proposed in the interim report.
The original idea was that if there are groups of people, at either end of this issue, who feel that the provincial church has gone in a direction that they don’t agree with – or hasn’t gone far enough – they could create their own religious orders within the church for mutual support.
"We came in for quite a bit of criticism around that," says Katene.
"So, we've completely got rid of the concept of religious orders – and we've gone with the concept of "Christian communities."
The interim report had proposed a canon which would have rolled the religious orders into one – eg traditional orders such as The Society of St Francis, The Community of the Sacred Name – with these new "orders of consecrated life".
That proposed canon will now be split in half, with the traditional religious orders dealt with on their own terms, and the new "Christian communities" on theirs.
Preaching and teaching
The interim report recommended protections from discipline for bishops who authorised clergy to bless same-gender blessings – and for the clergy who do that blessing.
The final report recommends an extension of that protection to clergy who preach and teach (for or against) on the subject of same-gender blessings.
At the request of military chaplains – who frequently baptise, bury and marry – the working group has also considered how their proposals fit into the chaplaincy world.
They've decided to refer that matter on, says Katene, because they feel they lack enough knowledge of the chaplaincy world.
"So, we think it's appropriate to send that question to our liaison bishops – for example, to Bishop Kito, who is the liaison bishop for the military chaplains."
On the big questions, the report's recommendations are unchanged.
For example: the original Way Forward group had recommended a change to the formularies (a formulary is a service, such as the marriage service, which enshrines a church doctrine) to allow the liturgical blessing of same-gender couples.
Whereas the reports of the Motion 29 Working Group – both interim and final – recommend no change to the formularies.
"We are arguing," says Katene, "that there is a difference between a formulary and an authorised service of blessing."
Likewise, the final report sees the working group sticking to its guns, and refuting suggestions that its recommendations may be unconstitutional.
The report has today been distributed to the bishops, and members of the General Synod Standing Committee.
Archbishop Philip, meanwhile, has thanked the group for its "willingness to go above and beyond their original mandate in receiving feedback on their interim report, reflecting, and revising their work, and then delivering this final report in due time for good consideration around the church before GSTHW 2018."