Today, the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki arrived.
General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui passed a bill formally changing the name of the Diocese of Waikato to the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki.
It’s been quite a journey.
In the 1840s, Bishop George Augustus Selwyn had expressed the hope that Taranaki would be the centre of West Coast Anglican mission. He’d even gone so far as to acquire the land on which St Mary’s in New Plymouth now stands.
But the New Zealand Wars and Taranaki’s isolation meant that dream was put well and truly on the backburner.
Instead, in Anglican terms Taranaki found itself, in Bishop Philip Richardson’s words, “divided and marginalized.”
South Taranaki was lumped in with the Diocese of Wellington – while the rest of the province was attached to the Diocese of Waikato.
That began to change in the 1990s when Archbishop Brian Davis and Bishop Roger Herfft set up a commission to consider the unification of Taranaki.
And that commission found that “common history, social realities, economic and political cohesion and the isolation of the province made the unification as an Episcopal unit an urgent mission imperative.”
That same commission felt that mission in Taranaki would be better focused, too, if it had its own bishop.
So General Synod of 1998 put in train the processes for transferring the South Taranaki parishes to the Diocese of Waikato, and for the election of a Bishop of Taranaki. The following year, Philip Richardson was elected and ordained as that Bishop.
A separate diocese?
The question then became – would mission in Taranaki be better served if it became a separate diocese?
And the answer, Bishop Richardson quipped to General Synod, was quintessentially Anglican: “Yes – and no.”
“Yes, Taranaki would be better off financially as a separate diocese; yes, our energies would be more focused and at one level easier to engage with our local Taranaki mission.
However, by remaining as one diocese, reported Bishop Richardson, “some remarkable synergies are harnessed.”
The question then became – does shared Episcopal leadership work?
Yes, Bishop Richardson suggested – Waikato’s experience over the past 10 years was that its twin bishop model is “lifegiving, sustainable and appropriate to our context.”
And so the final question, said Bishop Richardson, was whether the name of the diocese should reflect the new reality of the diocese.
The Diocese of Waikato thought so last year – synod agreed, without a dissenting voice, that its name should be changed to the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki.
That name, they felt, “genuinely reflects what we have become – and in a sense what we have always been.”