On the eve of Te Runanganui choosing who will become the next Pihopa o Aotearoa, Archbishop-emeritus John Paterson has urged its voters to take the moral high ground, and to resist any temptation to tear down candidates.
Archbishop John, who is the commissary for the electoral college, delivered his charge this evening at Whakatu Marae. He said there was ‘a critical difference’ about this election, compared with the choosing of a new bishop.
This hui must choose one of the five existing bishops as their Pihopa o Aotearoa. They cannot look further afield, and survey “a range of priests to discern who might have the gifts and skills to become a bishop.
“We know (these five) well. We know their strengths and weaknesses. We harbour a variety of thoughts and opinions about who might be nominated for such high office.”
And in that light he urged Te Runanganui to pray “often and sincerely” for its bishops – and to resist the temptation to tear down any candidate.
“This Electoral College will not be an easy experience for our bishops. Their life and work and ministry will come under a very public telescope, for we are all human, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. You know that.”
Archbishop John devoted the first half of his charge to enumerating the gifts and qualities that post of Pihopa o Aotearoa and Primate requires – from strong personal faith, through ability to lead and unite.
But he then insisted that “the heaviest responsibility” for the future wellbeing of Te Pihopatanga lay not so much with the bishops, but with the members of Te Runanganui themselves.
“I cannot stress enough how careful the people of Te Pihopatanga have to be in these next 48 hours.
“If you feel tempted to stand up and be critical of any of the bishops – me noho wahangu – maintain your silence.
“People already know about those things, people already about those behaviours. When you stand to speak to any particular nomination, find something positive to say. Otherwise the bishops will be hurt, their wives will be hurt, and the life of the Church will suffer irreparable damage, and the Holy Spirit will find it very difficult to work with us.”
“If you wish to speak to any particular nomination, be positive, be helpful, be supportive – and let the Holy Spirit guide us.”
“A very few of us were part of the meeting of this Runanganui when Bishop Hui Vercoe was nominated in 1981. There were a good number of nominations, but the outstanding feature of the Hui was that for every nomination there were speeches of support, and not one speech of personal criticism. It was not until the secret ballots began that we could see where the Holy Spirit was leading us.
“My prayer is that we can do the same, that we can be the same.
“Don’t let our differences of opinion tear the Pihopatanga apart.
“Whatever we do, don’t hurt or harm the reputation of our bishops. This is God’s Church and tonight it is in our hands. Let us leave our Bishops in God’s hands.
Archbishop John then asked whether Te Runanganui was “setting out on ‘mission impossible’”.
“Can we possibly identify in one of these five Bishops, all the gifts and graces and strengths that I have listed?
“If I have learned anything in 24 years of episcopal ministry in this Church, six of them as an Archbishop, it is this: God never asks anything of us without supplying the grace to accomplish it.
“So the task is not impossible.
“If Te Pihopatanga is united in prayer and support and aroha for a new Archbishop, one of these men will achieve great things, and this Church, this nation, the worldwide Anglican Communion, will reap the benefits.”
Archbishop John’s charge was warmly received, and regularly punctuated by murmurs of approval, ‘kia ora’, or bursts of applause.
Tomorrow morning, at Nelson’s Trafalgar Events Centre, the real work begins. Nominations for Pihopa o Aotearoa will be called for as the first item of business, and voting is expected to continue through the rest of the day.
To read the full text of Archbishop John's charge, click here.