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The big issues facing synod

Resource-sharing, the nature of marriage, and the rights of bishops to ordain whom they choose will come under scrutiny at this General Synod.

Lloyd Ashton for Taonga News  |  07 Jul 2012  |  4 Comments  

The 60th General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui of this church begins today in Fiji. It last met there in 1990 – which is the year the church adopted its three tikanga constitution.

The new constitution spoke about the need for “each partner… to ensure adequate provision and support is available to the other partners.”

To commit to resource sharing, in other words.

And that’s an issue which is likely to 'feature big' in Fiji this coming week.

It will first surface when Professor Whatarangi Winiata tables a motion in the name of the Te Aute Trust Board, seeking at least $1.7 million more from the St John’s College Trust to save Te Aute College and its sister, Hukarere College.

The General Synod can’t, in fact, write any cheques.

Nonetheless, it can exert moral leverage, and Professor Winiata is asking it to “support requests to Te Kotahitanga/the St John’s College Trust” to save the embattled schools.

Those requests include:

• an $800,000 grant for deferred hostel maintenance;

• a commitment to fund the deficits the hostels are racking up;

• a commitment to help fund treaty-related research, and

• $180,000 to fund a seven-point plan to help the colleges back to viability.

The St John’s College Trust Board has already given more than $2 million to the Te Aute Trust Board since 2008.

Te Aute and Hukarere were incubators for some of the greatest Maori leaders of the 20th century, and the TATB members are convinced the schools can return to their glory days.

Their projections say the hostels will return to surplus by 2015 – but some members of synod will be concerned that this forecast depends on a dramatic boost in school roles.

Those same members may fear, in fact, that they’re being asked to throw good money after bad.

50/50 split?

Later in the synod, Professor Winiata will move a second motion triggered by the Te Aute crisis.

He will ask synod to act to place 50 percent of the St John’s College Trust assets “under the control” of the Pihopatanga.

In the preamble to this motion, Professor Winiata notes that while the assets of the St John’s College Trust Board are “in excess of $300 million and continue to grow”, four Maori Anglican boarding schools – St Stephen's, Queen Victoria, Te Waipounamu and Hukarere – have been shut because they’ve run out of cash.

The clear implication of this motion is that if Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa had more say about where the money went, things might have turned out better for those schools.

Professor Winiata’s 50/50 motion has already attracted considerable media interest – and a response from the St John’s College Trust.

Among the points the Trust Board makes is that, because of a resource-sharing agreement between the tikanga, Maori already receive two thirds of the money distributed each year.

Thumbs down for the Covenant?

The proposed Anglican Covenant was one of the main items at the 2010 Gisborne synod.

That synod approved the non-controversial bits of the Covenant, in principle, but referred the whole document to Episcopal units for consideration and reporting back to this 2012 synod.

It didn’t travel well.

Last year’s runanganui – the synod of Te Pihopatanga – rejected the Covenant, and so have the Diocese of Polynesia, and four of the seven Pakeha dioceses.

So it would be highly surprising if this General Synod didn’t – as far as the province is concerned – put the Covenant out of its misery.

On Monday morning, Dr Tony Fitchett and the Ven Turi Hollis will move that synod “declines to adopt the proposed Anglican Covenant”, while at the same time affirming the commitment of the Anglican Church in these islands “to the life of the Anglican Communion.”

The Ma Whea Commission, and the motions on sexuality

The Covenant debate may be about to finish.

But where sexuality is concerned, there’s plenty more to discuss.

The Diocese of Waiapu will ask this synod to affirm “the long tradition and practice of Episcopal autonomy in the discernment of a person’s call to ordination,” and it will also ask synod “to move forward” with the provision of an approved liturgy for the blessing of same-gender relationships “for use by those dioceses which wish so to do.”

And the Rev Glynn Cardy, Vicar of St Matthew-in-the City in Auckland, will move a motion on the nature of marriage.

This asks Episcopal units “to hold conversations in our Church and with the wider community” about the nature of marriage – to “explore how the Church might theologically and liturgically respond to gay and lesbian Anglican couples who request this rite” and to report progress by 2014.

It’s heady stuff. Alarming too, for conservatives.

And General Synod Standing Committee hopes that the recently announced Ma Wheacommission,chaired by the retired Governor General, Sir Anand Satyanand, will be seen by synod as the proper place to consider these issues.

Sir Anand will in fact speak to General Synod after lunch next Tuesday afternoon to describe the process the commission intends to follow.

After that, synod will address the three sexuality motions.

Standing Committee hopes that after the movers and seconders have introduced these, General Synod will either refer them directly to the Ma Whea commission or lay them on the table so it can hear from the Commission in 2014, before the motions are put.

Two key pieces of legislation

Synod will also consider a number of bills, including one to recast the Social Justice Commission canon.

Under the existing canon, the Social Justice Commissioner is the church’s agent for social justice, and the commission exists to support him or her in their work.

The new bill turns that arrangement on its head. It names the commission as the church’s agent for doing social justice, and gives it the power to employ staff to do that work.

The second bill worth noting changes the legislation governing St John’s College.

The last General Synod adopted the Reeves Commission report into the structure of the Meadowbank college which, at least in some respects, "had become dysfunctional, overcomplicated, and subject to tikanga capture”.

That synod suspended various clauses of the college canon. It jettisoned the St John’s College Board of Oversight, did away with three constituent colleges, and cleared the decks so a Commissioner (Mrs Gail Thomson) would run the college for two years.

The new draft legislation will see a return to one college (with three parts), and one principal who will, in effect, replace the Commissioner.

Bula vinaka

Then there’s the venue, of course, and there have been questions about whether Fiji is an appropriate place for a General Synod.

But the Archbishops have pointed to the late Bishop Sir Paul Reeves’ work for the Commonwealth, and to the church’s public encouragement of the regime to keep to its pledge to hold elections in 2014.

Beyond that, the church is simply standing in solidarity with its partner tikanga, as it goes about its mission.

On a positive side, too, there’s the hope that once synod gets wrapped up in Pacific hospitality, in celebration and joy, that culture will pervade the rest of synod.

And carry it through its edgier moments.


Ronnie Smith

Prayers will be said at Daily Mass at St. Michael & All Angels, Christchurch, for God's will to be done at the Synod.

Brian Thomas

Thanks Tony. Correction made.

Sande Ramage

Thanks - really clear outline of the issues coming up at General Synod.

Tony Fitchett

A small correction. The Ordinary Session of General Synod was held in Fiji in 1990 (? May), and the text of the revised Constitution/Te Pouhere was agreed by General Synod in 1990, but that text was not agreed in Fiji. That happened at a Special Session of General Synod at Wellington in November 1990.

Tony Fitchett