The fact that The Way Forward Working Group hasn't delivered its report and recommendations in time for this year’s round of diocesan synods could jeopardise the 2016 General Synod's capacity to deliver on the issue of blessing same-gender relationships.
The Christchurch synod passed a resolution on Saturday which urges the General Synod not to adopt any recommendations related to The Way Forward group’s report (when this finally surfaces) “without first referring the report to the Synods, Hui Amorangi and Talanoa of this Church for discussion.”
Furthermore, and bearing in mind the educational work done up and down the country before the adoption of the three-tikanga constitution, it has formally asked the General Synod to resource “a significant period of education, discussion, and discernment throughout this Church.”
Here's the background
The last General Synod passed ‘Motion 30’ which sought to create a pathway towards the blessing of same-gender relationships – while upholding the traditional doctrine of marriage.
It appointed The Way Forward working group to report to the 2016 General Synod on “a process and structure” that would allow those clergy who wish to bless same-gender relationships – using a yet-to-be developed liturgy – to do so.
The working group was also charged with developing a process and structure to ensure that clergy who believe that same-sex blessings are contrary to “scripture, doctrine, tikanga or civil law” remain fully free to dissent.
In effect, it established a four-year timeline for change: The Way Forward working group was to present its recommendations to the 2016 General Synod, and any constitutional and canonical changes would then have to be reported back to episcopal units before confirmation at the 2018 General Synod.
There was also an expectation that the group report and recommendations would be circulated by August this year, in time for discussion by this year’s round of synods, etc.
That hasn't happened.
Take it or leave it?
So the Christchurch diocese hasn’t been able to absorb and debate the report in synod – and some synod members made it clear today that they don’t want to be on the receiving end of a “take it or leave it” resolution about same-sex matters in the wake of next year’s General Synod.
The Christchurch debate was triggered by a diocesan standing committee-generated motion which sought a four-year “breather” where Motion 30 is concerned, to give the church time for “education, discussion and discernment.”
That motion was brought forward by the Rev Nick Mountfort. He’d been on the Christchurch team at the 2014 General Synod, and he told the Christchurch synod that where Motion 30 was concerned, General Synod had “talked a lot about unity, but very little about same-gender relationships.”
He noted, too, that “we are some way off a consensus” and there was a “real danger, at least in this diocese, that the issues around Motion 30 could polarise us.”
A number of speakers were passionate in their rejection of four more years of discussion.
The Rev Jenni Carter, for instance, said “stonewalling is not the way forward.”
And the Rev Bosco Peters said the same-sex questions had been around in the church since 1978 – so for him, the prospect of another four years of talk on that topic was untenable.
Seeing is believing
But there was widespread support for the view that the diocese must have time to discuss whatever may surface in the Way Forward report – ahead of a General Synod vote on the matter.
“We must,” said the Rev Chris Spark, “be able to talk about these recommendations before we make a decision of this magnitude.
“This is such a huge issue – and we don’t know what we are going to be seeing.”
The Rev Jay Behan, vicar of St Stephen’s Shirley and another Christchurch representative to the 2014 General Synod, was all for bringing the matter to a head now – “many of us know our positions” – but was influenced by what had happened with the Ma Whea report in 2014.
That hadn’t arrived in time to be properly considered by the diocese before the last General Synod, he said.
So members of that synod had pleaded with the Way Forward group to deliver their report a year before the 2016 synod.
That hasn’t happened either. So Jay Behan wants his diocese to have the time to “prayerfully, carefully consider an important potentially divisive issue. We need to know the particulars.”
A frank acknowledgement
Moka Ritchie, who was a Christchurch representative to the 2014 General Synod and is a member of the Way Forward Group, frankly acknowledged the problems.
“The reason that this motion has come forward," she said, “is that the working group has yet to be able to put together that report...
“It’s not because we haven’t been trying to get that report done. It’s not because we are not committed to doing it.
“It’s an indication of how difficult that task is.”
The standing committee motion was amended – the four-year ‘breather’ was dropped – and on the Rev Andrew Starkey’s proposing, an education component was included.
He noted the teaching work done up and down the country by the Bicultural Commission before the three-tikanga constitution was adopted, and he suggested something similar is needed on this matter.
The Christchurch resolution is as follows:
Motion 30: A time of Education, Discussion and Discernment
That this Diocese requests General Synod to receive (and table) the report from the Motion 30 Way Forward Working Group and not adopt any recommendations without first referring the report to the Synods, Hui Amorangi and Talanoa of this Church for discussion, and commends to General Synod that it resources a significant period of education, discussion, and discernment throughout this Church.
1 The Rev Nick Mountfort. 2 Mr Al Drye