After many years of wrestling with the place of people in same sex relationships within the life of the church, the General Synod / Te Hīnota Whanui is seeking feedback on the Interim Report of the A Way Forward Working Group, and at this weekend’s diocesan Synod, members held discussions as part of our own local process.
The history of this discussion goes back many years, but what became clear at the General Synod of 2014 was that the divergent views on same-sex blessing and the ordination of persons in same-sex relationships had come about from equally diligent prayer and study, and that those who held differing perspectives, nonetheless held them with equal conviction before God. In July, Bishop Justin prepared a short history of this process to help inform discussions. You can read that here.
Desiring a way to move beyond the impasse, the General Synod asked the A Way Forward Working Group to undertake further work to find a mechanism in which two diverse integrities (and everyone in between) can live together in one church. Their interim report was released in July of this year, and you can read it here. You can also read an accompanying letter from Archbishop Philip Richardson and Archbishop Winston Halapua here.
Part of the Working Group’s process was to invite dioceses and hui amorangi to provide feedback to General Synod on the recommendations. For our part, a process of discussion and feedback was launched by Bishop Eleanor and Bishop Justin at the diocesan Synod held this past weekend (16th and 17th of September). Bishop Justin prefaced the discussion with a timely reminder from Scripture:
1 Peter 3:8-12 (The Message translation)
Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.
“We’re not trying to convert each other,” Bishop Justin said. “We’re here to listen to each other, to gather feedback, and to find the best possible way of moving forward as a province. Let’s do this journey well.” He reminded us of the first sentence of the report, which tells us that God calls us to grapple with the hard, uncertain and contentious. Yet in this, we are confronted by the expansive love of Jesus Christ. The Working Group has recognised a gift in this season – the gift of gathering stories and the voices of all.
At this weekend’s Synod, the process began with a video introduction from the Bishops, followed by a short interpretation of some Biblical scriptures relevant to the discussion by Rev Lyall Perris. Lyall attempted to place before us the Scriptures and to see them from both ends of the theological continuum on this topic. Following which, Rev Dr Joseph McGarry provided a Biblical reflection on the topic of unity, especially as it relates to contentious issues faced by the Church in the past.
All members of Synod then formed small, cross-mission unit groups and were asked to discuss the topic and how they had experienced such discussions in their own personal or ministry setting. Members were asked what they had heard that was new, and how they had gained a greater understanding of views that are different to their own. Feedback on the report was gathered and summarised, and members were then asked to affirm which parts of it particularly resonated for them.
What happens next?
From here, Bishop Eleanor will reflect on the process used, and determine if there are any improvements that can be made, to ensure all voices can be heard in a safe and grace-filled environment. Soon, the video resources of the Bishops’ introduction, Rev Lyall Perris’ Biblical exegesis and Rev Dr Joseph McGarry’s reflection on unity, will be made available, together with discussion questions, for all mission units to hold their own conversations on the topic. All feedback will then be gathered and presented as a diocese to the General Synod, by the deadline of the 17th of November 2017.
If you have any questions, you can contact the Bishops’ Office by emailing Rebecca on firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 04 471 8597.