The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has tabled the ‘A Way Forward’ report on blessings of same-sex couples until General Synod 2018, “with a firm expectation that a decision to move forward will be made” at that time.
Archbishop Brown Turei, Archbishop Philip Richardson and Archbishop Winston Halapua will appoint a working group to establish a structure that allows both those who can and cannot support the blessing of same-sex relationships to remain within the church with integrity.
“We are aware of the considerable pain that this decision will cause to those most affected,” said the three archbishops today.
“But we are confident that our determination to work together across our differences will bring us to a place of dignity and justice for everyone.”
Three days' work
On Wednesday night, after three days’ intense work on Motion 4 (the vehicle to receive and adopt ‘A Way Forward’), synod agreed in principle to back a new motion 29, which received the ‘A Way Forward’ report with thanksgiving and tabled it.
When motion 29 passed on Thursday morning, it meant the two proposed formularies (services of blessing) will not be considered now across the wider church on their first step towards entering canon law.
Tears were shed at tables across the house on Wednesday night as many synod members’ hopes for progress were dashed by the further delay in progress for their Anglican LGBTI sisters and brothers.
On Monday night, Tikanga Maori and Polynesia had already given their assent to take up the ‘A Way Forward’ recommendations.
Motion 29 gained traction only after Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Polynesia decided to change course on Wednesday, when it became clear that Tikanga Pakeha remained divided.
Where to turn?
Offering Te Pihopatanga’s assent to motion 29, Bishop Te Kitohi Pikaahu explained how Tikanga Maori had decided to move.
“In our caucus we didn’t know where to turn, so we looked to our Pihopa Mataamua to ask for his whakaaro (understanding) on how to proceed.”
“I feel for my brother, Archbishop Philip,” was Archbishop Brown’s reply.
Then he asked, “I wonder if this is a chance for Tikanga Maori to exercise aroha?”
As Bishop Kito presented Tikanga Maori’s assent to motion 29, he added his own clause:
“Please can you give us an assurance that a way forward will actually happen?
“Because in this case, I believe unity has trumped justice.”
Assistant Bishop of Auckland Jim White was unhappy with the outcome.
“I am deeply disappointed by further delay on making our church fully inclusive,” he said.
But he recognised the huge generosity offered by Tikanga Polynesia and Tikanga Maori.
“I am proud to be part of a three-tikanga church that has the strength of Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Polynesia,” Bishop Jim said.
“Without them, the Pakeha part of our church was in disarray with our disagreement.
“We were like a sheep cast in a ditch.”
Archdeacon Sepiuta Hala’api’api (Polynesia) had been willing to follow the AWF report’s recommendations because they gave space for Pasifika to continue their talanoa (intentional listening) without stepping outside their tradition.
“But our young people question: why we are spending so much time on this issue?
“They are more concerned about the environment and the problems we face in the Pacific.”
More talanoa needed
Rev Evelingi Langi (Polynesia) believes that more talanoa is needed in Tonga.
“We have talked about these issues at archdeaconry meetings, but on my island I am the only Anglican priest, so if I don’t come to a synod like this I’m not hearing about these issues at all.
“But that doesn’t mean gay people are not there. They’re there as a normal part of our families and our communities.”
As the final speaker on Wednesday night, Archbishop Philip hailed the gracious koha of more time given to Pakeha.
“To say I am humbled by your manaakitanga is not to say anywhere near enough,” he said.
Then he turned to address synod:
“Please, know that this position we are arriving at is not a victory of one side over the other.
“It is a victory for the unity of the three-tikanga church.
“But the cost of that unity is very high.
“We will not allow this to continue to drift on.
“We must find a decision, which in the end we are bound to, as we are bound to each other.”
Ruth Wildbore (Christchurch) spoke in support of motion 29 as a conservative Anglican.
“We are grateful for the time we now have to put structures in place,” she said.
“And we are grateful that you didn’t put us in a position where we felt we had to leave this General Synod.”
Archdeacon Tim Mora (Nelson) had also opposed the recommendations in ‘A Way Forward.’
“For conservatives the ‘A Way Forward’ report left us feeling unprotected in our theological position,” he said.
“The new working group needs to constantly come back to the conservatives, to be sure that the recommendations are acceptable to them, before they bring it back to the next General Synod.
“It is important that the working group is prepared to explore all the options, including the ones presented by the Ma Whea Commission.
“But there is a definite will from the conservatives to look for a way that will protect our integrity and allow us to stay together.”
Rev Richard Bonifant (Auckland) found the decision hard to take.
“We called this motion ‘A Way Forward,’ but I have come to think of it as something more like the ‘Land of Promise.’
“But once more, we find we cannot go into that land.
“This time in the wilderness comes at great cost to us.
“In our Anglican liturgy we say, ‘This is the time of salvation.’”
“I will find it very hard to say that over the next two years.”
As Bishop Andrew Hedge moved the motion, he acknowledged the hard work done by synod over the last three days.
“There has been a lot of hard thinking, difficult conversations and expressions of tremendous grief.
“We have raised more questions than we have been able to answer here.
“But we are grateful for the grace of God that is in the manaakitanga (radical hospitality) we have present in this house.”
MOTION 29 (as passed)
Mover: Bishop Andrew Hedge
Seconder: Rev Dr Andrew Burgess
1. That this GSTHW receives with thanksgiving the report of the “A Way Forward – He Anga Whakamua – Ni Sala Ki Liu” Working Group.
2. Resolves that the report and its recommendations do lie on the table until GSTHW, with a firm expectation that a decision to move forward will be made.
3. Establishes and commits to pray for a working group to be appointed by the Primates to consider possible structural arrangements within our Three-Tikanga Church to safeguard both theological convictions concerning the blessing of same gender relationships.
4. That this working group report by 1 July 2017.