The Rev John Hebenton, who is the Vicar of Gate Pa, was named as the next leader of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis this week.
John is the second New Zealander appointed to international Franciscan leadership this year, following Br Christopher John SSF, who in July was elected Minister General of the SSF First Order, which comprises Anglican Franciscan brothers.
John was elected as Minister General at a recent meeting of the Inter-Provincial Third Order Chapter (IPTOC) held in High Leigh, England, where both he and Br Christopher were commissioned and blessed in their new ministries.
Based at the Hermitage at Stroud in Australia, Br Christopher John has pastoral oversight of the SSF brothers in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, South Korea, Sri Lanka, the UK and the USA.
Since becoming Minister General, Br Christopher John has made pastoral visits to the Franciscan brothers in Sri Lanka and Melanesia, and co-chaired the recent First Order Chapter, held at the same time as the Third Order Chapter. Last year he completed a doctorate in Peace and Conflict Studies from Otago University, based on research into Franciscan peace-making during Sri Lanka’s lengthy civil war.
Since taking office in July Br Chris has committed himself to visiting the SSF brothers throughout the world, listening to them, and making their needs and hopes known to each other.
“It’s a daunting role, but I have wise predecessors such as the late Brother Brian to follow,” he said.
Chris told Taonga he is still getting to know the brothers, but already hears some important themes emerging.
“As Franciscans we are international, but locally situated. Our voices and local knowledge can be added to those who raise concerns in critical matters, such as climate change.”
In his new role Br Chris hopes to communicate the grassroots experience of Anglican Franciscans to organisations such as Franciscans International, which is an accredited NGO at the UN.
Br Christopher John has also received a call for more training resources, especially of novices in the Solomon Islands and PNG. So now he will coordinate the planning and writing of new study modules.
The third theme is the emergence of the “new” forms of religious community such as Urban Vision.
“These new orders are a great blessing to the church, ” said Br Christopher, who plans to help SSF further develop its links with these new forms of contemporary monasticism.
Before his election as Minister General of the First Order brothers, Christopher John was Minister Provincial for the Province of the Divine Compassion for five years, and before that served as General Secretary for twelve years. He began his life as a Franciscan at the friary in Auckland in 1983.
As John Hebenton took up his role as Minister General of the Third Order last week, he vowed to both lead and serve secular Franciscans throughout the world.
“This is a huge honour and a humbling responsibility,” he said.
At the IPTOC meeting John saw evidence that the “Spirit of God was clearly moving in a number of our provinces, calling us to renew our identity as Franciscans.”
“Eight hundred years ago Francis of Assisi heard the crucified and risen Christ call him to rebuild the church.
“He did not see this as building the institution, but simply living the gospel, and living the gospel simply.
“On his death-bed he told his closest brothers that he had done what was his to do, and invited them to listen as Christ showed them what was theirs.
“Francis says the same to us today.
“We are being invited to hear again how we might rebuild the church in the way of Francis and Clare.
John observed that Franciscans meeting at IPOTC felt they needed to be more intentional in ongoing formation in the way of Francis and Clare, and to use technology to do that together, rather than separately across five provinces.
John, who has served as the Vicar of Gate Pa since 2012, has been ordained for 30 years, and devoted much of his service to youth ministry. He has been a Third Order Franciscan since 1993 and was life-professed in 1995. From 2006 – 2015 he was minister provincial for the Pacific Province.
Today, there are thought to be half a million Franciscans worldwide, including First Order brothers, First Order sisters, and Second Order sisters who live a celibate life in their respective communities.
The Third Order Franciscans (TSSF) are men and women who, though following ordinary professions, are called to a dedicated life of service to God through prayer, study, and work.
John succeeds Ken E Norian, from New York, as Third Order Minister General. Br Christopher John succeeds Br Clark Berge as Minister General of SSF.
1. ´IPTOC is a gathering held every six years of ministers provincial and representatives of the five worldwide provinces. Those provinces are: The Pacific (Aotearoa-New Zealand and Polynesia with Melanesia); The Americas; Europe; Africa; and Asia Pacific (Australia, Papua New Guinea and East Asia).