Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Executive Summary

Here's the text of the Executive Summary of the WFWG report.

Way Forward Working Group  |  22 Feb 2016

The Anglican Church in this province is governed by a set of guiding documents, the two most significant of which are the Church of England Empowering Act 1928, and Te Pouhere, the Constitution of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.[1]  Te Pouhere in turn specifies the Formularies: those documents which guide the Church in its worship and practice.  These are the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer 1662, Te Rawiri, and A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa.  Also specified is an ordinal. [2]

However, Te Pouhere also makes provision for changes and additions to the Formularies listed above, provided that they do not represent any departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ as defined in Te Pouhere’s own Fundamental Provisions.  The process for such a change or addition to the Formularies is set out in the Church of England Empowering Act (1928), and the working group’s recommendations for considering additional formularies attend closely to this process. 

In this report, the working group proposes two rites of blessing for couples who have been married in a civil ceremony according to the laws of New Zealand and the countries of the Pacific Islands which form part of the The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and any other national jurisdiction recognised under the laws of these countries.  It is the view of the majority of the group that the proposed liturgies do not represent a departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ, and are therefore not prohibited by Te Pouhere, however the group also recognises that this will be a crucial matter for debate. 

In considering the implications of such a blessing on the canons relating to ordination, the group agreed that a rightly ordered relationship is only one that has been committed to God and received the blessing of the Christian Church.  This identified a lacuna in the canons.  New Zealand civil legislation has facilitated marriage fully independent of any Christian denomination since the 1970s, yet couples have never been required to have civil marriages blessed in order to be recognised as married by the Church.  The group therefore proposes a rite of blessing whereby heterosexual couples who were married in a civil ceremony may have their relationship blessed by the Church, such requirement for a Church blessing not having previously been part of the Church’s canons.[3]  The blessing of a marriage for same-sex couples is presented as a separate rite from that offered for use by opposite-sex couples, although the two rites will be found to be largely similar.  It is necessary to present both rites to allow for the possibility of any diocese or amorangi choosing to adopt the rite of blessing for opposite-sex couples only.

Directly related to these rites is a change proposed to the canons relating to ministry standards and an extended definition of chastity, detailed in section 8.

The canons of this Church already make provision for any priest or bishop to decline to perform a rite of marriage.[4]  It is not anticipated by the group that any such minister could be held to be non-compliant with any relevant parliamentary legislation through electing not to perform a rite of blessing for a couple married under civil legislation.

The group held the view that it should not be permissible for any visiting priest or bishop to conduct a blessing within a diocese or amorangi that has not itself adopted such a blessing for use.  Accordingly, the group proposes an explicit strengthening of the requirement that any priest or bishop travelling outside his or her own diocese / amorangi obtain the permission of the bishop with direct authority over that amorangi / diocese before conducting any service of blessing.  With regard to marriage, the current canon describes consultation with “the appropriate authority” as a “matter of courtesy”.  The proposed canonical changes relating to restrictions on conducting rites of blessing may be found in section 9.

The working group believes that the proposed rites and canonical changes contained in this report, if adopted, will enable every priest and bishop in the Anglican Church of this province to retain their integrity within the Church: those who believe the blessing of same-sex persons is congruent with scripture, tikanga and doctrine, and those who believe that such a blessing is contrary to these.

Section three explains the theological platform upon which the working group’s proposals are made, while section four explains further how the working group has understood the theology of ordination and marriage, in a way which might permit blessing of same-sex couples who have been married in a civil ceremony, and how such a blessing might affect qualification for ordination.  Section five provides an explanation of the schedule to the proposed canon permitting a liturgy to bless those who have entered a civil marriage.

At section six, the working group addresses the question of how Te Hīnota Whānui / General Synod may lawfully adopt the proposals contained in this report, and section seven describes the specific processes by which a change can be made.  Section eight goes on to identify and explain the proposal for changes to canons which would be required to enable a person who has entered a civil marriage with a person of the same sex to qualify for ordination.  The changes to the canons required to introduce formularies for the new blessings for those who have entered a civil marriage are set out in section nine.

Section ten contains the form of the proposed schedule which would accompany the canonical changes proposed, section eleven is the proposed motion that will be put to General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui 2016.  Section twelve contains the two proposed rites of blessing.

[1] Te Pouhere is a parallel language document in both te reo Māori and the English language.  For the purposes of this report references are taken from the English form only.

[2] Titled in full: “The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.”

[3] Although Title G, Canon III has previously provided for the blessing of a civil marriage where a couple “desire to have their marriage blessed according to the rites of the church.”

[4] Title G, Canon III, Clause 2.11