General Synod has passed a Bill which confirms the governors of St John’s Theological College in Meadowbank Auckland are the members of the St John’s College sole governing council, Te Kaunihera, which has authority to oversee management of the College.
St John the Evangelist Theological College is this Church’s three tikanga theological college, which welcomes students undergoing study in theology and ministry formation, including a significant number of people in training towards ordination as deacons or priests in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.
Following an Independent Review into the culture of St John’s College, led by Miriam Deans KC and Doug Martin and completed in mid-2021, the General Synod Standing Committee accepted fifteen key recommendations that reviewers proposed to affect a positive shift in College culture across faculty, staff and students.
One of these recommendations called for reform of the existing complicated governance structures that had seen multiple Boards of oversight in place for the one College. Reviewers identified that “top-heavy” structure as a key reason that students had difficulty communicating with leaders, and finding it unclear who set the kaupapa or held authority for the College. One of the key recommendations stated,
“Kia noho ko te Kaunihera anake hei mana whakahaere – Make Te Kaunihera sole governor.”
Reviewers also suggested that General Synod Standing Committee, the Church’s three Tikanga educational governance board, Te Kotahitanga, or both, should apply a skills matrix in its search for new Te Kaunihera members – whose workload would now triple and become more specialised.
“Te Kaunihera needs a stronger mix of governance, financial management, education, human resources and theological expertise and experience,” stated the report.
The Bill sought to validate the General Synod Standing Committee’s actions in mid-2022 to:
– End the encumbent Te Kaunihera members’ terms on 1 July 2022
– Appoint new members to an Interim Board/Te Kaunihera, and
– Amend Title E Canon II to enable the appointment of an Interim Board/Te Kaunihera, until those changes could be ratified by the next meeting of General Synod Te Hīnota Whānui.
As a result, Standing Committee appointed three experts in specialist fields to serve as the College’s Interim Board/ Te Kaunihera between July 2022 and this week’s General Synod Te Hīnota Whānui. They are Dr Nicola Hoggard Creegan, Mr Matanuku Mahuika and Mr John Whitehead CNZM, KStJ, while at least one further member with experience in Tikanga Polynesia is currently being sought.
The Bill as it stood faced opposition from two former members of Te Kotahitanga, who had also served on Te Kaunihera prior to its reshaping in July 2022.
One of those, Bishop Andrew Hedge, stood to warn General Synod that while the General Synod Standing Committee’s moves to swiftly install a new governance structure had achieved a positive result in the best interests of the College, in doing so they had created an unintended legal consequence.
“The General Synod Standing Committee acted beyond their powers to redraft the canons of our Church.” he said.
“If this Synod ratifies that action, it could set a precedent to allow the General Synod Standing Committee to change any of the canons in the future.”
Bishop of Tai Tokerau Te Kitohi Pikaahu echoed Bishop Andrew’s concerns, saying that General Synod Standing Committee’s moves to change the St John’s College canon outside of General Synod had undermined both mana and tapu by overreaching its powers. Other speakers expressed concerns for the mana of members of the St John’s College community whose experiences of harm had been presented in the review.
Bishop of Christchurch Peter Carrell responded with a suggestion that General Synod could add a clause to the Bill to uphold the Standing Committee’s actions, while making clear those actions did not equate to an increase in the Standing Committee’s powers.
As passed today, Bill 9 validated the list of Standing Committee’s three actions taken in July this year, with the added clause,
“Provided that the decisions ... above are due to extraordinary circumstances and are not a precedent for future decision-making by General Synod Standing Committee in respect of the powers of General Synod Standing Committee.”
The newly appointed Te Kaunihera will continue to guide the College as it works with faculty, staff and students at St John’s to establish a new College-wide culture of mutuality, respect and commitment to excellence, based on the unique values of its three tikanga Anglican character.