The Archbishops have released the interim report of the Motion 29 Working Group – which is the group charged with finding mechanisms for the church to stay together.
The Archbishops have released the interim report of the small working group charged with seeking “structural arrangements” to allow people who hold differing convictions about the blessing of same-sex relationships to remain within the church.
The six-person group, which was convened by Rev Katene Eruera, has come up with a “toolbox” of recommendations.
These centre around devolving decision-making on this issue to dioceses and amorangi, making changes to church law to “safeguard theological convictions” – and creating space for the theological debate about sexuality to continue without being curtailed by a General Synod resolution.
The Motion 29 working group came into being following the 2016 General Synod which debated, at length, the Way Forward report. At that time, however, “there was no clear way forward”. So rather than force the issue, the matter was left to lie on the table.
The Archbishops then convened the Motion 29 working group to focus on a narrower task: They were to steer clear of theological debate, and instead look for structures that would allow people who hold strong convictions about the blessing of same-sex relationships (in the working group’s own words) “to coexist peacefully in same church”.
The working group’s first recommendation is that there should be “no alteration to the formularies of this Church.”
Instead, the group recommends devolving decisions on this issue to the basic unit of the Anglican Church – which is the episcopal unit, the unit led by a bishop.
Bishop Richard Ellena, who is on the working group, believes that’s a key recommendation:
“I think the strength of that one is that you’re then making decisions at the place where relationships are formed,” he says.
“When we talk about the province, it’s so far removed from people in the pews.
“You have a relationship with your local bishop and not with the wider church, as such. I think there’s far more potential for being able to stand together when you’re working at a level of much closer relationship.”
Bishop Richard says he’s also pleased that the report has a “light touch”, instead of being “something far more… legislative.”
The report says the working group believe the General Synod’s role “is to support amorangi and the dioceses in their work”.
So decisions about whether or not to bless “should rest with amorangi and diocesan bishops” who may, in turn, authorise clergy in specific parishes to conduct those services if they wish.
The report also notes that there is scope (under Title G, Canon XIV) for a bishop to authorise “a non-formulary service” for such a purpose.
The working group also recommends a change in the declarations of adherence and submission which would have the effect of freeing clergy from having to submit to top-down resolutions.
At present, a clergy person must declare his or her submission to the authority of General Synod, and consent to be bound by its regulations.
The working group is suggesting a new form of declaration, whereby “the office holder” would submit to the church constitution and code of canons (and not the General Synod), and agree to be bound by “this Church’s decision-making bodies.”
It also recommends the adoption of a “no discipline” policy (it proposes amendments to Titles D and G) so that clergy and bishops would be immune from any complaints that could arise from decisions they make whether or not to authorise or conduct same-gender blessings.
The last of the working group’s main recommendations is that the church should recognise, in its canons, “Orders of Consecrated Life”.
The idea here is that if there are groups of people, at either end of this issue, who feel that the provincial church has gone in a direction that they don’t agree with – or hasn’t gone far enough – could create their own religious orders within the church for mutual support.
The working group say they hope that “strengthening church structures” in this way will “safeguard theological convictions” and allow the “unresolved tension” of theological debates about human sexuality to be worked out without being foreclosed by a binding General Synod resolution.
The group is also recommending that the recommendations contained in the 2016 Way Forward report – now lying on the table – be withdrawn.
Archbishop Philip Richardson, who sat in as an ex-officio member on most of the group’s meetings, say he is deeply grateful for the report they have prepared, and for the spirit in which they have worked.
“The group understood it had a very specific task… and that offering some mechanisms for the church to stay together was a sacred task.”
“They didn’t put into the report some of the theological and biblical debates they had amongst themselves – because they know the church has done that, and will continue to do that.
“They kept on coming back to the task of trying to offer some mechanisms that will hold the integrity of different and irreconcilable positions in the same extended family – and their report kept being stripped back to that absolute essential.”
Archbishop Philip says he was also humbled by each member’s willingness to try to understand other perspectives:
“Whether that was a perspective of another member of the working group, or of someone who had made a submission… what struck me was the absolute care that every member took to understand what was being said. They each made a real attempt to put themselves in the shoes of the other.”
Archbishop Philip also acknowledges the group’s willingness to describe their report as interim, rather than the final word.
“I think there’s a deep humility in that stance – they’re recognising that this is a work that needs the whole church to engage in.”
Archbishop Philip says his hopes for the report are simple:
“My hope is that the church will greet this report with care, and engage with the suggestions in the spirit in which they’re offered.
“This is a genuine offering to the church of some mechanisms that this working group believe will allow a very large proportion of the church to stay together.”
The Working Group has presented its report in an interim form, and is inviting readers to submit their comments on it through episcopal units or tikanga bodies to the General Secretary by November 17 this year.