General Synod, Day Three. The Way Ahead.

I took this photo years ago with my first serious digital camera. I like it. It was the photograph I used for the first ever post on this blog, when I was still the Ven. Dr. and was calling the blog Re Vision and wondering whether to make it a photography blog or a Life, The Universe and Everything blog. So, I post it again today to honour a new start.

The last few days have been amongst the best I have experienced in the church. There was sense of community and a deep sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit as we discussed and reached unanimity on issues which threatened to destroy our church as they had done to several others. When Bishop Helen Ann Hartley began to read the statement that we had all  worked so hard to produce, I couldn't hold back the tears. We had done what I considered to be impossible, and there is, at last, a way ahead for us.

That wise old man Robert Johnson talks about the way almost all problems are framed as paradoxes; they are presented to us as a choice between two irreconcilable opposites; as being caught on the two horns of a dilemma. As we consider the opposites our tendency is to gravitate towards one of the two horns of the dilemma and label it "Good" and to distance ourselves from the other horn which we label "Bad". Then we expend considerable energy trying to diminish or even get rid of the "bad" horn and accentuate the "good" horn. This is a futile operation, says Robert Johnson because actually the two are inextricably linked and all we do is make ourselves guilty and wretched because of our inability to banish the one and embrace the other. The way of wisdom, the old man says, is to give due honour to both; to allow both to speak and then the wise way ahead will present itself as the ground in creative tension between the two opposites.

This dynamic has worked its way out in the life of our church. We have lived with two views on human sexuality which are mutually contradictory. Proponents of both views have tended to look at the other and label it in various derogatory ways, while claiming intellectual, Biblical and moral superiority for their own, favoured, position. Attempts to find the "correct" horn of the dilemma by way of exegesis, theology, and reason have failed. How could they do otherwise? So, for the last year or two our church has tried a different tack. We have sought, not a resolution to our intractable differences, but a way of living with difference. And today we succeeded. Or at least, we have a path which, if followed, will lead us to success.

As I told you yesterday, we talked in various combinations for two days. Last night we selected some of our number, known for their intelligence and representative of the divergent views on this matter, and asked them to prepare a statement which summarised the essence of our long conversation and articulated the way forward we could all see emerging. The resulting document was, with only a few minor typographical tweaks, passed unanimously by the synod. In the hours since it was made public, of course it has generated some disappointment. For some it doesn't go nearly far enough or fast enough. For some, it goes far too far and far too quickly. These reactions were inevitable as long as some people were (and , let's be frank, this is most of us) hoping that their own particular horn of the dilemma (the good horn) was going to win over the other one (the bad horn).

There's a few things that it's necessary to understand when assessing the statement. One is that because of the way our church has been set up we require a very prescribed process to make a change to our fundamental doctrines. This process involves referral to all diocesan synods and to two General Synods and might even require an act of parliament. It was always going to take at least four years. Another is that we in the General Synod have proceeded from the assumption that all members of our church are children of God and are worthy of respect. We have assumed, I think accurately, that people have acted faithfully, intelligently and Biblically no matter where their opinion on this matter might lie. We have taken it as axiomatic that Jesus' prayer recorded in John 17 that his church be one, even as he and the Father are one is an imperative that we simply cannot disregard.

I am not going to paraphrase the statement here. It is better to read it and sit with it for a while, although I realise that only those who were at General Synod will know the depth of communion that went into its crafting. What I will say is that it seeks to give honour to both sides of our dilemma. It commits us to finding a way of reshaping our church so that both sides can live with personal integrity, and with us still participating in our fundamental oneness in Christ. It does this as fast as our processes allow. It recognises the pain of LGBT people and apologises for that, and suggests a way in which a pastoral response can be made to our LGBT people immediately.

Of course there is a lot of work ahead. We take this issue seriously enough to make deep changes to our way of ordering ourselves. The statement necessitates a re-examination of our doctrines of ordination and of marriage and the re-ordering of our church life will require careful thought and listening over the next few years. The result will be, I am utterly sure, a church more fitted for mission than it is today, and one in which all our members will be able to answer the call of  bringing to the world the Gospel of God's unconditional love revealed in the life death and resurrection Jesus Christ.


Anonymous said…
Thanks +Kelvin. Having only briefly read the synod statement, I wonder whether we not only need to work through our theology of marriage and our theology of ordination, but also our understanding of what "blessing" is. I am glad the Church has proffered an apology for the effects of its de facto homophobia; I need to reflect a bit longer before I, as an outsider to GS/THW, can get a real sense of what the statement as a whole will mean for the Church.
James Harding
Kelvin Wright said…
Yes, absolutely. But of course the concept of blessing is related to - perhaps inherent in - both ordination and marriage. At the moment the vagueness of the term might be seen as an advantage when cnsidering the kind of pastoral response mentioned in the last section of the statement.
Zane Elliott said…
I'm not sure that this is a way ahead. I feel sad because I think it is the beginning of a way apart. In your beautiful photo the boat is firmly moored on a calm sea, I can't help but feel we've just started to cut away at that rope strand by strand.

Dear Lord Jesus, May my fear be cast out by light and please Lord, please let me be wrong!
Kelvin Wright said…
Hi Zane.

I can appreciate why you would have misgivings, but actually I don't share them. I'm going to blog again, I hope today, on this point. But briefly:

Our church was headed for a split, no question about it. I am told that some in our province have already been eyeing up new real estate. We may not have avoided that, but we've at least given ourselves an option of continuing communion - and I hope continuing community.
The argument we were embroiled in is utterly intractable. It is unresolvable, and will remain unresolvable. So all the while we were engaged with the wrong question. We were busy asking ourselves how we might move the church into one of the irreconcilable camps or other when all along our Lord and Saviour had another way out. The Gospels are filled with examples of where Jesus refuses to be drawn into an argument, but instead encourages the arguing parties to look at their dispute again (that is, repent) and see the dispute from the context of the Kingdom. When Jesus tells people to carry the soldier's pack 2 miles instead of the commanded 1, he is telling them to do this. Stop seeing things in terms of winning or losing, and treat the incident of oppression as something else - an opportunity for communion with someone you would never, otherwise, have dreamed of interacting with.

This synod has felt very holy. It has been holy because we have refused point blank to be drawn into the argument that was waiting to devour us all. We have chosen instead to recognise each other as sisters and brothers despite our intractable differences and we have pledged ourselves to exist together and do whatever it takes that we may continue to exist together.
Brian R said…
I moved to NZ because I knew the situation in Australia was hopeless as Sydney diocese has a stranglehold on the province. While realising that many like you mean well, today I feel that nothing has been achieved and, of course as the previous comment proves, the conservatives are still not happy. As one commentator elsewhere has already written, the province has apologised but changed nothing. My friends, who never enter a church except for weddings (less and less) and funerals have had much happier lives than me. At the age of 70, I feel belonging to church has only brought me misery. At least in Dunedin, the reception has been friendly, In Sydney (except for one parish 80 km from home) I was treated as a bad smell. Today I am considering cutting all ties and changing a lifetime of church attendance. Some say 2020, If I am still alive at 78 I may consider returning.
Kelvin Wright said…
Hi Brian, thank you for being so open and honest. I am truly sorry we haven't been able to do what you hoped. However I think you are not accurate in saying that nothing has been achieved.

If our church had been absolutely unanimous in one view - the view that you would have found acceptable - it would still have taken us 4 years to change. But of course our church is not unanimous. And our church is not going to be unanimous at any time in the forseeable future. So what do we do? wait for unanimity? Declare one half or other of the divide to be the losers; tell them to suck it in and like it or lump it? Or perhaps do what we have done? That is, recognise the integrity of both sides and commit to reordering the church where both will have a place where they can stand with integrity.
Yes it will take time; but it was always going to. And in the meantime, yes, there is nothing much that has changed today, when compared to yesterday. But that lack of change has another aspect: nothing has changed with regard to you. You are still one of us for as long as you want to be. You are a child of God with an absolutely equal right to your place in the church. If that place involves marriage or ordination, sadly, it will be some time before we can shift the church to where we believe the Holy Spirit will eventually move it. Yes, that time may be too late for you. It will be probably too late for me, also, but it is coming, and it is coming as fast as we can possibly make it.
Anonymous said…
Hi Bishop Kelvin
I tend to pop in every so often on this blog. I like the way you write, even if I sometimes disagree with what you say. I appreciate the pastoral tone of your response to Brian, but I think it unhelpful to characterise the General Synod resolution as some sort of step along the way to an inevitable conclusion that will come about once everyone else gets on board with your point of view. It undermines the integrity of the current resolution from General Synod which is barely days old!

It's probably why resistance to any sort of compromise of the traditional values of the church in this area has been so strong and why it has taken up so much of our time and energy as a church - because there is a suspicion that any sort of change will be used as a wedge to create more compromise....and more compromise...and more compromise....until people feel so compromised that a split occurs.
I don't particularly like the resolution, I feel I can live and minister in the church with it. It seems to uphold the traditional values and teaching that the church has held for 2000 years, whilst making allowance for people to genuinely consciously object to those values. I hope there isn't more compromise though and I hope that this isn't an issue that is going to drag on and on, consuming more and more energy as your comment seems to suggest some would like it to.
God Bless
Dear Bishop Kevin,

Coming late to this thread, I have found the most hope in this statement of yours:

" We have sought, not a resolution to our intractable differences, but a way of living with difference. And today we succeeded. Or at least, we have a path which, if followed, will lead us to success."

I find in this a sign of something that can only be called expeditious in the circumstances.

What remains is for (some of) the bishops to determine how to appear to welcome same-sex monogamous partnerships, while yet denying the blessing of the Church.

My owh thought - for what it's worth - is that God is probably blessing some such relationships already.
Kelvin Wright said…
Hi Ben;

Thanks for your comment. I'm not sure, from what you have said that you quite grasp what the church has done.We have set up a working group with a brief to reorder the church so that both sides of this divide can live with integrity. I'm not sure how this will work, or quite what the end result will be.But it will mean that for part of the church, yes change will come. For another part the status quo will prevail. And the two sides will still maintain communion. We've done this before, in accommodating three very divergent cultural worldviews: allowing for autonomy for each of them while remaining one church. We can do it again.

It's going to be a big ask for the working group. But in the end, our aim is that neither party is compromised.
1Grahame said…
Hi Kelvin, I like what appears to be happening. How I manage, on a personal level, to cope with such difficulties, is to look for and affirm those things which I can, and leave up to God those things I might wish were different. I am pretty sure that my view is not the last word on any particular issue so this leaves room for me to work with whoever, and also, maybe change my mind at some stage in the future. I hope that is what the institution we call the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand can learn to do.

Grahame Cattermole
Mark Murphy said…
Kelvin, help me were there, I was not.

What is the difference between a 'recognition' and a 'blessing'? How will I recognize my LGBT friends and parishioners without blessing them? When will I know my recognition has overstepped into a blessing, and how do I pull it back at that point?
Kelvin Wright said…
Good questions. Part of the simply enormous task the Anglican Church has given itself over the next 2 years is a review of our doctrines of marriage and of ordination. We need also to look at exactly what we mean by blessing.

Part of the language of the statement arrived at by GSTHW is a recognition of the position we find ourselves in. At a national level we are not so much a single unit as a federation of 7 Pakeha dioceses, 5 Maori Hui Amorangi and the church of Polynesia. These various units re3present a fairly wide range of Christian belief and practice. Also, we aren't just a local church, we are a global communion. Nationally, the 76.6 million people from every continent who call themselves Anglican encompass a very wide range of religious practices and interpretations. We are held together by agreement on a set of core beliefs. In the New Zealand bit of the Anglican church these core beliefs are encapsulated in our constitution. We are of course, able to change our constitution but because it does contain our core beliefes - our very reason for being - and because it outlines the basis on which we are joined to the rest of the world wide communion, we change it only in the most serious of circumstances. The method we have to change it involves a process taking at least 4 years: a decision is made by General Synod, it is referred back to each of the diocesan synods, and if passed by them, is finalised. Adherence to the constitution is enforced by our own set of internal laws - the canons, which include a canon on discipline (title D).
Our constitution includes a definition of marriage and that definition specifies that marriage is something that happens between a man and a woman. If any Anglican priest does something contrary to the constitution s/he is open to the possibility of a charge being brought under title D.
So you can see that at present, no Anglican Priest can perform a gay wedding. Neither can they do anything that might be reasonably interpreted to be a wedding, such as performing a wedding blessing ceremony. That is why the statement made at the General Synod/ Te Hinota Whanui specifically states that a marriage recognition is not a blessing.
Now you might say this is a silly place for the church to find itself, and some people might agree with you, but that's where we are, and that's where we'll have to remain, at least for a while. Knowingly break the constitution and someone could bring a case against you - and they would win; goodbye job, reputation, stipend and pension.

As to what happens when a parish has a special service to rejoice with one of their own who has undergone a same gender wedding, and to receive them as a married couple, that's currently unknown. How can this happen without it in some way being a blessing? I don't know. But in this case, I guess it depends on how you are using the word "blessing".
Mark Murphy said…
Dear Kelvin,

Thank you for your considered and thoughtful response to my somewhat snarky post (I felt bloody frustrated with the church).

Well, what a position to be in.

I appreciate your place and 'charge', what you hold as a bishop, the ecclesiological and pastoral concerns (especially in connection to ministers) you have outlined here.

I have two immediate responses. (1) Are we really 'held together by agreement to a set of core beliefs'? This can't be the basis of our relationship, connection, unity with each other. Perhaps one of things emerging from the holiness you experienced at synod is that there is something more fundamental than doctrinal agreement that holds Anglicans in relationship?
(2) Blessing is a spontaneous expression of the spirit, of God, of the Heart of god. We participate in this blessing, we bless ourselves and each other, in each moment of love, of depth, of truth, of creation. How sad that some of god's holiest blessings get missed by the church. How terribly unfair.

I suggest the church develops a rite for anger (say this seriously, not snarkily)as well as for blessing, so that the pain the church continues to create through its lumbering, glacial processes of change can be skillfully expressed, that such pain doesn't end up hardening our hearts.