Friday, October 12, 2012

Why it is right and timely for St John's to seek a principal

Over on Facebook (Hinota Whanui page for those accessing it) there is a lively discussion about the shift in paradigm at St John's College, Auckland involved in committing to finding a principal to lead the College forward. The shift, for those unaware of the recent history of the College, is a shift from (effectively) a triumverate of deans, one for each tikanga (cultural stream), leading the College, to a principal leading the College in association with the three deans. The starting point for the discussion is the question of whether this shift spells the end of the Three Tikanga Church or not.

I think the question worth asking but the answer does not depend on the model of leadership at St John's College. The end of the Three Tikanga Church comes as we neglect what the 'Church' part of the phrase means: one body in Christ. If our exploration and working out of the Three Tikanga model for church has no point or points of unity, then the model is doomed. If we recognise that our diversity is bound together by common accord (one gospel, one faith, one baptism, one Lord ... one constitution, one set of canons, one General Synod) then the model always has room for one leader (e.g. Primate, Chair of a three tikanga committee, Principal of our main theological college). The role of the single leader is to draw the strands of tikanga life together, to work with the three tikanga on common goals and common life, to cast a vision for the future of the church in which we grow into the one Bride of Christ.

I have been a visitor, observer and listener concerning life at St John's College for some seventeen years now. I was a Tikanga Pakeha rep on a review group about eight years ago (which led to the establishment of the Anglican Studies programme) and last year I was part of the Tikanga Pakeha appointing group which appointed the current dean of pakeha life at the College. From that mostly outside perspective I am convinced that the model for leadership which has no single principal (a) never worked well, (note 1) and (b) has come to an end (note 2). Structurally, the lack of a single principal meant there was a model in which power struggles were inevitable. At best there could be a call on the Board of Governors to exercise leadership, to 'referee' in debates over which tikanga way should prevail and so forth. Such calls were difficult. Even the 'Board of Governors' role changed significantly over the seventeen years (from delegated responsibility to the former Board of Oversight to the abolition of that Board and a resumption of governance by Te Kotahitanga (i.e. the canonical Board of Governors), but that governance had to take place amidst a multitude of other responsibilities of Te Kotahitanga concerning theological education and ministry formation in our church.

Over that period the College has professed a rhetoric of three tikanga life and all too frequently from the lips of luminaries in our church phrases such as the 'jewel in the crown' have been heard. The reality has been somewhat different: each tikanga has sought from the College what it believes it has needed for the development of its ministry and mission. Quite different agenda have pulled the College this way and that. In the process the College has moved in focus from being exclusively (and therefore intensively) focused on theological education and ministry formation in a cohesive community to be a series of communities, both tikanga communities, and communities with different learning outcomes (so some students at the College have utilised the provision of College accommodation in order to train for vocations other than the ordained ministry). The only value judgement I make here about the way in which life has developed at the College since it became a three tikanga college is that it has not represented diversity-in-unity as one church of three tikanga. Instead it has been a place where three tikanga have tried their best to pursue three differing visions for the future of their tikanga lives.

In theory such development of the College could be a good thing (i.e. I am wrongly evaluating the direction it has taken), but in practice it has led to a crisis of confidence in the College. Tikanga which seek from the College what fits that Tikanga's hopes and dreams are liable to go elsewhere when the College is perceived no longer to be so fitted. In the particular case of both Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pakeha, we have seen over these last seventeen years  developments in ministry training and formation away from the College. Cutting a long analysis of the situation short, I suggest that Te Kotahitanga is working to refocus the College on its 'core business' (theological education and ministry formation) and to sharpen its leadership structure (one principal should be able to steer the College more quickly in the directions the Tikanga discern to be the future of the church).

Without this change to a single principal, would we have a College to fight over? Critics of the current move, I suggest, may not be aware of how perilous the future of the College is (I am not talking about next year but about five to ten years hence). It has lost its mojo as the College everyone wants to go to and become the College that people consider going to among other options. It needs to regain its mojo and a single principal is needed (along with some other changes) to achieve that.

All this can and will lead to enhancement of our life together as a Three Tikanga Church. The appointment of a single principal at SJC does not spell the end of that life.

Note 1: I am speaking about the "model." I am not saying that there have not been good things that have happened at the College or that there have not been significant things achieved during the life of the model. But there have been too many stories through the time of the model, of life at the College, stories marked by unhappiness, complaints, grizzles, and, in some cases suppression in public discussion of deep concerns about matters, for some sanguine view of the model to prevail. A single principal of the College would and could have stopped many of these stories before they were written into the book of the life of the College.

Note 2: Thus I do not credit those who wish to undo the ending of the model, which effectively took place over two years ago at GS 2010.


Father Ron Smith said...

"From that mostly outside perspective I am convinced that the model for leadership which has no single principal (a) never worked well, and (b) has come to an end. Structurally, the lack of a single principal meant there was a model in which power struggles were inevitable."
- Peter Carrell -

So, Peter, on the basis of this observation by your good self; this means that, with the appointment of a single Principal for Saint John's College, you consider the 3 tikanga role of ACANZP to be at an end? Surely this refers only to the unification of the board of Saint John's College - under the role of the new Principal - not the demise of the 3 Tikanga ACANZP Church?

For me, the biggest danger to the future of Saint john's College Trust would be its devolution into a structure of equal dual ownership - between Maori and Pakeha/Pasefika stake-holders - which is being advocated by some in the Church. This would appear to be advocating a partnership of Maori versus The Rest. This would be inimical to the 3 Tikanga Partnership.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Not at all - I think a single principal could enhance the 3T life of our church.

Anonymous said...

Hi peter
For as long as I can remember st johns has been described as a 'troubled' institution. Are you able to articulate why as a church we should keep pouring time/money/energy/angst into this place, when as you point out there are many other institutions doing a better (and cheaper/easier/less angst-y) job of what is supposed to be the college's core function. And that most in out church are choosing those institutions over st johns.
God bless

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ben
The potential of the College is extraordinary (1).

The SJC Trust Board is required to fund a college on the Meadowbank site (2).

At Meadowbank students have the opportunity to live in a close community while studying. I am not aware of any other Anglican theological college in ACANZP which provides this opportunity (3).


Anonymous said...

I guess what I'm asking is: what is its extraordinary potential.....and why isn't it (and will it ever be) realized?

Peter Carrell said...

The extraordinary potential is for the college to become the place people queue to get into, because the graduates which come out of the college are perceived to be top notch in all areas of theological education and ministry formation.

Much is being done to reach this potential but the college has not yet become the place people are queueing to get into.

Why isn't it being realised? Politics - that is, the organisation of our church, which is a complicated matter, and which has created many wishes for what happens at the college with the consequence that the college is pulled this way and that. So how might the college's potential be realised? By the church uniting in a determination that the potential be realised.

Father Ron Smith said...

From Ben's remarks here, I suspect he has never been a student at Saint john's College, which has always been since its early endowment, self-funding, and not reliant on anyone else for its upkeep and maintenance. It provides free and subsidised accommodation, board and theological education for all approved Anglican sudents.

As a major land-owner in the Auckland area, the St. John's College trust Board has been able to fund and generously support the majority of Anglican students for the Sacred Ministry from around New Zealand and the Pacific islands for many years.

Were it not for saint john's College, I would venture to say that the Anglican Church in New Zealand would be in a much more vulnerable state that it might seem - to some people, like Ben - to be today.

There has never been so vibrant and purposeful an Anglican Institute for equipping of clergy for parish ministry in the history of New Zealand. SJC is one of the most well-founded of the independent Theological Colleges in the world-wide Communion.

Perhaps one needs to be a student, or one of its alumni, to appreciate the great value of our Province's earliest and most fruitful seat of learning for Anglican theologians. I am a grateful beneficiary of its teaching and community facilities.

carl jacobs said...


Not at all - I think a single principal could enhance the 3T life of our church.

I must admit that from the outside looking in, I wonder why the three Tikanga model of a church is a good thing. It seems a de facto division of the church along lines of (something as arbitrary as) race. This isn't so much a criticism as an inquiry. Why did NZ adopt such a model? Why does it seek to continue it?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
We adopted the model because we needed to do something about the poverty of our historical relationship with Maori, a relationship in which Pakeha [European] has suppressed and sidelined Maori aspiration to shape the life and character of our church.

Initially the model was intended to provide freedom for Maori to develop their vision of church with minimal interference/contribution from Pakeha. But when the question of how Polynesia fitted into the model, as part of Tikanga Pakeha, or otherwise, it was determined that Polynesia should be a third tikanga.

The question many years later, I suggest, is not whether we have divided our church along cultural (even racial) lines, but whether development of Maori Anglicanism has been enhanced by these arrangements. (A subsidiary question is whether Pakeha Anglicanism has lost something by the arrangements. The answer mostly given is, Yes. There is no question that Polynesian Anglicanism has gained much by the arrangements).

I think it is for Maori Anglicans to answer whether Maori Anglicanism has been enhanced by these arrangements or not.

I think it worth asking whether all aspects of our life as a church in these islands would be enhanced if we made some variations to our current arrangements. My personal answer is simple and straightforward: I think we (in Aotearoa NZ) should find ways and means to set Polynesia free (as we once did for the Diocese of Melanesia). Then we should develop constitutional arrangements for Pakeha and Maori which would see us meeting at the level of diocesan synods (with houses of Maori and of Pakeha), as well as at the level of General Synod.

I think we would then be less divided than we are.

liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

I would need more convincing of your answer which may be neither as simple nor as straightforward as you would hope. Having "set Polynesia free", Auckland (NZ) would still remain the largest Polynesian city in the world - where do they fit? Where do Asians fit in your arrangement? Aotearoa NZ is going to continue to become more Polynesian, Maori, Asian, multicultural, multi-lingual. And I am talking not theoretically, but about the current situation.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
On my model, the ministry arrangements for Polynesian Anglicans in Auckland, for Chinese Anglicans in Wellington ... would be the responsibility of the local synod (i.e. Maori and Pakeha agreeing together). If Auckland (for instance) wished to establish a bishop's position for oversight of Polynesian congregations, it would do so and engage in the usual canonical process re the wider church agreeing to such establishment.

What we wouldn't have is the oversight of Polynesian Anglicans in Auckland subject to the vagaries of the Diocese of Polynesia, which, as you know, once had a bishop resident in Auckland and now does not.

Nevertheless a Polynesian deacon resident in Chch is due to go up to Auckland to be ordained priest ... On my re-modelling, such a priest would be discerned in Chch and ordained by the Bishop of Christchurch!

Simon said...

Is this latest Auckland-based development 'leverage' for introducing another strand of Anglican theological training in A/NZ, ultimately training ordinands ... or do we have enough institutions already?