Fairly early in the week of General Synod a blogger noted the presence of elephants in the room of General Synod. There may be other members of the herd I am not aware of, but the two principal elephants in my view were the present inadequacy off the governance and management structure of St John's College, and the difficulties (including financial difficulty) faced by the Te Aute College Trust Board. I think these may fairly be called 'elephants' because the issues openly talked about this week have been present for a few years or more, and thus have either been avoided or ignored in recent meetings of General Synods. (Clue for future reference: read reports and boldly ask more questions!!!)
In both cases the institutions are deemed to be taonga or treasures. The first of our church, the second of both our church and all Maoridom. In the case of St John's College the inadequate structure has meant an inefficient functioning of decision making processes, but not a breakdown of them. Thus a number of very good things have happened and are happening in the life of the College, including the implementation of the new Anglican Studies Programme.*
But some things have been impeded by the inefficient functioning of decision making, including the development of strategic direction, a business plan, and (here I offer a personal, outsider view) the recruitment of new first class inspiring teachers to replace recently retiring long-standing members of staff.** To be blunt, forming an institution in which key decisions rest on three different cultural values and visions harmonising has a rather large potential for inefficient functioning of decision making. It is not impossible (thus, my report above, some excellent decisions have been made over the years of the College being a 'three tikanga college'), but it is intrinsically likely that some necessary decisions will not be reached because the required agreement will be elusive.
In making the decision to suspend the Board of Oversight and to appoint a Commissary to act as CEO of the College the question now is whether this will prove to mean the elephant has been dispatched or only diminished. In my personal view a great and decisive move has been made towards a better functioning future for the governance and management of the College.
I was aware, many in our church have been aware of the SJC elephant. I was not aware, and many others would not have been aware of the Te Aute Trust Board elephant. We must pray for those who will work on this situation. To change metaphors, they are climbers tackling an Everest. They will need good support, and plenty of oxygen.
*Declaration of interest: I was once part of a development project group for St John's. Among the recommendations made was one which has been, so to speak, the parent of the Anglican Studies Programme.
** Fuller explanation: in recent years lecturers in the subjects of Pastoralia, Old Testament, Church History, and Systematic Theology have retired or moved away and not been replaced. It is true that simple replacement would not have been straightforward, because of the complicated relationship around who teaches what subjects in the university degrees accessed by SJC students through Auckland and Otago universities. Nevertheless the following reasoning lies behind my call for new first class inspiring teachers to be recruited to join current staff at the College: (1) this church needs a great theological college and it is difficult to say it has one if it does not have teachers in the classic theological subjects (2) the Anglican Studies Programme, while ministry focused is able to receive input from experts in the classic theological subjects (3) in response to a possible counter argument that there are insufficient theological students at the College I counter-counter with this: (i) our church should make a decision that SJC will be a theological (and ministry formation) college and not a dormitory for students studying in other disciplines [needs in this area could be funded in other ways by the SJC Trust Board] (ii) this would lead to more places available for theological and ministry formation students, ergo larger classes for teachers to teach (iii) a fantastic "full complement" staff has unbounded potential to draw more and more students rather than a status quo number of students.