Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Resurrection of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand

I drafted up a pretty hard hitting "take" on our church in the light of an article in this morning's Sunday Herald about church life in our largest city Auckland, suggesting that we are a church in crisis re decline and doing nothing much about it at General Synod. Then I thought that it might not be received in a kindly manner and perhaps I should be more responsible as an older member of the clergy: church life is difficult, people are doing their best and we are all in this together. Also, it is not as though I have all the answers.

So how about I let you the reader do the work today?

First, here is a list, as reported by my bishop, +Victoria Matthews, in a recent letter to her clergy of some of the topics for discussion at our General Synod in a few weeks' time. (I am not a member of GS so do not have access yet to the full set of papers - hence grateful for this list):

"The papers for General Synod  which arrived last week are extensive and some weighty topics will be discussed.  The Ma Whea Commission Report which looks at possible directions for our Church in response to the many voices calling for action and reaction about same gender relationships and the request to have these relationships blessed, is now up on the Diocesan web page and is also attached to this letter.  Included in the Ma Whea Commission Report, as an appendix, is the Report of the Doctrinal and Theological Commission on the Theology of Marriage with its theological rationale for same gender marriage.  Other resolutions address the possibility of mutual recognition of Holy Orders with the Methodists in this country; a request for a Decade on Mission; a proposed revised Communications Commission; Fossil Fuel Divestment; an HR package proposal; two Constitutional Amendments; and the motion from last General Synod which seeks episcopal autonomy with respect to those in same gender sexual relationships.  There are a number of Bills including one which requests a name change of our neighbour Hui Amorangi to become the Anglican Maori Diocese of Te Waipounamu.  Reports from the three Tikanga Commissions are also included in the General Synod papers."

The Herald article, secondly, about the state of church life in Auckland city is here.

My question, dear readers, is this: should our list of topics at our General Synod be different in the light of the success the mega churches in Auckland are having at connecting the gospel with Kiwis in this secularised, post modernized new agey 21st century?

Depending on the answers and our willingness to work on them, we may yet look forward to the resurrection of our church in the course of this century as the largest national church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Or not. Perhaps our will is focused in another direction. If so, what do we think our future is?*

*My focus here is on Anglican life in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our church includes the island nations of Polynesia but the mix of culture, history, church relationships and politics is different across those islands and less familiar to the life I am familiar with here in these islands.


Anonymous said...

For me these two sentences in the article summed up what was happening

The total Auckland mega-church congregation is up to 25,000 people.

St Matthew-in-the-City, for all its outspoken media profile, averages a headcount of only 100.

It kind of felt like the old essays I used to write at varsity. They would quote a couple of sentences like this and then say "Discuss".

Father Ron Smith said...

"My question, dear readers, is this: should our list of topics at our General Synod be different in the light of the success the mega churches in Auckland are having at connecting the gospel with Kiwis in this secularised, post modernized new agey 21st century?"
- Dr.Peter Carrell -

After a very lively Holy Week of Daily Eucharist with the Anglican Franciscans at St. Michael and All Angels, here in Christchurch, that included the wonderful liturgies of the Great Triduum, my short answer to your question, Peter is, simply, NO!

While wanting to embrace new initiatives towards the inclusion of ALL people in the outreach of our Church (not just the 'good and holy') - which is being addressed by most of our General Synod agenda; I don't think that the modern mega-Church big-band ethos (of which you seem so affirming) is ever going to address current problems of the sort of justice and environmental issues that ACANZP is keen to address.

Mega-churches are those which gather fans - especially among the preppy young - who seem to do a cyclical commitment phase in their search for adventure, that builds greater cyclical congregations looking for the latest guru. When guru leaves, the church breaks up, awaiting another new messiah.

The traditional Churches have proved their vitality by still being around when the megas have run out of steam. Spiritual food like that which I have enjoyed this week takes discipline and long-term commitment - leading to the understanding that we are part of an ongoing liturgical community faithful to the practise of the Presence of Christ, that only regular orderly commitment to the sacraments can give.

"Do this to remember Me", was the command of Jesus. He gives no other prescription - except that we go, as best we are able, into all the world to Baptise in the Name of the Trinity

Big does not necessarily mean beautiful, and schism, when big becomes confrontational, can be an awful blight on Christianity.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
It is not the big band emphasis per se which interests me but the ability to connect with the average Kiwi.

I wonder if our Easter services attendance registers this year will register a pivotal turning around re average Kiwis of all generations connecting with the Anglican church of these islands?

No one will be more delighted than me if those stats come in to underscore such a change. But one day, when the last three Anglicans are arguing over who will pay the final power bill, I wonder if anyone will pause to ask whether we might have made different decisions in the General Synod of 2014 ...

Father Ron Smith said...

Here we are again. Same old, same old - Doom and Gloom.

Did you not have the Easter Greeting at your Church, this year Peter:

Christos Annesti! Alleluia!
Christ is Risen Alleluia, Alleluia!

Anonymous said...

Hey Peter,
Gosh you sounded a bit discouraged : ) , remember St Paul's quoted in the article is one of the mega-churches is Anglican with 1000 members : )

Perhaps it is like you mentioned on an earlier post a case of should we as a church - perhaps put it on the General Synod Agenda - to look into the Anglican Church's which do seem to be growing or reaching out. In the Wellington area I would include Waikanae (which has a wonderful mix of the old and young), Haitaitai and Churton Park. You would know more about Nelson Peter : ) .

I agree with Ron to the point that a church does not need to be large to be 'alive', and the range of types of services withiin our communion is an asset. And there is a big difference between attendance and committment. Saying that looking at the churches over the years that HTB in London has helped to plant and re-invigorate is heartening. The focus seems not on numbers but on as you say resurrection.

Since coming back to a more traditional church I have wholeheartedly missed the prayer, worship and gifts of the spirit practised formely in my previous church. Also some of the larger churches do have a strong focus on social justice as well as evangelism.

I have also known some younger friends who go to mega churches (not Anglican) who do seem a bit lost, it's easy to go and not be involved, and always searching for a home. There must be a balance somewhere....

Perhaps you could twist your bosses arm Peter to have this topic included in GS

God Bless

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
The Easter greetings were said many times in the services I attended yesterday!

I am unapologetic for drawing attention to the plight of the Anglican church in these islands as a church which is overall an ageing, declining church. No one is denying that this is the case.

I love our church in which I have worshipped all my life save for a few years in overseas jurisdictions. I do not wish to cast blame on those in the past who have led us to this point but I do wish to cry out, When will we address with honesty and imagination the crisis we are in?

To ask that question, I suggest, is faithfulness to the risen Lord who rose to found the church not to smooth the pillow of a dying church.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
I am not discouraged in the sense of being down at mouth, despairing or feeling depressed.

I am discouraged in the sense that I struggle to see in the GS agenda (as thus far revealed) any sense of urgency about our plight.

Rightly you draw attention to growing, vibrant, intergenerational congregations in our midst. We could name others in each of the dioceses. These are welcome signs of hope. Praise the Lord!

I wonder if GS would invite the senior pastors of St Paul's Symonds St to share with the members of GS the key steps taken by that church to grow it from a very small congregation to the size it is today?

Rightly you mention that mega-churches do not contain all answers to the quest today for Christians to find great churches in which satisfactory encounter with God and the body of Christ.

All churches have things to learn from each other!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I see Peter. The issue is one best tackled, and faced head on. It would be really good to have it acknowledged and GS and wisdom shared from those active in such Churches can we start a petition? How do we get it on the agenda?

Peter Carrell said...

Probably too late for this year's GS but maybe the motion re a Decade of Mission could be a stepping stone to some serious consideration ...