Monday, October 31, 2022

Ways Forward: General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui 2022

The thing about Anglican synods is that we may spend time on the past (reports, accounts) and get stuck in details about the future (budgets, promises to take action on some issue of the day), but the real measure of a synod's significance, over the long term, is whether it offers a way or ways forward to a better future (formally through legislative change or resolutions, or informally through (say) the mood of participants, key appointments/elections to committees and boards).

So, last week we held our General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui in Nelson ...*

What happened? With the help of reports, of course, in Taonga, we can note:

The opening;

The Presidential Address;

The opening eucharist;

A  day of being informed/educated/formed (i.e. wānanga) about knowledge in Maori culture (mātauranga);

Debate and decisions about St. John's College;

As usual, something about our common prayer;

Appropriately, quite a bit of our conversation concerned the submissions to, recommendations to date of the Royal Commission on Abuse, and our responses to them;

It was a good occasion, of course, for meeting people. I met Dean Jay Ruka, a representative of the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki, for instance, for the first time. Already familiar colleagues and friends were there as well - Bishop Justin Duckworth, for instance, is another member of General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui to have a recent article about his ministry! One special guest was Archbishop Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne - Philip helped us out by chairing the key debate on St. John's College (due to our archbishops and other bishops being conflicted about various elements in the story of what has unfolded re changes to the governance of the College in the past year or so. Having gotten to know ++Philip during the recent Lambeth Conference it was lovely to spend time with him again.

I have discovered there is a not too bad photo of me on the Taonga site :)

Back to the key question posed above: did our meeting together chart some ways forward for our church? Here are three ways forward:

1. Our wānanga day on mātauranga charted a way forward for our church to develop a deeper, wider, better understanding of Māori culture and within that culture, what matters and why it matters, how the world is understood and how the world is engaged with by Māori.

2. Our debate about St John's College opens the door for our church to finally cease a regular cycle of reviews of the College and to begin a period of stability and calm for the College through many years ahead.

3. Our recognition of the impact of the Royal Commission on Abuse offers the possibility of a new future as the safe church we should have been but have not been.

BUT: what was not charted as a way forward was engagement with the future of our church as a church in statistical decline while being a church with an amazing potential future (for example, as a church positioned for the future of our bicultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic country).

I enjoyed this Synod. Despite some disagreements, we were in good spirits (marked, e.g. by some good humour) and it was noticeable that we kept talking to each other outside of the main sessions. Living with difference is key to visible, on the ground of this earth and this life, unity. I think we left Nelson for our home corners of God's vineyard in a good place.

*Incidentally, as we cycle through different hosts: Tikanga Pakeha (seven dioceses), Tikanga Maori (about every third synod), and Tikanga Polynesia (about every 10 - 12 years), it takes a while to return to a venue. The last time that General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui was held in Nelson was in 1994. I was not a member of the synod then but recall visiting it - I was then working in the Parish of Stoke, Nelson.


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter. A good photo of you in session at the recent General synod. I was heartened by your comment here:

"Living with difference is key to visible, on the ground of this earth and this life, unity.
I think we left Nelson for our home corners of God's vineyard in a good place."

I am one who will pray for a continuance of this eirenic outcome - for those of us Anglicans who really feel called to stay together in peace and harmony, accepting of one another, knowing that our future is in Christ, come what may.


Anonymous said...

"a church in statistical decline while being a church with an amazing potential future"

Why was this missed?

More important-- what would success look like?


Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bowman,
Given that a statistic was mentioned in the Presidential Address that by 2067 our church will no longer exist, "success" would look like that date being wrong and we continue to exist beyond 2067!!!!!

Success would also look like a revival of numbers attending our churches because we are seeing churches closing up in certain regions; decline in all regions, but not in all churches.

Finally, success would also look like a change in the age profile of our congregations which is mostly elderly.

Why was this missed? I do not know because the question requires asking why through many synods in times past, as well as in the present, we do not address the actual state of our church congregations compared with the state of (e.g.) our liturgies, our theological college, our perceptions re issues of the day.

Hirini Kaa said...

Kia ora Bishop Peter, a wonderful summary and thoughts, as always.

Just to say, I don't think we missed being "a church in statistical decline while being a church with an amazing potential future". The wananga, for example, was part of thinking though our foundations for the rebuild of our Church. Similarly the Royal Commission discussions where we need a safe Church for our future, where for many we have never been "safe".

Otherwise we are doing BAU and repeating the same expecting a different outcome is not the go.

Nga manaakitanga, blessings,


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Hirini
Put a little differently, in the light of your comment, my point could be expressed:

Our meeting built foundations (strengthened foundations) re matauranga and being a safe church, which are necessary for the future of our church, but we have other foundations to build/strengthen if we are to avoid our date with unfortunate statistical destiny in 2067.


John Sandeman said...

Is the actual text of the archbishops' charge available?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter, for those desiderata.

Do you think that a synod (or at least your general synod) is able to plan to achieve them?

As you know, my bias has been that (a) desiderata like these require creativity of a high order and that (b) synods as governors can and do choose well from among the creations of others, yet are not themselves able to be even agents let alone creators. So I was surprised that you thought that your general synod should solve the problem of secularization for New Zealand.

But along comes Francis saying that the RCC's *new evangelization* needs the dialogue of his non-governing synods. And there have been some remarkable conversations in this process.

Which sounds somewhat like your OP. Is it what you have in mind?


Peter Carrell said...

I am not sure where it would be if it is available, John.
I cannot see it on the Taonga site.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bowman,
Various initiatives in the life of our church (and other churches) have fruitfully manifested themselves without any synodical decision making (no synod invented Alpha, nor directed its spread around the globe).
Where synodical address and attention could help us includes:
- enabling our “top” leadership to live in reality; nd in that reality acknowledge that certain desiderata of our synods will come to nothing if we cease to exist;
- encouraging a re-focusing of resources of time, energy, people and, yes, money, towards regenerating our church (as one of the top if not the top priority for the next decades);
- modelling for all in our church that concern for, action on, investment in growth is a good thing for all to participate in (rather than the preserve of some “keen on growth” types.

Anonymous said...

Thank you again, Peter. From here up yonder, I had imagined that ACANZP was as keen on its survival and growth as you and your readers here. If they are not, that is indeed concerning.


Anonymous said...


Put another way, you have flagged a non-trivial problem that I have also seen here up yonder: those not blessed with an evangelical formation do deplore church shrink but are not aware that they have experience gaps and broad dispositions that contribute to it. So internal conversations to expose and remedy this in the Holy Spirit are as urgent as the external conversations that draw the unchurched into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The former has not gotten the attention that it deserves. An item on that agenda could be: how can synods best support the internal conversations that remove obstacles to evangelization. That, as I understand him, is what Francis has mainly been up to.


Anonymous said...

A Paradox

I'm voting today, so + Peter's OP brings a political notion to mind.

At an extreme, voters who acknowledge that their moral sentiments require embodiment in institutions, laws, customs take good care of those but are more or less slow to infer morality from human universals. They build strong political parties and wage effective campaigns.

Conversely, voters who believe that all their morality is inferred from clear universal needs are impatient with such pesky local realities as nations, procedures, interest groups, advocacy. They build weak parties and campaign poorly.

Mark Murphy said...

Great to hear of the continued attention to mātauranga Māori. I'm excited to see how this might continue to improvise the Anglican Church in Aotearoa in the future, including providing further models for the wider (secular) body politic to consider.

The generations coming after me will be excited too.


Anonymous said...

The paradox? We might expect universal appeal to make ideas invincible in a democratic polity. But often, it gives voters who believe in them a false confidence that everyone will eventually agree. Voters thus assured misunderstand objectors, underestimate opposition, and neglect organisation.

Anonymous said...

Are churches today like parties today?

Doctrine aside, some that seem more motivated to maintain their identities, recall their histories, and tend their traditions generally do attend to the concerns of + Peter's 6:50 and 10:07. Interestingly, some find that they are also more apt to organise charities and give to them.

Anonymous said...

Not enough people read or understand The City of God if they think some ideas are "of universal appeal". We will keep praying that the Democrats learn some science about human biology and Joe Biden learns about Catholic morality. It's still not too late - Billy Snedden was baptised in hisses.

Anonymous said...

Not Billy Snedden, Bill Hayden in 2018.

Father Ron said...

Here is a lovely word of encouragement, today, from a Bother in Christ:


“In life, all is never lost. Please, all is never lost, never. We can always find space for the desire to begin again, to start over, to convert. Re-convert, re-begin, re-start… God has never looked down on us – no; to humiliate us – no; – to judge us - no; on the contrary, he lowered himself to the point of washing our feet, looking at us from below and restoring our dignity to us…”
Pope Francis

Knowing my time here is limited, I really enjoyed our Mass for All Souls Day, last evening at St. Michael's. It quickened my understanding of God's great love for and care of us all.
I was able to join in the Orthodox Kontakion with a new vision of God's kindness and mercy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father Ron, for the new phrase "Bother in Christ." The thing has been known from the day after Pentecost, but now we have a word for it. It shall not fall into disuse.

How does SMAA distinguish All Souls from All Saints?

And were you celebrating this in some Byzantine Catholic rite?


Liz Cowburn said...

"Living with difference is key to visible, on the ground of this earth and this life, unity." ~love this! From the "The Presidential Address" link above, I enjoyed reading the young Anglicans thoughts on women’s leadership in the church, and a related comment from the 'one' female Bishop Rt Rev Waitohiariki Quayle who "agreed it can be lonely to take up the episcopal role." and "If we are serious about putting women into these leadership roles, we need to put some support around that."

In the last ADU post responses, a person's name was mentioned that I searched online. Inadvertantly I found a 2014 blogpost that really threw me [1]. It was a post about NZ Christianity, despairing in tone. The comments, one after another, agonised over NZ's spiritual state. What shocked me most was that many commenters thought it all went downhill after women became accepted into church leadership positions. Anglicans were mentioned in some detail plus Baptists, Presbyterians, Brethren.

To read these made me feel very uncomfortable (unwelcome, like I'm a potential problem simply by being female). I wonder how much of this attitude still persists? These critical comments actually give me hope NZ churches have been making good progress! But believe me, it's hard to read stuff like this.. this blame being levelled at churches who are making a genuine effort to open up and be more welcoming and inclusive!

"To honour the image of God in each other, we need to practice love that embraces and humility that makes space." ~Dr Jemar Tisby [2]

[1] New Zealand Christianity

[2] Calling for a Modern-Day Reformation, 6 Oct 2022

Father Ron said...

Dear Bowman, as usual, I love your sense of humour. my intention in my last comment was to describe Pope Francis as our 'Brother in Christ' - which, by what I fear might have been a Freudian slip, was rendered 'Bother'. Oh Dear. No bother to me but perhaps for some here.

Regarding your question about SMAA's understanding of All Saints and All Souls. I think most of us (guided by Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 4, verses 13 to 180 where Paul talks about the second coming of Christ, when 'the dead in Christ will be raised first, and then those who are left alive will be caught up with them in the air").

'The dead in Christ', we believe, will include those who have been Baptized into the Death and Resurrection of Christ, who (like me) may still need further growth into Him before becoming fit to enter with Jesus into the Presence of the Father and the Saints who, in their lives, have already attained 'the crown of victory' through their earthy purgation.

This configuration reasonably connects: The Church Expectant (souls in paradise, where Jesus took the Penitent Thief before his own resurrection) with the Saints Triumphant - already rejoicing in the Presence of God in Heaven.

With regard to our prayers for the dead (now encouraged in our Prayer Books); this, we feel, is a loving way of supporting our family members and friends with our prayers for their continued spiritual growth in the Garden of Paradise (All-Souls-tide)


The prayer we use for the Departed is the Catholic Prayer of The Whole Church:
"Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace and rise one day with Christ in Glory' (Quite Scriptural, really!)

Anonymous said...

'Tis true, Liz,

that some have spelt the ordination of women to the episcopate as OWE and others as WOE. And if the former have seen this as scraping off a barnacle that dragged on the hull of *episcope*, the latter have seen it as a gale blowing the roof off the house of God.

Souls have their darknesses; misogyny has sometimes lurked in them. But most opponents have simply been of a temper which reads the Bible not as an unfinished sketch but as a blueprint and punchlist. To them, more punctilious obedience is growth in grace and more confident improvisation is the advice of a talking snake.

The difference is cognitive. Neither attrait can argue the other into having a different brain. So unanimity of mere opinion is not always possible.

We do not need that to have an allegiance to Christ and in him affection for one another. But in controversies, it can be reassuring if humbling to notice how much of our own certitude is the shadow of one God-given temperament among others.


Liz Cowburn said...

Dear Bowman,

Thank you for the gift of a beautifully crafted response, your creative description of the difference is very engaging! ~and also so true to my lived experience of younger years spent in the blueprint/punchlist environment. I also had a chuckle at the first paragraph! It's very helpful, somehow, to visualize the issue in the imaginative way you've portrayed it. I mean that's a whole level of thought and writing that I can't imagine myself being able to do, but the picture you've painted with words offers remarkable clarity.. thanks!

Anonymous said...

So, Father Ron, the difference between All Saints and All Souls is that the former celebrates a relative few who are fully united to the Son and the latter commemorates faithful departed who are less fully united?

Also: what kontakion did you sing? Neither feast is Byzantine, but I suppose it could have been from eg Soul Saturday.


Father Ron said...

Bowman, the Kontakion I referred to is Russian Orthodox, linked here: as sung by Clare College

Anonymous said...

"a whole level"

Yes, Liz, but everyone can do it, and some have done it better than I do. The heuristic leap is to think of ideas as being rearranged within persons through their lifespans.

For salient example, the creed does not change at all but it does more in old age than it did when it was first heard in childhood. This happens as all the other stories of a life are nested in the story that the creed tells.

Arguments such as the one that you found online-- archers behind parapets defending castle walls-- have very limited value to people whose lives are about nesting their thoughts in the creed. Believers think, but not so often in that mode.

Progress is not having more walls defended by better archers. It is seeing more of oneself and the world as so many episodes in the life of the Son and so in his dance with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

As you know, some other churches model justifying assurance as one of those walls. Alas, some who start their lives in them never get past that initial misunderstanding that faith is about defending one's opinions from the siege engines and catapults of other people. At worst, they seek further safety in mounting their own assaults on castles they especially fear.

As a game, this could be interesting. But taken seriously it is as much as to believe that the god of the creed will not defend one's soul through life's trials. Even on its own terms, argument like that is the white flag of surrender.

After a formative acquaintance with the text of the scriptures, the next most useful study may be hagiography. But having few lives of our own saints to read, we make do with other theology.


Anonymous said...


Since you read, Liz, you may want to be familiar with a classic book by Jean Leclercq OSB, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God. It contrasts the experiential way medieval monastics did theology with the impersonal way the schoolmen in Paris etc did it. Benedict XVI is fond of the book, and somewhere has an excellent article extending the argument.


Liz Cowburn said...

Thanks again Bowman.. what you said re "walls" is very true to my experience in the evangelical world. [as an aside, we didn't even say the creed! I don't recall awareness of it until well into my adult years]

What hammered in my mind as I read your words was a recent essay by Jemar Tisby titled "The People Who Don't Have Any Questions" which accurately describes the kind of evangelical environment I knew -- a few sentences from his excellent essay:

"But particular kinds of surety aren't the keys to freedom, they are cages.

"They lock you into narrow ways of thinking and being. They close you off from relationships with people who can introduce you to new perspectives. They shrink your world so small that you can touch the walls without moving your feet, and they make anything beyond that area seem so threatening that you never venture forth.

~by Dr Jemar Tisby, online at:

And I lingered over your paragraph beginning, "Progress is not having more walls defended by better archers... etc" - Yes! I think I understand what you've said there ~thank you

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Liz, for the introduction to Jemar Tisby. We three seem to have common interests.

On that defensiveness we have all noted: it is the anxiety to have interior evidence of particular election to salvation. Let's back up to see this in a wider vista.

If you believe that all are by default lost, then you seek evidence that you are not among them. There are roughly four basic churchly responses to this search.

(a) Praise the Lord! In Christ, the Creator drew created matter into himself, and all are in him by default. No need to search, but do not rebel against life in Christ, and pray diligently for sanctifying grace and signs of your calling in him. Be open to the spiritual life that he has begun in us.

(b) Give up. You cannot know your ultimate status with God in this life. Your best choice is to be diligently obedient whilst praying for mercy.

(c) Praise the Lord! God elected you to salvation by uniting you to Christ in your baptism and communion. Pray that this union will deepen until you yourself are a little christ showing his love to the world.

(d) Be fruitful. The only sure signs of your election are indirect-- the faith, hope, and love the Holy Spirit produces in your soul. Therefore build confidence in your election by observing the purity of your doctrine and conduct.

If one believes (d)-- and most of the Reformed do-- awareness of one's faithless, hopeless, loveless moments can induce anxiety, if not terror, that one is not elect, but lost. At that point, a reasonable theological idea runs aground on the unreason in human nature.

A mind naturally deals with what is unpleasant, not least disturbing self-knowledge, by repressing awareness of it. Repression requires defense, often through exaggerated confidence or verbal pugilism. Which is what we have seen among the deformed Reformed.

Three thoughts.

First, hybrids of ideas like these are often less troublesome than single, pure propositions. The original Reformed were seeking an assurance of salvation that was radically independent of any church. But if you trust God to be truthful and faithful in the sacraments as in (c) then you can claim the consolation of (d) and maybe (a) as well.

Second, to escape a church's authoritarian traps, it helps to see where it has placed so much weight on some one idea that others cannot mean all that they should. So in the way that the antidote to snakebite is made by altering the snake's venom, exposure to very different but still kindred theology-- eg if Reformed, T F Torrance, Karl Barth-- can sometimes neutralize the toxin of traumatic application.

Third, God! God, God, God! God, God, God, God, God!

A tree's roots must be as broad and deep as its branches are widespread and high. Beware any religious contraption where a teeny tiny bit of god-talk supports a vast machinery of whirling gears pulling belts lifting pulleys with counterweights that drive pumps that hydraulically tug cables lifting souls skyward up a crane. Complexity can be ravishingly beautiful and in its way simple, but only when the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are its pulsating heart. Anything else is the next trap.


Liz Cowburn said...

"...only when the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are its pulsating heart." Belatedly found your 07 Nov response Bowman! ~ which I've read carefully and with interest. Many thanks!