Post-General Synod Reflections

Lucky is back in his usual habitat, enjoying the cubs, and answering lots of questions from other bears about General Synod.

Here are a few post-Synod reflections on the whole experience:

The venue, while opulent, had its limitations. We stayed on floor 20, ate on floor 17 and met in conference on floor 16. At one stage I didn’t walk outside the building for two days. The conference room was also just barely big enough. If environment affects not only the way business is conducted but also its contents, the Church was cooped up and cut off.

There was nothing spoken or decided that will make the front page of any international religious newspaper or magazine. Rather there was a lot a confirmation of previous decisions and directions.

In particular the Synod confirmed its ‘three-as-one’ Primatial arrangements. While the threesome reflects the power sharing between tikanga that is important to model, there are concerns that internationally it will decrease our power [having a different person to represent us every third meeting] and it will lead to a less than forthright critique of our Church and society [as evidenced in this years Primatial charge to the Synod].

The episcopal structure of the Diocese of Waikato was confirmed. This is two bishoprics [regions] joined by a common administrative arrangement. Each of the two bishops is Bishop of Waikato. We have our first co-bishop arrangement. Maybe a world first?

Regarding episcopal structures, the General Synod also passed legislation allowing for the appointment of a coadjutor bishop. This is where a bishop announces his/her intention to resign, the diocese elects a successor who is second-in-charge until the resignation, and then the coadjutor automatically becomes the diocesan bishop. The implication of this legislation is that if Auckland Synod wishes we could have an election for a coadjutor before the end of this year.

Regarding issues of the international Anglican Communion and homosexuality, the General Synod largely expressed its previous directions. It affirmed that there is a diversity of opinion within our Church, that we need to keep talking, that we don’t think there are reasons we should walk away from the Communion, and that most of us don’t think a Covenant is necessary. In the ‘most of us’ category, it was particularly powerful to hear a strong unanimity of pro-gay opinion from the Maori Church. Polynesia’s opinion was more mixed. In the Pakeha dioceses Waiapu and Dunedin were clearly pro-gay, Auckland, Christchurch, and Waikato mixed, and Nelson and the current Wellington leadership against.


Lucky 'fesses up

I wish to thank the Liturgical Commission for their work in continuing to slowly mark in legislation the variations to the Great Thanksgiving that the whole Church can currently accept.

I am among those who write liturgy that is quite different from what the whole Church can accept. Indeed speaking in this forum of this subject is somewhat akin to a 21st century novelist sharing their work with the Shakespearean Society, when the Shakespearean Society has the power to censor.

Thank you too to tikanga Maori. The principle of the intent of the inherited words is helpful to some in my tikanga too. It encourages local variation. One of the great examples is the Te Reo Maori translation in the New Zealand Prayer Book of “We are all in Christ” – “Ko te Karaiti te pou herenga waka”. Te Reo pictures Christ as a mooring post and we in wakas.

“Intent” is very helpful in our passion to be a mission-focused Church. Our liturgies are one of our faces to a world that knows little of Christ. Too often the language of the past makes liturgy unintelligible to newcomers, and I might add many regulars. So parishes like ours, in order to preach Jesus, take license with liturgy. We prioritize mission ahead of liturgical compliance with tradition.

I hope and pray that the words we say with our lips and believe in our hearts will have the ability to communicate our truth to those who have never heard it.

Lucky moves a bill

“Mr President,

This bill seeks to regularize and affirm what is commonplace in many parishes. While it is usual for marriage services to be conducted in church buildings or customary places of worship, there arise from time to time good pastoral and missional reasons for the service to be held elsewhere.

On the one hand, for example, I have taken a service in a home where the grandmother was dying. On the other hand I have taken a service in the grounds of Larnach Castle. The latter venue, like a number of wedding venues in Auckland, was chosen not just for its beauty and ease of having the reception 10 metres away. Indeed it is not as simple as assuming that the couple want somewhere ‘pretty’ compared with the local parish church which mightn’t meet such expectations.

Larnach Castle was chosen because, like for many couples or one half of the couple, they had some disquiet about having a wedding ceremony in a church. Many people believe they can only have a ‘church wedding’ if they hold to the beliefs and doctrines of that church. Despite attempts by clergy like me to assure them otherwise they often feel hypocritical coming into a church for this one time in their lives. It is often a big enough step to have a cleric involved in their wedding ceremony.

This is what I mean by missional reasons. Weddings outside church buildings are opportunities for clergy and other licensed ministers to share by their presence and language something of the truth and inclusiveness of God’s love and grace. It is in a sense the church going out to people. I think there is something deeply moving about representatives of the church being invited to participate in witnessing the expression of committed love between two people and naming it as a window into God.

Marriage is the only sacrament for which a venue is legislated. The Eucharist can be celebrated anywhere. Baptisms are sometimes done in other places, notably hospitals. Ordinations have been done in other places, for example nga marae. Holy Unction is nearly always done outside a church building. Confessions are be heard anywhere. Although not a sacrament, funerals frequently take place in other settings. Of course God too is not confined to ecclesiastical buildings, although some have tried.

There is an increasing trend in our society for marriages to take place in venues that aren’t exclusively religious. Our present Anglican rules discourage this. Some clergy ask their bishop for permission although strangely it doesn’t seem to be required.

There are often practical drawbacks with other venues. The sound quality is usually wanting. The acoustics for music are usually dreadful. After one bad experience I stipulate that there will be no wedding service if alcohol is served immediately prior.

However there is one huge advantage in an outside wedding. The couple, whether acknowledged or not, have identified a place that they think is sacred, just as their love is sacred. That provides the priest with the opportunity to talk about sacred things, about God, and about how spirituality can be nurtured.

St Matthew-in-the-City is an iconic neo-Gothic building to which some 70 couples come for marriage or blessings every year. Many of those couples seek us out via the internet and make their decision based on our theology rather than just our architecture. Still, there are many couples for whom crossing the threshold of a church building is too much, and yet they still want a priest involved.

I would ask this Synod to consider favourably this amendment proposed by the Diocese of Auckland and standing in my name.”


Lucky does process

It’s hard to keep a bouncy bear down. Yep, you guess, he popped up again this morning at General Synod/te Hinota.

“Mr President, please pray tell, what plans are in place to engage critically with the six politicians visiting us this evening?”

Yes, that was the programme. In this election year the Synod wanted to engage with our parliamentary parties regarding poverty, health, education, and housing.

Three hours later the bear got an answer. We were to listen to each politician for 20 minutes, leaving a grand total of 10 minutes at the end for questions.

Lucky pulled at his ears trying to clean out a twig or two. Did they really say “10 minutes??”

Well, sometimes a bear has to do what a bear has to do.

“Mr President, I move the suspension of Standing Order 10 [F] to discuss over the next two hours what we think the issues facing the nation are, collect our thoughts, and present those thoughts to our guests prior to listening to the upcoming political prattle.”

Lucky got lots of backslaps and was suddenly popular.

And so it happened. This preparation should of course have taken place months ago. The result tonight however was better than nothing. And, so he was told, the bear saved the company face. It’s nice to be appreciated sometimes.

One thing Lucky Bear can always spot is a great royal cock-up.

Lucky takes a stand

“Members of General Synod/te Hinota,

There is a question of justice.

Mindful of our Bible Study this morning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan and where our location might be in the story, I speak as one responsible for an inn - an inn where the beaten, the Samaritans, and even wayward priests, Levites, and the odd lawyer come to enjoy a pint or dram, and receive some comfort or challenge.

Our inn, St Matthew-in-the-City Auckland has for a long time now been both the home and a symbol of hope to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities, and we have been privileged and at times daunted by the responsibility to speak out.

We have a deep anger and profound disappointment in the way the International Anglican Church has treated Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire for the so-called sin of being true to who he is and daring to love another man. That anger is compounded by the silence of so many church leaders both at home and aboard in publicly declaring unequivocal support for the justice struggle for the gays, lesbians, and their families.

We do acknowledge and give thanks for the bishops, priests, and laity some of whom are in this room who have stood beside, ordained and blessed gays and lesbians in relationships. Thank you for your courage and solidarity. May justice one day come, even in the Church.

Our Anglican Church has heard from those with opposing views to St Matthew’s and who are hurt, angry and wish to walk away. And of course those views hurt us at St Matthew’s, as no doubt ours do to them.

There are some among us who also wish to walk away and join those who already have.

However most of us at the inn, after another round, are sticking with the Church, for better or for worse, as our gay and lesbian ancestors and saints have done throughout the ages.

This is not just an issue of church polity or unity but an issue where marginalized communities on the periphery of church life are waiting to hear whether justice is being compromised by how we Christians read the Bible.”

Lucky supports the Diocese of Waikato

They’re a little different in Waikato. It’s a rural diocese with far too many theological conservatives. It’s got two distinct regions and two nice bishops – one the boss and the other the second-in-charge (2IC).

Well they want to model Episcopal partnership. The boss and the 2IC want to share the job. They don’t however want to split the diocese into two and replicate all those lovely boring and expensive diocesan structures. Instead they want a catamaran: two hulls [one in each region] with a minimal and shared structure linking them.

Their motivation is mission. They want to have their bishops close to the people, enabling mission, rather than stagnating in committees and buried in canons. It sounds good to Lucky.

It didn’t sound good to Christchurch. They do conservatives of the bigoted variety down there. Their bright idea was that anything innovative like this should in the light of international Anglican unrest be sent out to the wider Communion for consultation. The norm they said was ‘One bishop, one diocese’. This was a ‘treasure’ and not to be tampered with.

Lucky was having a quiet vomit under his seat after hearing this. But he composed himself, girded his loins with a little something, and once again addressed the microphone:

“What comes first: mission or the structures to support mission [like episcopacy]? Structure has for too long taken priority over and curtailed our mission. The reason that structure was so fluid in the New Testament was because mission was so strong. The church is forever muddling up the cart and the horse. It is mission that leads structure, not the other way round.”

The Waikato table gave Lucky an appreciative grin, and later at the bar paid for Lucky’s fluid requirements.


Lucky goes into committee

It’s hard work being a bear. I had to sit still nearly all day and listen to the boring deliberations of church leaders concerned for good order. Good order needs to happen of course. All that good order is preferable to bad order, or unjust order, or ‘oops-we-forgot-about-that’ order. It’s just that I’m a bear who likes to play, and laugh, and create… Oh well, maybe I can crash a party tonight or something.

We sat around circular tables in diocesan groups and have our diocesan opinions canvassed. The lawyers talked too much – their concern with words seems to override any awareness of the somatic effects of their tones. I think there was one or two laughs, although I can’t remember any jokes.

Mind you some of the language in the papers was laughable. How about this one: ‘the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd’. When the Church resurrects a Greek word from the first few centuries CE you know you are in trouble. ‘Catechesis’ is a dumb way of saying ‘a learner’s guide’. This particular guide for the about-to-be-educated was called the Good Shepherd. Again relevancy to contemporary culture has never been the Church’s strong point. There are no shepherds or sheep in downtown Auckland and we’d like to keep it that way. For the biblically minded Jesus was a carpenter not a shepherd. Yes, he once used the language in a parable, a made up story, to illustrate his point. In downtown Auckland we don’t need carpenters either – they tend to be in the ‘burbs. Made up stories, like mayoral speeches or newspaper editorials, though are part of our life.

As a bear I dream of the day when the Church will make up some new stories about Jesus and us. He could be the ‘good bear’ who tells the hungry cubs and their parents where the honey is. Or he could be the ‘good hunter’ who only shoots us with a camera. As a downtown bear JC could be the good barista who knows what we want before we enter the shop. Or the good parking warden [if that’s not an oxymoron] who only puts tickets on the cars of rich people.

Another language thing today in the General Synod was the promotion by Wellington Diocese, and most of the UK Anglican apparatus, of ‘Back to Church Sunday’. Lucky immediately thought of all the ways that church is backwards including its marketing department. The promotion of course assumes that once upon a time you went to church. Most of my friends at the café and on the street haven’t. Then again do you really want some of those who left church to come back? You know the bossy bank manager who was trying to create a new fiefdom? Or the organist who couldn’t play for peanuts but thought she could?

I think I will need to download some more stamina before tomorrow,


The soul's search for contentment

the track was hard on the heart
but good on the soul
altitude limited oxygen
silence and splendour were inhaled

the soul can be enlarged
or retracted
it can be be stretched
or shrivelled

beauty does it well
so does love
the best however is
giving without gain

fists and words can wound
so can hate
the worst however is
binding with no release

the soul can soar when
uplifted by generosity
but until it loosens bindings
it will not know contentment.