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Working group re-examines ‘a way forward’ for same-sex marriage

13 May 2016


Concern: The Bishop of Te Tai Tokerau, the Rt Revd Kito Pikaahu, asked for "assurance that a way forward will actually happen? Because in this case, I believe unity has trumped justice.”

Concern: The Bishop of Te Tai Tokerau, the Rt Revd Kito Pikaahu, asked for "assurance that a way forward will actually happen? Because in this case, I...

A FINAL decision on whether the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia will introduce blessings for same-sex weddings has been postponed a further two years.

In February, draft proposals — A Way Forward — were published that would allow each diocese in the province to opt into offering a blessing in church for couples who had entered into a civil same-sex marriage (News, 26 February). The plans were called for during the last General Synod meeting of the Church in 2014.

The biennial Synod meeting which began last week and concluded on Friday was domionated by discussion of A Way Forward, which has been the subject of fierce debate within the Church since it was published.

During the Synod debates, it became clear that, while the Maori and Polynesian parts, or tikanga, of the Church could accept the proposals, the seven dioceses that make up the New Zealand branch have asked for amendments.

One of the three provincial archbishops, the Bishop of Taranaki, the Most Revd Philip Richardson, apologised to LGBT people within his dioceses, the Church’s website, Anglican Taonga, reported.

“We are all aware of the pain our inability to move will cause to you. But it is our hope that we can get to a profoundly better place than we are at now.”

Two diocesan synods, Christchurch and Nelson, have proposed motions that urge the Church to hold back from endorsing any change until it has undertaken a significant period of theological reflection and consultation.

The Synod agreed that a new working group, made up of two representatives from the Maori, Polynesian, and New Zealand tikanga of the Church, would now re-examine A Way Forward and attempt to find a new motion which could pass the Synod. On Tuesday, Synod members were told to go away and consider the matter overnight before returning to discuss the amended motion.

However, ultimately the Synod voted to push a final decision back to the next Synod in 2018 “with a firm expectation that a decision to move forward will be made” then. 

A working group will also be set up by the Primates of the Church to examine possible structural changes to "safeguard" both theological convictions on the question of same-sex marriage.

Earlier, the report had been introduced to the Synod by the chairman of the original working group, Bruce Gray, who said that it was a compromise, which meant that neither side could say “the other side was wrong.”

Although most of the initial working group had felt that clergy had sufficient legal backing if they chose not to support blessings for same-sex couples, one member, Graham Miller from the diocese of Auckland, disagreed and had introduced a motion to the Synod requesting better protection for dissenting priests.

Civil same-sex marriage was legalised in New Zealand in 2013 but remains prohibited in Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and the Cook Islands — the other countries in which the Church has a presence. Besides the suggested liturgy for a service to bless same-sex marriages, an almost identical service is proposed to bless heterosexual civil marriages.

For A Way Forward to become a reality, two-thirds of each House in the Synod would need to vote for it, as well as a majority of diocesan synods.

Also agreed at the Synod so far was a commitment seeking equal gender representation on decision-making bodies, and to producing new safeguarding guidelines.

The Synod is taking place in the city of Napier, on the North Island of New Zealand. On the first day of the Synod, it emerged that the Dean of Napier Cathedral, the Very Revd Michael Godfrey, had been suspended after his bishop, the Rt Revd Andrew Hedge, learned of a brief affair that had occurred more than 25 years ago.

Dean Godfrey has admitted that he had a ten-day liaison with an 18-year-old woman in Australia in 1991, but said that both his wife and the Church had known about the affair for years.

“It happened in my history. I made a mistake: I’ve never denied that to anybody,” he said. “What I have been is always upfront about my feet of clay. I have a different opinion as to how a community of grace should work, but it is he [Bishop Hedge], not I, who has that call.”

But a spokesman for Bishop Hedge insisted that he had not been aware of the affair when he appointed Dean Godfrey in 2013. The length of time for which Dean Godfrey cannot perform priestly duties had not yet been decided.

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