The Council of Assembly met for regular business from 26-27 May 2017 at the Home of Compassion, Island Bay, Wellington.
During its meeting, the Council received a letter from the Very Rev Andrew Norton advising his resignation as Moderator-designate of our General Assembly. As we are aware, Andrew was diagnosed with cancer in March this year and has been undergoing treatment. He is expected to make a full recovery and return to ministry later this year.
Andrew stated his resignation has been a very difficult decision. It has long been his privilege and joy to serve the Church, a Church he acknowledges as having at times not been united.
Andrew stated his health journey has understandably caused him to reconsider his priorities, how he exercises his ministry, and to make significant changes to his lifestyle. He is now looking forward to the new opportunities that this decision will open to him and his family.
The Council received Andrew’s resignation with the deepest regret. Council stated that the whole Church was grateful to Andrew for the significant contribution he has made, particularly during his time as Moderator, and for his continued leadership. Council prayed for Andrew, his family, friends and for the parish of St Columba.
The AES has asked the Book of Order Advisory committee to advise the best way forward.
Resource Sub-Committee (RSC)*
Convener Mrs Anne Edgar presented the report of the Resource Sub-committee. This mainly centred around the 2017-18 draft budget – and Council welcomed Brendan Sweeney, financial services manager, who joined the meeting for this presentation. He outlined the process for the budget setting and explained figures in detail. He noted the financial constraints that the whole Church is working under. He also noted areas of increased costs and decreases in income across the life of the Church. A significant and unexpected, in terms of quantum, decrease in funding from the Synod of Otago and Southland was reported as having a major effect on the budget. Wide ranging discussions followed as Council grappled together with the budget constraints and the need to meet priorities.
Brendan assisted the Council by answering many questions and Council agreed it needed to work on strategic direction and policies to assist more informed strategic thinking – especially in relation to ensuring the budget reflected the Council’s priorities.
Council agreed to a number of recommendations including:
- Assembly Assessment only increase by 1.6 percent this year – the same level as the increase to the ministers’ stipend.
- Knox Centre to draw on reserves to cover the shortfall of funding for the 2017-18 year only.
- Establish a workgroup to assist the KCML principal in developing the Centre’s strategic vision with particular reference to financial modelling.
In addition it was reported over 80 percent of congregations have complied with Charities Act registration and filing of reports. While the responsibility for this lay with congregations, there remains a reputational risk for the Church. Presbyteries will be asked to urgently follow up on non-complying congregations.
* Please note that the Resource Sub-Committee section of this report was amended on 22 June 2017 to better reflect the Council of Assembly minutes of the Committee's report.
Board of Knox and Salmond Colleges
Mr David Richardson, chair of the board of Knox & Salmond Colleges, was welcomed to the meeting. He briefly outlined the background to the restructuring of the governance of the colleges, the appointment of the Knox College Commission and through to the establishment of the new board by the Council of Assembly and his appointment as Chair.
Mr Richardson reported on the current environment at Knox and Salmond Colleges, which he considered to be very positive. He noted that both colleges are fully occupied, and have effective and stable leadership.
Mr Richardson responded to questions from Council members. Gratitude was expressed by the Council for the high quality of work achieved by the Knox board, the heads of the colleges and wider staff.
Presbyterian Support Otago CEO Gillian Bremner and Presbyterian Support Northern field worker Anne Overton were welcomed to the meeting. They gave a presentation on PresCare, which is a joint venture between Presbyterian Support and the Presbyterian Church. It was noted that, from the beginning, the two bodies had a common heritage, a common faith, and a shared heart for people. They outlined some of the wide range of community programmes that Presbyterian Support, in conjunction with local congregations, was undertaking under the PresCare banner. The Rev Diane Gilliam-Weeks, the Church’s representative on the NZ Council of Christian Social Services, was also welcomed to the meeting. She spoke about the key priorities and projects for the Council of Christian Social Services, and how these aligned with the work of PresCare.
Church Property Trustees Chair Roger Gyles and the Trustees’ Investment Committee Chair Ian Russon were welcomed to the meeting. Mr Russon reported on the administration of the Presbyterian Investment Fund (PIF), and advised that the trustees had set up a work group to explore whether the PIF might be restructured into long term and short-term funds.
They then moved to explain progress on winding up the Beneficiary Fund, which was being undertaken with professional external advice. They reported that a new fund manager had been selected for the proposed KiwiSaver-type fund that the Trustees planned to offer. They noted that a responsible investment policy would be followed.
It was noted that the Trustees had obtained very significant legal and actuarial advice at every step of the procedures they were working through.
Progress had been hampered by a recent, and unexpected, decision of the Financial Markets Authority that the Trustees had to redraft the Trust Deed. To retain the tax-free status of the fund, the only contributions that can be made must be stipend-based, and additional voluntary payments cannot be accepted.
Mr Gyles and Mr Russon advised that the Trustees had agreed to act as the administrators for the Presbyterian Benevolent Fund (this is the fund that will be established with the surplus that remains after all wind-up entitlements have been paid to members).
Trust Deeds for both the Beneficiary Fund and the Benevolent Fund should be completed shortly and once agreed can be signed off.
Leadership Sub-Committee (LSC)
Convenor Dr Deborah Bower presented the report of the Sub-committee. Council affirmed the work of the Knox Centre. Funding Knox’ work was noted as a priority and Council will work with other groups to see it is adequately funded. Council also endorsed the Local Ministry Handbook.
Assembly Executive Secretary
The AES, Rev Wayne Matheson, reported on a number of functional updates. He highlighted a number of areas of risk facing the Church. Council adopted the 2017 edition of the COA Handbook.
Mr Matheson thanked the Council for appointing the Rev Sharon Ross-Ensor as Acting AES for the period of his leave in June and July. In addition, Council appointed Ms Heather McKenzie as Deputy Clerk of Assembly, with responsibility for the administration of matters such as Judicial Commissions during June and July 2017.
Among other matters, the convener Jenny Flett advised that she had completed the AES review. She acknowledged the work of Rev Matheson, and noted the widespread respect and trust he has from his staff. The Council then moved to honour and affirm the hard work of the Assembly Executive Secretary, and offers its continuing prayers and support.
Book of Order Advisory Committee
The Book of Order advisory committee advised that it was of the view that the Code of Ethics, which had been adopted more than 20 years ago, was no longer fit for purpose. It was considered this posed a risk for the Church.
It was agreed that the Council of Assembly:
- appoint a work group to develop an appropriate Code of Ethics,
- that the work group be given powers to consult and co-opt
- that the work group report back to the Council’s October meeting.
Members are to be appointed as soon as possible.
The Book of Order Advisory Committee alerted the Council to the legal inadequacy of the Church’s present child protection policies and processes. The present policies were considered to be clear and comprehensive, but their adoption by congregations was not mandatory, and the committee considered that these need to have national legislative status.
It was agreed:
- that the Council of Assembly appoints a work group, with members with related specialist expertise, to develop a comprehensive child protection policy to be binding on every part of the Church;
- that the work group consult with people in the wider church working area, including other denominations and the NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church in Australia.
The committee also advised that the existing Book of Order regulations for an Emergency Assembly were unworkable, given that the number of presbyteries has greatly reduced. The committee planned to bring amendments to the next Assembly. In the meantime, if there was the need to call an Emergency Assembly, the committee would be able to suggest an appropriate process.
Emergency preparedness response protocols and procedures
Council was yet to receive a proposal to consider. Council noted the article in the Winter Spanz where, as part of an interview with the Rev Dr Colin Marshall, stated the Council of Assembly had signed off on emergency preparedness response protocols and procedures. This statement was noted as being factually inaccurate. There was a general discussion about emergency preparedness and compliance within the Church nationally. Any draft policies will need to be reviewed for best practice by those with expertise in this area. It was noted that we need to have an accurate understanding of government work in this area also.
The Moderator reported on the events and places he has been and also offered insights into the life of the Church.
Council received a report from the PressGo Board detailing its work since Council last met.
The Insurance Workgroup reported to Council noting how both natural disasters and the number of claims the Church has had in our recent history will result in increased premiums in the year ahead. The group has high confidence in our brokers Crombie Lockwood to provide not only competitive premiums but also a high quality of staff to deal effectively and efficiently with any claims.
Council also received reports from presbyteries highlighting areas of their life - outlining positive developments and issues of concern and also a copy of each Presbytery Risk Management Register.
Council also received reports from the Synod of Otago and Southland and the InterChurch Bioethics Council.
Council has a priority agenda item for its next meeting, which is to work on our strategic direction and plan.
Mrs Jenny Flett, Convenor Council of Assembly
Rev Richard McLean, Deputy Convenor Council of Assembly