The Council of Assembly met on 15-16 March at the Mary McKillop Centre in Auckland.
Like the rest of the country, as the events unfolded and were reported from Christchurch, Council paused to pray a number of times on the Friday afternoon. Our devotions on Saturday morning reflected the same – having prayed for those who had lost their lives, their families and for our country, we concluded with the singing of the national anthem. It was a powerful moment.
Report from Te Aka Puaho
Council heard from Marina Rakuraku, moderator of Te Aka Puaho, who reported the increased use of the Ohope marae by church schools. She considered participation in the dawn church service at the Waitangi celebrations to be a highlight.
There were two major items on Council's agenda: the consolidation of all Presbyterian controlled entities, including parishes, into the Presbyterian Church’s financial accounts and the Council’s pre-change proposal relating to Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and the Research Centre (read more on both below).
Consolidation of financial accounts
Independent advice obtained from Deloittes confirmed that in order to comply with the new financial reporting standards, the Church needs to move to consolidating all Presbyterian controlled entities, including parishes, into its financial accounts.
Council was joined electronically at the meeting by our finance manager, Sandra Kennerley and our audit partner from Ernest and Young, Stuart Mutch. Stuart outlined the changes and answered Council’s questions around our charitable status, and the process and timeframe for consolidation. While there was widespread discussion, Council agreed that consolidation is essential for us to retain our charitable status.
Council approved the recommendations that proposed a phased adoption for the wider Presbyterian Church in terms of financial consolidation and this included the appointment, on contract, of a consolidation contractor and accounting assistance. Communication with presbyteries and parishes will follow.
Council also believed and voted to ask the Audit and Risk Committee to investigate how the scope and compliance of consolidation – including cost – could be reduced. They will report to Council in June.
Resource Sub-committee report
The Resource Sub-committee reported to Council that with the changes outlined as part of the requirement to consolidate audited accounts, advice will be required from the Book of Order Advisory Committee relating to the presentation of accounts at General Assembly.
They also reported against the Church’s interim Statement of Investment and Policy Objectives.
The Committee noted the outstanding matter of the 2018 audit of the Beneficiary Fund and the responsibility for this. Further conversations will take place and be reported to the Council in due course.
Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership proposal for change
The other major item on the agenda was the Council’s pre-change proposal relating to the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and the Research Centre. Having considered the opinion of the Book of Order Advisory Committee, the Council moved to withdraw the proposal and replace this with a Task group to undertake a review of theological education and leadership training within the Presbyterian Church.
The context and purpose of this would be to establish the key values and polity of theological education and leadership training in the whole Presbyterian Church in order to inform future directions in this regard.
This will include reviewing the place of both the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and the Presbyterian Research Centre and developing proposals for both that will meet current and envisaged future needs of the Presbyterian Church.
Proposals are to recognise and be responsive to the changing shape of both the Church and society; ensure there is ability to be nimble and responsive to this changing environment; and represent fiscal responsibility in the light of the financial demands across the whole Church.
The Task Group will present its report (and any recommendations) to the General Assembly in 2020. The full terms of reference, together with the members of the Task Group, will be announced shortly.
Leadership Sub-committee report
The Leadership Sub-committee reported and convenor Dr Deborah Bower elaborated on perceptions of the difference in ordination status of national and local ordained ministers. She reported that Alpine and Northern Presbyteries were trialling new ways of undertaking Ministry Development Reviews. Planning was underway to separate reviews from the Certificate of Good Standing, which may become a practising certificate.
She noted a policy on plagiarism in sermons had been drafted by Rev Dr Geoff New and will be shared with the whole church in due course.
Council agreed to the recommendation that Council adopt a standard archiving policy and security system for all documentation across Council of Assembly, Resource Sub-committee and Leadership Sub-committee. This could be widened to include other groups and committees in the future.
Assembly Executive Secretary report
The Assembly Executive Secretary reported on a recent meeting with presbytery clerks/executive officers. The agenda was the items that each person took to the meeting and it was noted many, if not all presbyteries, face the same challenges. The willingness to share resources and learnings was encouraging.
He also noted that having agreed on the terms of reference and the personnel, the two task groups resulting from decisions at Assembly were now at work. Both the Sharing Resources Framework and Code of Ethics groups will report in June.
Te Reo Commissioner update
Following a further decision by Assembly, Council received a report on an initial conversation with Te Aka Puaho concerning the appointment of a Te Reo Commissioner. It was noted there are already a number of resources available in Te Reo Maori to assist in terms of liturgy. These included those within the wider Presbyterian Church family – such as those noted by the Assembly Executive Secretary when communicating decisions of Assembly in November 2018.
The resources developed via the Presbyterian Church Schools office were mentioned as one of the most recent additions. In addition, an important resource was noted that is too often overlooked: Amorangi ministers. The moderator of Te Aka Puaho suggested there was an opportunity for the Church to rediscover the gift of Amorangi, and learn from them. Amorangi could be contacted to assist congregations, ministers, presbyteries and others with liturgy resources. Amorangi can be accessed through the Te Aka Puaho office.
We were challenged to dare to imagine something more than just a single person as a place to start. It was suggested that each presbytery be given the opportunity to take responsibility for the advance of this in their area by sending two people to Te Maungarongo Ohope Marae. They would spend three or four days there learning language, culture and custom (which is all part of Te Reo Maori) and take that back to their presbytery to share and start to train others.
Those who visit Te Maungarongo describe the experience as special, life changing and life giving. That needs to be part of this opportunity. Presbytery would be free to determine who they should send – but would include at least one person who has not visited a marae. Te Aka Puaho offered to host such an event and to provide people who would lead this. From this gathering, future ways to continue this work and advance it further would be developed.
Council endorsed this direction, and further noted that if there was not a strong uptake and/or if co-ordination and collaboration among regional and local people was not providing the support either desired or required, they would return to the single person suggestion.
General Assembly 2020
Council accepted the offer from Presbytery Central to host General Assembly at Lindisfarne College in October 2020.
Book of Order Advisory Committee report
A detailed report was received from the Book of Order Advisory Committee. Council endorsed the updated terms of reference for the Committee:
- To undertake, at intervals, revisions of the Book of Order and the publishing of new editions.
- To prepare such legislation as the Assembly may request.
- To assist committees, groups, and individuals in the preparation of legislation to be submitted to the Assembly.
- To examine and report to the Assembly, if so directed, on legislative proposals.
- To submit ‘tidy-up’ proposals when new legislation is found to affect other regulations in the Book of Order.
- To advise church bodies and decision makers in the exercise of their judicial functions.
- To answer matters of practice and procedure pertaining to the Book of Order and the polity and processes of the Church.
Council also approved supplementary provisions as either amendments to, or replacements of, existing supplementary provisions. In 2018, General Assembly determined a new process for the way in which nomination and election of the Moderator would take place. One supplementary provision outlines how this will take place. The second relates to the supplementary provisions of the Conditions of Service Manual concerning accommodation during parental leave. While there is ongoing work being undertaken, a simple clarification has been made stating that the minister’s housing entitlements, as per the Terms of Call, are unaffected by parental leave.
Synod of Otago and Southland
Council also received an invitation from the Synod of Otago and Southland to reinforce the relationship between the Synod and the Council of Assembly. The Synod suggested a joint group meet to consider the historical partnership and propose a memorandum of understanding for the future, which Council agreed to.
Environmental impact of meetings to be considered
Council noted the decisions of Assembly 2018, and in terms of caring for creation will be both encouraging and investigating how all committees and work groups of the church can use electronic means/meetings to reduce our environmental impact.
|Rev Richard McLean
|Mrs Anne Edgar