Council of Assembly met in Auckland on 15-16 June. This followed the day-long meeting with presbytery moderators and clerks in Auckland on 14 June.
The Council of Assembly meeting had three major areas of focus.
2019 budget presented and approved
The first related to the presentation of the 2018-19 budget. At the invitation of the Resource Sub-committee, Finance Manager Sandra Kennerley presented the budget. She reported on year-to-date income and expenditure and drew attention to the increase of expenditure in the legal and discipline areas as a result of a rise in both disciplinary and judicial commissions and associated work.
Sandra outlined the detailed process for the setting the budget that was put in place this year, and reported on both the overall budget and the details.
Council approved the budget, which includes a 2.5% increase in Assembly Assessment.
Audit Committee terms to be expanded to include risk
The Resource Sub-committee convener reported on their wider work. Council also noted the need to expand the terms of the Audit Committee to include both audit and risk. Convenor Anne Edgar, in consultation with others, will work on a draft new structure for an Audit and Risk Committee, which will be considered at the next Council meeting in August.
More work needed on possible consolidation of Church financial accounts
The implications of a possible legal requirement to consolidate financial statements across all Presbyterian Church entities was considered. The Church currently has an exemption from Charities Services for the current year. The Church holds differing opinions on the need to consolidate, with our auditor being of the opinion that consolidation is required. A separate legal opinion held by the Church holds the opposite view. Further work has been commissioned to enable a conclusion on this matter to be reached, being aware of the implications at both regional and national levels.
Council also noted ongoing conversations with Presbyterian Development Society and Christian Savings over possible investment and shareholding. It was agreed that a meeting be held between Council of Assembly representatives and Christian Savings to clarify the status of Presbyterian churches within Christian Savings and seek a way forward in relation to Presbyterian investment in the entity. A further update will be provided at the August meeting.
Review of national church operations
The second key area of focus was to hear the report on the review of national church operations from the Strategy Review Group led by Rev Hamish Galloway and Dr Deborah Bower.
Council supported a number of recommendations that will address issues of work load, line management, strategic alignment and team cohesion in the national service team.
In addition, Council will work with presbyteries and the Assembly Executive Secretary to set up an annual meeting time for concurrent meetings of Council of Assembly, presbytery moderators/executive officers and the national service team. This will provide time for connection between the three groups and increase communication, understanding and cohesion.
Council will also work with presbytery moderators and executive officers to develop consistency of organisation and practice, better resourcing and good processes for the national church to work with presbyteries in empowering parishes in mission.
The Review Group will begin the second phase of its work to produce a change proposal and engage in a further consultation round with all staff.
Reports from task and work groups
The third area of focus at this meeting relates to reports from various task groups and work groups either reporting to Council or to General Assembly.
The following work group reports were received and will be reported to General Assembly:
• Moderator’s Review Work Group
• Social Voice Work Group.
Social Voice Work Group recommendations were agreed
In addition, the Social Voice Work Group made several recommendations to Council that were agreed:
- That Council of Assembly strongly encourage individuals and congregations interested in raising the profile of their social voice to regularly consult the available resources as detailed in Appendix A of the Work Group’s report.
- That the Communications team, in consultation with the Assembly Executive Secretary and the Council of Assembly, develop a suitable strategy for raising the profile of available social issues resources throughout the Presbyterian Church.
- That the Council of Assembly call for individuals amongst congregations currently engaged in addressing social issues to form networks and to share ideas between one another and the wider Church.
- That the Council of Assembly request the Communications team assist and make available suggestions and resources to build a network of networks using any and all forms of technology and social media to create and promote a collective understanding of what is being done and what can be done around the country.
- That the Council of Assembly encourage presbyteries to establish cluster groups that encourage and share resources and stories of work that is being done to address social issues.
- That the Communications team, in consultation with the Assembly Executive Secretary and the Council of Assembly, develop a suitable set of guidelines and parameters outlining the roles and responsibilities that various Presbyterian individuals and groups should follow when making statements concerning social issues.
- That Council of Assembly ask the Moderator’s Role Work Group to consider the issue of expanding the ability of the Moderator to speak on behalf of the Church.
- That the Assembly Executive Secretary arrange for the compilation of a reference list of past decisions made by the General Assembly which relate to social issues.
- That the Assembly Executive Secretary compile a list of knowledgeable and competent people in the area of social issues who the Moderator can refer to and/or consult when needed.
The Pacific Islands Synod Work Group advised that their report will be finalised shortly and will have a number of recommendations for Assembly to consider.
Ethics and child safety suggested as possible topics for Assembly dialogue groups
It was agreed to forward to the Assembly Business Work Group the Book of Order Advisory Committee’s suggestion that the Code of Ethics and the Child Safety Policy be considered as topics for Dialogue Groups, on the understanding that the actual wording of the policies were not for debate, but to enable commissioners to discuss the implications for their congregations.
Council and Church Property Trustees to meet
Regarding property and finance, the Council agreed that the Council write to the Church Property Trustees, to reaffirm their acceptance of the Trustees’ invitation to review a more missional way of managing CPT funds, and requesting a meeting date.
Council itself will work on finalising its own report and recommendations to Assembly.
In relation to Assembly 2018, Moderator-elect the Rev Fakaofo Kaio reported on his preparation for the 2018 Assembly. He indicated that he had met with key people, and that the planning for this Assembly appeared to be on schedule.
Related to the Assembly, Council confirmed that three of its members – Convener Jenny Flett; Resource Sub-committee convener Anne Edgar and Rev Tokerau Joseph would be stepping down. The dedication and commitment each had made to their time on Council was acknowledged. More will be said on this at Assembly.
Council also received a number of other reports and noted the Moderator’s Report in which the Rt Rev Richard Dawson commented on pastoral visits he had made and his concern about the isolation felt by these ministers.
Leadership Sub-committee Report
Dr Deborah Bower expanded on her written report as convener of the Leadership Sub-committee. Council endorsed the appointment of the Rev Dr Murray Rae to the board of Knox and Salmond Colleges. Attention was drawn to the research report of Dr Rosemary Dewerse and its importance highlighted.
The PressGo report was received and Council confirmed that the Rev Martin Stewart and Ms Anne Overton be appointed to the PressGo board.
Rev Dr Murray Rae was appointed to the Board of Knox and Salmond College.
Council received a letter at its last meeting from the parish council of St Andrew’s on the Terrace concerning the legal validity of previous Assembly decisions that ministers may only conduct marriages between a man and a woman. Council requested an opinion from the Book of Order Advisory Committee on this matter. The committee concluded that the 2014 and 2016 General Assemblies had authority to determine that a minister may solemnise marriage only between a man and a woman, and that the liberty of conscience of a minister in relation to a particular issue does not exempt that minister from compliance with the Book of Order.
Council agreed that this is a matter where there is likely to be widespread interest and agreed that the opinion be placed on the website. Read the opinion here
Jenny Flett, Council of Assembly Convenor
Richard McLean, Council of Assembly Deputy Convenor