Since its last face-to-face meeting at the end of February, Council of Assembly has met four times via Zoom – this was before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted us all. Since then, we have all moved through the alert levels – up to Level 2, 3 and 4 and then down from Level 4, 3, 2 and now 1.
We are now able to reflect back on how the response to the pandemic has unfolded in Aotearoa New Zealand, and, although it may not be over yet, we are able to note the lessons learnt and the opportunities that have surfaced so far. Many of our plans were put on hold, modified, or cancelled. We learnt to live agile lives – not just in theory but also in practice. We quickly learnt to co-operate and work together towards a common cause, and we rallied around those who needed care and attention. We learnt new ways of communicating and holding meetings and being community together, even at a physical distance. We learnt new ways of ministry and mission, including new ways to share our stories and events with others online. May these lessons enrich us as individuals and as a Church.
Council noted that over the past three or so months, at every level of our Church life people put in extra hours to ensure that life still functioned, even if in a very different way. This includes Council, which will continue to meet via Zoom for the rest of the year.
Since our last Council News, we have a good deal to update you about…
Postponement of Assembly
As we began lockdown, it was clear people’s focus was around the impact of the pandemic on them, their whanau and communities. This included both health and economic impacts. Presbyteries reported a very low response to Commissioners. We also were concerned about what travel arrangements and accommodation would be able to be booked during lockdown. Following consultation, the Moderator and Clerk of the Assembly announced the decision to postpone General Assembly until September/October 2021 – within the bounds of Central Presbytery. It is acknowledged this decision will have wide-ranging affects. Due to the early notice, the financial impact was severely limited.
Council has expressed its thanks to Lindisfarne College for their understanding and assistance. We hope to have clarity around a number of issues to enable us to proceed with planning for Assembly 2021.
Our Moderator, Rt Rev Fakaofo Kaio, will continue to serve until the next Assembly and our Moderator designate, Rev Hamish Galloway, will remain an observer on Council and will pick up planning for 2021 from next April.
Noting the postponement, Council carefully reflected if any matters that would have come to Assembly would warrant consideration for the calling of an Emergency Assembly to deal with those matters and concluded none reached that threshold. In some cases, the delay will enable greater consultation or a longer time frame to complete work.
During the lockdown period, our national staff transitioned working from office to home. It was a tribute to them that they continued to be available to assist with all the normal functions plus handle all COVID-19 matters. Council places on record our thanks to all staff for the dedication, professionalism and adaptability shown during this time. While we are at Level 1, we will continue to work with staff in providing flexibility in work arrangements.
Council noted our staff worked to ensure our communication and updates following Government announcements at various levels was timely, informative and helpful. Information on matters such as wage subsidies, Assembly Assessment holiday, and resources were made available widely. In addition, staff collaborated to produce over a ten week period, “The Vine” - resources staff found helpful in their various fields and shared across our life together. A Facebook resource-sharing group was also created to help folk ask questions, share ideas and helpful insights, as many churches moved online. This group will re-focus in resourcing our Church as we seek to build on the collaboration evidenced during lockdown.
Covid-19 Financial Crisis Response Workgroup
Recognising the unprecedented times COVID-19 and the national lockdown created, Council set up a small workgroup to focus, research, discern, and recommend matters for Council consideration. We place on record our grateful thanks for the members – Mrs Jenny Flett, Mr Steven Moe, Rev Dr Ron Mills and Mrs Anne Edgar.
This group brought a number of recommendations, which Council adopted. These included: the Assembly Assessment holiday for the months of May and June (upon application); Council invited the Church Property Trustees to consider special temporary provisions making capital funds available to assist parishes impacted by COVID-19; no cost of living adjustments for national staff in the 2020-21 financial year; any staffing positions vacant/ becoming vacant/short term/fixed term positions – even those budgeted – must have Council approval before being advertised.
To date about 90 parish councils have requested an Assembly Assessment holiday for May and June. The savings to those parishes is approximately $85,000.
Council have delayed the consideration of any increase to the stipend until after the September quarter wage index figures are available.
Council also placed domestic travel restrictions during COVID-19 levels 4, 3 and 2. Even under Level 1, Council believes we need to limit travel to essential travel only and is asking committees, workgroups, staff etc to use the measure that if a meeting/event can take place electronically, it should.
Also, no international travel is currently permitted (with limited exemption for “safe” travel only for humanitarian causes) for our staff or those serving on international boards or those invited to events overseas. This will mean no travel for ecumenical engagements, assemblies, conference attendance, staff study leave, professional development etc. and applies irrespective of who is the funder.
Resource Sub Committee
The committee has not met since Council last met.
A draft budget was presented to Council and discussed. Like many organisations and businesses, we face a challenging future and careful consideration and strategic decisions will need to be made as we face declining income.
The budget presented was based on no increase to Assembly Assessment in this year, declining interest returns, and declining grant income. Council is convinced there is no ability to seek additional support from parishes via Assembly Assessment.
On the expenditure side, the budget sees no staff salary increase or cost of living adjustments, reduced travel for all committees and workgroups, and also all staff travel budgets are reduced by 50%. Council is taking a lead, and will continue to meet electronically for the rest of the year. The decision to cease hard copy production of SPANZ was implemented earlier than planned (the last printed copy was to be in May 2020). Council will be receiving a paper from our Communications Team regarding transitioning to a digital platform for our communications and will consider the options this will offer.
Even with these measures, the budget shows a deficit of approximately $500,000. In future years, this could increase further. Clearly, this is not sustainable. Council noted the Finance Manager highlighted a number of approaches to address this. Council will receive a paper at its next meeting to chart a consultative process with presbyteries as we prioritise our administrative, operational, missional and training functions.
Council approved the budget for the 2020-21 year
Moderator’s Appeal for Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu
On April 6, Cyclone Harold – a category 5 storm – hit the northern islands of Vanuatu. The damage across several islands was severe. These islands include Banks, Espiritu Santo, Ambrym, Melekula, Epi and Paama. The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu is actively involved in ministry in these places and the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand has congregations that have supported projects there – including Santo where Talua Theological Training Institute is situated. Council warmly supported the Moderator’s Appeal to support the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu in cyclone relief. To date over $50,000 has been given. The appeal officially concluded on 12 June.
As the country moved towards lockdown, our Moderator Rt Rev Fakaofo Kaio produced a weekly video devotion and has continued this ever since. This has been warmly received and at the encouragement of the Council, he will continue this over the coming months.
Leadership Sub Committee
Council welcomed new convener Rev Dr Darryl Tempero to the meeting. He outlined the work of the committee which included regular weekly electronic meetings during the month of May, and the plan to meet monthly for the rest of the year.
A trial project on changes to the current Ministry Development Review was reported and the positive feedback noted. Council approved in principle the introduction of a new process to replace the MDR with a Ministry Development Plan. A project team will be established to implement this.
Theological Education and Leadership Training Task Group
The Task Group report has been shared with staff at the Presbyterian Research Centre and the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, and with presbyteries. Feedback is via presbyteries – and they have until 10 September to submit this. A copy of the report together with an explanatory video can be found here.
In recent years Council has received written reports from each presbytery. It was moved at our February meeting that Council invite a presbytery executive officer to join the quarterly Council meetings, share what was happening within their presbytery including trends, opportunities and challenges, and how engaging with other presbyteries collaboratively is assisting. At our June meeting, retiring Alpine Presbytery Executive Officer Rev Barry Ayers shared of the work of the Alpine Presbytery and commented on a number of initiatives the Presbytery has and is currently working on.
Board of Knox College and Salmond College
Council received the annual report from the Board and expressed thanks to the Board and staff for the past year, and for rising to the challenging environment of COVID-19 on the colleges. Council specifically expressed deep appreciation to the Master of Knox College, Very Rev Graham Redding, for his leadership over the past year. Council also noted the retirement of the Head of Salmond, Mr Maurice Jackways, and the appointment of the new head, Mr Nick Bates.
Council also approved the appointment of a new member of the Board, Ms Jessica Frame, for a three-year term.
Rev Martin Stewart advised that due to a change in his circumstances he is no longer available to chair the PressGo Board – but willing to remain a member. On the recommendation of the Board, Council appointed Rev Mose Taumaoe as the Acting Chair.
Retirement of Heather McKenzie
Council placed on record their thanks for the work of Heather McKenzie in two roles – as Complaints Officer and as Book of Order Advisor – and noted her retirement from these roles. Both of these roles have now been merged into the role of our Compliance Director, Mr Matthew Hague.
New members of Council
Council was pleased to welcome the following new members to Council at our meeting on 12 June 2020: Rev Nyalle Paris (Synod of Otago and Southland associate), Rev Dr Darryl Tempero (Leadership Sub-Committee convenor) and Dr Rod Watts (Northern Presbytery).
Rev Richard McLean Anne Edgar
Convenor Deputy Convenor