Council News March 2024

[Council News is prepared by the Council of Assembly (CoA) after Council meetings. Everyone can sign up to receive Council News here.]

Welcome to our first Council News for 2024.

Our time together in Auckland

In our three days together in Auckland from 6 to 8 March, we experienced the richness of God’s Spirit through devotions and fellowship.  Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, ‘declares the Lord’, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

Mark Heslip (Synod of Otago & Southland) reflected in his devotion on where is our happy place.  Where do we see God in those places, in the things we see, or what do we notice and what should we do?

What became evident in our time together is the importance of being relational

We invited Pacific and Northern presbyteries to join us for a meal, and to hear their reflections for 2023 and looking ahead to 2024.  We appreciated their time and hearing what God is doing in their presbyteries, as well as connecting Pacific and Northern to mahi-tahi.

Building our COA culture

We continue to korero on the importance of who we are at the COA table. We continue on our journey of building a culture of trust, understanding and grace. We needed to be able to show more grace at our table, to honour the space we serve, and the people we are accountable to in serving. 

We sometimes forget that our role is not about the day-to-day ‘business’, if we may use that term, our role is to discern more, speak less, and listen more to the Spirit. That is harder to do and, at times, harder to change the mindset.

There is a perception that COA is at the top and therefore some misinterpretation or assumptions made when key decisions or outcomes are communicated to the wider Church. Our mahi should never reflect the perception that we are at the top because we are simply not.  

To use the Tangents - Servant Leadership and the Inverted Pyramid to demonstrate where we as COA see ourselves in our mahi.  Our people are the enablers of all things, we simply hold a small part in our journey together.

We are still a work in progress, we still have a long way to go, and we continue to work together in unity in building stronger relationships, being more permission-giving, and showing a lot of grace at the table. We will continue to reflect on the below to guide us and to keep us accountable:
•    Listening – Are you listening to understand or are you listening to hear.
•    Speaking - Are you speaking to be understood or are you speaking to be heard.

Therefore, we will continue to apply the O of our SWOT analysis exercise - to seek harmony, boldness, telling our stories, leverage shared experiences, openness to change, relational, and our ability to bring people together.

Celebrating our key highlights

It is the custom of Council that after we receive a report from a person or a group, that we pause and pray. It allows us to appreciate the mahi and is an important part of honouring, supporting, modelling, and living out the values by which we say we live, and to express our thanks to God for the on-going work of our life together.

Te Aka Puahou update: key highlights

(Moderator Tamiana Thrupp and clerk Honey Thrupp)

  • Our marae intake continues to be on the rise for visitors and returnees every month.
  • Plans are currently underway for renovations of Emily Hall which has not been in use for over 15 years.
  • There are various ongoing improvements to the marae due to the increase in demand and therefore it has needed to be well  equipped and resourced.
  • A budget sustainability initiative is currently underway.

Moderator update: key highlights

(Moderator Right Rev Rose Luxford)

  • Our Moderator continues to engage, as well as visiting organisations, churches, and schools around New Zealand.
  • A recent trip to Fiji as part of the Council for World Mission Pre-Assembly gathering for the Pacific. 
  • Special thank you to Rev Stephanie Wells for connecting our Moderator with a number of the Presbyterian schools. 
  • Our Moderator thanked Te Aka Puahou for welcoming her onto the marae to meet with Turakina Maori Girls’ College alumnae, and also a very fulfilling road trip to Waitangi.

Leadership Sub-committee update: key highlights

(Convenor Rev Ryhan Prasad)

  • Great to see the acceleration and the prioritisation of the different workstreams within our LSC committee with the increase in people resources.
  • Great news that a resolution to the legal situation with contracts for Local Ministry Probationers has been found.

Resource Sub-committee update: key highlights

(Craig Donaldson)

  • Our RSC committee continues to report a positive first six months of the financial year (1 July – 31 December). 
  • Our RSC will be undertaking an Assembly Assessment review workstream and this will be part of the 2025/26 budget round. 
  • Our RSC will commence a programme of work encouraging more churches onto a payroll system as per the request from General Assembly.

Church Property Trustees (CPT): key highlights

(Chair - Andrew Souness)

  • Awesome to hear our CPT amazing experience at our Ohope marae.
  • There is a current review of insurance requirements by the Insurance Advisory Committee.

Mission Enterprise Fund

  • The Church Property Trustees reported on where their investigations into this matter had reached.
  • This was communicated to the wider Church in a joint Trustees and Council communication.
  • Council has also determined at this point that the current decision that was issued last year to the administrators of the Fund to the PressGo Board [suspending distributions] would remain.

Audit and Risk Committee

(Chair - Ian Lothian)

  • The independent chair of the committee, Ian Lothian, has tendered his resignation due to heath and family reasons.  
  • Council of Assembly accepted Ian’s resignation with regret and acknowledged the work, care, and commitment of Ian to the role and wished him well for the future.
  • Council have asked the finance manager and convenor of the Resource Sub-committee to work to bring to Council the name of a person to serve as the independent chair of the Audit and Risk Committee.

Matters from General Assembly 2023 (GA23)

  • Follow-up information for, and actions required by, presbyteries and church councils has been circulated to those bodies by the Assembly Executive Secretary.

Guidelines on the offer of land for sale to relevant Māori entities:

  • It had been decided at the Special Assembly 2022 that church property to be sold on the open market must first be offered to relevant Māori entities for purchase. 
  • To assist in giving effect to this decision, a new clause needed to be inserted into the Supplementary Provisions. 
  • This required COA to determine relevant guidelines. 
  • Draft guidelines have been prepared. 
  • The Church Property Trustees wished to engage with the Book of Order Committee on some points in the guidelines. 
  • Council awaits the outcome of these conversations, and it is anticipated that the supplementary provision will be issued in due course.

Existing Workstreams

Te Haere Tonu Work Group

  • The group met at Ohope marae in February. 
  • Te Aka Puahou recognised that there are different ways to translate ‘Te Haere Tonu’ and that they would like to give the workgroup a new name. 
  • There was a powerful and relational shared discernment process that ultimately emerged with a workgroup name that strongly emphasises the understanding of being whanau/family: Te Kāhui Whanaungatanga
  • This name identifies the group (of leaders) who develop a strong relationship through sharing life together and working alongside one another. 
  • This relationship (which is reciprocal, strengthening, enjoyable) instils a sense of belonging. 
  • And that belonging is extended to others – an invitation to be part of who we are and how we are. To put it simply: Bringing People Together.
  • This new name was acknowledged as a meaningful gift for the workgroup, to identify us and our work serving the Church as we celebrate this important step in our journey – visiting Te Aka Puahou first to listen and be guided by our partners in mission.
  • They will be listening and sharing and engaging with presbyteries, various groups, and national staff in the coming months. The group is due to report to the Assembly in 2025.

Task Group to review Assembly costs and format

Their Terms of Reference are:

  • Consider the primary purpose and function of General Assembly as currently described in the Book of Order 14.2.
  • Consider how Assembly might best function to fulfil the requirement to;

     (a) to worship God,
     (b) to facilitate and resource the life, worship, and spiritual nurture of the Church.

  • Consider models and format for the Assembly to fulfil its judicial capacity; to act in an administrative capacity and to act as the legislative body of the Church.
  • Consider the frequency, time, locations of Assembly – including but not limited to physical locations that enable easy travel; impact of carbon emissions on frequency and size of gathering; to meeting in person; meeting electronically; a hybrid of in-person and electronically.
  • Consider the current participation model – including issues of ethnic diversity and age of commissioners; how presbyteries communicate about their commissioner selection process.
  • Consider the costs and resource efficiency of the current model and consider other options.
  • Consider funding options – including but not limited to an additional charge to Assembly Assessment so all churches make a financial contribution to the costs of Assembly; presbyteries including a charge in their levy to each church to assist in ensuring funding is not a prohibitor for those they commission to attend General Assembly and use those funds to assist in sending commissioners.
  • Consider the decision-making processes of the Assembly.
  • Consider the expectation and processes of reporting.
  • Consider the process for bringing proposals and the time Assembly spends on these.
  • In its considerations - consult widely – and include in that the Te Kāhui Whanaungatanga (formerly Te Haere Tonu) work group.
  • Take advice as required from but not limited to: the Book or Order Advisory Committee; the Assembly Business Work Group; the clerk of the Assembly.

The Task Group will be engaging and listening to ideas, feedback, and reporting to Assembly in 2025.
The co-convenors of this group are Mrs Abi Trevathan and Rev Andrew Howley.

Tino Rangatiratanga and commitment to bicultural journey

  • Following a request by the Assembly Executive Secretary, Council asked the Book of Order Advisory Committee to initiate conversations to consider if it was meeting its obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi which had arisen from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care in 2022. 
  • Mr Andrew Irwin from the Book of Order Advisory Committee had been appointed to work with the AES on continuing conversations with Te Aka Puahou to review documents such as the Book of Order and its Supplementary Provisions, the Code of Ethics, the Conditions of Service, and Child Protection Policy to consider if they adequately reflected the Church’s commitment to a bicultural journey. 

Te Reo Commissioner

  • Moderator Rev Tamiana and Honey Thrupp provided a verbal report on progress in conversations following feedback from the event in 2023, around options for 2024 and beyond.

COA roles and responsibilities

  • Council noted various workstreams by workgroups that were due to report to the next Assembly and how Council could participate and provide support in the waiting space. 
  • Council agreed on the need for leadership and strategy at a time when parishes are struggling. 
  • Council also agreed that it was the function of Assembly and presbyteries to provide the vision; the role of Council was procedural, and therefore to implement and resource the decisions of Assembly. 
  • Council discussed its relational role, and communication with presbyteries and churches, and the perception of the Council by those bodies.

COA Strategic Priorities

Council discussed a number of priorities it has as workstreams for the next two years. These include:

  1. Prioritising core services which can be provided nationally.
  2. Ensuring all compliance matters are met in a timely manner – including financial consolidation.
  3. Reviewing current Assembly Assessment methodology. 
  4. Budget sustainability – with special attention to investigating additional income streams for Te Aka Puahou, The Knox Centre, and the Research Centre.
  5. And matters which have come from the Assembly.

Succession planning for the AES – looking ahead

  • It is important to ensure that we have a process or systems or a framework for any succession across our Church.
  • COA developed a paper in March 2023, on how to mitigate and manage risks and consider succession planning for the role of the Assembly Executive Secretary (AES), with reference to institutional knowledge. This succession planning work continues.
  • We continue to look at strengthening and creating wider institutional knowledge and how to mitigate risk.

PressGo Catalyst

When PressGo was established (2008), the General Assembly provided half the sale proceeds from Laughton House ($2 million) to be known as the PressGo Fund to support this new venture. PressGo board members were primarily supporting the work – visiting churches on request, providing skills and assistance, and sharing from their ministry experiences to assist other churches seeking help and support. 

As the need increased so did the workload with more challenging requests for capacity building; board members were no longer able to meet the demand on their own and agreed to employ a catalyst to lead this work. To enable funding for the role this would primarily be from the PressGo Fund, together with any gifts received for this work. Lisa Wells was appointed and has served us in this role for the past 10 years.

Acknowledging the demands on church councils regarding finances and their inability to absorb significant increases in Assembly Assessment, and with the Assembly budget already under strain, we do not have the capacity to fund this role from Assembly Assessment.

 The PressGo Fund that supports the Catalyst role will be exhausted in 2025 at the current level of operations. In consultation with Lisa Wells, and in ensuring that we (PCANZ) meet all obligations as a good employer, Council of Assembly has agreed that the PressGo Catalyst position will conclude on 30 June 2024. There will be opportunities to express our grateful thanks to Lisa for her service in this role. 

Communication related to the work and processes of the PressGo Board beyond 1 July 2024 will take place in the coming months.

What's next?

Our next series of COA meetings are online – with the first being an online and budget meeting in June. Thank you for keeping us in your prayers and thank you for the amazing mahi and your servant heart in doing God’s work across our Church.  

“E le tu fa’amauga se tagata” – no one stands alone, no one succeeds alone.

As we continue to focus on being relational in all that we do, may we always remember that we are never alone.

Yours in Christ

Mrs Kat Solomona                      Rev Roxy Gahegan
Convener                                    Deputy Convener
Council of Assembly                   Council of Assembly