The Council of Assembly met online on 20 May. Much of the Council’s business at this meeting involved discussion of outcomes from the Special Assembly, held online in April, and the workstreams that will flow from it.
The minutes of the online Special Assembly were confirmed and are on the Church website here.
Special Assembly Workstreams
Three task groups were thanked and discharged after having completed their work at the Special Assembly – these were: Te Mahi Tahi I te Roopu Mahi: Working Together; Theological Education and Leadership Training; and Theology of Property and Money. Council is very grateful for the extensive time and effort given by those who served on these groups.
It was noted that the Church Property Trustees have begun the process of working with presbyteries and the Synod of Otago and Southland to respond to the Trustees recommendation to the PCANZ to develop a plan for a national network of parishes with fit for purpose buildings. An initial consultation is planned for 16 June in Wellington.
The Audit and Risk Committee reported on the ongoing challenges of the financial consolidation project. Following a full report from committee convener Ian Lothian, it was agreed that a three-year implementation plan be developed to enable PCANZ to meet its financial and service performance reporting objectives and to minimise serious risks to the organisation. It was also agreed that the Resource Sub-committee be asked to assess the required staffing and systems resources required, and to obtain approval for the necessary expenditure.
The Council subsequently agreed to a recommendation from the Resource Sub-committee (RSC) to appoint a task group to undertake an immediate evaluation of the consolidation workstreams in order to ensure the appropriate level of staffing can be assessed and the required action taken.
In other finance news, the RSC Convener Craig Donaldson advised that instead of the previous forecast deficit for the 2021-2022 financial, there is now a forecast surplus. This is largely a result of an underspend on some budgeted items due to Covid-19, and vacant staff positions.
Financial Implications of Assembly Decisions
The financial implications of some of the Special Assembly’s decisions was noted, including the decision to adopt the principle that ministry internships be funded without the need for parish contributions. Work is being done to consider how to meet these costs, one outcome of which will likely be an increase in Assembly Assessment.
Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership
KCML Acting Principal Rev Dr Geoff New joined the meeting and updated the council on KCML staffing requirements and other matters.
Following the decision of the Special Assembly, it was agreed that the principle of fully funding KCML ministry internships without the need for parish contributions be implemented for all new intern placements as from 1 January 2023. This will have significant financial implications and so the Leadership and Resource Sub-committees were asked to explore other ways for funding internship placements beyond the Assembly budget.
Te Aka Puaho
Council heard from Te Aka Puaho Moderator Marina Rakuraku who noted the efforts of amorangi ministers, in particular their efforts to become ‘tech-savvy’ with mobile phones. She reported on difficulties with essential maintenance at the Ohope Marae. She also shared that recent deaths within the whanau of Te Aka Puaho members has taken a heavy toll on their members. Condolences were given and prayers were offered for the losses suffered by Te Aka Puaho.
The Council of Assembly convener noted with appreciation the Moderator’s positive media presence.
The Moderator, staff from the national Mission Resourcing Team, and KCML, are planning to bring Presbyterian leaders from around the country together in Wellington from November 17 to 19 for connection, inspiration, encouragement and resourcing. This event will be called the ‘ONE Conference’.
A Special Assembly decision asked the Council to engage and collaborate with presbyteries to address concerns raised about connected decision making. In discussing this, it was noted that concerns of this nature had also been raised in some other major reports to the Assembly. In light of this, there was general support for a proposal from the Moderator that a meeting of representatives from presbyteries, Council of Assembly, national staff, and other identified key people be held in Wellington in November - immediately prior to the ONE conference. It was decided that a steering group should undertake advance planning work for this meeting.
Presbytery Executive Officers Paper
Presbytery executive officers submitted a paper to Council. The paper addresses issues they have identified within the PCANZ including a lack of active ordained ministers; resourcing the increasing number of churches with small, predominantly elderly congregations; and equipping ministers to meet the challenges of a changing context. The Council asked the Leadership Sub-committee to work together with the presbytery executive officers to explore the issues raised and consider how a collaborative way forward can help to address these concerns.
God’s Word is of Cardinal Importance
As we face various challenges, we must keep the words of Isaiah 44:8 in mind: “Do not tremble; do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago? You are my witnesses—is there any other God? No! There is no other Rock—not one!”. As well as that of Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago”.*
As a Presbyterian Church, we believe Jesus Christ is the head of the church who rules through the elders. This firstly happens within the context of the local church where elders discern how their church is called to participate in God’s mission within their community. This is an important principle and part of our identity as a church.
As Christ’s body, congregations cannot and do not want to fulfil God’s mission in isolation and independently, and therefore come together in presbyteries. Presbyteries are congregations collectively supporting each other’s worship, life and mission.
Because discernment of God’s guidance and remaining true to God’s word is of cardinal importance, we make decisions in this regard as a General Assembly - a gathering of ruling and teaching elders of the whole Church. Congregations and presbyteries bring issues, ideas, and suggested ways forward to General Assembly to prayerfully consider and discern what God may be saying to the Church.
General Assembly is the space where the PCANZ makes strategic decisions, commissions research, and suggests ways in which we can be better witnesses for God within our communities.
General Assembly appoints a group of people (the Council of Assembly) to facilitate the outworking of General Assembly decisions and fulfil an administrative function. Council of Assembly does not fulfil General Assembly functions between assemblies. I ask congregations and presbyteries not to see the National Service Team as ‘head office’ and Council of Assembly as a ‘board of directors’. Our delegated responsibilities are clearly explained in the Book of Order.
I encourage congregations and presbyteries to refer matters to the clerk of the Assembly. Council of Assembly can then, if considered appropriate, appoint a commission or a workgroup to do work on the matter, prior to an Assembly, with the instruction to report to General Assembly on the matter.
Rev Dr Jaco Reyneke
Council of Assembly
*Both quotes are from the New Living Translation.