To my mind, one of the most significant decisions made at the meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW2016) of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia was the alteration to our Constitution which put one of the final nails into the coffin of our common prayer. An obvious consequence is also that, with the failure to move forward, this is now a clear pathway for local authorisation to bless committed same-sex relationships.
Once again I say: If you are not interested in the (possibly-esoteric) internal workings of Anglicanism in these islands in the South Pacific, come back here tomorrow and read about something of more general interest in tomorrow’s post. Go and walk out in nature; have a coffee; talk to a friend.
OK. You are still here…
Until now, an authorised service in our Church was one that had gone through what is nicknamed the “twice-round” procedure (it required passing at GSTHW; then by a majority of dioceses and hui amorangi; followed by a 2/3 majority at a newly-elected GSTHW; and finally a year’s wait for anyone to make an appeal). Let me be crystal clear: That process of authorisation, with its checks and balances, is as of now no longer required.
In spite of some diocesan reservations and dissent, this GSTHW2016 altered our Constitution to read:
“Authorised Services” includes (a) Formularies, (b) Experimental uses as authorised by the 1928 Act, and (c) other services authorised under Title G Canon XIV.
It is the new addition of (c) that abandons the twice-round process. As of GSTHW2016, this Title G Canon XIV now includes the following:
[Tikanga Maori bishops and Tikanga Polynesia bishops may determine their own conditions, and in Tikanga Pakeha] Diocesan Bishops and other Bishops with episcopal jurisdiction within a Diocese in New Zealand may authorise forms of service to be produced and used in individual ministry units, after consultation with the Vestry or equivalent body, and in other particular areas of the Church’s work, upon such conditions as they may individually determine in each case, and in consultation with their Diocesan liturgical committees.
Blessing Committed Same-Sex Couples
I have, because of liturgical and theological principles, written repeatedly, lobbied, spoken, and voted against the alteration to our Constitution that has now come into effect. Now that it has come into effect, however, this allows for a far better way forward to bless committed same-sex couples than that proposed by the A Way Forward Report (the proposal before GSTHW2016 which did not proceed).
The constraints within which the A Way Forward group was working no longer apply. Until now, as I have indicated, authorising new services in addition to our formularies required the “twice round” process. That is no longer the case.
Now, the only limitation on what may be authorised “locally” is that it “must not be inconsistent with the teachings of the Formularies.” Significantly, the best legal and theological minds of our Church cannot come to an agreement about what is actually even meant by “The Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ” as taught by our Formularies. I lost count of the number of different interpretations they provide in Chapter 6 of the A Way Forward Report.
As reported in its Executive Summary, “the majority of the group” (of the best legal and theological minds of our Church) do not see services blessing a committed same-sex couple as being “a departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ, and are therefore not prohibited by Te Pouhere.”
It may be helpful if, in the comments below, local communities, dioceses, and Tikanga noted if they make application to their bishop to bless committed same-sex couples and the result of that application.
[I also suggest that, with blessing a committed same-sex couple being understood as not being in breach of the teachings of our Church, officiating at such a blessing may not even require the bishop’s authorisation as long as it fits within our formularies of A Form for Ordering the Eucharist, An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist, or A Form for Ordering A Service of the Word (see Timeline following). But such a discussion goes beyond the focus of this post which is examining the change to our Constitution to abandon common prayer.]
Timeline of Abandoning Common Prayer
1984 An Order for Celebrating the Eucharist provides a framework for the Eucharist which “…requires careful preparation…not for the regular celebration of the Eucharist”. It is essentially a number of bullet points (Gather in the Lord’s Name… Pray for the world and the church… Exchange the Peace…) with a framework for producing one’s own Eucharistic Prayer.
1989 A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa
A Form for Ordering the Eucharist is slightly revised to be “not for the regular Sunday Celebration”. In the Prayer Book, the “may” principle is expanded. Eg. “Individuals or groups may adapt the pattern found here to their own needs” (page 54).
1998 A Form for Ordering the Eucharist may, from now on, be used for “for the regular Sunday Celebration”.
2002 GSTHW passes “A Template for Worship” – essentially worship is to have three movements: “Gathering; Story; Going out”.
This template is used as a framework for services produced by the Province’s Liturgical Commission in 1992:
Liturgy for the Blessing of a Relationship (pdf)
Liturgy of Healing from Abuse for Women (pdf)
Liturgy for Recognising the End of a Marriage (pdf)
A Liturgical Resource for Addressing Experiences of Abuse in the Church (pdf)
New Beginnings (pdf)
2006 An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist further extends options – the Eucharistic Prayer, now, may be one authorised anywhere in the Anglican Communion.
A Form for Ordering A Service of the Word provides for a flexible framework for non-eucharistic services not covered by the two Forms for Ordering the Eucharist.
2016 a bishop “may authorise forms of service to be produced and used in individual ministry units”.
Until now, various alternative baptism rites, ordinals, etc. have been used from time to time, but they have not been understood as “authorised”. These may now be regarded as authorised.
It is noticeable that our Church’s official news source claimed the change to our Constitution and Canons were “confirmed and passed into law” at GSTHW in 2014, even prior to consideration by dioceses and hui amorangi. And now that it actually has passed, there appears no reporting about this.
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No Prayer Books were harmed in the making of this blog post.