Sergius & Bacchus Question

[Update 21 March 2016: extensive discussions have resulted in my retracting the core of the following post. Those interested should read the discussion at An Improved Way Forward?]

I think there is a significant issue with the NZ Anglican proposal to bless committed same-sex couples. I also think that if as a church we want to hold together those who agree with such blessings and those who don’t, there is a way forward that may work. This post will clarify the problem with what is proposed and indicate a possible solution.

[Update: After I indicated that our church’s formal publication of the report as a single web page had “stripped any pagination (making the contents pointing to page numbers redundant), messed up numbering, and removed clarity of layout (making it difficult to distinguish, for example, the two distinct blessing rites)” they removed the web page and replaced it with a PDF. While claiming that the “flow charts and formatting [were now] intact”, they appear not to opened that PDF to check their claim. It was incorrect. After I pointed this out in this current post, they removed that PDF and replaced it with a docx file (“Way Forward Report.docx”)! This has now finally been replaced with “Way Forward Report_2.pdf“.

I have received private correspondence of the tenor that the roll out of the document was clearly contrived to make initial discussion difficult. Certainly, the three public meetings in my diocese about the report discussed a document different to that produced by the working group. Today I also discovered that in at least one diocese a different document was circulating to what was available to us.

Now that today the actual document is available to all, I add a new point (in green) below, clarifying a misunderstanding that could develop.]

Formularies Trump Canons

I want to expand on the second bullet point of my Blessing Same-Sex Unions post. I have tried to investigate further my concern that “In more than one place, the report speaks of diocese or amorangi ‘choosing to adopt’ or ‘not authorise’ this Blessing Rite.”

I do not think this is possible with a formulary. There is no such thing as a diocese ‘not authorising’ a formulary.

A diocese may be understood to be the primary ecclesiastical unit, but in Anglicanism dioceses voluntarily compact together – in our case to form the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. In doing so, dioceses agree to teachings and practices of this wider church. The process of producing such agreement is the complex checks and balances of the “twice-round” process to produce formularies (General Synod passes; majority of dioceses, three Tikanga; 2/3 majority in houses and tikanga at General Synod; a year to appeal). General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) has only recently acknowledged that it has not followed this process and has been calling “authorised” things that were not authorised appropriately. This report looks to be, once again, misunderstanding authorised agreement.

The primary principle that the Way Forward Working Group report follows is that there be two integrities:

The working group believes that the proposed rites and canonical changes contained in this report, if adopted, will enable every priest and bishop in the Anglican church in this province to retain their integrity within the Church: those who believe the blessing of same-sex persons is congruent with scripture, tikanga and doctrine, and those who believe that such a blessing is contrary to these.

That individual priests and bishops can decide to bless or not to bless, according to their conscience, would have been easy enough to legislate for. We can refrain from using a formulary. I can, for example, decide not to marry a couple – and need not give a reason why I would do so.

The complexity arises that in a diocese under the oversight of a bishop “who believes that [the blessing of same-sex persons] is contrary to [scripture, tikanga and doctrine]” to have a priest perform such a blessing under that bishop’s jurisdiction this bishop is understood to cease to retain his/her integrity. This, it seems to me, has been the approach of the report, because the report assumes and alludes to a diocese-by-diocese, amorangi-by-amorangi acceptance of the formulary.

I cannot find a simple, straight-forward description and explanation of the diocese-by-diocese, amorangi-by-amorangi authorisation, but our church’s struggling with our contemporary digital world is highlighted by its inability to present this report appropriately (the original web presentation has now been removed to be replace by a PDF that is claimed to have the “flow charts and formatting intact” – these are not intact, so there are parts of the report we cannot see!)

An example of the mention of diocese-by-diocese, amorangi-by-amorangi “authorisation”:


1.1 A minister may conduct services blessing a civil marriage that has occurred under the Marriage Act 1955 (for services to take place in Aotearoa, New Zealand) or the similar legislation applying in the countries of Tikanga Pasifika (for services to take place in Pasifika) or the laws of an overseas country where that marriage would comply with the Marriage Act 1955 or the similar legislation applying in the countries of Tikanga Pasifika :
a. the General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui has authorised a service for the blessing of such a civil marriage in accordance with Te
Pouhere/the Constitution and these Canons; and
b. the Synod of the Diocese / Amorangi (including the Synod of the Diocese of Polynesia) in which the minister holds a licence has authorised the use of any service authorised by the General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui in that Diocese or Amorangi for such a civil marriage.

Note the words: “the Synod of the Diocese / Amorangi …has authorised the use of any service authorised” (my emphasis above). That is the novelty as far as I can see. Once a service has gone through the lengthy checks-and-balances process to become an authorised formulary, that is it. It is authorised. It does not need further authorisation and it cannot be forbidden to be used.

The mistake is that somehow a canon (which does not have the twice-round process and checks and balances – that flowchart is cut off in the PDF the church is giving us) can trump a formulary. It cannot. Formularies trump canons.

[Update: Now that the PDF is finally available with correct formatting, we can look at the flowchart (on page 23). It can give the impression that the process for a canon is merely one step shorter than that for a formulary. Nothing is further from the truth. A canon is passed or changed by a single sitting meeting of GSTHW. GSTHW is not required to consult dioceses or amorangi. A canon is passed by simple majority. And it comes into effect immediately upon being passed. If the qualitative difference between a formulary and a canon was clear to you – cool. If not: now you know.


End of update]

Changing Bishops

A second issue what happens at the change of diocesan bishop.

Imagine Diocese A has Bishop A in favour of blessing same-sex couples, and a slight majority amongst clergy and laity – so it is voted through in Diocese A. After, say, three years, Bishop A retires. The diocese elects B as their new bishop, but Bishop B holds that blessing same-sex couples is contrary to scripture. We now have a diocese overseen by a bishop whose integrity is being compromised.

I struggle to think of wording Bishop B can now move as a motion in the diocesan synod that will mean that blessing same-sex couples will cease in this diocese.

But wait, there’s more!

During the time of Bishop A, priests in blessed same-sex unions received licences. Now Bishop B has these licensed clergy serving in his/her diocese.

A Possible Solution

If we are to proceed, I can only currently see one way forward out of these conundrums: Bishops must be seen to be bishops not just of the diocese but within the whole church. There are theological bases for my suggestion embodied in the way that bishops are chosen and the way that people are ordained bishop.

I suggest a clear statement that every bishop acknowledges the two integrities of those who believe the blessing of same-sex persons as congruent with scripture, tikanga and doctrine, and those who believe that such a blessing is contrary to these. This would mean that the bishop him/herself would obviously still not be required to bless or not bless a couple (as currently is the situation with a marriage – individual bishops, just as individual priests, are not required to marry a couple or not). But the formulary of blessing a civil marriage would be available everywhere (as all other formularies are). The blessing formulary would not have to undergo the nonsense of “being authorised” in a diocese or amorangi. And there would be explicit acknowledgement that blessing a committed same-sex couple does not imply the diocesan bishop being within that integrity.

Can you think of a better solution (other than not move forward at all)? The two integrities proposed within our church should not be hermetically sealed internal sects within our church, but clergy and people living and worshipping together cheek by jowl agreeing to disagree about this as we do about so many other things, continuing to be in full communion – I receiving communion from a priest I disagree with, s/he receiving communion from me, all receiving communion together. And the bishop, whatever his/her personal integrity, is clearly a bishop of the whole church, overseeing both integrities, just as s/he oversees other disagreements within his/her diocese.


There are other things to note. The group incorrectly refers to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia as the “Province of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia”.

I have already strongly questioned changing the Marriage Canon (see my reasoning at Bullet point six).

The Executive Summary mentions Te Pouhere based on, amongst other things, A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. But what “A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa” refers to varies. Some think it refers to a physical, published book – but I know people, highly influential and significant in our church, who see NZPB as referring to ALL liturgical formularies – bound physically together at different stages in different forms – or not ever bound together physically at all. This means, of course, that the Blessing rites will form part of A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa and thereby part of the foundational doctrine of our church per Te Pouhere.

Peter Carrell is providing a great online service in focusing on a new section of the Way Forward Working Group report each week until General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) meets. His first post is here.

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