General Assembly 2018 Report

It is really great to be able to genuinely say thank you for the opportunity to be a commissioner at this year’s General Assembly.  It’s great because I’m not that sure that thank you is a response that many have felt after attending some General Assemblies over the years.

For me it started with a little more trepidation than it might have for others because I found myself responsible for organising the opening powhiri. Steep learning curve required there!

Then I discovered that for Nga Tahu when an event such as this is not on a marae, it becomes a mihi whakatau which means that it is quite permissible for a woman to speak. And then I discovered that Church protocol is that the second speech at the powhiri should be from the local Moderator, the sweating began in earnest.

Thanks to some assistance from David Brown with the words, Martin with the pronunciation, and God with the courage, all was well. It was actually quite lovely to be able to welcome those attending Assembly to the city, to Alpine Presbytery and finally to our place – this chapel. The powhiri was followed by the opening worship and installation of our new National Moderator Rt Rev Fakaofo Kaio.

I don’t want to bore you all with the details of each business session but I will pick out a couple of the more interesting discussions and decisions. Bear in mind though please that you are just getting an idea of what happened and that I can’t adequately reproduce the mood, the questions or the nuances of the moment.

At each Assembly some of the bigger decisions are introduced and then sent to Dialogue groups for discussion. This means that for some of the time – this year it was two sessions of two hours each, the commissioners are sent to smaller groups where they can talk freely about the subjects being dealt with. In my dialogue group we had around 20 people gathered in a classroom, along with a moderator and clerk, who guided the conversation and took notes on what was discussed. Finally we were asked to vote so they could get an idea on the mood of the group, or offer any amendments to the recommendations.

The recommendations we covered were about:

  1. the General Assembly establishing a task group to consider the Church’s collective wealth and establish a theology and practice of sharing property and money.
  2. Discussion around a revised code of ethics and
  3. The End of Life Choice Bill that is due to go to Parliament very soon.

Later on the Assembly voted to establish the task group, indicating a concern around the imbalance of wealth that is often hung onto in areas where there is no longer any capacity or ability to see where it could be better utilised. And we agreed to make a statement against the introduction of the End of Life Choice Bill, in its current form. There were obviously quite a range of feelings on this last question but it was overwhelmingly felt that current bill is too loose to enable peace of mind for the vulnerable and safety for the medical profession, in particular those involved in end of life work. While voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide were discussed in roundabout ways, in the dialogue groups – these were not the subject of the debate, it simply addressed the current bill.

At this Assembly there was a significant number of hugely impressive young people, formerly known as Youth Commissioners, now known as Young Adult Commissioners. Two of these brought recommendations about how we as churches can be better stewards of creation. These highly articulate young people did really well and were, by and large, well supported. We agreed to commit to reducing our impact on the environment, acknowledging the important role we as Christians play in being stewards of God’s creation.

We agreed to appoint a Te Reo Maori Commissioner to promote and extend the use of Te Reo Maori in the PCANZ, especially by facilitating the provision of resources for worship.We agreed to dump a few bits of the Westminster Confession.  These were around professing the Pope as the antichrist and disallowing those who profess the true reformed religion from marrying with Papists.  Yes, amazingly that language and sentiment was still in there. And a whole lot of other stuff about the internals of the church that needed to be updated to enable us, the parishes to do our job more easily.  That’s an ongoing work in progress.

We also welcomed the Moderator who will take up the reins in 2020 – the Rev Hamish Galloway – who many of you will know.  Hamish was chaplain here for around 20 yrs and is now the Senior Minister at Hope Presbyterian Church in Hornby.

It was particularly special for me at Assembly to have sitting right up front, two of our people, John Simpson and Ken Newton who were the timekeepers. I am especially grateful to them because unbeknown to me, my Alpine Presbytery report went on a little over its allocated time. And I found out later that these guys were on my side – after I exceeded my allotted time Ken wouldn’t let John ring the bell and so I got as long as I needed – what it is to have friends in high places!

It was also lovely each morning and afternoon tea time and lunchtime to be served by two folk from from The Village – a really big thank you to Frances Coburn and Lesley Compton who did a great job and came with the added bonus of being friendly faces about the place. Keren Ritchie too had a job, as one of the complaints officers – and not needed fortunately! And Martin was one of the Assembly chaplains and the official photographer – this last task was a paid job which The Village will benefit from.

On the Thursday night we gathered in this chapel to hear some local stories of what has happened in some parishes post-quake. We heard Martin tell The Village story, Charissa Nicol the Prestons story, The St Paul’s Trinity Pacific rebuild story, the Hope Rolleston story and finally from Darryl Tempero who talked about Kiwi Church.

On Saturday night we gathered here again for a Ted Talk type gathering.  This involved the new Catholic Bishop Paul Martin, a New Life senior pastor Amy Page-Whiting and a fairly new Presbyterian minister from Auckland Garry Maunga. They were very different from one another but were a fascinating line-up.  It was great to see these three with very different stories yet quite complementary of one another talk about church and what going deeper to rise higher means to each of them.

It was a fun Assembly, I think largely because of the tone set by the new moderator. He is a quiet, gentle, completely humble man who I think we all warmed to and wanted the best for. It was his wife, however, who stole the show during the opening worship when she stood beside him as he thanked people.  When he got to thanking her for the support he receives from her, he described her as his best friend – she quietly leaned toward the microphone and looked up at him with adoring eyes, and said, ‘I’m your only friend’. It took him some moments to restore order as he waited for the laughter to abate.

I especially loved the way he started and finished every session, so that’s around ten a day with a prayer, every time in a different language. You would see him as he wandered back toward the Gym with a piece of paper busy practising his words. At one point he cautioned us to keep an eye open during the prayer which he then led in sign language. At other times he would launch us all off in an unaccompanied chorus (many of them very old) but the unifying effect of that spontaneous singing was truly amazing.

As the business of Assembly drew to a close Rev Nicci Watkin from Auckland (who, incidentally, is Daphne McKerrow’s niece) led the vote of thanks. She did all the bits she needed to do and then invited people from the floor of Assembly to stand and say thank you in their heart language and the rest of us would repeat it after them. It went on for a long time – there were so many different ethnicities represented there.

The highlight for me was when a young South African minister from Blenheim stood and said, I will teach you how to say thank you in Afrikaans – and you say it after me. It goes, ‘Go Springboks’! It was a great moment as people realised what she was attempting to trick us into. And a very special moment for me to see this young woman who is all passion but a little rightfully fearful of how others here can react to her, feel brave enough to share her humour with us all and to see it received so well.

Finally, as the last act, the Moderator asked us to join him in singing, O when the saints go marching in. At the end of each chorus he asked the members of each of the seven Presbyteries to stand and dance for that chorus. As dancing goes it was pretty bad, but to finish Assembly dancing, even badly, together, was very special.

I think Assembly 2018 will be remembered as the Assembly when we danced together. I hear other Assemblies described quite differently and I am glad that I got to be part of this one. Thank you