Speeches on General Synod Motion on Episcopal Autonomy
Appendix to story on General Synod sexuality debate
Waiapu’s motion 20 asked General Synod / Te Hinota Whanui to “affirm the long tradition” of episcopal autonomy where discernment for ordination is concerned.”
“In plain language, that’s about a bishop’s right to pick candidates for the priesthood.” (Anglican Taonga)
Jo Crosse’s speech moving the motion
Standing here to move this motion is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I know there are some of you who have great concerns about it. And that is why it has been especially difficult being here this week amongst friends who, I know, are struggling with this too; and who feel that they are not ready or willing to have this discussion yet.
It would be equally hard to go back to Waiapu and face our friends there if we did not have this discussion. And we need to be able to tell our friends whose lives are in question here that we have tried to make a difference.
Please believe me when I say that this is not something I do lightly, nor do I have any desire to see us divided. The thing is, as hard as this is for all of us, we still need to talk about this motion. It’s a crucial discussion for us to have because I believe it goes to the heart of who we are as a Church.
This motion is about who we ordain and about the people who ordain them. It is about people of faith who offer themselves for ministry. It is about God’s people in all our diversity, with all the gifts we have to offer as well as all our shortcomings. We offer all that we are, and all that we shall become – and God alone knows what that might be!
This motion is about people yet to be ordained, but it is also about those who are already ordained. We in this Church have been the beneficiaries of some incredibly faithful and extraordinarily gifted ministry throughout our history. Some of those incredibly faithful and extraordinarily gifted people are women and others are men, some are in committed, loving relationships and others are not, some are homosexual and others are not. All of them have offered themselves in God’s service and we as a Church have welcomed them and used their gifts. We are richer for their ministry and I want us to celebrate those ministries in their entirety. They are part of the fabric of who we are and they help us to discover who we are as God’s people in this place.
There are some who want to make this a debate about canons and about policies. But I think if we go down that track we are missing the point. Canons and policies are meant to be tools; it’s up to us to choose how we use them and whether they become a means of control and restriction, or whether they are applied creatively to provide space where we can address and explore our diversity while we work together towards new understandings. It is our choice.
There are those who say that if this motion were to pass then our Church would be divided. That is also a matter of choice. Making a decision to affirm episcopal autonomy will not divide us. The way that we choose to respond to that decision will be the thing that determines whether or not we are divided. It is our choice.
It won’t be easy for us either way – the places of challenge and growth are never easy. But if we are truly committed to each other and to our faith, we can find ways through together. We have heard about the Commission which has been put in place to help us do this work, and we are fortunate to have this particular group of people who are so willing to sit and listen with us, and to try and find ways ahead. It was great to have Sir Annand here with us yesterday as we began the conversations.
But at the same time we must remember that we already know the most important ways that we need to be together if we are to be Church. We need to spend time with each other – sharing food, praying, talking, singing, walking alongside each other, celebrating Eucharist together. We know what it takes – it’s up to us to make the choice to engage in those relationships or not.
This is where I would like to see leadership from our bishops. Each of them is responsible for a particular part of God’s Church. They are in places of cultural difference, of geographical difference, different financial circumstances and different communities. Every part of God’s Church has its strengths and its weaknesses, its joys and its challenges. What is top priority in one place may not be so important in another. My hope for our bishops is that they are able to share all of that with each other and to discern together where God is at work here in this three tikanga Church of ours.
I have enormous respect for our bishops and the ministry they offer. The thing that worries me most is that it feels like our house of bishops has retreated from the debate around the ordination of people in same-gender relationships. It feels like it all got a bit hard and that we’re afraid to have the discussions with each other.
I would hope that when our collective discernment presents our bishops (and us) with challenging issues, like the ordination of people in same-gender relationships, they (and we) will not retreat in the face of those challenges. My hope is that we will seek ways forward and be prophetic.
We are not asking for anything new here. We are seeking to affirm something which already exists, and to affirm our bishops in their ministry.
I therefore move that this general Synod/Te Hinota Whanui affirms the long tradition and practice of episcopal autonomy in the discernment of a person’s call to ordination.
Brian Dawson’s speech seconding the motion
Firstly, I need to acknowledge the conversation we had yesterday and thank Glynn and Peter for leading us into that. As the vicar currently of a picture-perfect, fairytale wedding church building, I agree with Bishop Kelvin that it's way past time we had a serious conversation about marriage. We did, however, end up spending an hour and a half talking about whether or not to talk, which shouldn't have been a hard decision, but more importantly, and contrary to some expectations, we proved that we can talk about this stuff, and I think we should celebrate that and encourage it. We've been asked to have that conversation at several points over the past 25 years, and I also want to acknowledge that while some of us have been doing that, for others this is new and uncomfortable.
This motion was not part of yesterday's conversation and I also want to acknowledge that the Diocese of Waiapu could have framed this motion in ways that never mentioned issues of sexuality, and some of us were tempted to do that. We did not do that because we believe this is a time for honesty. Honestly, this motion is intimately if not exclusively connected to debates about sexuality, relationships and ordination, so our cards are on the table.
Secondly, I acknowledge that for some this is an intensely personal and difficult conversation, and for some it is quite literally about life and death. I understand that. 35 years ago I began my conscious Christian journey at St Matthew's church in Taita with Gordon Langrell as my vicar, and some here will know what flavour of church that would have been. Those who were at IDC on Friday heard Phil Trotter talk about me singing at his wedding. It was an original song and at the Methodist Youth Conference where I first met Phil in the early 80s I wrote another song specifically opposing Homosexual Law Reform, and it was at that same event that I met and began to form relationships with those who would help faciliate a change in my understanding of God and the way God sees God's creation which brings me to this place today. I know where those who disagree with Waiapu's position are coming from because I've been there myself, and again I want to acknowledge the significance of these conversations for us all.
As far as this particular motion is concerned it is important to note that for Waiapu this is about affirming the status quo. Someone suggested the other day that a motion agreeing to what already is is redundant. I. however, believe we need to remind ourselves of what is sometimes, and especially in this time, because some seem to have forgotten it.
Waiapu does not want to suggest that bishops have absolute power without constrain or boundaries. Trust me, we definitely don't want to suggest that. However we do believe that it is the role of our bishop, whomever she or he may be, to prayerfully discern these matters, in conversation and collegiality with the diocese, and we have been fortunate to have a long tradition of bishops who have done just that. And that's part of our point. This is not about doing a new thing. Bishops in our diocese and numerous others have been fulfilling this role and discerning a call to ordination in the lives of many who have been lesbian and gay, including those in loving, committed, same-gender relationships, for decades. And we believe we have all been blessed by the ministries of those people over the years.
Contrary to what some may suspect, Waiapu does have strong guidelines for ordination selection. Candidates are expected to meet a number of criteria covering a range of areas, including fidelity and faithfulness within their relationships, but, as our synod confirmed very, very strongly last year, sexual orientation is not one of those criteria.
'But a priest is ordained for the whole Church'. Yes, that's true. But we do not and never have expected bishops to consult each other about every potential ordinand. A couple of months ago most of us here were asked to cast a vote stating whether or not we believed the Reverend Justin Charles Hopkins Duckworth should be consecrated as a bishop. Those who voted yes, and I'm assuming most did, were essentially saying 'we believe God is calling you to make these decisions and we affirm that call.' If we did not believe that then was the time to make that judgement, not at the point of each and every decision regarding ordination. And thank God that's the way it is. It is quite possible that some believed at the time that Bishop George should not have ordained me, but just imagine what you would have missed out on if he hadn't!
Waiapu doesn't expect us to make a decision on this motion today. We don't believe that doing so would undermine the work of the Commission. We believe the Commission offers us a valuable opportunity to discuss these issues and continue the conversation that should have been happening for nearly 30 years already. And I hope that we take up that opportunity. It would be a real shame if this Church were to step back and leave all the talking on these issues to the Commission. This process needs to be a catalyst for conversation, not a stifling of it.
Finally, if I might deviate from standing orders for a moment Tony, as the mover of the next Motion I would just like to give notice that Waiapu believes we discussed some of the issues concerning this yesterday and intends to withdraw motion 21 rather than move or seek to table it. We do that with our hope for future progress strengthened by the passing of a motion allowing for the blessing of same-gender relationships by a huge majority at the Episcopal Church General Convention just a short time ago this morning. Hopefully that will give our lesbian and gay colleagues and friends the strength to continue waiting, as they already have for so long.