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Methodists move toward gay ordination

In an effort to protect unity and difference, the 2003 Conference of the Methodist Church of New Zealand affirmed a decision that will enable the ordination of gay and lesbian people.

The decision rests upon the creation and acceptance of a memorandum of understanding that acknowledges those individuals and groups within the Church who do not support the ordination of gay and lesbian people. Its intent is to enable people across the spectrum of belief to participate with integrity within the life of the Church.

It is expected that the memorandum of understanding will confirm that no congregation will be asked to accept the ministry of an ordained gay or lesbian person against its wishes.

President Rev Dr Lynne Frith says the decision was reached through careful deliberation and mutual respect and is a cause of celebration.

“This is a creative step forward that will enable all people to stand within Te Hahi Weteriana. It means gay and lesbian people will be able to take part in the life of the Church without having to pretend to be something they are not.

“However, we must be careful as we work on the memorandum of understanding that we do not legitimise discrimination within the Church. I understand the purpose of the memorandum is to enable respect and dignity in the life of the church for people with different beliefs about the ordination of gay and lesbian people.

“I hope the attitude of people toward gay and lesbian presbyters will be the same as it has been toward ordained women. The quality of ministry they offer calls into question any anxiety about their status. And I sincerely hope we don’t have to have this conversation at Conference again,” Lynne says.

Rev Susan Thompson is a member of an informal group of gay and lesbian members of the Church who read a statement at Conference. It noted the shift in attitude that has taken place within the Church and acknowledged those who have paved the way for the decision.

“There was a lot of good will at Conference and I was impressed with the real efforts different people made to reach out to one another. This has sometimes been lacking in the past.

“I was amazed at the number of people who came up to me and said hello or shook hands, people who wouldn’t have done so before. I think strong friendships between some people in the Evangelical Network and gay and lesbian members of Conference make it difficult to be judgemental or make decisions without thinking about the other.

“Now the proof will be in what happens next year. The memorandum of understanding needs to be worked on as quickly as possible so we do not lose the momentum of Conference.

“The struggle of gay and lesbian people is not over by any means. This is a hopeful step forward but we won’t stop urging the Church to be more inclusive.”

One group that has expressed reservations about the ordination of gays and lesbians is the Church’s Samoan Synod. Sinoti Samoa superintendent Rev Iakopo Fa’afuata thinks the decision is a good way forward because it reflects the views of all people in the life of the Church.

“I personally think the Church is in favour of the ordination of gay and lesbian people but we are grateful the Church listened and heard the concerns of people like us.”

Iakopo says the issue has caused a lot of pain and divisions not only within the Church but also within families.

“Some of those who left the Church are very dear to us. We have stayed with the Methodist Church of New Zealand because this is the Church where God called for our ministry. We have great faith in the leadership of the Church and that it will make decisions that cater for the needs of everyone in the life of the Church.”

To reach the decision required considerable consultation and negotiation. Throughout the year the Church’s Faith and Order Committee met with groups and individuals who have expressed an interest in the topic. It prepared a report, and at Conference the Maori and Tauiwi sections of the Church discussed it separately.

They arrived at different conclusions on how to proceed and it required further negotiations within the Council of Conference to bridge their differences. Lynne says the result showed trust, respect, and a maturing in the Church’s system of bi-cultural decision-making.

Te Taha Maori Tumuaki Rev Diana Tana says Conference was marked by a genuine effort to listen to each other and work through issues together.

“A sense of graciousness was very evident in the life of Conference this year. Because of this graciousness and a willingness to listen, decision-making was easier to accomplish. The effort both partners made to listen helps us understand more clearly what partnership means,” Diana says.