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Hawkes Bay-Manawatu District encompasses diversity

By Paul Titus

From Gisborne in the northeast to Foxton in the southwest, the Manawatu-Hawkes Bay District encompasses a wide area and a wide variety of Methodist and Uniting parishes.

They range from Wesley Broadway in Palmerston North, home to a large urban congregation and the Methodist Social Service Centre, to small rural parishes searching for ways to keep their ministry alive in changing times.

A significant percentage of the parishes in Manawatu-Hawkes Bay are Methodist. Along with Wesley Broadway they include the parishes of Napier, Hastings, Gisborne, Fielding, Marton, and Ashhurst-Bunnythorpe-Pohangina.

The district also contains nine Uniting Congregations. A number of parishes have Samoan or Tongan congregations in addition to their Pakeha-Palangi congregations.

While some of the smaller congregations are focused on their own spiritual lives, most also run social service programmes. Napier and Gisborne both have op shops and the congregation in Fielding supports runs a community garden and supports the ecumenical social services centre Manchester House. The Marton congregation runs a drop in centre for former patients of Lake Alice psychiatric patients who have moved into the community.

District Superintendent Rev Stuart Grant says some parts of the District have faced difficulties in recent years.

“Some Hawkes Bay congregations decided to leave the Methodist Church after the 1997 decision to accept a gay minister into Connexion. Congregations in Greenmeadows and Havelock North left and so did two thirds of the Hastings congregation. Napier remained loyal as did the Hastings congregation’s large Samoan congregation.

“A separate concern has been the situation in Gisborne where Tony Bell and Shirley-Joy Barrow have served in transitional ministry. The Gisborne parish has Tongan, Samoan, and English-speaking congregations. The English-speaking group is now too small to support a presbyter, and the parish requires a more cooperative style of leadership. Our hope is that we will get a good bilingual Tongan minister stationed there,” Stuart says.

A key concern for the Manawatu-Hawkes Bay district is the need to find new styles of ministry to support smaller parishes. As Stuart nears the end of six years as district superintendent and presbyter of Wesley Broadway, he is working to set in place a model of ministry based on lay people.

Palmerston North is the biggest parish in Manawatu and there are smaller parishes in surrounding towns. Stuart believes the person who replaces him should not be a stand-alone presbyter but someone who can work with outlying parishes to develop lay ministry.

“We recently had a special synod in Woodville on empowering laity. It was our first attempt to develop ideas for appropriate ministry. We need to appoint people who can facilitate, train and empower lay preachers in the smaller parishes.”

Next year presbyter of Napier Methodist Church Rev Beverly Osborne and layperson John Thornley will become co-superintendents of the Distrist.