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Pastoral letter aims to defuse electoral concerns

An unusual degree of media interest in the selection of the Methodist Church of NZ’s president elect and rumours of possible splits in the church have led president Ron Malpass to issue a pastoral letter to all congregations.

The letter urged calm, explained the processes the Church uses to select its president and vice president, and stated the Law Book has provisions to resolve a situation if there is no consensus on selecting new officers.

Media interest was sparked by an article in the October 16 Herald on Sunday entitled ‘Lesbian to head Methodist church’. The article (by a journalist who has since been sacked for fabricating another story) talked of the “likely appointment” of the “Rev Diana Tana, who has publicly stated she is in a lesbian relationship”, to be president of the Church.

The article quoted unnamed conservatives who claim thousands would quit the church if Diana were inducted. It said some church members have held special prayer sessions to seek divine guidance.

In response to the news media’s interest, Ron issued a brief press statement in the evening of October 16. It says: “The selection process for the persons to lead the church as president and vice president from November 2006 is underway. The process is an open one in which all sections of the church take part. The calling for nominations is only the first step in a selection process which is ongoing and will culminate at the Church’s Conference in early November.

“In 2004 a memorandum of understanding was entered into which enables members of the church who have differing theological views, including those regarding sexual orientation, to hold their views with integrity while still remaining within the Church family. This has enabled the church to move forward as we seek to be a welcoming and inclusive church, for all.

“This memorandum will be part of the background to any process leading to the possible selection of the Rev Tana as the Church’s President for the 2007 year.”

Later on 20 October Ron issued his pastoral letter, which explains nomination for Methodist president is open to all presbyters, deacons and laypersons, who meet requirements spelt out in the Law Book. Candidates are nominated by a district synod, Te Taha Maori, or one of the Pacific synods. Prior to Conference Tauiwi and Te Taha Maori meet separately to determine which of the nominees they can support.

At this time all groups in the Church have the opportunity to express their preferences. The names of those Tauiwi and Taha Maori support go forward to the Conference Panel which represents both Te Taha Maori and Tauiwi. This panel considers the names brought forward and, by consensus, agrees on a recommendation to Conference of a person they believe will be able to carry out the role of president as the chief pastor of the Church.

This year Diana was the sole person nominated by the synods and Te Taha Maori.

In his letter Ron express his hope that all members of the church will see the importance and fairness of ensuring processes take place at Conference and are not unduly influenced by what some individuals say through the press.