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NZ Church leaders explore new forms of cooperation

Currently New Zealand has the dubious distinction of being one of the few Christian countries in the world without an ecumenical forum where representatives of different denominations can exchange views and develop joint endeavours.

A new initiative may end this, however. In June leaders of seven NZ churches historically committed to working together accepted an invitation from the Methodist Church to meet and explore new possibilities. Those who met represented the Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, Christian Churches of NZ (formerly Associated Churches of Christ), Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, the Salvation Army, and the Quakers/Society of Friends.

At the meeting representatives of the churches acknowledged the void created by the closure of the Conference of Churches (CCANZ). They made a commitment to maintain a dialogue in order to develop a theology of ecumenism.

A work group of the Methodist Church’s Mission and Ecumenical (M&E) Committee took the initiative to bring the church leaders together. Methodist president Rev Brian Turner and Faith and Order convener Rev Dr Terry Wall represented the Methodist Church at the June meeting.

Brian says he, Terry and M&E secretary John Roberts will now prepare a draft paper on the theology of ecumenism for the church leaders to consider when they next meet on September 3rd.

“Discussions at the first meeting concentrated on some of the things we have in common. We mapped out some of the areas where the churches already cooperate in practical matters. They include the Churches Education Commission, NZ Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS), and Refugee and Migrant Services,” Brian says.

“It is compelling to achieve the visible unity of the Church. But it is also important to clarify why we work together. Therefore we decided we need to develop a theology of ecumenism.

“The paper will consider ecumenism in the New Zealand context mindful that all the churches have dialogues at international levels and work together through such organisations as the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia.”

Brian says it is important to point out that the initiative to develop an ecumenical body does not encompass the Maori divisions of the major churches. They have maintained their ecumenical relations through Te Runanga Whakawhanaunga.

He also points out that at this point Vision Network has not been included in the discussions though they were involved in the Strategic Thinking Group, which unsuccessfully tried to create a successor to CCANZ.

“"At this point, the discussions involve individual churches rather than composite groupings like Vision Network. It is also understood that Vision Network belongs to the World Evangelical Alliance which has a set doctrine and theology which is not the preferred position of some churches involved in the present discussions. We need to be free to determine a theology of ecumenism that arises out of our Aotearoa-NZ context rather than one that is dictated from overseas,” Brian says.