By Paul Titus
Most readers of the July edition of the Methodist Church’s email newsletter ‘e-Messenger’ would have been startled to read MCNZ president Rev Brian Turner refute a rumour they had not heard.
Brian wrote “there is absolutely no substance to the rumour that the Methodist Church of NZ has agreed with the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ (PCANZ) to dismantle Union/Cooperating Parishes or divide them up between Partner Churches.”
Neither, he continued, has there been a decision by the MCNZ to defer the establishment of further Cooperating or Union Parishes. “The MCNZ as a whole remains committed to exploring all possible means of ecumenical cooperation and working towards the visible unity of the Church.”
Later the PCANZ’s Council of Assembly issued a statement that regretted speculation about the future of cooperating ventures. It assured these congregations, Uniting Congregations Aotearoa NZ (UCANZ), and the Partner Churches that “no moves would be taken without proper consultation as outlined in the Act of Commitment and the Guide to Procedures on Cooperative Ventures.”
The Presbyterians were less supportive of creating more Uniting Congregations, however. The Council of Assembly’s statement said: “There are issues with cooperative ventures concerning property and governance that need addressing, and while the UCANZ partners consider the path ahead, we are not in a position to encourage Presbyterian congregations to formally unite in new cooperating ventures.”
So what was the rumour and where did it come from?
Rev Tony Bell is superintendent of the Taranaki-Wanganui synod of the Methodist Church. He is also a Methodist representative on the Standing Committee of UCANZ. Tony says in April and May he received several enquiries from congregations in his district regarding reports that the Methodists and Presbyterians were in negotiations to divide up Cooperating Ventures.
The Methodists’ other representative on Standing Committee, Rev Nigel Hanscamp says he had received a number of queries from people who had heard the Presbyterian Church was withdrawing from Cooperating Ventures.
They made a request to UCANZ executive officer Rev Peter McKenzie to make time at the July meeting of the Standing Committee to address the matter. Brian Turner, along with Presbyterian moderator Rt Rev Pamela Tankersley and executive officer Rev Martin Baker attended that meeting.
Peter McKenzie says at that meeting leaders of both churches ensured the Standing Committee that they have no plans to pull back from Cooperating Ventures.
“It appears that the rumour started with concerns about resources expressed at the Presbyterian Council of Assembly. After that people put one and one together and came up with five,” Peter says.
“Nevertheless, there are issues to deal with in regards to property. All churches have a lot of money invested in property and they have an inability to pay for ministry on the ground. There are some hard questions to ask and it is na?ve to think only CVs must ask them.
"We all know things have to change but it will be uncomfortable to make those changes, and they may not suit everybody. To free up capital resources may mean a loss of local control and capital that people thought was theirs.”
Martin Baker says the Presbyterian Church is very much committed to growth and outward facing, innovative ministry. It would not object to cooperative initiatives that can achieve that but it does not want to see Presbyterian congregations enter formal arrangements that lock up rather than release resources.
“Structural integration may not be the answer to growth because it often does not free up resources for mission. At a basic level, congregations must have a vision for growth that is both deep and wide, in other words, growth that increases our numbers but also the depth of our faith.
“Huge amounts of energy and time can go into complex formal arrangements, and at this point we want to keep things simple. We would encourage local congregations to work together to achieve a greater vision but we would urge them to keep processes as simple as possible,” Martin says.
Brian Turner says in his travels around New Zealand he frequently hears people say they are working together regardless of church hierarchies.
“We need to recognise that God’s spirit is moving local communities and that this can be healthy. Local communities are not going to be frustrated by church politics or hierarchies holding the line on denominationalism,” he says.