By Paul Titus
The three Methodist synods in the lower North Island are drawing up plans to amalgamate.
Last year the Taranaki, Hawkes Bay-Manawatu, and Wellington synod executives agreed in principle to join together. A strong majority of their parishes, including Co-operating Ventures with a Methodist component, have approved the move.
Before combining they must overcome the financial hurdle amalgamation will create. It is anticipated that it will cost about $50,000 a year. Much of this money will be used to pay a part-time stipend for a dedicated superintendent who will serve the new larger synod.
Wellington Synod co-superintendent Ron Gibson says currently all three synods are struggling to fill their leadership positions.
“Our synod structure was created in the 19th century and it no longer fits the size church we are in the 21st century. It worked fine until a few decades ago but now we no longer have the ordained people to carry out the superintendent’s role,” Ron says.
Currently the three synods do not cover the cost of the additional 20 to 30 percent workload a minister must bear to carry out the tasks of the superintendent. Lay people often serve as co-superintendents in the synods but it is not always possible to find capable and willing lay people either.
“We no longer need multiple superintendents,” Ron says. “We do need someone with the responsibility to grow and nurture the church and care for our presbyters. The combined synod will be a much bigger area so that person should be paid a stipend so they can be separated from normal parish work.
“There is no stipulation that the superintendent must be ordained. Whoever it is should have the necessary skills, know-how and values. They should be under the discipline of the Church, and in full Connexion,” Ron says.
In practical terms the three synods have already begun to share many tasks in recent years. They hold joint schools of theology and have combined August and March synod meetings.
The next steps along the path toward amalgamation are to come up with a detailed proposal and consult with other bodies in the church affected by the move, including Te Taha Maori and the Pacific Island synods.
The proposed structure of the lower North Island synod would see the part-time district superintendent supported by a secretary-treasurer, three deputy superintendents (one from each of the three regions that make up the combined synod), and a district property convenor.
A potentially controversial aspect of the proposed merger is that the funds needed to pay for the dedicated superintendent are not currently available. Ron says a report on the topic concluded that if the property trusts held by individual parishes within the combined synod were combined, there would be more than enough revenue to fund the new position.
“The combined property assets of the three synods are between $1 million and $2 million. As they are currently held in individual property trusts, we cannot do much with that capital asset but if they district held them collectively, they could easily support the stipend of the superintendent,” Ron says.
The report presented to the August synod concluded that if each parish was willing to forgo a portion of the interest it receives from the investments it receives from the Methodist Trust Association it would fun the expenses entailed in having a combined synod.
Synod leaders say they recognise some parishes would be unable to afford this because they depend on that income for survival. Other parishes could easily afford it, however.
The synods hope to have their merger proposal finalised by June so that it can be approved by parishes and then by the August synod meeting. If Conference 2008 agrees, it would be implemented in early 2009.