Local Ecumenical Projects the new face of ecumenism
Though the movement for church union is now defunct in New Zealand, the pressures that compel local congregations to join forces have not abated.
Either due to declining numbers or finances, or because they are inspired to work with others who share a vision for worship and community service, some congregations still have a desire to link up across denominational lines.
As the major denominations now frown on the creation of new Cooperating Ventures, their solution is to create a Local Ecumenical Project (or LEP).
An LEP is an initiative where two or more congregations or parishes formally agree to work more closely together but do not necessarily lose their own identity and certainly do not combine their properties.
The Forum of Uniting Congregations of Aotearoa NZ (UCANZ) is committed to promoting the development of LEPs, though LEPs may include congregations that do not belong to the five partner churches that make up
UCANZ executive officer Rev Peter Mackenzie says the partner churches currently have a lot of their resources tied up in property and are unable to pay for ministry and mission initiatives. At a time when some parishes are facing closure there is a reluctance to enter into new arrangements that tie up capital assets. LEPs provide an alternative because each party retains its assets.
“It is like the difference between marriage and flatting together,” Peter says. “A Cooperative Venture is like a marriage in which all the property is joined in one account. If there is a divorce at a later point the settlement may be quite complex.
“Now churches are more focused on flatting situations. You might have one partner with a facility, and the other partner providing the money for ministry. Perhaps the money comes from the sale of one congregation’s capital but the assets are not combined.”
Two LEPs are currently being established within the Central South Island Synod of the Methodist Church. Synod superintendent Rev Bruce Anderson sees them as an exciting, up-to-date take on the ecumenical imperative that in the past was expressed through the creation of CVs.
“When the partner churches were moving toward organic union, CVs made sense but nowadays the partner churches are looking for different ways to work together.” Bruce says.
“LEPs provide openness and flexibility. They are grassroots movements that have grown out of a desire to do things together. The two LEPs in Canterbury involve Methodist and Presbyterian parishes or congregation but they could also involve other churches.”
Bruce says Methodist components of LEPs continue to be part of synod and contribute to the Connexional budget.