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Community church dissolves CV agreement

By Paul Titus

After a long and careful process of deliberation and consultation the South Canterbury Joint Regional Council has agreed to a Cooperative Venture’s request to dissolve its agreement of union.

On January 1st the Presbyterian-Methodist St Andrew’s Cooperating Parish became a solely Presbyterian parish. The Methodist parish will now close.

The Geraldine Parish began the formal process of reverting to a single denomination in November 2006 after several years of discussing the possibility. A commission made up of two Presbyterian and two Methodist representatives was set up to consider the request. Christian Churches NZ lay leader Lyndsay Jacobs served as its independent chair.

An application to dissolve a Cooperative Venture is extremely rare, and members of the commission stress that the event was unique to the situation at the Geraldine Parish.

The Guide to Procedures for Cooperative Ventures, states that terminating an agreement can be considered if the Cooperative Venture “finds that the reasons for their ... agreement no longer serves the purpose for which it was intended or the circumstances of the parish have changed significantly.”

The Geraldine Parish sought to dissolve its union on the latter grounds.

Lyndsay says the procedures for dissolving an agreement were mainly designed to cover situations when a parish is closing or there is conflict among the partners. Neither of these held in the Geraldine case.

“This is a dynamic congregation. There was no conflict with those members who were identified as Methodist. Indeed, the Methodist folk were welcome to remain part of the congregation, and I understand virtually all of them will.

“Rather this is a conservative congregation that wants to express itself more conservatively. It presented four reasons that its union agreement should be dissolved. The commission found that while no one of the reasons constituted ‘significant change’ that would justify dissolution, taken together a case could be made for dissolution,” Lyndsay says.

The commission’s report outlined four ways the Geraldine parish council said its circumstances have changed.

1) The Methodist Church has become more liberal, as indicated by its decision to ordain gays and lesbians, whereas the Presbyterian Church has become more “orthodox”. The latter theological position is the one preferred by the majority of the congregation.

2) The need to report to both partner churches and the Joint Regional Council is onerous and cumbersome.

3) The congregation’s minister was by agreement already serving beyond the usual 10 year maximum term, and the congregation was concerned over the Cooperative Ventures’ appointment and oversight structure.

4) The congregation now has members from a wide range of denominational backgrounds who share a similar theological focus.

Regarding the second point, Geraldine minister Rev Ian Hyslop says the congregation is very mission focused. It has active community, youth and children’s activities and is involved in overseas mission. It saw the requirement to answer to three regional courts and three national bodies as a drain on resources.

In its report the commission countered each of these points. For example, it pointed out that there are conservative and liberal congregations in both the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, and that both partner churches seek to respect all views.

The commission also wrote that the partner churches and Uniting Congregations Aotearoa New Zealand (UCANZ), which oversees Cooperative Ventures, are moving to simplify administrative obligations and relax limits on terms of appointments.

The commission’s report also addressed the financial implications of dissolution. Lyndsay says dissolution was complicated because, when the Geraldine Cooperative Venture was established, valuations of the assets contributed were not kept.

The property trustees of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches had the challenging task to determine the current ratio of ownership. By reviewing past and present government valuations, it was agreed that property ratio was 16 percent Methodist and 84 percent Presbyterian. This meant that to dissolve the CV, the parish was required to pay the Methodist Church $142,400.

When the commission’s report was put to the full parish, it indicated by a very large margin it wished to proceed with the dissolution.

Ian says the Geraldine church will now call itself St Andrew’s Community Church to emphasise its mission focus.