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CVs hot potato as partner churches explore new ways to cooperate

By Paul Titus

In an open letter, former president of the Methodist Church of NZ Rev Brian Turner has fired off a broadside, warning that some leaders of the partner churches are planning to dismantle or restrict Cooperative Ventures (CVs).

Church leaders respond that their support for CVs has not diminished but in changing circumstances they must seek new, more flexible ways to engage with one another.

Brian cites a number of moves he believes show that the Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican Churches are distancing themselves from their ecumenical commitment to CVs and Uniting Congregations.

These include the Presbyterian Church’s efforts to create super presbyteries that, he says, ignore ecumenical groupings; discussions between Anglican and Presbyterian leaders in South Canterbury to review and perhaps split up the cooperating parishes; and Methodist synod executives’ statements that they would not support the creation of more CVs.

Brian writes that some denominational leaders say church growth is one reason they want to re-examination CVs.

"They claim that CV’s do not grow as well as straight denominational parishes. If that is true, it’s probably because denominations do not invest as many resources in CVs as in straight denominational parishes.

"Another major driver is that CVs tie up denominational property and finance. Under the old model of CVs, yes, but newer models such as the Waimakariri Shared Ministry in North Canterbury and Crossways Community Church in Christchurch, are freer from such requirements.

Brian argues that the bottom line for the churches should not be self-preservation but the call of Jesus that His disciples be one, so that the world might believe. (For the full text of Brian’s letter, see below.)

The Presbyterian Church’s executive secretary Rev Martin Baker says he is mindful that many small congregations, including CVs, face difficult issues but he does not share Brian’s concerns or anguish.

"About one third of Presbyterian congregations in NZ are involved in some form of cooperative ministry and we are very keen to support them. We are not blocking new CVs. For example, a new Presbyterian-Methodist CV was formed in Levin last year," Martin says.

"However, we do not see structural integration as the simple answer to church growth. We need to support growth and mission, and to do this will require a diversity of solutions based on local contexts.

"Concern arises when congregations decline and believe the only solution is to join with another denomination. We don’t believe that is the solution. We believe we need to find more creative ways to move forward."

Martin disagrees with Brian that CVs are under resourced. There is no policy to treat CVs differently, he says. In fact, they can draw on the resources of the different partner churches.

"Many CVs are small, and small congregations face critical issues in all denominations. One solution is more regional support networks that can help them find ways forward. Larger presbyteries are one way that more resources can be made available to smaller congregations," Martin says.

Methodist general secretary Rev David Bush too disagrees that the partner churches are blocking new ecumenical endeavours or withdrawing support from existing ones.

He cites the Waimakariri and Crossways congregations as examples of the new types of CVs that are emerging.

"People are looking for ways to work with other churches that are more flexible. It is a sign of the times. The ecumenical vision of the 1970s is not the current vision that is driving them."

A concern David has is the role played by Joint Regional Committees (JRCs), the regional ecumenical bodies that support CVs and serve as forums for the partner churches. He says the performance of JRCs is uneven across the country. In some regions they do not exist at all, in others they meddle in the affairs of the partner churches.

"At times the JRCs are odds with where the partners and can become the tail that wags the dog. The JRCs say they would like to see the partners take a greater interest in the CVs but the JRC themselves can act as a screen between the partners and the CVs," David says.

"The partners do care about what happens in CVs, and we need to find ways to help the partners engage with their CVs. One proposal that has been floated is that Uniting Congregations of Aotearoa NZ (UCANZ) should play the key linking role between the partners rather than the JRCs.

"This would mean the primary function of a CV’s church of oversight would be to keep the partners informed," David says.

UCANZ executive officer Rev Peter MacKenzie echoes the sentiment that greater flexibility is required as the partner churches and CVs move into the future.

"In local communities there are a host of new cooperative initiatives that are not based on traditional models. Some are within denominations and some are between denominations," Peter says.

"CVs are diversifying and working with churches outside the traditional partnerships. The partner churches have to be flexible enough to endorse these relationships.

"At the same time, the partners are moving away from the ‘one parish/one minister’ model. This places new challenges on CVs and it is in their interest that the partners explore new ways to cooperate."

Peter says iUCANZ must also become more flexible if it is to effectively support and encourage the partners deal with CVs. He says UCANZ must continue to ask the right questions and act as a facilitator to help the partners find solutions.

To this end UCANZ is reviewing its guide to procedures. Peter says UCANZ has given him a mandate to facilitate discussion at all levels – within UCANZ, JRCs, and parishes – on these issues.

He understands Brian’s concerns but sees the partner churches finding new ways of cooperating rather than withdrawing from cooperation.

By Brian Turner, Waimakariri Shared Ministry

Cooperative Ventures be warned; some denominational leaders are planning your
demise. Moves are afoot in some Churches to dismantle, restrict and prevent the
cooperative ventures movement from further developing.

Whilst nationally, Church leaders and their reps are seriously negotiating a national Churches
Commission for Christian Unity, some regional Church leaders, in cahoots with national nods,
are working against CVs.

For example:

1. The Anglican Diocese of Christchurch has established a commission to review the model of
cooperating parishes. On 31 March the commission met with national and regional Presbyterian
Church leaders to review the cooperating parishes of South Canterbury. One of the options
proposed was to share buildings but split into separate denominational parishes.

2. Already, the partnership between Methodists and Presbyterians in Geraldine has been
dissolved, and elsewhere in the country Anglicans have withdrawn from some cooperating
ventures and taken over others.

3. The executive of the Methodist Central South Island Synod has gone on record as not
supporting the development of any more cooperative ventures, despite this policy never being
debated or decided by the Synod as a whole, and contravening the present position of the New
Zealand Methodist Church.

4. The restructuring task group of the New Zealand Methodist Church is paying little or no
attention to the fact that approximately half of NZ Methodists are in cooperative ventures.

5. The Presbyterian Church’s blueprint for new super presbyteries, could ride rough-shod
over Union District Councils (UDC’s) and their equivalents in Northland, Hawkes Bay,
Wairarapa and the West Coast. Presbyterian parishes in these areas are now required to give
their primary loyalty to presbytery rather than their ecumenical grouping. All this is hypocrisy
at the highest level of Church governance when

• Representatives of the same Churches threatening CVs are negotiating a national Churches
Commission for Christian Unity.

• In 2009 the NZ Anglican and Methodist Churches signed a national covenant to work more
closely together.

• The official position of the New Zealand Methodist Church is “To be Methodist is to be

Rumours of moves against CVs surfaced in 2007-08. They included suggestions that
Presbyterian and Methodist Church leaders were planning to divvy up CVs between them!

UCANZ convened a meeting with Presbyterian and Methodist Church leaders.

As the then President of the NZ Methodist Church, I strongly reaffirmed the pro-union and
pro-cooperation position of the Methodist Church and publicised this reaffirmation throughout
the Church. This remains the national position of the Methodist Church. The Executive
Secretary of the Presbyterian Church said that Presbyterian Church growth was their priority.

Church growth is one of the reasons that some denominational leaders give for wanting a
re-examination of CVs. They claim that CVs do not grow as well as straight denominational
parishes. If that is true, it’s probably because denominations do not invest as many resources
in CVs as in straight denominational parishes.

Another major driver is that CVs tie up denominational property and finance. Under the old
model of CVs yes, but newer models such as the “Waimakariri Shared Ministry” of North
Canterbury and “Crossways” in Christchurch, are freer from such requirements. The bottom
line is surely not selfpreservation, but the call of Jesus that His disciples be one, so that the
world might believe (John 17:20-23).

It’s not for our survival or selfsatisfaction that we are called to one-ness but that the world
might believe. The disunity of the Church is a disgrace and a blot upon the Gospel of love
and unity we purport to proclaim. So then, is cooperation and unity or competitive
denominationalism to rule the day? We can’t have both, for as one wisehead has put it:
“to not cooperate is in fact to compete”.

The blatant hypocrisy of Churches in purporting to be concerned about unity nationally but
acting against unity and cooperation locally, needs to be challenged.