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New Zealand debates “Way Forward” on same-sex relationships

Posted on: May 5, 2016 1:16 PM

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The week-long biennial meeting of the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia gets underway tomorrow (Friday) and amongst the items for debate is the report by the “Way Forward Working Group” on the blessing of same-sex marriages.

The report, which was requested by the last meeting of the General Synod in 2014, proposes new liturgies for the blessing of civil marriages. In the case of New Zealand, this would include same-sex marriages, which have been lawful since 2013.

The working group say that the proposed new rites of blessing are “additional formularies” rather than doctrinal changes: “It is the view of the majority of the group that the proposed liturgies do not represent a departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ, and are therefore not prohibited by [the Church’s constitution], however the group also recognises that this will be a crucial matter for debate.”

The motion being debated by the General Synod next week asks members to accept the recommendations in the report and to “endorse in principle, for consideration, the proposed new formularies for use in public worship, and the changes to the canons of the Church set out in the report” but it says that the proposed changes should be forwarded to the dioceses of the church so that they can indicate “their assent or otherwise to the proposed changes” ahead of a further consideration by the next General Synod in 2018.

Two dioceses have already intervened. The Christchurch Diocesan Synod have proposed a motion that states that the General Synod “does not adopt any recommendations without first referring the report to the Synods . . . of this Church for discussion, and resources a significant period of education, discussion and discernment throughout this Church.”

And the Nelson Diocesan Synod have tabled a motion calling for “at least four years of intentional theological reflection, education and discussion across our Church on the substance and impact of the [proposed changes].”

The debate on the Way Forward Group’s report will take place on Monday. Other matters set to tax the mind of the General Synod during the next week include the issues of gender-based violence, child poverty, women’s leadership, the housing crisis and welcoming refugees.

On climate change, the General Synod will debate carbon offsetting and look at the disaster preparation of the Pacific islands.

Church order, ecumenical relationships and liturgical matters also will be discussed, including inter-changeability of Methodist and Anglican clergy, changes to the practice of confirmation, and vocations to the ordained ministry.