The Revd John Hebenton, the vicar of Gate Pa, Tauranga, in New Zealand’s North Island’s Bay of Plenty, has been elected as the new minister general of the Third Order of St Francis. Hebenton, who has spent most of his 30-year ordained ministry working with youth organisations, becomes the “functional head” and “servant” of the international Anglican Franciscan movement, which brings together “men and women, clergy or lay, who are called to a lifelong discipline and vow”. He succeeds the Revd Ken Norian from the US-based Episcopal Church.
Hebenton was elected at the recent sexennial meeting of the Inter-Provincial Third Order Chapter (IPTOC), which was held at the High Leigh Conference Centre in south-east England. IPTOC is a gathering of ministers provincial and representatives of the orders five provinces: the Pacific (Aotearoa-New Zealand and Polynesia with Melanesia), Americas, Europe, Africa; and the Asia Pacific (Australia, Papua New Guinea and East Asia). held every 6 years.
His responsibilities include co-ordinating the interprovincial life of the Third Order, convening its meetings of ministers, and calling the next IPTOC meeting in 2023. He will also be responsible for implementing the decisions taken at the recent IPTOC meeting.
“This is a huge honour and a humbling responsibility to be minister general at this time,” Hebenton said. “At our recent IPTOC the Spirit of God was clearly moving in a number of our provinces, calling us to renew our identity as Franciscans.”
He continued: “800 years ago Francis of Assisi heard the crucified and risen Christ call him to rebuild the church. He did not see this as building the institution, but simply living the gospel, and living the gospel simply.
“On his death bed he told his closest brothers that he had done what was his to do, and invited them to listen as Christ showed them what was theirs. Francis says the same to us today. We are being invited to hear again how we might rebuild the church in the way of Francis and Clare.
“Two significant themes that came out of IPTOC were the need to be more intentional in our ongoing formation as we grow in our lives following Christ in the way of Francis and Clare; and the desire to use the ever increasing technology to do this together rather than separately in our five provinces.”
Married with three adult children, Hebenton lives in Mount Maunganui, Tauranga. He has been a Third Order Franciscan since 1993 and was life professed in 1995. He has served the Franciscan community as a novice counsellor, area chapter representative and area chaplain. From 2006 – 20015 he was minister provincial for the Pacific.
The Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis is the present-day revival of the order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance, which was founded by Francis after he received the call to rebuild the church. “Early in his ministry, Francis recognised the need to include people from all walks of life within his movement of reform and renewal,” Hebenton said. “The work of following Christ in humility, love and joy, which is the vocation of all Christians, could not be restricted to the traditional life of the Friars and Sisters. This was true in the 13th century and it remains so today.”
Today, there are estimated to be over a half-million Franciscans worldwide in the Christian family, including First Order brothers and sisters who live a celibate life in their respective communities, and the Third Order, which consists of men and women, single or in committed relationships who, though following ordinary professions, are called to a dedicated life of service through prayer, study, and work.