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General Assembly 2014

October 10, 2014 Leave a comment

 

I have just returned from the Presbyterian General Assembly held in Auckland at St Kentigern’s College, interesting for me as it was a geography of significant events in my life. I was the minister at Pakuranga Baptist Church, just across the road from the College, when I resigned from Baptist Ministry, and then for the next three years found “spiritual refuge” for my rather bruised faith in St Columba’s Presbyterian Church, also just across the road, while I taught at MacLean’s College. This was my first real engagement with the Presbyterian Church. Both churches have now moved as the land has been taken over by the expanding Town Centre, but the moderator of this Assembly, Andrew Norton, is the minister of St Columba’s,GA 2014 and it was a joy to meet again Graeme Murray, the minister from the time I spent recovering there.

 

I have attended many Assemblies, both Baptist and Presbyterian, and I have often felt my soul echoed the words of the prophet Amos, “I cannot stand your assemblies.” However I did not feel that on this occasion, and overall my impression is that it was the best and most significant I have been to in the PCANZ. Not only did it have a much better culture about it but I also believe it took some significant steps in moving us forward. The culture change that Andrew facilitated, both in the way he set it up (having us sitting around tables for one thing), organised the worship and speakers and moderated the business sessions, was part of this. Some significant decisions were also made.

 

From my perspective, not surprising giving my previous blog, it was wonderful to see a much greater visibility of our bicultural and multicultural character, something commented on by the guest speaker, Steve Taylor, in his closing comments. It was wonderful to see our commitment to being a “cross cultural and multicultural church with a bicultural commitment” passed unanimously. Now it is important for us to engage in the journey of becoming cross-cultural rather than just remaining multicultural. Another very significant decision was that to set up a Mission Enterprise Fund and to commit 10% of the sale of property to this, which will be used to facilitate mission initiatives. Decisions were also made which will enable more easily some of the changes which need to be made in rationalising the number of parishes we have, again an urgent necessity. So for me these kind of decisions, which will enable us to more readily make changes to adapt to the reality of our context and so engage more effectively in God’s mission, left me feeling greatly encouraged.

 

There were other decisions made with which I did not always agree but such is the nature of a “broad” and therefore diverse church. One of the most significant moments came as the debate on issues of sexuality was to begin and my friend Hamish Galloway passionately stated that after 28 years of debating we need to find a better way of dealing with our diversity and led a walkout which was taken up by about one third of the commissioners. I trust that those who hold passionate and strong positions at both ends of the spectrum take note of what this said.

 

One final reflection is on the courageous leadership Andrew Norton showed, both in the way he brought changes into the assembly programme and lea and moderated our time together. One of the things he introduced was to have a ministers’ resourcing day the day before. About 200 of our ministers attended and it was an excellent day, both in terms of content and also the chances for ministers to share some of the joys and challenges of their ministry with one another. The afternoon session was on ‘transformational leadership’, and I gave the opening address comparing transactional leadership (‘keeping the ship afloat’) and transformational leadership, arguing that the latter was adequate in settled times but in times of rapid change and challenge the latter is needed. It seems to me that moderators have been expected to act in the former way and have done so. Andrew took the risk of being transformational. That often attracts criticism, but for myself and I know many others, I am pleased he took the risk and helped to bring about significant change. I trust we can build on this as we move forward together.

 

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