Talks have begun to try to reach an amicable separation between members of four conservative evangelical churches and the Diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand.
The congregations of the four churches voted by large majorities to disaffiliate following the decision in May by the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia to permit churches in New Zealand to bless same sex marriages.
Archbishop Philip Richardson, one of the primates of the ANZP, has now met with senior diocesan staff and archdeacons and the vicars and wardens of the four parishes to discuss how their members could disaffiliate “in a respectful manner while maintaining good communication and leaving doors open.”
The official news website of ANZP, Anglican Taonga, reports that the discussions led to the agreement of a three-month exit process.
“This is a broken and painful place to be,” Richardson said, “but we need to find a way to walk through this unchartered land that is gracious, hospitable and realistic.”
The four congregations are St. Stephen’s, Shirley; St. John’s, Latimer Square; St. Saviour’s and St. Nicholas’, South Christchurch; and St. John’s, Woolston.
They agreed that a three-month “resignation or exit process” was appropriate, to allow for “logistics to be sensitively managed . . . so that the disaffiliation could take place in good faith”.
In a statement, the Diocese of Christchurch said: “It was agreed by all present the way forward needed to be respectful, orderly and should allow people time to make appropriate decisions.
“In some cases, it was acknowledged that although the majority of the people attending these churches intended to leave, some might remain. And the Diocese is committed to care for those remaining as well as enabling as smooth as possible exit for those choosing to leave.
“It was agreed that clergy and lay representatives who are disaffiliating would voluntarily not take part in the upcoming Electoral College. Furthermore, it was agreed in principle that there was a desire from both parties to part on good terms and to communicate with and about each other respectfully.”
“Further meetings will be held with the churches and Diocesan representatives to work out exit strategies to do with personnel, plant, buildings, bank accounts and more. It was agreed decisions about these things will happen on a case by case basis depending on particular circumstances and fairness.”
The diocese said: “bearing in mind the sense of loss and sadness on both sides, we ask you to pray for all concerned that we may act in love and forbearance towards one another through our Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.”