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Asia/Pacific: Aotearoa/New Zealand.

UNITING CONGREGATIONS OF AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND (formerly FORUM OF COOPERATIVE VENTURES): The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia; the Associated Churches of Christ in New Zealand; the Congregational Union of New Zealand; the Methodist Church of New Zealand/Te Hahi Weteriana O Aotearoa; and the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

At the request of the World Council of Churches' Commission on Faith and Order the following contribution has been prepared for the Survey of Church Union Negotiations covering the period 2003-2006. To provide an understanding of the nature of the Forum of Uniting Congregations of Aotearoa New Zealand, much of the background material provided by my predecessor David I. Ross in the 1999-2002 report is included.

In 2003 the Forum of Cooperative Ventures agreed to change its name to The Forum of Uniting Congregations of Aotearoa New Zealand. The Forum continues to be an important ecumenical expression of the five partner churches in New Zealand. At its 1999 Biennial Meeting, the membership of the Forum sought clarification of the five partner churches' commitment towards union. (While there was strong support for working together with the denominations, there was also a feeling among the Cooperative Ventures that the cause of unity was being diluted by denominational issues.) Concern was expressed that the vision of a united church of Aotearoa New Zealand that had been an essential component of the Act of Commitment entered into by the partners in 1966 had been lost.

The Standing Committee of the Forum of Cooperative Ventures was asked to canvas the membership about the desirability of establishing a United Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, while still maintaining a commitment to working together with the partner denominations. By mid-2000 it was clear that the establishment of a Uniting Church without the full participation of all the present partners was strongly opposed by 80% of the membership. Thus the challenge to the Standing Committee was rather to find ways of continuing to bring the partners closer together in their mission and ministry in New Zealand and overseas, while honouring their independence and traditions.

Support for ecumenical activities within the mainline churches in New Zealand has been in decline for several years as the denominations face declining membership and deal with issues of cultural and theological diversity within their own ranks. The "branding" of denominations--giving each its own distinctive "profile" or "trademark"--has been practised in order to establish each denomination's position in the community. This has led to some standing apart between denominations, and a fear of loss of identity which might arise through closer working relations or formal union. Parishes are becoming more community focused, which in some cases has led to a decision to cut the ties with any national and/or international church body.

The leadership of the partner churches is still struggling with the suggestion that the division between "liberal" and "conservative" members has become stronger than the denominational differences, and the resulting new fragmentation of the Church in New Zealand is having a significant impact on perspectives on ecumenism. During the period 2003-2005, meetings of partner church leaders on specific UCANZ issues were less frequent. Denominational leadership (including churches in addition to UCANZ partners) has tended to concentrate on wider inter-church and government liaison issues, as well as considering the form of a possible ecumenical body to replace the Conference of Churches of Aotearoa New Zealand, which disbanded in 2005.

The background to the current situation goes back to June 2001, when representatives of the five partner churches in the Forum of Cooperative Ventures met with the executive of the Forum ("Co-operative Ventures" are congregations which have entered into local sharing and common life arrangements, under guidelines approved by the partner churches). The aim was to explore the present relationships between the partners and the Forum, as well as implications for the future.

Representatives noted that a commitment to union was difficult for all partners, and organic union (in the classic sense of the integration of church structures) was not a viable option for any of them at that time. It was acknowledged also that Cooperative Ventures were not the only, and in many instances may not be the best, option for new ecumenical partnerships. Nevertheless all partners expressed a strong affirmation of Cooperative Ventures as a continuing, important visible expression of ecumenism in New Zealand. The meeting resulted in the following statement presented to the 4th Biennial Meeting of the Forum of Cooperative Ventures held in Hamilton, New Zealand in July 2001.

Statement of Partner Representatives, June 21, 2001

While acknowledging that at present Partner Churches are not engaged in negotiating for achieving organic union we affirm the imperative of churches dialoguing together on how we relate ecumenically and actively co-operate together in our ongoing commitment to:

* Continue to work for the wider unity of Christ's church

* Seek better ways of serving pastoral and administrative needs of the Partners

* Continue to develop ecumenical agencies for co-operation, evangelism and service

* Above all to seek a unity that will make the church a more faithful and effective sign and agent.

For the Forum of Cooperative Ventures, unity is expressed by the "Statement of Accord 1984" and the "Faith We Affirm Together" (first prepared for a Plan for Union in 1971 ; the Plan failed but the text is still recognized as a statement of faith by the Partners). The Statement of Accord affirms that:

* the unity of Christ's church on earth is His will and our hope

* the unity we seek is not uniformity but a unity enriched by our diverse heritages, traditions and cultures.

This unity will be marked by:

* an ending of prejudices and hostilities and a lifting of condemnations and barriers

* a sharing of one faith in God and the Trinity

* a mutual recognition of one baptism, one Eucharist, and a ministry recognized by all

* ways of deciding and acting together.

The concept of a "community of faith" is one that is being actively explored and is a dynamic in the forward-looking nature of the Cooperative Venture Movement.

Perhaps one of the major outcomes of the June 2001 inter-church meeting was a commitment by the partner churches to continue the dialogue in two respects: firstly amongst the partners themselves, to explore the broader opportunities for developing their ecumenical journey together; and secondly between the partner churches and the Forum of Cooperative Ventures, to further develop their relationship together as one expression of this ecumenical journey.

The theme for the 4th Biennial Meeting was "Light on the Way--Beacons of Light, Visions of Hope". The programme was designed to provide an opportunity for representatives from 101 co-operating parishes around the country to talk together rather than to be talked to, for people to share and to dream. With the statement from the Partners as a basis for looking towards the future, the Forum was challenged to explore new possibilities for its mission, examine new ways in which it could more fully express unity in its communities and discover new ways to minister within the diversity which is so special to it. The meeting accepted these challenges, and developed a number of key recommendations for the new Standing Committee to frame into policies and practices that would ensure the Cooperative Venture Movement would be a strong visible ecumenical movement of the partner churches.

Since the 2001 Biennial Meeting the Standing Committee has taken these recommendations and formed work groups to consult widely and address the issues raised as follows.

1. Empowering the regional committees of the Forum (Joint Regional Committees). These regional committees are the ecumenical expression of the five Partners and co-operating parishes in the region.

2. Reviewing Ministry Settlement procedures and working with the Partners to provide better consistency in ministry appointments while treasuring the differing ethos of the Partners.

3. Developing improved communication and promotion of the Movement at national and regional levels.

4. Education and training of lay and clergy in cooperating parishes.

5. Develop Locally Shared Ministry. Many congregations want to make more use of lay ministry teams and Partners are cooperating in sharing resources to enable this to happen.

In addressing these recommendations from the Biennial Meetings, work group consultations have emphasized the opportunities for enhanced mission and demonstration of unity, seeking new ways of being "church" in the local communities.

Cooperative Ventures seek first to demonstrate a united mission in their local community. The 5th Biennial Forum meeting held in Karori in 2003 was organized around the theme of "Community Centred--Christ Focused." By being a visible expression of the Partners working together to express God's love in community activities and service, they try to emphasize the unity of mission of all the churches. While diversity of theology does exist across the Cooperative Venture Movement, and some Cooperative Ventures are not the expression of unity in mission that was hoped for, the experience of living out the diversity of worship and mission of the Partners has generally led to an open and inclusive community of faith which in some cases extends across wider groupings than just the five partner churches. Nationally the Forum of Uniting Congregations of Aotearoa New Zealand is conscious of the role it plays as an expression of ecumenical activity of the partner churches, and is also actively involved in other forums for global ecumenism in New Zealand.

Cooperative Venture parishes, as with the mainline denominational churches in New Zealand, are continuing to suffer a declining membership in many areas. The decline can be attributed to the changing social structure, the secularization of society as well as the loss of the traditional sense of community of which the church was an integral part. We are being challenged to make the radical shift from a traditional church that invites the community into its own "faith community", to a customized church that is "out there" meeting the needs of the community in its daily life.

Increasingly the church needs to meet its people in their place, in the supermarket, sports field and workplace. The theme of the 6th Biennial Forum held at Dunedin in 2005 was "Braided Rivers" and the attendees were challenged to recognize that society is changing. Peoples' experiences, perceptions and needs are different but we stand in the same river, flowing from the same source and towards the same goal as all those who are embraced by the banks of the unifying central beliefs of historic Christianity.

It is our hope that the Uniting Congregations Movement, through its demonstration of unity in diversity, can meet this challenge and bring the message of Christ back into our post-modern society in New Zealand. While keeping faithful to the core elements of the partner churches' traditions, each Cooperative Venture is challenged to develop a local diversity of style determined not solely by geography, but also by the culture of the network around which they are based.

Identity for members in the Uniting Congregations parishes is an issue that creates concerns at different levels. Members of a Cooperative Venture are automatically full members in any of the five partner denominations through the Act of Commitment and Statement of Accord entered into by the Partners. This raises concerns when the practices or theological particularities of one Partner are seen to be at variance with the beliefs of the membership in a Cooperative Venture parish. Members wishing to go on to ministry training have the option of selecting the denomination in which they wish to be ordained--but are required to make this decision, since ordination is only possible within the denominational church.

Increasingly we are working to ensure that the opportunities provided by ministry in Cooperative Ventures is being brought to students of ministry in all the theological colleges in New Zealand. New ministry models are also being explored at the parish level, in order to more fully recognize the importance of the ministry of all believers. Locally Shared Ministry is one such model being reviewed by the Partners. This model empowers parishes to actively seek out and utilize the various skills of their lay members under the oversight of a part-time ordained ministry enabler. In some cases, such ministry can provide more focus on community needs and hence enhance the identity of a parish within the community. A strong link through the ministry enabler appointed by the Partner of Oversight is important to ensure that ties with the national church are maintained and supported.

In continuing its journey towards unity amongst the churches of New Zealand, the Forum of Uniting Congregations of Aotearoa New Zealand believes the model of demonstrating unity in mission while celebrating the diversity of traditions, ethos and ministry of the Partner denominations is a strong model for the post-modern society in New Zealand. At the 2005 Biennial Forum it was declared that: "we need to work with others for the sake of mission but we also need to be with each other for the sake of the gospel."

Correspondent: John W. Jones, Executive Officer, Forum of Uniting Congregations of Aotearoa New Zealand, Post Box 6469, Marion Square, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand; telephone: + 64 4 384 3587, fax: + 64 4 384 3587, email: office@ucanz.org.nz, website: http://www.ucanz.org.nz/
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Title Annotation:Reports on Union Negotiations
Author:Jones, John W.
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:2199
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