"Not Just Us - Not Just Now" - Lessons from New Zealand
Updated: Mar 25
As faithful Anglicans in the Church of England consider how best to respond to the proposed Prayers of Love and Faith, there is much to learn from brothers and sisters in New Zealand. Not least because it was the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP) that was, ccording to the answer to Q177 at the February 2023 General Synod, “The example that [CofE] bishops considered in some more depth during their residential meetings.”
In a letter to his diocese , Bishop Jay Behan, of the Church of Confessing Anglicans, Aotearoa, New Zealand (CCAANZ), wrote recently,
“The Church of England’s General Synod has welcomed proposals which would enable same-sex couples to come to church after a civil marriage or civil partnership to give thanks, dedicate their relationship to God and receive God’s blessing.”
So reads the opening line of the Church of England’s official press release after its General Synod last month. I point this out because since the conclusion of the General Synod, debate has taken place over exactly what was passed. But the statement above makes it clear what the Church of England believes it has passed and the desire behind it. In other words, the Church of England has now passed something very similar to what ACANZP passed in 2018, leading to the formation of CCAANZ.”
The similarities are obvious. In 2018, the ACANZP General Synod agreed that the formularies (doctrine) would remain unchanged, while allowing the possibility of services of blessing for those entering a civil same-sex marriage. There are notable differences, such as the possibility of a diocesan or provincial (Tikanga) opt-out, primarily due to the way the ACANZP is constituted, as well as the need to respect the views of the more conservative Polynesian Tikanga.
Their initial decision was also delayed, as requests were made for structural ‘settlements’ to allow for alternative episcopal oversight, such as a new province, a non-geographical diocese or a separate Order with its own bishops (with churches choosing whether to remain in communion with the ACANZP). In the end, the need for unity within the Tikanga won out and these structures were rejected in favour of pastoral reassurance and internal ‘Christian Communities’ that might offer fellowship “bound by common bonds of affection and theological conviction”, whilst still being “involved in the life of a parish, the diocese and this Church”.
Five years on, what can those compelled to resist learn from their brothers and sisters in New Zealand?
It has not been easy, but two ideas seem to have shaped their response and their continued relationships:
1. The principle is clear – how we respond is cloudy.
Those compelled to resist the change in New Zealand were clear that to bless such relationships is sinful; there was (and for the most part still is) unity across traditionally divergent groups on this principle. Yet, individual clergy and individual congregations have made different decisions, at different times, in response. Some have left the ACANZP, some of whom have joined the CCANZ, with others making different choices. Many have remained in the ACANZP, some of whom have joined the formal ‘Christian Community’ of St Mark, others do not see the need to mark themselves out in that way.
Relationships have not been easy – but as Bishop Jay Behan has said over and over again,
“… remember the principle is clear, but the way we respond is cloudy. We’re going to have to bear with one another as people work out their responses -and conscience and circumstances play a huge part. We must exercise patience and respect. And things are still shifting.”
Which leads to the second idea.
2) Not just us – not just now
“One of the principles I speak about a lot that guided us in our decision-making process was “not just us, not just now”. This was important so we were not just making decisions for us or that worked only in the present. Our decisions were guided by what others need and by what will last. Remaining Anglican was, in part, not because it is the only way, but because of the proven capacity to last over 500 years regardless of personalities.” (Bishop Jay Behan)
For those pioneering new ways of being Anglican, such as the Anglican Network in Europe, the challenge is to provide a structure that will last, where adiaphora (matters indifferent) do not become dogma. For those looking to remain in the Canterbury-aligned structures it may mean bigger churches using their influence to protect (not control) smaller churches and everyone taking seriously the difficulty of succession planning.
In his recent letter to the CCANZ, Bishop Jay Behan went on to reflect on the consequences of what appears to have happened in London in February,
“The Archbishop of Canterbury is known as the primus inter pares, ‘first among equals', calling the ten-yearly gathering of the Anglican bishops of the world at Lambeth. To see this Church depart from the apostolic gospel and the biblical faith is uniquely distressing and uniquely disruptive to the Anglican Communion.
This marks a crucial moment in Anglicanism. I think two things will happen because of the actions of the Church of England General Synod. Firstly, it will embolden other heterodox provinces and dioceses to follow suit—or, in the case of those who have already done something similar, to go even further. Secondly, it will lead to a major realignment within the worldwide Anglican Communion among orthodox Anglicans who are unable to remain in structural relationship with those who have changed in such ways. The upcoming Gafcon Conference (April 17-21 in Kigali, Rwanda) will be a very important gathering of orthodox Anglicans from around the world to prayerfully seek the Lord’s leading in this.”
He then called on all faithful Anglicans in New Zealand to pray:
1. Please pray for our brothers and sisters in England who are in a similar position that we found ourselves in back in 2018. As they lament the decision and face an uncertain future, having been let down by their bishops, pray that the Lord will grant them confidence in him, thankfulness in the gospel, and unity in the one who is the way, the truth and the life.
2. Please pray for those who have left behind the clear teaching of the Scriptures. Pray that they will, even now, repent and return to upholding the doctrine and practice of the church.
3. Please pray that Gafcon in Kigali will be a good time of refreshment for those who are weary and downcast, a time of fellowship for those feeling alone and isolated, and a time of seeking the Lord’s leading and guidance as any realignment takes shape.
4. Please pray that the good news of Jesus as Lord will continue to ring out faithfully in Anglican Churches around the world and that many will find rest, forgiveness and salvation in him.
 The letter dated 10th March is quoted with Bishop Jay Behan's approval.