The Council of Assembly met in Dunedin from Thursday 14 November to Saturday 16 November 2013.
The Council’s meeting began with a tour of the Presbyterian Archives and the Hewitson Library, led by the director of the Presbyterian Research Centre, Anne Jackman. Anne reported that the library catalogue is shortly to shift to a new catalogue system, which will allow the catalogue to be accessed through the library’s own website. The website will also provide access to a new series of specially selected electronic books and journals for ministers and others involved in church leadership.
On Thursday evening, the Synod of Otago and Southland, who hosted the Council meeting, gave a presentation about their work. Bruce Fraser, Synod Moderator, and other Synod members provided an in-depth description of the key areas of mission and ministry supported by the Synod.
The evening dinner also provided an opportunity for the Council to acknowledge the 20 years of service provided by the Church’s archivist Yvonne Wilkie. Yvonne will be retiring at the end of the year.
Council Convenor the Rev Wayne Matheson welcomed a new representative from the Pacific Islands Synod, the Rev Uea Tuleia to the meeting. Also welcomed was Moderator-designate, the Rev Andrew Norton.
On Friday, the Moderator, the Right Rev Ray Coster provided an overview of his recent work. Ray had just returned from representing the Church at the World Council of Churches (WCC) General Assembly in Busan, South Korea. Ray has been elected to the WCC’s Central Committee and will represent the WCC member churches from New Zealand during his eight-year term on this committee.
Assembly Executive Secretary (AES) the Rev Martin Baker’s report provided an overview of the ways presbyteries and congregations were engaging with the challenges and changes in their mission in their communities. He also reported on how presbyteries and congregations are engaging with a number or matters relating to the Church’s risk profile.
A significant portion of Friday’s meeting was devoted to a discussion on a recently completed and comprehensive review of the AES. The Council’s discussion considered the AES’s performance, within a rapidly changing and increasingly complex operating environment, and the ways the Council of Assembly best fulfils its governance function and supports the Moderator and the AES in their work.
The Council has formed a small committee, led by Council member Anna Gordon, to examine these matters from a broad perspective. The committee will develop recommendations relating to the review which will consider what national services and functions are needed in the light of our changing missional landscape. In line with the 2010 General Assembly directive, the location from which these services are best provided will also be examined.
The Council acknowledges that the review provides an uncertain environment for the Assembly Office team, and thanked staff for their patience so far, and asked for their continued support while the Council’s committee examines things more closely to identify the best way forward.
The Council received a report presented by the Rev Martin Stewart on the work being done by the Council’s Insurance Advisory Work Group to establish the new vehicle for the negotiation and provision of a collective insurance agreement for congregations. The Presbyterian Bureau Services Trust is the board that has been established for this purpose. Their work will be overseen by a new Assembly appointed Advisory Work Group. As many congregations will also be aware, the Council’s Advisory Work Group has appointed new insurance broker, Crombie Lockwood.
The Council acknowledged the huge amount of work done by the Advisory Work Group’s convenor, Geoff Foster, and work group member and lawyer Paul Westbury. The work of the soon-to-be wound-up Presbyterian Insurance Group was also recognised. Cunny Atchison’s commitment to work in this area was also acknowledged by Council.
The Council then enjoyed a presentation by the Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, the Very Rev Dr Graham Redding. Graham provided a comprehensive overview of the Centre’s work. The Council acknowledged the work of the Centre work and recognised the publication of four books by two Centre staff, the Rev Dr’s Jason Garoncy and Kevin Ward.
Dr John Kernohan provided the Council with an update of the work of the Knox College and Salmond College Commission. The commission remains in place to provide governance and management of the two residential colleges.
At dinner on Friday evening, the Council again acknowledged John’s outstanding contribution to the Commission’s work and achievements, and recognised the contribution by commission members who were guests at the Council’s dinner.
On Saturday morning the Council discussed a report and other work undertaken relating to the Council’s ongoing consideration of a 2010 General Assembly directive to consider the establishment of a Presbyterian centre or hub in Auckland. The Council had considered a possible opportunity to share office space in a building recently purchased by PSDS in which Presbyterian Support Northern will also locate their work. The Council has decided that it cannot pursue this, or other opportunities, at this stage until an assessment of future Assembly Office and national functions, is complete. A small workgroup has been established to examine national functions and services.
Convenor of the Council’s Leadership Sub-Committee the Rev Dianne Gilliam-Weeks reported that the work clarifying ministry development review regulations had been completed.
Diane also reported that the committee was unanimous in endorsing the employment of a national director to replace Dr Carlton Johnstone who leaves this position shortly to begin his ministry training internship. The decision to re-appoint someone to the role was made following a significant review by Dr Stephen Garner, deputy convenor of the Leadership Sub-Committee, of the national provision of youth ministry leadership. The Council asked the AES to update the current national director job description and advertise the position.
Jenny Flett the convenor of the Finance Sub-Committee provided a report on Church finances. The committee is working to develop a comprehensive risk management framework for the Church. Jenny reported on the likelihood of more rigorous audit and financial reporting standards for congregations. She also shared the news that thanks to the hard work of the Inter-church Working Party on Taxation, those houses provided for ministers (whether manses or accommodation rented for the benefit of ministers) will remain taxed at 10 percent of the stipend. The Minister of Inland Revenue was quite clear, though, that ministers living in their homes, while likely benefiting from capital gains on their houses, would continue to have their housing allowances fully taxable.
The Rev Andrew Norton, Moderator-designate, reported on preparation for next year’s Assembly Week. This event will provide an opportunity for learning, support and celebration with an open invitation for all to attend. It will also provide time for the business of the Church. The Council shared Andrew’s hopes that we could find far more constructive and less adversarial ways to deal with matters of a more controversial nature during Assembly business sessions.
The Rev Andrew Norton, as convenor of the Press Go board, reported on the work of Press Go and the development of their new strategic framework. The Council approved three new members for the Press Go board.
The Council was reminded that they along with all national committees and presbyteries need to have their General Assembly reports and recommendations completed by 31 March 2014. These reports will then be circulated to presbyteries for their feedback and response before being included in the papers presented to the Assembly.
The Council’s next meeting will be held in early March 2014.
The Rev Wayne Matheson
Council of Assembly
The Rev Dr Colin Marshall
Council of Assembly