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Bishop John Bluck - Dompost column for May 19

Bishop John Bluck - Dompost column for May 19

The rugby public would not have thanked the selectors for appointing three All Black captains last week. For an 80 minute game, a sole leader works better.

So why would a church with nearly 150 years experience of electing lone captains, decide to appoint three rather than one archbishop to lead. Many of the half million or so Anglicans in Aotearoa will be wondering about that decision of the General Synod in Christchurch last week.

So are the media commentators, at least the few who bothered to notice at all. The headlines branded the move as carve up or stand off between the three Tikanga: Maori, Pacific and Pakeha who make up the church that spans New Zealand and the whole south Pacific. Hostile metaphors abounded and lots of jokes about three headed hybrids.

Co-leadership is a brave idea practised with some success by the Greens and the Maori Party, the Anglican Diocese of Waikato, a few parishes led by co-vicars and a handful of not for profit providers of health and education services. There is no love of the model in the corporate world (no sign that Telecom’s Teresa will share her salary and seek some help in getting the share price up again) and until recently, not much enthusiasm in the religious sector either. The higher precedent set by the Trinity doesn’t translate easily into human terms, and much lower down the food chain, Archbishop remains a title beset with images of one way, my way heirarchy.

But the Anglican decision set a huge, new milestone for any institution serious about holding an increasingly volatile, multi cultural constituency together. That it happened is simply remarkable.

Maori could easily have demanded tino rangatiratanga and pre empted the debate. Pasifika could have insisted their turn was overdue. Pakeha could have invoked size and cost efficiency to claim their slot.

With the international Anglican debate over gay leadership simmering away on the back burner, the synod could have settled for a safe and cautious single leader. Instead they opted for this tri partite primacy, reflecting a church that understands sexuality, and a whole lot of other even more important issues, very differently. The three bishops elected – Maori, Tongan, Pakeha – reflect those differences personally, but their job is to hold those differences in some sort of unity.

How long can Anglicans hold this diversity together? My guess is for a lot longer with three leaders than one. Because they inherit a a history that kept Maori standing at the door of their own church for a 100 years, saw the Pacific Islands as missionary territory till recently and traded a colonial Church of England culture for a homegrown but still not quite comfortable Pakeha one
Anglicans struggle in all this to find the level playing field on which a single leader could stand. And with women no longer represented in the house of bishops, a single male figurehead becomes even harder.

So after two days of surprisingly reasonable debate, the synod moved quickly to the tripartite model, defined what they expected it to deliver, voted on money and structures to support it, then got on with the next business.

The installation of the three new archbishops was an amazing event, with a liturgy weaving five languages, led by a cross cultural team all under 25, and blending waiata and Pie Jesu, pipe organ and acapella harmonies. The oils of anointing blessed and distributed at the service by the co-primates will be put to good use in bringing local congregations together across the country, more effectively than any book of rules.

So why is it so hard to get a hearing for this remarkable story of three cultures respecting their differences while sharing their understanding of Gospel call and Treaty partnership?
Perhaps because it suggests a way by which a whole country might work, one day, but is still too hard to imagine.

And why is it so hard to suggest that such story might itself be a parable of Christian justice and generosity?

Maybe because we’re so locked into private and personalised “Jesus loves me, specially me” understandings of faith that we can’t believe faith could have anything to do with the slow politics of cultural partnership and the hard work of justice and service.

While these obstacles remain we’ll have to live with single leaders All Black style getting a better press and a bigger public.

But I know which kind of leadership will serve us best for the longer game.


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