Open Letter To The Church


The following open letter has been circulated in the church over the last few week. In an effort to provoke discussion, Candour is publishing the letter and has solicited several responses from people around the country which will be offered as separate responses.  Any other comments are very welcome and can easily be offered by clicking ‘leave a comment’ immediately under the title of the article and the responses. Ed.

E te whanau Ihu Karaiti tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

Greetings, Kia Orana, Ta Lofa…

At the reunion of ministers celebrating the 50th anniversary of their entry into the Theological Hall, at Knox College, Dunedin, it was agreed that we should raise with the whole church our concern that the current structure of five Regional Presbyteries is failing the church.

We urge that a review of that structure be undertaken that addresses at least the following concerns:

  1. The size of the new Presbyteries and the distances to travel limits the opportunities to meet and discuss the issues facing parishes, the Presbytery itself, and the church as a whole.
  1. There is a loss of knowledge of the local parishes and their appreciation of the role of Presbyteries and the contribution the Presbyteries might make to the encouragement and development of the mission of the church at the local and national levels.
  1. The infrequency of meetings has led to a loss of collegiality and sense of involvement of all commissioners and the acceptance of the diversity and equality of all commissioners.
  1. An over reliance on the use of email and the internet to inform, discuss and make decisions is neither efficient nor inclusive of all those who should be involved and can reduce the ability of clergy and laypeople (especially those with limited computer access, skills or time) to participate fully.
  1. Face to face encounter is a prerequisite for the development of real understanding and leads to more informed decision-making.
  1. The expected cost efficiencies have not been realised as the Regional Presbyteries have had, for example, to employ administrators and pay larger travel allowances to those who serve on councils or coordinating committees.
  1. While it is appreciated that annual gatherings of what were called ‘Regional Conferences’ can provide encouragement, stimulation and inspiration for those seeking to improve the mission of the local church, their use as annual meetings of the Presbytery do nothing to improve the quality of the methods by which business is conducted, fellowship is deepened and trust built.
  1. When meetings of ministers are added as a compulsory beginning to the annual (or biannual) meeting of the Presbytery, the character of Presbyterianism is destroyed because lay people are not present.

Yours faithfully

The Rev Merv Aitken, The Rev. Des Botting, The Rev. Laurie Chisholm, The Rev. Dr. Allan Davidson ONZM, The Rev. Glenn Duncan, The Rev. Ian Haszard, The Rev. Neil Lambie, The Rev. Dr. John McKean, The Rev. John Niven, The Rev. Lester Simpson, The Rev. Reg Weeks, The Rev. Roger Wiig, The Very Rev. Peter Willsman

4 thoughts on “Open Letter To The Church

  1. My biggest gripe about this open letter is the tone and lack of encouragement. When a reunion happens I am sure there is some grumpiness, as in, ‘the church is not what it once was’ but the church cannot ever be what it once was, God help us if it stays static! The season has changed radically over the fifty years. Most, if not all of our smaller Presbyteries were not able to handle their responsibilities – something had to give! So why the tone of ‘you should be doing better?’ Is that the best you can offer your colleagues who are trying their best to function creatively in a situation vastly different to the one you were ordained into? A more humble tone might have achieved more . It could have started with things like: an acknowledgement that the season is challenging in a way it wasn’t fifty years ago, an admission that your generation didn’t always get things right, an admission that adversarial meetings were not especially collegial, an admission that ministers of your generation are not especially good at participating in collegial gatherings (ordinations/inductions) or popping in on younger colleagues to see how they are doing and pray with them, and then, maybe then, some simple words could have been offered that encourage your younger colleagues to look out for one another and keep some of the key qualities of our Presbyterian experience to the fore. But that is not what the church gets in this letter – it just looks like criticism devoid of creativity. It might have been a good reunion for those who attended, who knows, all the church hears is criticism from a bunch of grumpy old men! If this is the fruit of such reunions I would think twice about attending!


    • As as older and presumably grumpier older man I’ve been impressed with the genuine concerns of some of our older experienced and up-to -date ministers including some of those who wrote the open letter. I’m sorry Mart the Reve didn’t come to grips with the issues raised rather than throw off at them. I believe they were raising relevant issues, many of which have been voiced by younger attendees I’ve heard. So perhaps we’ll hear some constructive comment otherwise those of us who can no longer participate in Presbytery meetings may conclude that the comments in the letter are valid


  2. Interesting. Some very special and respected people, but it is the opinion of ordained ministers. As a lay person, who has been involved with presbytery meetings for some years, your cry here is for something that works as a support for ordained ministers rather than parishes. Our presbytery has 2 meetings a year – I attend about half, and what I have found valuable and helpful for parishes is the cluster group meetings – 2-3 a year for say 5-6 parishes in an area with similar issues. Debating has never done anything for me. I am now in the older membership of our church, and need to step back and let the younger people – lay and ordained – work out what will work for their generation. I support what Rose Luxford wrote on this subject.
    Thanks to the men who wrote this. Combined you have given much to the life of the presbyterian church, but is it time to hand on the mantle.


  3. I agree with everything in the original letter when it comes to the Northern Presbytery. Since the creation of a larger Northern Presbytery I have witnessed certain congregations ‘hide’, theologically, and structurally with little or no contact with Presbytery. I have talked with church leaders who feel isolated and without support. The isolation in some cases for congregations has resulted in members, instead of confronting serious issues of leadership with the backing of Presbytery, simply moving to another congregations or denomination. I have witnessed the development fortress mentality by some congregations, and an inability to see a way ahead by others. There are many other leadership concerns as well more obvious than when we were smaller more manageable groups. The authors of the letter do well to be concerned. On the other hand, there are successful (and yes, it is O.K. to talk in terms of success) leaders, who have the vision and the desire and the sense of mission to breathe life into our church through ways other than simply shifting the furniture. If, they are given the opportunity to wear ‘the mantel’ Janice Purdie speaks of.


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