Church defectors forming new flock in funeral home
A funeral home has opened the doors of its chapel to the vicar at the centre of a defection from the Anglican Church as leaders from other denominations beckon the flock to come in from the cold.
Hamilton vicar Rev Michael Hewat closed the doors on West Hamilton Anglican Parish church, which he called home for 20 years, last Sunday.
This Sunday he is leading his congregation across the railway tracks to Frankton's Simplicity Funeral Directors.
They hand in the keys today.
Hewat and his wife Kimberley Hewat forfeited their licences when they refused to adhere to General Synod, the governing body of the church in New Zealand/Aotearoa and Polynesia.
Kimberley Hewat was a youth pastor and the decision meant she lost her job with the diocese.
"I've worked for 20 years with young people so it's quite a big thing to walk away from, but I'm still going to be doing it at a local level," she said.
In May, General Synod accepted the controversial Motion 30 which aimed to establish a working group to recommended a process and structure which included a "yet-to-be-developed liturgy for blessing right ordered same-gender relationships".
Earlier this week, Bishop of Waikato the Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley said Motion 30 was an indication of the church's willingness to explore how different views could exist together but Hewat said it would mean a change in doctrine which was untenable.
The congregation will hold their service on Sunday but Hewat said it was a temporary measure and a long-term solution was as yet unknown.
"That's not our permanent home but that is where we will be for this Sunday at least," said Michael Hewat.
They found a new office and storage in a nearby unit but Hewat said the members would carry on their work in the community as they always have.
"We've got a clear vision of where we are going. We will continue in our ministries. We see the church as the people and now we have a base to work from, the main thing is to just keep going."
He expected 95 per cent of the congregation to meet at Simplicity and he was "looking at options" as to which denomination they could join with in the future.
"Some have approached us," he said, "which has been very nice."
While there was support for his stance from well-wishers and callers, Hewat was pilloried online and accused of homophobia.
He said the suggestion that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender were unwelcome in the church was false.
"They have definitely got a home here and I think all churches would say gay people are fully baptised members of the church. That's not the issue."
Hewat's stance when he refused to submit to General Synod over Motion 30 saw a forfeiture of his licence and in a letter to the Times he said the primary issue was "a conflict of authority between the church and the Bible".
Former manager of the Diocese of Waikato Russell Armitage said Michael and Kimberley Hewat's decision was "almost incomprehensible" and took them down a "no-exit route into the religious wilderness".
Hewat said the church was obsessed with homosexuality but Armitage, an atheist and openly gay man, said the decision to defect was one of "bigotry and exclusion".
"Unfortunately, it is people like Michael Hewat who are obsessed with sex, as they have prevented the church achieving decency and humanity on this matter, by their illogical and primitive views on sex and sexuality," he said.
Hewat's obvious talents were wasted and his followers had turned the Bible, written by men and women, into a "paper pope", he said.
"It has more to do with the religious dogma that gave us the Inquisition, the burning of witches, apartheid, the persecution of scientists such as Galileo and the oppression of women," he said. "It has more in common with fundamentalist Islam of which we see so much today, which ironically also concerns Michael, than a modern enlightened Christianity of which he should be a part."
The Times offered Hartley an opinion column but as yet she has not responded. She was unavailable for an interview.
The Times has also asked for details of Hewat's replacement but Anglican media adviser Rev Jayson Rhodes said, "We've drawn a line in the sand and there is nothing more to report and nothing more to say."