Church sex 'obsession'

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2014
Reverend Michael Hewat
MARK TAYLOR

IN THE WILDERNESS: Reverend Michael Hewat has forfeited his licence to preach in the Anglican Church.

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The church's perceived obsession with homosexuality has seen an Anglican pastor break camp and lead his flock into the religious wilderness and find a new home in the city.

Reverend Michael Hewat, the vicar of West Hamilton Anglican Parish on Rifle Range Rd, was the second high profile Anglican leader to leave the Anglican Church in opposition to Motion 30 - a national declaration by the governing body to bless same sex relationships.

He said homosexuality had dominated the church's agenda for two decades and "it amounts to an obsession", he said in a letter to Waikato Times.

His refusal to submit to General Synod on the motion passed in May that aimed to recognise same-sex relationships meant a forfeiture his licence to practice as an Anglican pastor.

In May, former Auckland pastor Charlie Hughes walked away with his congregation and Hewat said more would come.

In a letter to the Waikato Bishop, the Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, and the Bishop of Taranaki, Rev Phillip Richardson, Hewat said Motion 30 would "prove to be a disaster" to church unity and by 2016 "the flood gates will open".

His last service in the Dinsdale church he administered for 20 years was a harrowing time for his congregation.

"It's an emotional day but we always say the church is the people and not the buildings," said Hewat.

He surrenders his licence this Friday, July 25 - a move he called a formality - and will vacate church property.

A special general meeting was held earlier in the month where he received 94 per cent support from parishioners and a further postal vote brought that figure to greater than 95 per cent.

"It's a family breakup and even though its only 5 per cent it still hurts," he said.

There were about 250 members on the parish roll but children were too young to vote and some older members were unable to make it to the meeting.

A handful of churchgoers were expected to show up at the church next Sunday but the rest - more than 100 who voted and their families - were looking for new place to call home in Hamilton's western suburbs. "We're not pushing it too far and we're not going to some promised land but we believe that our ministries will continue and that's what is important."

Motion 30 was an "unmitigated disaster" and illegal as it contravened the Church of England Empowering Act, he said.

"It makes a commitment to changing the constitution of the church which means it probably needs an act of parliament and Motion 30 says that."

The Anglican Church's General Synod set a two-year deadline to develop formal rules around the blessing same-sex relationships but Hewat said doctrine was enshrined in the constitution and couldn't be changed by anyone.

"To change doctrine, in effect, means you have to change sources of doctrine so, in other words, the Bible is no longer the source of doctrine."

Parishioners fundraised to build the church and there was "great sadness" at the final service but the decision of the General Synod had left them in an untenable position.

"Unfortunately, the trigger is the whole issue of sexuality which we find rather irksome because it is not on our agenda but it keeps coming up."

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Hartley and Richardson sent out a region-wide letter expressing deep pain and anguish for the church.

The motion started a process to find ways to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people into the flock and Hartley denied claims it contravened church doctrine and broke the law.

"It is an indication of the church's willingness to engage in a further process to explore ways in which different views can exist together, in the same house," said Hartley.

Churches were not required to adhere to Motion 30 but all licence holders had to accept the authority of General Synod to hold a licence and there was no room to manoeuvre.

"Michael had, in fact, signed it when he became vicar so what he has done is withdrawn that assent," she said. "If you withdraw assent then the bishop has no alternative to accept that as a forfeiture of the licence. It's very clear."

She said many in the church were willing to engage in the Motion 30 process and the General Synod had taken a brave leap forward.

"It's a motion that emerged out of a very intense period in General Synod. I do believe strongly that it is a brave step which offers an opportunity rather than anything that would be seen as diminishing or taking away from our core doctrines."

elton.smallman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz OPINION: Once were Anglicans, page 7.

- Waikato Times

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