Separation saddens church congregation

The congregation of a Hamilton church divided by a denominational debate on the proposed blessings of same sex relationships spent yesterday's services in separate buildings praying for one another.

Around 100 members of West Hamilton Anglican Parish left the Rifle Range Road church last week under the Rev Michael Hewat and his wife Kimberley Hewat's leadership. The departure came following months of discussion of a controversial motion passed in May by the General Synod of the Anglican Church in New Zealand and Polynesia.

The motion 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".

The Hewats, supported by 95 per cent of the congregation who attended a special meeting this month, opposed the motion on the grounds that it was contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

They met at 10am at West Hamilton Community Church at Simplicity Trust Chapel, Railside Place, leaving fewer than 30 to attend the 10.30am service at their old church.

Hewat said in a letter handed out at church that the new name may change when they choose another denomination.

"We need firstly to decide what sort of church we believe God is calling us to be, and then consider what is the best fit in terms of a denomination/network. At this stage there has been a strong indication that we feel called to remain in this area of Hamilton."

Hewat described leaving the Anglican church as a "mixture of sadness with hope and confidence . . . "

The funeral parlour is a kilometre from the West Hamilton Parish where Hewat was vicar for two decades.

At his old parish, consisting of St David's Church and St George's Chapel, there were nine vehicles parked outside with fewer than 30 in church.

There, Waikato and Taranaki bishops the Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley and the Most Rev Philip Richardson announced Canon Phil Wilson as the new Priest in Charge. Wilson refused to be interviewed by the Times.

"We remain deeply saddened by the decision taken by Michael and many in the parish to leave," the bishops' letter said. "As we have already said, we believe this is precipitous.

"We are enormously respectful of Michael and Kimberley's ministry over the years and we will seek to keep the lines of communication and doors open."

The bishops, who have declined a Times invitation to write a 500 word comment piece on the situation, also expressed disappointment of media coverage.

"The parish of St David's and the people of the community it serves are our first priority now and we feel enormously encouraged by the messages of support and care, and the practical offers of assistance we have received. It has been overwhelming."

The Hewats wrote to Hartley and Richardson, who as Archbishop of the New Zealand Dioceses is the country's most senior bishop, saying they could not sign the declaration of assent to General Synod over Motion 30. The bishops withdrew their licences on Friday. Kimberley Hewat was a youth pastor.

Waikato Times