Split grows over same-sex blessings in Anglican Church in New Zealand

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The decision by the Anglican Church in New Zealand to allow blessings for same-sex relationships has led to a widening rift with those who believe in the traditional position on sexuality. 

The Synod of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ACNZP) passed a resolution last year stating that although there was no change to its teaching on the nature of marriage 'as between a man and a woman', vicars could request permission from their bishops to hold a 'non-formulary service' to bless a same-sex relationship.

That move has disappointed some vicars who are choosing to break away and start new churches instead of remain in a Church that they feel has strayed from the Bible. 

The latest vicar to go is Andrew Allen-Johns, who stepped down from AnglicanLife Rangiora in Christchurch to lead a completely new church outside of the ACNZP.

Anchor Charismatic Anglican Church, of which he is senior pastor, has just started holding services this month.  His new church is getting off the ground just as the first same-sex blessings in Canterbury - the region in which Christchurch sits - are starting to take place.

In May 2019, the church plans to apply for affiliation with the Extra Provincial Diocese which is being formed by those who have left the Anglican denomination over the issue of same-sex blessings.  Under the Extra Provincial Diocese, the churches will be faithfully Anglican and yet distinct from the Province.

In a letter to his former parish, Allen-Johns said his vision for Anchor was for a 'new church designed to be millennial-friendly, more intently focussed on evangelism and making disciples'.

'I now view the disruption this church is going through over samesex relationships as a major opportunity to strengthen the church for its mission in the next few decades,' he said.

'For me to formally bless such relationships is to announce a blessing on something that I don't believe that God blesses, furthermore, it would be irresponsible and unloving to do so when there is the risk that the behaviour could lead to exclusion from the Kingdom of God.

'I will have to give an account before the throne of God on how I have taught and pastored people under my spiritual care, and thus, it will not surprise you that this is a matter of conscience.'

In some cases it is not vicars who have left but entire parishes.  In Christchurch alone, three have decided to leave the ACNZP - St Stephens in Shirley, St John in Latimer Square and Christchurch South. 

St Stephens minister Jay Behan, who is also chair of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in New Zeland, is also planning for his church to be part of the newly formed Extra Provincial Diocese. 

He has received news of the first same-sex blessing in Canterbury with 'sadness'. 

'This is what the decision allows and it is what Peter [Carrell, Bishop of Canterbury] promised he would do before his election as bishop,' he said.

'It is not unexpected, but I have a sadness. This continues to be a really difficult issue for the church to wrestle with and it is one that is painful for all involved.'

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