Timothy: Have you ever wondered what happens at the General Assembly? Do you even know what the General Assembly is? Are you aware St Johns had a commissioner at this year’s General Assembly (GA21)? Welcome to Church Chats. My name is Timothy Rose and I am the minister of St Johns Papatoetoe. Today we have Naomi with us to talk about the General Assembly.
Timothy: Kia Orana! How are you doing after sitting through the first ever General Assembly held via Zoom?
Naomi: I think first of all I’m honoured and blessed to be attending the General Assembly. I think the the process is a humbling experience via Zoom.
Naomi: I think through God’s grace I feel rejuvenated, restored – also refreshed. However, it is different this time around not meeting face to face… especially using video communication for staying connected with people.
Timothy: Okay. Well for those at St Johns Papatoetoe who do not know what we’re talking about, could you explain what is General Assembly?
Naomi: Okay. The General Assembly is a place of business discussions and these are held every two years. It sets the policies and directions for the church.
Timothy: So this is the policy and the business of the of the wider church.
Naomi: Yeah and inside those policies and directions the regulations are approved.
Timothy: Okay so these are regulations that affect all the Presbyterian churches that belong to the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. Is that correct?
Timothy: Okay. So then, have you ever gone before? Was this your…
Naomi: 2018 which was my very first time. I tell you why it was very overwhelming. It was a lot to take in.
Timothy: What do you mean, it was a lot to take in? What did you have to take in?
Naomi: I think it was the information of how the Presbytery is run on a national level politically. I know I know spiritually we are in a church but politically that’s what was overwhelming for me.
Timothy: Oh yeah that’s interesting; because a lot of people at St Johns, we just go to church on Sundays. We don’t think much about how things are governed and we don’t really appreciate that we’re part of a Presbytery which is part of the whole church in New Zealand. So yeah it’s we don’t always understand. So man that must have been overwhelming! So you went back in 2018. Now that was held over a five-day period wasn’t it?
Naomi: Yes it was because you’re looking at the local local level because there are three tiers. There’s the local level which is the church in the congregation and then there’s the second level of which is the Presbytery throughout New Zealand; you know we’re for Auckland it’s the Northern Region. And then you go a little bit further it’s the Central and then there’s Kaimai, there’s Alpine, there’s Southern Presbytery. So this is also the Te Ako … they are called oh I forgot…
Naomi: …And also the Pacific Presbytery.
Timothy: Right. So you’re describing – we’ve got – we’ve got basically five geographic uh geographically defined presbyteries and then two ethnically defined presbyteries. So we belong to Northern the northernmost part of the country.
Timothy: Oh that’s cool. And then the other two of course well one for the Maori one for Pacifica. Specifically those are almost like Synods but they’re still called Presbyteries. But yeah that’s that’s interesting. So they all come together and so we all come together as a General, so it’s a General Assembly. We come together every couple years, and so everybody that participates like yourself is called a commissioner. So how were you selected?
Naomi: It was through the St Johns Papatoetoe board of managers & session. Interesting enough, I was only new for a couple of years so that was another learning experience for me. If I fast track it it was over exhilarating.
Timothy: Oh! Okay.
Naomi: But in saying that, I always… prayer is important for me. So whenever I’m given a role like this I pray before I even come in, and then I pray after you know knowing that God is going to be present in the work that I’m commissioned to do.
Timothy: Ah amen. Amen. Yeah, you know traditionally, a General Assembly is meant to be an assembly of all the parishes in the country. The ministers of every parish and one representative elder from every parish is meant to attend. Now we don’t do it that way anymore in New Zealand. Northern is probably the largest of the presbyteries and so Northern doesn’t quite do it that way. So we have… we send representatives by clusters. And so our cluster is St Johns Papatoetoe, and then of course St Andrews, and then there is St Martin’s in – our sister church there in Papatoetoe. So the three churches; we send one representative elder [and] one representative minister. So it’s a little bit different. But you know, now that we’ve done it by Zoom this year… Yeah… I wonder; I just makes me wonder if we should just do go back to the traditional way where everybody is represented? Oh my goodness! Hey, you’re called a commissioner so when you represent our church at a an Assembly what does a commissioner do exactly?
Naomi: I think, I think it’s to represent on behalf of the local churches in our clusters…
Naomi: … and also report back to them as well on what I’ve been listening in on Zoom. On this, this last Thursday I think it was difficult because there’s it’s more of the recommendations on top of that. There is a another a session which is the breakout discussions that will be probably happening in April 2022.
Naomi: Those were the bits that we didn’t have and those are the um those discussions are really important when we’re getting together with other ministers and other commissioners as well.
Timothy: Yeah because part of the Presbyterian way is discussion and debate and really teasing out the details, and I didn’t see any of that in this.
Naomi: No. Yeah. So that was quite quite challenging for me. Yeah. I found that quite challenging because not being at the General Assembly in person, there is a difference when meeting face-to-face with ministers and other commissioners.
Naomi: I think conversations are important when you hear others perspectives of policies, directions, in regards to the regulations for Presbyterian – not having those breakout discussions [and] supports. Also these support your decisions to ask questions leading into the debates before the voting process. So yeah, that was a, that was one of my challenges I felt here because all you could see was recommendation, recommendation, and then you had to quickly read it then you had to align it up with what you’re reading on this white book that was given a month before so um yeah. My little stickies were quite helpful; my little post sticks.
Timothy: Oh okay. So if I understand this right: as a commissioner you’re actually voting and you’re voting on our behalf and you’ve been sent this (you know you refer to it as a white book and we will tease it out in a little bit) but you were sent this white book a month ago. But now during the commission they put something up on the screen, they ask you to vote on it, and you then have to quickly compare what’s on the screen with what you were given in the past. Is that correct?
Naomi: Yeah because there is a white book that, that they’re going through and this is where…
Timothy: Do you know why they call it the white book?
Timothy: That’s why I was asking the question. I suppose we can look that up. But you know the white book so it’s a collection of all of the business that has to be discussed at the General Assembly by the commissioners; and so they put it together and they expected you to read through everything. So how big was the white book this year?
Naomi: Oh I think it’s quite a huge one – about 200 and something pages.
Naomi: Yeah. So they’re broken down into sections so um yeah and methodology – because this is how I work – you can break them down to to align it up with the policies that align with all the regulations. So quite interesting enough when you’re in discussion or when you’re reading it you kind of understand where they’re coming from…
Naomi: …and being able to make a decision right there and then.
Naomi: Most of the decisions were straight forward however there were a few that you know sometimes you have to hesitate and really think carefully: oh am I doing the right thing by agreeing?
Timothy: And even if you disagree the motion is always carried. Isn’t that something?
Naomi: Majority. Yeah.
Timothy: Yeah and it’s interesting the wording you’re using because Presbyterians are very precise. So if it’s an “agreed,” then everybody said 100% voted in favour; but if it was “carried” that meant that there was some who dissented… so majority voted for it but that it’s almost as if, if it makes the agenda it’s going to be carried. It’s…
Naomi: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly, exactly.
Timothy: So you’ve had all the time to tease it out ahead of time… you’ve had time to… I mean I know it’s not guaranteed that way but that’s how it came across. And so what kind of things did you find in the white book this year that were of interest to you?
Naomi: I think one of the things that came across for me is the voices of young people. When, when I’m watching, I’m thinking very regimental. I might say I don’t know if it’s the right word because there is a lot of mature expertise in that in the field of the General Assembly. I do like to, to close the gap I suppose because when one leaves there’s another one to carry on with the General Assembly and I think the theme this time around was, I think it’s the right timing.
Timothy: Yeah, because the theme was “empowering generations” wasn’t it?
Naomi: Yes. Empowering generations.
Timothy: And so you said you think that is the right theme this time around.
Naomi: Yeah I am aware that the biblical verses shared that day in Deuteronomy 6 and verse 47, which is probably the teaching from a parent about the Christian life principles to a child.
Naomi: You get Matthew 19 verses 13 and 14 where Jesus conveys that children are just as important and being heard. So for me I want to use past knowledge and future knowledge by joining these two together.
Timothy: Oh okay. What does that mean?
Naomi: And what do I think a empowering generations would mean in St Johns Papatoe?
Timothy: Yeah. Because that is my question: what does this mean to us? I mean that’s the General Assembly. It’s a theme that’s been they want to obviously want to promote over the next two years. So how is that going to affect us here at St Johns Papatoetoe?
Naomi: I think with the diverse members in our church there’s past knowledge. So if, for example, in my place if I look at past knowledge, it’s a place of education. It’s that my parents and whanau nurtured me to grow in Christ.
Naomi: I mean the seed is planted, it’s watered, nurtured to grow in fertile ground and I can walk back in time and use that knowledge or what knowledge I need or positive experience.
Naomi: Perhaps share what I’ve learned and hope to share with the future generation.
Timothy: Oh that’s neat. Not just the future generation of young – future generation of old and young.
Naomi: Yes. The future knowledge um I think I’m reminded of the Sunday school song called the wise man and the foolish man. That’s the song. So that solid foundation is important and however, if the foundation is not solid how do we begin empowering generations? Now if we do not take care of our youth [and] our persons of mature age together, we become like the sand that during the storm. Yeah. So we want to, we want um, we do not want St Johns Papatoe just to think about the biblical and worldly knowledge, we want to bring those together and I think going together by embracing the old and the new coming together – getting to know each other. Do you know me? Do you hear me? Through conversations seeing, looking, listening, and hearing. Yeah.
Timothy: Yeah. Yeah. That’s really good because you know when I heard the moderator talk about the theme, he was – he stated straight away this is not about getting young people into the church. And what you’re describing is that every generation is empowered. We are the church. The children are a part of the church but so too are the elders a part of the church. We are the church and so we need to be communicating to each other, working with each other, sharing our knowledge, sharing what we know. St Johns Papaptoetoe is wonderful at having a multi-generation, multi-cultural congregation. I think we’re somewhat unique among many congregations in New Zealand and so I think in many ways this theme is something that we’ve been doing – but kind of subconsciously. And so having the theme being promoted, it really makes us articulate what is it that we’re doing. I mean you take our morning teas for instance: that’s a total fellowship isn’t it of all the generations around food? It’s wonderful! And so we need to be imparting our knowledge in, in part to each other, and our understandings to each other. It’s pretty cool isn’t it?
Naomi: Yeah it is; it is. I like that, that congregating together – you know food – food brings people together.
Timothy: It does, doesn’t it? What, what was the biggest blessing of participating in the General Assembly this year?
Naomi: I think the processes; knowing the processes, the conduct of the General Assembly. Each business session is always blessed with a prayer which, that’s inspiring for me. From Wednesday night to Thursday eve, Thursday evening. It’s almost like God is whispering to you: “I’m with you.”
Naomi: Although those discussions did not happen (the open, the breakout communications)…
Naomi: … but it’s a blessing to converse with um yeah.
Timothy: So it sounds like the the spiritual aspect of the meeting you really resonated with…
Timothy: …and it also sounds like you were a little bit more comfortable this time than the first time around.
Naomi: Yes, I was. I was like you know, I, I thoroughly got it.
Naomi: I really understood the um the process around – oh gosh this is so cool! Yeah just the breakout conversations were the ones that would have been great.
Timothy: It would have been great and it sounds like that’s going to take place in April?
Timothy: Yea, hopefully face to face. So what was the biggest challenge to this Assembly for you personally?
Naomi: For me personally I think it would have been the intensity of listening, because on Zoom it’s actually different, um yeah, and it’s the hearing, the reading, the recommendations, um before voting. Time for questioning was difficult. I think um because timing is not on your side. When you’re on Zoom.
Naomi: And at the same time you’re, you’re um, you’re reading, your, your bits that you’ve um noted for yourself. So you, you know when to or how to agree with these.
Timothy: Yeah. Did you ask any questions during this Assembly?
Naomi: No I didn’t because…
Timothy: Did you want to?
Naomi: Yeah I did. I did because I’m, I’m one of those that can’t sit still when I know something’s not…
Timothy: So it’s almost as if the process you felt, the process itself, the process kind of suppressed you a bit?
Naomi: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah it was like I know these breakout sessions I will talk
Timothy: Well was there any particular question that you wished you could have asked that you want to ask for us?
Naomi: Well I think part of the um, I have a thing for um child protection policy. So um there were…
Timothy: Naomi, your connection just went a little bit. So I was just, I’m just going to ask if you can repeat that. You said that there was a question about the child protection policy that you would have loved to have teased out more?
Naomi: Yeah. I think those are important um when you’re beginning to make changes within the Church. I think those are important to, to really value our children, um our young families, where um they are protected and they are safe. Yeah that was one that I really wanted to tease out a bit. There was another one. I think it was towards the end when Reverend Ropati Mane came on. I thought that was an interesting topic around complaints procedures.
Naomi: Those are things that I’d like to um discuss a little bit more because there’s the processes. I’m not sure um if those in the past and um how do we make these things um become uh useful for our church.
Timothy: Right. Right. Well those are some major things actually. And so it’s, it’s, I do hope and pray that – you say next April perhaps – you’ll be able to sit down into break out conversations and tease these things out. But yeah it sounds like some important issues that had to be dealt with electronically that would have been preferred to be face to face.
Naomi: Yes. Yes. Right across it it would have been difficult for a lot of the commissioners to sit back and just take it all in um yeah.
Timothy: That’s interesting. Well would you encourage other elders within St Johns Papatoetoe to attend these Assemblies?
Naomi: Of course, of course, Timothy. I think it’s a great opportunity for them to know how the business is maintained and documented in the Presbytery. I think it’s also a great way to meet with um other ministers and commissioners of other Presbytery.
Timothy: Oh wow, excellent! Well look this is um, I just wanted to give you one final opportunity. Is there anything else that you wanted to share about your experience?
Naomi: Be prepared to read because it’s important.
Naomi: It’s so important to read those documentation. It’s so important to ask questions.
Naomi: And not be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t, yeah, because you’re not going there for yourself;
Naomi: … you’re actually going for the local church.
Timothy: Yeah. Naomi, thank you so much for your time! I really appreciate you sharing your testimony with us. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much and may the Lord bless your, your love for Him and your service for the Church. Thank you for representing St Johns Papatoetoe.
Naomi: Thank you.
Timothy: You’re welcome.