Outspoken Anglican vicar Michael Hewat walked out of the church yesterday over its recognition of same-sex relationships - and other conservative Anglicans are warning of more departures if "recognition" eventually becomes "blessing".
Mr Hewat, 54, was the executive director until yesterday of the conservative Anglican Affirm movement, which claims to represent a majority of active church-going Anglicans in Auckland and Nelson and a sizeable minority elsewhere.
Affirm chairman Rev Max Scott said the church was now "completely divided" on the same-sex issue, which has been passed to a working party due to report in 2016 on a possible new liturgy to bless "right-ordered same-gender relationships".
"If this process is not resolved satisfactorily to the biblically conservative group, then we would expect that there could well be further departures," he said.
Mr Hewat, who has served in the West Hamilton parish for 20 years, is the second minister to quit since the church's general synod agreed at Waitangi in May on a complex resolution permitting ministers to "recognise" same-sex relationships and asking the working group to find ways for them to choose to "bless" such relationships, while allowing ministers to refuse to bless them if they believed it was "contrary to scripture".
Henderson vicar Charlie Hughes quit two weeks later and has become an associate pastor at Harvest Christian Church.
A Laidlaw College lecturer who was appointed acting priest in charge at Henderson, Dr Tim Meadowcroft, said just over 100 people continued to attend the main Sunday service after Mr Hughes left. A further 30 to 40 attend another church in the parish, in Swanson.
In West Hamilton, parishioners voted by 129-6 to "support Michael Hewat and the vestry in their decision of conscience not to sign the submission to general synod". Mr Hewat and his staff have moved temporarily to a nearby office and will hold services from tomorrow in the Simplicity funeral chapel.
"We are leaving the Anglican denomination but we are not going to be an independent church. We are looking to realign and we will apply in the near future to [join] another denomination."
He said he could no longer submit to the general synod because he believed the resolution passed at Waitangi was contrary to both the Bible and the church's constitution.
He and his vestry wrote to Waikato-Taranaki bishops Helen-Ann Hartley and Philip Richardson on May 25 stating that they could not support the resolution.
Bishop Hartley attended a meeting at the West Hamilton church on June 15 in which, according to Mr Hewat, she acknowledged on tape: "Scripture is clear that same-gender relationships are sinful." But she also pleaded with the congregation to support the unity of the church and respect the process it was going through to resolve the issue.
After several further private meetings with the bishop, Mr Hewat wrote again on July 16 stating that he could not sign the required declaration acknowledging the general synod's authority because he believed the synod had "acted illegally" by sanctioning "practices and processes which both diminish and contradict established biblical doctrine".
The two bishops replied in a general letter to all parishes this week stating that the Waitangi resolution "does not change any part of the constitution or canons of this church".
The Anglican Affirm website lists 21 affiliated parishes, including nine in Auckland. Mr Scott said the nine Auckland parishes included some of the region's biggest churches and in terms of active churchgoers represented "well over 50 per cent of people within the Auckland diocese".
But Auckland Assistant Bishop Jim White said votes in the Auckland synod showed the diocese was split three ways, with about a third supporting the traditional conservative view of marriage, a third backing same-sex marriages and the rest supporting same-sex relationships being blessed but "marriage" being reserved for one man and one woman.