Accepting a sustainable future at Orange UCA
Orange Uniting Church have amalgamated four congregations into one and is now in the process of divesting themselves of the financial responsibility of two of their three properties. Mike Logan shares his thoughts on this remarkable transformation period.
The first step in a journey of culture change is acknowledging that where you are is not positioning you for a sustainable future. This acceptance is a liberating starting point for the enquiry and decision making that is essential to moving from that spot and forsaking the comfort, familiarity, and safety that has anchored you there for perhaps decades and perhaps more tellingly, for generations of family and friends.
Once that acceptance has begun to cause ripples on the surface of familiar territory and habits, it is always more likely that people will move forward in the company of known travelling companions. It is important early to establish common ground which is an acceptable, safe starting point for the majority to begin what is essentially a journey of discovery.
At Orange Uniting Church we achieved this with the help of Corinna Alchin, Community and Church Engagement Officer with Uniting. Corinna ran a series of workshops to help us establish a common Vision and Mission to which the combined congregations could aspire. Everything was on the table, nothing was taken for granted and every effort was made to ensure anything threatening was eliminated.
From these workshops came Vision and Mission Statements, but more importantly came three very clear areas of focus on which to build the Mission Plan for the new congregation and its cooperative endeavours. At this very early stage of the process we had the areas of Worship, Pastoral Care and Community Connection as jointly identified areas of aspiration and mission for us all to work towards.
As an early combined achievement, this was to prove a stabilising and pivotal achievement for both short and longer term developments. I believe it provided a clearly defined point of reference once we began to address more potentially divisive issues such as property rationalisation.
An agreed, fundamental strategy among the leadership group was an approach that embraced absolute transparency, no surprises and continual communication and collaboration. Everything was out in the open and the congregations were encouraged to ask, challenge and make suggestions at every opportunity.
Newsletters were published following every Council Meeting. From the very beginning everything was planned within a stated timeframe and we worked as closely to that timeframe as possible. We are now at an important transition point following establishment of one united congregation (from four previously) and we embark on the process of divesting ourselves of the financial responsibility of two of our three Orange City properties, we now reflect on the process. We are now beginning to implement the Mission Plan and a new Church Council has been elected.
I believe it’s fair to say that the process has been successful, and there is a groundswell of committed support for the vision. The process has required careful planning, an enormous capacity for listening, tenacity mixed with compassion and understanding, empathy and lots of energy. There has been an opportunity to foster enthusiasm and energy that is so critical to maintaining the momentum as it begins to manifest and drive the process forward.
While at the beginning we sometimes felt we were paddling hard against the tidal flow, there came a time when we began to surf the wave that was slowly but surely building beneath us. Most importantly, we became aware of the huge benefit of engaging with the wider community. Locally and within the Uniting Church, there were wonderful resources and talented people willing to assist us in our efforts. Fortunately, we made the effort to have face-to-face meetings with many of these people and we got to know them well. They have provided invaluable support in so many ways.
A prayerful approach has been integral to managing and tempering throughout the journey. We are not finished yet, but we will get it done!
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