An Outstanding Committee
The Synod Synod Standing Committee serves an important role in guiding the life of the Uniting Church. However, not many people know about this committee and what exactly it does. Insights interviewed members of the Standing Committee, asking them what their work involves, and what this means for the church’s life and future.
The Synod Standing Committee meets monthly and is elected during the Synod meeting every 18 months. The current committee was instated at the 2017 Synod Meeting. At the same meeting, the Synod decided to reduce the size of the Standing Committee down to 11 or 12 members. Membership is open to both ordained and laity. Members of the current committee are from rural communities and the suburbs. They represent a wide range of the Synod’s functions and the Uniting Church’s membership.
Synod Standing Committee is responsible for oversight of the Synod budget. It receives reports from the various Synod boards. It considers a wide range of matters, and every meeting is different.
NSW and ACT General Secretary Rev Jane Fry told Insights that the committee was “‘the Synod between Synods’, the body charged with particular ‘synodical’ responsibilities by the UCA Constitution and Regulations.”
“You could say that the task of the SSC is to translate big picture Synod discernment into deliberate missional action and results,” Rev. Fry said.
Continuing along these lines, former NSW ACT Associate Secretary John Thornton explained the purpose of the committee as “basically the Synod that meets regularly between the 18 month cycle of Synod meetings.”
The committee, he says, “has the capacity to be a key player in strategic thinking for the Synod,” he said.
David Barrow has been on the standing committee for 18 months, having been re-elected at the last Synod meeting. He believes it to be, “one of the most wonderful expressions of the charism in the Uniting Church.”
“It puts laypeople and ministers together in a collective council that discerns the work of the church,” Mr Barrow said.
Part of the reason for this breadth is that Uniting Church committees like the standing committee work in lieu of bishops.
Meredith Yabsley is the Chair of the Uniting Resources Board. This role means that she is part of the standing committee.
“We are not a hierarchical organisation and so it is important the people know and understand the complexities of the issues with which SSC deals,” Ms Yabsley said.
“The issues can range from acknowledging the passing of a faithful servant of the church through to complex relationships involved in ministry placements or the finance around the re-development of a church site.”
“Coming to terms with how SSC carefully holds the creative tension between the Basis of Union, the Constitution, and its Regulations, and Synod’s By-laws, is a great church lesson for all.”
An Opportunity to Serve the Church
Members of Synod Standing Committee have the opportunity to play a significant role in shaping the Uniting Church. According to John Thornton, membership provides the chance “to be a part of the big picture thinking of the UCA.”
“Being a part of the SSC reminds you that we are part of something much bigger than a congregation, or a presbytery or particular agency,” he said.
“It endorses the thinking of being a part of the ‘body of Christ’ and each person has a part in the kingdom work of God. Too often our thinking about God is too small.”
Along similar lines, The Rev. Danielle Hemsworth-Smith says that she saw her committee role as discerning the will of God in the work of the church.
“I think that my role as a member of SC is to listen and to question where God is in the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ and ‘what fors’ of what we do as church,” Rev. Hemsworth Smith said.
“Where is the hope? Where is the justice? Where is the love? Where is the church of Christ? Where is God in all of this?”
Standing Committee member Jacki Watts told Insights that the committee had the ability to represent a wide range of Uniting Church members.
“One of the things I noticed about the Uniting Church is the perception at times among congregations of the “them and us” mentality,” she said.
“That perception can be thought of whether it is to do with the Presbytery, Synod or Assembly. Some people assume that it’s their congregation against the other Councils of the Church.”
“It wasn’t until I got involved with the other Councils of the Church that I realised ‘them’ is ‘us’. I’m a Lay female member of a country congregation and my voice along with others contributes to seeking to discern God’s will for us as a church.”
Many of the committee members told Insights that they felt called to committee membership.
Sue Graves told Insights “I have never had such a stronger call.”
“At that Synod meeting I…had a very strong urge to nominate for the SSC,” she said. “I was quite shocked to get elected but really felt it was God calling me.”
“Do I think that God wanted me to be on Synod Standing Committee? Undoubtedly, yes.” Rev. Hemsworth Smith said.
“It is not every day that you are assertively asked to nominate for SSC by an amazing group of women and that this nomination was affirmed through the voting of the Synod.”
“It is a privilege, a gift and a burden to be on SC. All of those things are elements of call, but for me really SSC is just a part of my bigger call [as a minister].”
In keeping with this theme, David Barrow said that he appreciated “being given an opportunity by the Synod to use the skills from my vocational life in service of the Church.”
“I encourage more lay people to think of that,” he said.
Looking to the future
According to Mr Barrow, the standing committee is currently talking more about the Uniting Church’s future direction.
“We are deeply reflecting on what it means to be a church that is small but significant in Australia,” Mr Barrow said.
“There are clearly tough decisions to be made. That doesn’t fall onto one bishop’s shoulders.”
This, he says, is about considering the role the Uniting Church has to play in wider society. “What is the unique contribution the Uniting Church can make…in New South Wales and the ACT? We don’t have to do everything.”
A Voice for Young People
“There’s been a strong commitment from the church to put young people on the committee…so that young people have a stake in the directions of the Synod,” Mr Barrow said.
James Ellis was one such young person, first joining the Synod Standing Committee in 2009 and serving until 2013.
“When I was first on it, I was a fresh out of school 17 year old,” he recalled.
“I was able to be involved in some really important talks. My memory of it all, was that despite my age, I was valued for the gifts and skills I brought—and I think that really strikes at the heart of what leadership in the UCA is all about.”
As Mr Ellis pointedly told Insights, drawing younger people into bodies like the Standing Committee serves to enhance their vitality.
“It’s important that Standing Committee doesn’t become stagnated with the same people time and again,” he said.
“For these types of bodies fresh blood is important alongside the experienced blood.”
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ editor