As I travel around my new “home”, the city of Sydney, I pause to wonder about the engineering marvel of the skyscrapers around me. They are highly complex structures, built to withstand strong forces of nature.
As I understand it, at least one of the “secrets” of their strength and durability is the high bend strength of the steel used in their construction. Part of structural steel’s strength is its property of being able to flex, but not break, even in very high winds.
As I travel around in my work I am deeply aware of the responsibility of the Moderator to “lead the church into new and risky paths”. By listening, observing and reading I am becoming aware of one such path into which we are being called: the path of flexibility.
In the face of buffeting from powerful forces of change in these uncertain times, it is the adaptable church that is going to stay the distance on the journey to the promised goal.
This does not mean bending to every whim of opinion or ignoring the teaching of St Paul to beware being blown about by every wind of doctrine. As the Basis of Union reminds us, we have Christ and the scriptures at the centre of our faith to keep us from wandering too far off the right track.
One example of our need for new flexibility is in the area of preparing students for the ministry, along with the system of placements, which was developed in a time when full-time, fully-stipended ministries were the norm.
The Synod is doing work on this at the moment and we look forward to where these deliberations will lead us.
It may seem risky to question “tried and true” structures and we need to be aware of the wisdom of one who said “never pull down a fence until you know why it was put there in the first place”. Nevertheless, I believe that a particularly apposite gospel teaching for this time is about putting new wine into new wineskins.
Another major area for new and creative thinking is that of church finances. The Synod’s heavy reliance on income flowing from Uniting Financial Resources is going to need to be rethought given budget reductions in the face of global economic forces.
We are being called to do more with less. At the same time, we need to stay mindful of the challenge of the last Moderator to reappraise how we use our property resources in a way that is consistent with Christ’s call to mission.
It is healthy for the flexible church to question its former dependencies and find new and creative ways to fulfil its calling.
In this regard there is a challenging if not prophetic question in an article by theologian Benjamin Myers in the latest Uniting Church Studies: “Are we trying to make our Christian institutions stronger, more secure and more successful? Or are we willing to be dispossessed as we reach outwards, following Christ in faithful pilgrimage into an uncertain world?”
Yes, I know. A building may not be the best metaphor to describe a pilgrim church! We do, however, use them a lot and what we do with them will tell us a lot about whether or not we are a church with “bend strength”, equipped with flexibility for our mission in an uncertain world.
The Rev. Dr Brian Brown is Moderator of the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT.
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