Church partnerships change lives

Church partnerships change lives

By focusing on partnerships, UnitingCare has worked with other church entities to change lives, Synod heard during the board’s report on April 14.

Interim Executive Director of UnitingCare, Peter Worland (who started in his role on February 5), praised the work of UnitingCare staff and board members over the past 18 months.

“Our people – unequivocal experts with mountains of evidence at their fingertips, passionate, articulate, intelligent to a T – deliver powerhouse advocacy on behalf of society’s most devalued people. This is our church in action,” he said.

Mr Worland guided Synod members toward UnitingCare’s annual report to read more about what the Uniting Church had already achieved.

“It is time today to stop and savour it, to celebrate, acknowledge and recommit ourselves to continuing to do the things that have delivered this success,” he said.

Jo-Anne Hewitt, Director, UnitingCare Disability, put forward the example of a partnership between Singleton Uniting Church, the Hunter Presbytery and UnitingCare NSW.ACT. The union had developed a disability respite service that delivers an afterschool program and holiday activities to provide children with disabilities experiences similar to those of their peers.

UnitingCare Singleton Disability Respite Services was established in 2007 to meet the needs of children living with a disability in Singleton and surrounding areas.

Part of their work is planning and fundraising to build “Sleep Over Cottage” using land donated by Bert and Janet Ray. The cottage will have five bedrooms and will be fully accessible. It is envisioned that it will be a place where kids, their friends and siblings can have fun in a home-like atmosphere supported by professionally trained staff.

Mr Worland said he would like to see Synod learn from such collaborative efforts and cited UnitingCare’s willingness to share its substantial infrastructure including IT services to strengthen the capacity of the entire Synod in the future.

St Columbus Uniting Church in Braddon, ACT, was singled out as a first class collaboration effort. This winter, the St Columbus Uniting Church will open the doors of Lewis Hall for homeless men to sleep one night per week.

The Safe Shelter project has been developing for two years but hit hurdles around building certification, reluctance from the ACT government, and the loss of several organisers. However, in late 2012, with support from the new UnitingCare Community Development Worker (ACT), the Safe Shelter organisers have been able to jump these hurdles and the pilot project will be launched in winter 2013.

On any given night there an estimated 1,360 people are homeless in the ACT – approximately one in every 40 residents.

In Yamba, a partnership between the local Uniting Church and UnitingCare Ageing has also changed lives. The coming together of engaged volunteers from the congregation, professional staff from UnitingCare Ageing and Federal government funding resulted in the construction (on land at Yamba Uniting Church) of ten, one- and two-storey townhouses offered as affordable housing for financially vulnerable and disadvantaged residents.

This also enabled further use of additional community facilities including a playground, community centre, opportunity shop and a function centre.

“The challenge now is to find more good ideas for collaborations and grow,” said Mr Worland.

“What ideas does your congregation or presbytery have?”

He said social justice is at the heart of the church’s mission and that one of the great areas of moral concern today is the way in which our two major political parties are responding to the issue of refugees and offshore processing.

“There are hundreds of people in our church prepared to take refugees into our homes. Let’s do something about that.

“This church has written the best material of any organisation in Australia. What we need is campaign, ideas and determination. The social justice forum will do this.”

The floor of Synod was then opened for questions.

The Rev. Dr Kerry Enright (Assembly and Synod Appointee) asked for clarification from the UnitingCare board about governance issues and recent activity.

Mr Worland said that a formal focus on stronger collaborations had led to the decision that there was no longer a need for major structural change and the proposal to “break up” UnitingCare would not go ahead. The board continued to undertake the process started this year to see whether three boards were necessary and if there was potential to operate as a single board.

The Rev. Jason John from the Mid North Coast Eco Ministry asked after the place of environmental sustainability in UnitingCare social justice action. He said that if climate change dropped off the church’s agenda it would result in significantly worsened refugee issues.

Mr Worland said Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director of UnitingCare Australia, was currently doing significant work in that area but UnitingCare’s current focus on refugee issues is because it felt there were things that could be quickly achieved.

Marion Gledhill (Parramatta Nepean Presbytery) publically commended UnitingCare’s Community Development workers within her presbytery. She said they had been “one of the best things done in recent years to re-establish connection between congregations and UnitingCare”.

She praised the way the workers had raised energy and confidence in congregational outreach and community service and asked that consideration be made to placing Uniting Church Deacons in those positions.

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