Embrace the danger
A service of commissioning for the ministry of Uniting Mission and Education last month marked the start of something new.
Staff of the new Synod board, Uniting Mission and Education (UME), were inducted and commissioned in Pitt Street Uniting Church on March 7.
They were: Geoff Wellington (Consultant for the Synod Mission Resource Fund), Judyth Roberts (Consultant resourcing Godly Play, Messy Church and playgroups), Bronwyn Murphy (Consultant for Rural Ministry, Lay Leadership, Discipleship and Education), Kath Merrifield (Executive Director of Uniting Mission and Education), Graham Anson (Consultant for New Initiatives) and Lindsay Cullen (Leader of the Relationships and Resourcing Team).
Those who attended the service celebrated the work of the staff, board and volunteers of UME (formerly the Board of Mission and the Board of Education).
In his welcome, the Moderator, the Rev. Dr Brian Brown, said, “It has been a long and difficult journey … but we rejoice that God has called these people, by the voice of the Church, to serve Jesus Christ in this new adventure.”
In his sermon, the Moderator said the way of Jesus was always new (and often risky) “because he keeps calling us away from our default position of inertia and ennui to a way of transformation towards wholeness”.
He said, “The risk is that as we do so we keep butting up against the ways of society that would keep us contained and comfortable if not comforted and creatively stimulated.”
He said, “The very act of dissention from these ways arouses the hostility of those who are challenged to see that there might actually be a way of doing this life that contradicts theirs.”
Those who truly followed Jesus, he said, were already, by definition, on new and risky paths. “This includes the Uniting Church, as we seek creative ways to do more with less.”
Dr Brown preached on a passage from Mark because of its reference to new wine and wineskins.
UME was a new structure, a new container, a way for the church to keep its ministry warm and its mission spirited, he said.
“As it looks for new ways to advance the education and mission of the Uniting Church it will of necessity take some paths that are new and different from the two former boards. As we recognise this, we also honour what has gone before; the shoulders and the achievements of those on which we now stand.”
He said the fresh expressions of mission and education “will find us connected to our communities as guests and not always as hosts. The shopping centres, the hotels, the men’s sheds, the community gardens, and indeed, some church buildings too, are just some of the places which are the new wineskins into which we are called to pour the wine of new gladness.
“Our task is twofold: to passionately value our faith in God who transforms and our ethos of inclusion and hospitality, and tirelessly strive for the best way to deliver this good news to needy and searching hearts and minds.”
During the prayer of confession, UME Board chairperson, the Rev. Geoff Smith, also referred to past challenges and those yet to confront the new board. He acknowledged difficult and painful decisions of the past and spoke of the new and dangerous paths ahead.
But he later said, “You don’t get to the fun stuff unless you embrace the danger.”
In her response, Ms Merrifield said, “Tonight we mark the start of something new.
“The journey to this point has not been easy. There are some who have walked that difficult path over the past few years. There are some who said goodbye along the way.
“There are some, like me, who have only just joined this adventure and are only just beginning to discover the mysteries and possibility of what is before us.”
She said the Synod had invited UME to think differently about how it worked and to encourage and resource the church to do likewise.
“As we share together, may we listen for God’s voice speaking through the people around us. And may the vision take shape, may our part in it be clear and may God’s kingdom be known among us and shared with the world.”
She said grace and peace would be required: “grace as we explore difference and the challenges of change; and peace as we embark on ‘new and risky paths’, confident that God walks with us through the hard stuff and the celebration.”
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