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. They have elected a new Church Council and are beginning to implement an ambitious Mission Plan. These moves were the result of a long process, brought on by difficult circumstances. With the help of Uniting’s Church Engagement Officer Corinna Alchin the congregations established a common Vision and Mission to which the combined congregations could aspire.
Everything was on the table. The entire church community played a role and had a say in the process. Along the way, they engaged the wider community and the broader Uniting Church, fostering relationships along the way.
Orange Uniting Church Minister, Rev. Andrew Cunningham, shares his thoughts on the amalgamation below.
Keep listening, keep challenging
Sometimes it is obvious that that change is needed.
And when we acknowledge it, we have a choice. We can keep our eyes closed, let the change happen and live with the consequences, or we can face it head on, be involved in the change, and know that we have not just let this ‘happen’ to us. We have walked with God, and each other, seeking a better way, and seeking resurrection in the things that seems dead.
From my first months in Orange it was clear that we could not go on as we were currently operating. I raised this issue with the leaders and encouraged people to talk about the elephant in the room. It was so important not to shy away, but to be honest about the reality of our health, and to encourage people to think, talk and read about what could be.
It soon became clear that people knew. They just needed to know that the pain of the change will be worth the end result. There was no guarantee that it would be worth the pain, but it is abundantly clear that staying put will only have one sad outcome. The leader’s role is to guide the people to consider together some alternative visions of the future, and consider how the church can be released, revitalised and resourced to serve and worship in today’s world.
As leaders, it is important to join with the people on this journey, and to have an open mind about what might be and to explore as much as possible. There are times that a plan seems to be coalescing, but keep testing, keep investigating and keep engaging with as wide a circle as necessary to have as much information as possible.
In relation to bringing the people on the journey, don’t be afraid to go slowly when necessary, and to keep going over things to help them stay on board. Keep listening. Keep challenging. Be willing to change your mind, and to change it again. But a time will come when you have done enough gathering, thinking, listening, talking, meeting and praying. A time will come when decisions have to be made, and when you know what is right and you have the ability and momentum to make the decision, you need to do it. Not heartlessly, but with compassion and determination.
In much of life there is an easy relationship in decision making between heart and mind. Things are balanced well. Sometimes the heart is called upon more, and we go with what our heart desires. Sometimes the mind needs to be the driver, and we must do what we know is right, even though it weighs heavily on our heart. These issues involving property and the merging of congregations require the mind to play a lead role.
We do this while treating the heart with respect and acknowledging the pain that comes with these sensible decisions. It will be a strain on those who lead the change process. The dreams of so many different people – members of the congregation, the wider Uniting Church and the God of the church, may seem to rest on your shoulders.
You may feel sick when the hard decisions are to be made. You may bear the criticism of the those who don’t understand. You may lie awake at night wondering. At the end of the day, to achieve the required change, the motivator must be the God of mission in who’s church we work and serve.
So, pray and act and let the change begin!
Rev. Andrew Cunningham, Minister of the Word, Orange Uniting Church