Synod has come and gone for another 18 months. For some time yet we will be processing decisions and ideas that emerged but, at this stage, the feedback has been positive.
In reporting to the Synod this year, I spoke of the challenges we face, particularly in the areas of governance and leadership. I reflected that our Synod is not alone in addressing these issues and there is much discussion among Synod leaders about these particular themes.
One learning from our ongoing sharing has been that there is a variety of systems and styles among the various UCA Synods. Each Synod manages to interpret the Constitution and regulations to suit its needs and context, yet each Synod is also struggling with how to work a complex system that has its genesis nearly half a century ago.
It is clear that as a Church, we do a good job of building systems of checks and balances to assure us that no one can tell us what to do! We have developed a system of leadership that is shared rather than being the province of a single person.
At the same time, we long for leaders and feel that we are in a crisis because of the lack of leadership in our Church today.
This hunger for leadership is intense in our local Congregations as well as in our Assembly, Synod and Presbytery offices. In Congregation after Congregation, there is a deeply felt need for a strong witness to the community and the world, for spiritual and numerical growth, and for renewal.
There is a hunger for ministers and leaders who can spark and empower that renewal, and a growing sense that we don’t have the leaders that we need.
I have often heard people remark that churches do not like change; that they provide refuge from change, or that they resist change. (I may have made these comments myself!) But, in the end, I cannot figure this out. In the New Testament, Jesus asks everyone to change. With the exception of children, Jesus insists that every person he meets do something and change, in response to Him.
The whole message of the Christian scripture is based on the idea of metanoia — the change of heart that happens when we meet God face-to-face. Even a cursory knowledge of history reveals that Christianity is a religion about change.
The Christian faith always changes — even when some of its adherents claim that it does not!
It also strikes me as odd how resistant to change we are. We who claim to be “reformed and always reforming”, who will keep our “law under constant review so that our life may increasingly be directed to the service of God and humanity, and in its worship to a true and faithful setting forth of, and response to, the gospel of Christ.”
And, yet, how very human.
Change is hard, uncomfortable, disruptive and especially difficult for those of us who still hold in our minds a vision of our being successful, mainstream and admired. It is for this reason that we need a collective leadership that is courageous enough to look forward, set bold new directions, connect people at the level of their deepest hopes and aspirations, believe the transformation is possible, and embrace a fresh collective purpose and way of doing things.
The conversations on governance and leadership in our Church will therefore continue and be informed by the various discussions that have gone on. But we will also need the courage to let go of that which holds us back — to allow us to change for the good of God’s mission among us.
The General Secretary, Rev. Dr Andrew Williams