Presbyteries to be reviewed for future effectiveness
The Synod of New South Wales and the ACT has recognised that its current presbytery structure is not sustainable and will pursue a program of review and change to ensure more effective sharing of resources.
The central message of a report discussed at the Synod meeting at Newcastle University was that presbyteries in the Synod do not have the resources or capacity to respond effectively to the mission to which God calls the church.
Significant changes to the Synod structure were required for the situation to improve.
Chairpersons of four presbyteries (Hunter, Ku-ring-gai, Parramatta-Nepean and Sydney North) contributed to the report, which identified ageing and declining congregations, limited human and financial capacity, unevenness in size, increasing administrative load and the likelihood of taking on more responsibilities for ministry formation and education among reasons change was necessary.
The current structure, in place since 1977 when theUnitingChurchwas formed, was also seen to be unwieldy and plagued by unnecessary duplication.
The13 presbyteries (district councils) and their roles and responsibilities had not experienced substantive change since 1977.
However, their context had changed dramatically with cultural, demographic and generational differences as well as decreasing resources and growing workloads cited in 2011 as major differences.
Superficial proposals to merge presbyteries floated previously would simply result in “business as usual” on a larger scale and a missed opportunity to re-imagine the church in relation to such contextual realities.
Instead, the report urged the Synod to revisit two fundamental questions:
- What is God doing in the world?; and
- What does God want to do in the world?
It said: “Now, with so many challenging issues confronting the Synod, presbyteries and congregations, it seems to be an opportune time to recognise that we ‘can’t get there from here’ with the current structural arrangements and that we really do need to re-vision and re-imagine the way we are church in the world in which we live.”
The report also detailed the process of consultation which had occurred across the Synod and identified the need for more.
Synod considered a proposal including references to consultation with each presbytery, a review of the number of presbyteries and the establishment of a steering committee drawn from existing presbyteries “to re-equip the church for the pilgrim journey”.
An amended proposal incorporating feedback from table groups was submitted for discussion on September 26. That included a preamble concerning the role of presbyteries.
Feedback focused on three key areas: structures and relationships, indication of the differences between urban and rural presbyteries, and the opinion that the report was too “gloomy” and “negative”.
Hunter Presbytery Chairperson Felicity Amery said this gloominess was an unfortunate reality.
Chris Budden, from the Hunter Presbytery, commented from the floor that the report was focused around structures rather than relationships: a starting point that often results in a far different destination than conversations which begin around relationship building.
Comments from Synod members were frequently based around whether presbytery representatives needed Synod endorsement to continue conversations and planning. Some felt that Synod could play a more significant role once more specific proposals for change were submitted to the next Synod gathering.
Ms Amery said the formation of a task group would help those involved to work intentionally and to set aside time and resources.
Other comments recognised the significance of problems outlined in the report and acknowledged a pressing need for action.
The amended version of the proposal was passed by agreement on September 27.
Read the full report online.