New network to provide ‘gutsy’ approach to theological education

New network to provide ‘gutsy’ approach to theological education

Uniting Mission and Education is to invite presbyteries, UnitingCare and other relevant agencies to collaborate constructively in an Educational Resourcing Network.

The Synod of New South Wales and the ACT, meeting at Knox Grammar School, has noted UME’s vision and purpose statement for the educational ministry of the church and its intention to create an Educational Resourcing Network across the Synod.

Synod affirmed that the focus of the network would be on “equipping and developing fully engaged disciples among the people, congregations, presbyteries and agencies of the Synod”.

The primary task of the network will be the provision of resources for theological reflection and ways of growing practical and spiritual ministry.

The network will comprise the Theological Education Faculty (UTC Faculty members teaching within the School of Theology, Charles Sturt University) and the Candidates Formation Faculty (as drawn from UTC Faculty and associated personnel under the oversight of the Committee of Ministerial Formation) as well as a newly-formed Discipleship Resourcing Faculty (incorporating UME Resourcing Team, Presbytery Resource Ministers, UTC Faculty and others, lay and ordained, as designated).

The hub for the network will be established at the Centre for Ministry at North Parramatta.

The UME Board, in association with its working groups is to review and refocus the job descriptions of UTC Faculty and UME Resourcing Team members in the light of UME’s vision and purpose statement for educational ministry.

UME told Synod it was offering a creative way forward for equipping people to build capacity for theological reflection and to live out their faith in “real and gutsy ways”.

Its statement of vision and purpose was:

“Called to equip and develop lively and diverse followers of Jesus Christ fully engaged in the world, we seek to draw from scripture, experience, tradition, and context, in order to create opportunities for all people, according to their gifts, culture and spiritual vocation, to deepen their discipleship within collaborative communities of learning, through critical engagement, creative exploration, and faithful participation in a variety of flexible and transformative ways.”

That statement, and others in the life of the Uniting Church, were factors underlying and embedded within the proposal for the educational resourcing network: articulating the missional nature of the church, its commitment to justice, its ethos of affirming the role of scholarly interpreters, seeking contemporary critical articulations of faith, and being open to fresh insights, its strong covenant relationship with the indigenous peoples of Australia, its desire to reflect the multi/cross-cultural nature of contemporary society, and the imperative of offering contextual witness in a wide diversity of locations.

This proposal was said to arise out of a critical re-evaluation of the nature of contemporary society and a creative envisioning of how the church might be faithful in that context.

From a central hub — enabling the ongoing provision of a community where learning and thinking can interact, where “research and development” can engage with practical expressions of ministry, mission and discipleship — will spread a number of networks with educational offerings for discipleship, formation, candidature in specified ministries, leadership in local congregations and communities, pastoral roles and chaplaincies in church-related organisations, and other ministries.

The key feature of the network will be that it is not confined to one geographic location. Its participants will live, work, and worship in scattered and diverse situation — physically, culturally, linguistically.

Before noting and affirming the new direction for theological education, Synod was told that the network would be one entity with coordinated resources directed to practical outcomes. It would move education in the Synod beyond the structural separations of the past.

Collaboration would be a key value.

The network would equip people for more effective participation. It would be a collaborative community of learning, encouraging people to share, to develop a capacity for practical ministry, resourcing a range of people.

While the Centre for Ministry will be a vital centre for learning, there also will be collaborative centres for learning around the Synod.

Dr Ben Myers, Lecturer in Systematic Theology at United Theological College, said the Uniting Church was fundamentally, essentially, a pilgrim community in a particular place and time. Its identity was provisional and required ongoing reflection.

He said the network was a way of gathering together those parts of the church responsible for cultivating community reflection and processes of reflection.

“Our story is not finished,” he said.

Bronwyn Murphy, Lay Ministry, Education, Discipleship, and Rural Ministry, said the network was about sharing possibilities and building resources. It would not be Sydney-centric, but a variety of academic and vocational voices would be heard across the Synod.

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