Peter Worland: “We need to nail our sharper, more radical purpose to the door.”
The 28 June marked the closure of Peter Worland’s tenure as Executive Director of Uniting NSW.ACT.
During the service at St Stephen’s Uniting Church, which began with Uncle Ray McMinn, Uniting Advocate for Aboriginal People acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, there was a palpable sense that Mr Worland’s passion for Jesus’ poor has transformed the organisation and its mission in the community.
The General Secretary, Rev. Jane Fry noted that she believed in a lot of ways Mr Worland had practiced what Walter Bruggeman calls in his book The Practice of Prophetic Imagination, “prophetic ministry” when she noted that: “The first task of prophetic ministry is to enable people to empower and relinquish, to relinquish the world that is passing away from us.”
“So Peter the gift of your leadership is that you highlighted lots of the attitudes and behaviours and practices that we need to let go of,” explained Rev. Fry. “And that’s a journey, we are on that journey and you gave a lot of impetus to that. You have been part of kicking us in the pants and telling us to wake up and get on with Jesus’ poor. Your other gift to us is that you always remind us that our focus needs to be Jesus’ poor. That’s where God comes towards us, that’s where we know ourselves as the people of God.”
“That’s the work that you have done in bringing Uniting and the Uniting Church closer together in the focus on engaging with the world that is the reality for Jesus’ poor among us. That is a huge commitment that you have made and you have bought people on that journey with you. You have not relented for one single minute in the whole time you have been Executive Director of Uniting. You never give up, never give in, never relent and you keep holding that mirror up to us.”
Practicing what we preach
David Barrow, Lead Organiser of Sydney Alliance and member of the Synod Standing Committee then preached on Matthew 23: 1-12, 23-27.
“We faithful follow not just the living, not just the murdered, but the resurrected Jesus. We believe in resurrection. We are not people of withering endings, of hopeless despair, of long languid declines of pew sitters, nor are we those who sit idly by and accept lifelong disadvantage,” said Mr Barrow. “We may yet get smaller, but we don’t need to get weaker. Our story is of a people of a full-bodied resurrection, of life that springs back after the bushfire, of skeletal blackened bark with sprouts of green and new seeds woken by fire and spread by all the coloured parrots of the sky.”
Mr Barrow encouraged us — just as Peter Worland has in his service to the Church — that we need to remember who we are as a Church to be looking toward a life led by Jesus, to practice what we preach.
Returning to the why
“We are in a moral malaise,” explained Peter. “People are calling out for moral authority, rooted in moral purpose and they demand that institutions change and start practicing what they preach. I’m confident that our Synod, under the leadership of Rev. Jane Fry and the indomitable Rev. Simon Hansford are finding a way to find a sharper, more authentically Christian moral purpose in this place. I’m even more optimistic that we at Uniting will play an even more vital part in this resurgence. I’m proud of Uniting’s Future Horizons which clearly commits us to becoming more resilient, moving us to the places where Jesus’ poor live in the largest numbers – Western Sydney.”
Mr Worland then explained that over the last few years Uniting have decided to return to their ‘why?’ and the need to examine what Jesus say about how Uniting prioritises it’s service delivery: “We need to nail our sharper and more radical purpose to the door.”
“This sharper purpose is aligning and motivating people across our organisation,” said Mr Worland.
Mr Worland then passed the baton to Ms Tracey Burton and explaining that she has a “track record of excellent stewardship, especially your experience in keeping the finances of both the private and public hospitals positive will be invaluable at Uniting.”
“Your executives are among the most talented that I have come across in my 66 years,” explained Mr Worland. “You have the lived experience of ordinary people setting an extra-ordinary example.”
Mr Worland presented Ms Burton with a prayer scarf as a symbolic way of passing the baton of leadership with the words:
This, a mantle of God laid on your shoulders. You are the servant leader, the heart, ears and eyes of the Divine.
As Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
With God’s grace, may you carry the heart of a servant leader into your practice in the journey of life ahead and those serving, and served through, Uniting.
Pictured: Rev. Harry Herbert, former Executive Director of UnitingCare NSW.ACT, Peter Worland and Tracey Burton, incoming Executive Director of Uniting NSW.ACT.
View the gallery of pictures from the event here