It’s been a while since I’ve been to a Youth Convention. After all, I turn 60 this year and my youth is becoming a more distant memory.
Therefore, attending a day of Yuróra 2017 in January was a great experience for me. Yes, it was nostalgic, but there was more to it than bringing back pleasant memories of conferences past. There’s something wonderful when a large group of God’s people get together to learn, to worship and to enjoy each other’s company. There were a lot of all these things and more going on among the 800 or so from all over Australia who attended the Uniting Church’s national youth convention at Stanwell Tops early in the New Year.
I was there because Uniting Financial Services (UFS) was one of the major sponsors of the event. That gave me the opportunity to have a minute of fame at the evening rally when UFS was acknowledged. But more importantly, it gave me a chance to participate and to get among the celebration of the passion that Christ has put into our hearts. (Yuróra means “passionate”.)
Direct support of gospel growth
UFS sponsoring Yuróra was a good way of promoting our role as the financial services arm of the Uniting Church in NSW and the ACT. But our decision to support the event went well beyond that sort of self-interest. Synod was fully behind the success of Yuróra and endorsed its various arms helping out as we could. Normally, UFS doesn’t support ministries directly. We pay a distribution to Synod which then allocates the funds but, in this particular case, it was appropriate for us to provide direct support.
We wished to do so because an important part of our mission is to invest the Church’s funds “professionally, prudently, ethically and profitably”. Although there is no immediate financial return from sponsoring Yuróra, we deemed that investing in the future of the Uniting Church — through providing an opportunity for younger members to experience such a festival — meets our mission objectives very well. If young adults are encouraged and become more passionate about Christ, the gospel and gospel mission through being part of Yuróra, then the return on that signficant investment is immeasurable.
While at the event I met people from various places who told me that their presbyteries had also kicked in with some financial support to help delegates get along to Stanwell Tops. It was heart-warming to hear of others having a similar attitude, regarding this as an investment in the future generation of members of the Church and Christ’s kingdom.
I said that UFS didn’t sponsor Yuróra just for promotional purposes, but while I have your attention I’d like to do a little of that now! Please allow me to give a snapshot of how we go about making the Church’s money matter.
The challenge of a good return
UFS currently invests around $1.3 billion on behalf of the Uniting Church. As I said earlier, we are charged with investing this professionally, prudently, ethically and profitably. In the current investment climate, we are generating a net return of about $40 million each year for the Church. Most of this is income paid to the Congregations, presbyteries, Missions, agencies and individuals who place the funds with us. The rest is split between our distribution to the Synod, which helps cover the costs of its many ministries, and retained earnings which enable us to grow our portfolio so that future earnings for the Church can also grow.
Because interest is earned on the vast majority of the investments the Church has with UFS, our investment portfolio is also mostly in interest-earning assets – such as fixed income securities, floating rate notes, commercial loans and Church loans. In the current low interest rate climate, earning a good return is therefore quite a challenge. Please pray for the Board of UFS, me and my team as we seek to rise to this challenge on your behalf.
Whether UFS is going about its normal business of investing for the Church or providing sponsorship for key events like Yuróra, it’s a privilege to be the Executive Director of an organisation that is focussed on making money matter.
Warren Bird is Executive Director of Uniting Financial Services