Synod hears new school proposal

Synod hears new school proposal

A proposal to start a new Uniting Church school, and linked congregation in Western Sydney, has been introduced to the Synod meeting.

The NSW and ACT Synod’s General Secretary Rev. Jane Fry introduced the proposal.

“There are many members of Parramatta-Nepean Presbytery that have been contemplating the same reality…the population explosion in Western Sydney,” Rev. Fry said.

“This proposal is absolutely aligned with the Synod’s future directions.”

“Undoubtedly, this is an ambitious proposal,” Rev. Fry said.

Rev. Fry named Vicki Waters, David Sexton, Glen Powell, and Albert Olley as “four Musketeers that played a role in developing this proposal.”

“You will hear hope and excitement,” Rev. Fry said.

In an accompanying video, Moderator Simon Hansford outlined the proposal. He said that it was informed by, “[A] very strong conviction that the Uniting Church has a strong and unique faith perspective to share.”

“Together the congregation and school will grow as the community grows.”

The Moderator said that over 70 fulltime scholarships and bursaries would help meet the Uniting Church’s social justice ethos.

The school would be a K-12 co-educational school alongside a new church congregation. The plan would also include a community hub for the area’s use.

“To be able to connect in with this missional opportunity is just wonderful,” Rev. Christine Bayliss-Kelly said. Rev. Bayliss-Kelly has worked in Penrith since the beginning of 2021.

“Here’s a chance to be church differently.”

The proposal involves the schools taking on loans to Uniting Financial Services (UFS).

A formal due diligence process considered timing, building, curriculum design, key measures, and loan structures for investment at various stages.

Questions regarding the proposal included what the exact geography of the proposal’s strategy would include. The team behind the proposal confirmed that the Greater Western Sydney region was the target, an area that expanded out from the initial plan’s focus on Southwest Sydney.

The proposal will head to the discernment groups for further consideration and questions.

The Moderator encouraged people to engage with the project and to debate it as they felt necessary.

The motion will seek consensus during the next meeting on Saturday, 5 June. Insights will have full coverage.


7 thoughts on “Synod hears new school proposal”

  1. No no no! How can we possibly be God’s people in the world by isolating our young people from society?
    This is a Terrible idea.
    Pleeeeease don’t do it.
    As a retired public school Principal, I find the whole
    Concept of opening a ‘church’ school elitist and abhorrent.
    We Christians are called to be God’s people in the world, not apart from it, in our little protected clusters.
    I hope the Uniting Church is better than this.
    In case you didn’t get my message, I am vehemently against such a move.

  2. I’d just like to express that I am really opposed to this proposal. I don’t think the UCA should be in the business of providing private schools to already well resourced families. I realise it’s not a particularly popular view and that the UCA already has very rich private schools. I guess I’m just registering my dissent. And yes, I know that God loves the middle class and wealthy too, but they don’t need the church’s financial assistance or educative support. The UCA should be in the business of supporting under-resourced communities and challenging an unfair education system that even allows private, elitist schools to exist in the first place, not building our own to make some money in a growing population centre!

  3. Rev. Neil Ericksson

    No-one has a higher regard for the Ministry of Church Schools than I. My first Placement was as a School Chaplain. After several years in a Cong. I was asked to return to the School as Chaplain again, which I did. I still keep in touch with quite a number of my former students, some of whom are now turning 50! But that was a long time ago. I have many reservations about this proposal. The video is very good PR but very light on detail – in fact other than describing a concept and a hope, it provides no detail except a general proposed location.
    This is a multi-million dollar enterprise, in fact tens of millions of dollars which the Synod will be underwriting for decades or even longer. Will it continue to support the cong. if the school fails or vice-versa?
    While a low fee paying school is commendable (in fact the ONLY possible concept) that ipso facto means the fee income will be lower, hence the repayments lower and will take longer. Unless this won’t be a loan but the Synod will just write the cheques and accept whatever income is generated, no matter how small?
    While the P-N Presbytery is enthusiastic, have any of the congs. in SW Sydney been consulted? Are they going to be ignored in all this? Presumably it will be built in an area where these is no church at present. All the congs in SW Sydney are small and struggling with many not able to Call a Ministry Agent. There is 1 medium sized cong. that has good community involvement but that’s all.
    An excellent School Chaplain may not be an excellent Cong. Leader and vice-versa. There will need to be a team of ministry agents involved which is an enormous expense. Will the other Church Schools, “kick the can” to help with the finances? Maybe $1,000,000 each?
    If the new Cong. will be “housed” on the school campus, what happens about funerals and weddings during term or even the mid-week uses of the buildings? Will the worship centre and manse be on the same land but distinct from the school buildings? Hopefully the Gov’t will contribute (generously?) to the school building but it won’t/cant contribute to building a Church (can’t say about a “School Chapel”) or a Manse. ALP Policy is not to support faith-based schools as generously as the Coalition. This is another realistic consideration.
    There was an attempt at establishing a new cong. in that area with sporting facilities as the “hook” into the community. This was an utter disaster financially, spiritually and with many of the people concerned. The main lesson learned was that it takes more than 5 years to establish a viable cong. Is the Synod prepared to be in this for 10-20 years?
    Vic-Tas Synod attempted a project with school, church and aged care all on one campus. It almost sent the Synod bankrupt and many in that synod were not pleased with the “rescue plan” worked out. Even with the financial outlay for physically building the school, K-12 has to be introduced gradually over several years. That could mean 6-8 years before there’s any real income but huge outlays.
    So as not to be totally negative, what about a different, smaller proposal? To assist with the population boom of the area, why not support a Low Cost Housing project or establish a network of Long Day Care Centres which could also evolve/morph into homework centres for school-age kids. This may be able to use current cong. resources in SW Sydney. Uniting has considerable expertise in this field. If it was the belief that a new Cong. should be established, why not investigate the Community Centre model similar to Kippax in the ACT.? That has been a remarkable undertaking and we have amassed considerable knowledge and experience in doing it. As I mentioned earlier there must be at least a 10 year commitment to get it going and see it through.
    I am excited that the Synod is looking at new ways of being church and we must believe that we should respond to the Spirit’s leading. There is clearly a present and emerging need in SW Sydney. My prayer, our prayer, is that we will hear “what the Spirit is saying to the Church”. May God bless the Synod and Standing Committee as these discussions progress.

  4. This is a very confusing proposal. Church sponsored schools are acting as a de facto private system, and causing enormous disruption in education generally, including inequity, teacher stress, standards in many public schools. Of course church schools function well – as the video shows – when troublesome students are expelled to public schools, when able students are siphoned from state system, and the whole idea of the comprehensive local school, so central to european and american systems, is under threat. More generally issues of church state relations are at stake. If churches want to enter education they need to have a comprehensive progressive and political vision for society as a whole including students not attending their schools. Henry Parkes passed world first legislation in 1872 for free, universal and secular education.

  5. I think I want to affirm many of the comments made by Neil Ericksson.
    I am conscious of the good that may be possible, but am also conscious that the closure of Acacia College in Victoria cost the VicTas Synod 53.9million dollars – funded by the sale of property including churches. The school was unable to move to a larger student enrollment when critical timeline objectives were not met. I wonder what the differences are here.
    I also wonder about the education values that we are speaking about and their acceptance by parents looking for new schools. Do parents seek values or just good TER marks for their children? School chaplaincy is one of those incredibly difficult jobs. Often the parents expectations and values of the School and Chaplaincy do not match.

  6. Anne Elizabeth Empson

    I think the proposal is exciting and I am really pleased to see that the church is acknowledging the work of the current schools and it’s wonderful chaplains. There are many of us in the UCA who were educated in the existing UCA schools and understand the cradle to grave nature of this ministry. They are true lifelong inter-generational and multi-cultural communities and the idea of planting a church as part of the school project is an excellent one. Planting a church is not easy and I would think the number of churches we have planted as a Uniting Church is minimal. When you couple this new church with a school, you have the chance to speak into the lives of children and their families through both education and faith and build a strong community. The Anglican church is very good at building low fee paying schools and I know they have more on the table, and I can’t help but feel that if we had done this project in the 1990s, we would have very strong numbers in the first third of life. I have heard comments within the church that the current schools don’t translate into ‘bums on seats’ on a Sunday. I would challenge those who say this and ask them whether our fixation that church is in a building on a Sunday between 9:30 and 10:30 with morning tea afterwards, is truly the only expression of participation in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Service and social action are strong in our current schools and I think that’s where Jesus would have been on a Sunday morning. We have been shaping young lives in our schools since 1863 and I can’t help but feel that our students are well served entering adulthood and becoming leaders and change agents in our society, by a UCA ethos and an understanding that there is a God who loves them. The ability to speak about faith openly in a school is where the independent system diverges from the state system. I do not come from a Christian family, but became a Christian just after I left school. The things I had learnt at MLC formed the basis of my faith and it was a drip feeding of Christian teaching over 8 years which formed me. I was never a ‘bum on a seat’ while I was at school but I have served the church a lot since. This project is a big step for the UCA and not without risk, but I am proud of the UCA for taking the risk and putting this proposal forward.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top