Telling Our Story – Highlights from Day Three
The day began with an inspiring and passionate study from Joel McKerrow, who focussed on the Story of the Spirit from the Act’s account of the Pentecost.
God can and does work through the Spirit and work among us with ‘radical inclusivism’.
It about the grassroots
Rev. Jane Fry refocussed members and enabled them to understand that all they are being asked to consider is being undergirded by processes that are both relational and strategic in thinking about the future of the Church.
It started at the grass roots who we want for the world we are in then then let’s gather the Presbyteries into that conversation and only then let’s ask the Synod to help us direct our resources provide the support that we need to be the church on the way.
“It is about all of us it is never likely to be about “them.” It is about saying who we are and who we want to be in the world,” explained Rev. Fry about the work that Pathways and other projects seek to achieve.
God is in the details
Hannah Boland vulnerably shared her faith story with members of Synod and outlined how at times her health, both mental and physical has had her retreating from God, only to discover he is the details of her life in a way that she couldn’t possibly imagine.
Ms Boland enabled us to see that the fragility of our stories are held in the heart of God.
Celebration of Ministry
A celebration of ministry was held for ministers of the word and deacons ordained or lay pastors commissioned since the last Synod meeting. Ministers admitted into the Uniting Church in Australia, Ministers transferred from other Synod to the NSW and ACT Synod and retired Ministers of the Word, Deacons and lay Pastors were also part of the celebration. It included two jubilarians Rev. James Bishop and Rev. John Whitehead who have served in ordained ministry in the Uniting Church for 60 years,
The celebration began with singing and blessings then prayer led by the Moderator, Rev. Simon Hansford who said, “As our call places us within the church within the people of God sometimes closer to the edges than in the middle. And sometimes in dangerous and risky places. We celebrate the calls. As we celebrate and acknowledge we might hear our own calls anew.”
“Our God we thank you for trust, for the mercy and the justice for the care and the patience and sometimes the impatience, those hands have shown we thank you. For leadership fallible and wonderful, we thank you. For words spoken that have sparked the light of hope or courage or challenge… we thank you. And for a bunch of good men and women we thank you.”
For the ministry for each and all of us …. We give you thanks through Christ our Lord.”
NSW Congress Chairperson Diane Torrens read from 2 Corinthians 4.1-2, 5-15.
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Rev. Jane Fry gave a minute of appreciation followed by a response from Rev. Anne Ryan. The celebration ended with a blessing “May the feet of God walk with you.”
Heather Watson Board Chair for Uniting began the presentation of the findings from Future Horizons. Uniting has been in a period where it has had to refocus its work based on the changing nature of funding. The Future Horizons project has involved a wide-ranging consultation process.
The Synod was asked to consult during this presentation to provide table group feedback to the Future Horizons process.
“We are turning the page and doing something completely different,” explained Peter Worland, Executive Director of Uniting of the Future Horizons project. “Joel McKerrow spoke this morning in his Bible study about a Greek compound word – paraclete. And he talked about honouring the other and moving alongside the other. Members of Synod, that’s what we’d like you to do now. We at Uniting are no longer going to behave as we have behaved in the past. This is a new page.”
Most of the Uniting’s facilities are in the most advantaged areas, this is an historical fact. 70% of congregations are in disadvantaged areas. Uniting have made a decision in consultation with presbyteries and congregations to change from a historical basis and to shift focus to west and south western Sydney and to the most disadvantaged in rural and remote areas.
Peter Worland then asked members to consider how Uniting and congregations and presbyteries can collaborate together with the following question: How do we envisage (congregations, presbyteries and Uniting) work collaboratively to respond in existing and new communities?
Mr Worland concluded before the process by saying, “We’re no longer just after cooperation, we are after collaboration. Cooperation means you don’t have to give anything up. Collaboration means both sides have to give something up. So as we look to this new future with Pathways, Stepping Stones and the Future Horizons project at Uniting, all of them are connected and interconnected. We would like specific, intentional discussion about how we are going to do this together.”
Mr Worland went on to explain that in the past some disrespectful things have happened between the services arm of the Church and Congregations and Presbyteries.
“Today we want to listen to what Synod has to say about how we need to behave differently,” said Mr Worland.
Meredith Yabsley, Uniting Resources Board Chair reported on the Synod budget and the background for the Stewardship Contribution. Ms Yabsley has the challenging role as Chair of overseeing the annual Synod budget, a budget where for years the whole church has consistently spent more than it has earned.
It is through prayer Ms Yabsley found a path and a plan. “In Paul’s letter to Corinthians; “although there are many parts there is only one body.”
“All parts of the body need to work together to create movement. UFS, Uniting Presbyteries and congregations all play their part in the body,” she said.
Since embarking on the role as Chair Ms Yabsley sees the Synod as many interconnected parts of the ‘one body’. Uniting Resources is the essential part to providing essential resources to the ‘body’ to help it move. It has to be connective and it needs to be courageous.
One of the aspects of the resourcing mission plan is to generate increased income from Synod assets including congregational contributions and to apply an annual Synod contribution across all parts of Synod, something not seen for nearly twenty years. This is one of the reasons why a Synod Contribution scheme has been recommended.
“Jesus made no comment to his disciples about being compelled by the religious leaders to contribute towards the cost of running the temple but drew the disciples attention to the heart behind the giving….the widow gave all she had. Sacrificial giving is true for the Church as well,”Ms Yabsley said.
“Living is Giving’ is an important source of income for the Synod and Assembly, mostly from congregations. Some congregations are truly generous but others make no contribution at all.
Ms Yabsley said it begs the question of all us, “what does it mean to be part of a member of the Uniting Church in Australia?” What rights roles and responsibilities do we have.
A further reason why the Stewardship Contribution is recommended as one of the strategies to bring about a sustainable budget is that “it is applied to all parts of the church, no one is excluded in achieving a more equitable load of the cost of Synod,” said Ms Yabsley.
When the Stewardship Contribution was first considered it met all the benchmarks of participation, ethical giving and practicality.
“We were told when it was first proposed that perhaps we were overly optimistic and we should prepare for the proposal to fail.
“It is in the past months I can look back and see the kairos moments.
“It took the whole Synod to build the Stewardship Contribution into its current form.
“I see the time to move is getting close….there is anticipation,” said Ms Yabsley.
She further explained that it is a way of looking for real generosity for the whole body, the building up of the whole.
“A sustainable Synod budget is not reached in a single step or met with a single solution. It takes time… The stewardship contribution scheme is but one way, we are looking for real generosity across the whole Synod, using the generosity to build up the whole.”
“Jesus tells us that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. We serve a God who can send out workers to the field.” We have skill in congregations and presbyteries to help with the harvest, said Ms Yabsley.
Mission and property and the Growth Fund
Rev. John Thornton shared the reports on mission and property and growth fund. He acknowledged the team involved including Suzanne Stanton, David Thornton and Jan Reeve.
“This work is one component of resourcing mission in the Synod. They have been working with congregations on mission resources as additional resources for Presbyteries,” said Rev. Thornton.