We are well placed to connect with the community
At the end of last year, in the course of a conversation at the presentation evening at Margaret Jurd Learning Centre (a great school of the Uniting Church), I was asked the question: “In your experience as Moderator, do you think that the Uniting Church is a church in decline?”
The way this question was put caused me to pause and think.
Yes, we know, the statistics tell us that numerically the Uniting Church is a church in decline. But my experience over the past year tells me another story.
The impact and reach of the Uniting Church in the community is possibly greater than it has ever been through its community services delivered by UnitingCare, Wesley Mission and all the other Parish Missions, through our schools and University Chaplains.
The church (maybe as a consequence of declining membership) in faith communities, congregations and presbyteries seems to be coming to life with shoots of hope sprouting in lots of places.
The fruits, in many cases, are yet to come. Even in our 2008 Synod Meeting, which for many was not a good experience, seeds of hope were planted that I believe will shoot into new ways of being Synod.
So where have I experienced these shoots of hope in our church?
These are some:
- South Sydney Congregation is certainly an example of a congregation responding to the call to be inclusive — small but growing with a strong sense of community and connection to the community around — authentic and vibrant.
- Peteli stepping out in faith, growing a congregation with strong Tongan foundations but doing something new in the Australian context.
- Auburn Uniting Church through adversity (the burning down of their hall at time of the Cronulla riots) strengthening multicultural and interfaith relationships in a hugely diverse community.
- Terrigal and Pittwater Uniting Churches, significant and growing regional congregations of different character, strong in worship and community engagement.
- Korean congregations within and without the Korean commission genuinely seeking to develop and live within the Uniting Church in a way that is authentically Uniting Church, challenging themselves to address their role in mission in Australia, growing in number and size.
- Lugarno-Peakhurst Uniting Church releasing its minister to develop and coordinate chaplaincy resources for the victims of disaster as a Synod-wide ministry of the Uniting Church.
- The Resource Ministry Conference in Bathurst looking at new ways to resource and strengthen the local congregations or faith communities in new and changing contexts, mobilising and enhancing lay ministry within the church.
- Margaret Jurd Learning Centre in Newcastle, where I was having the conversation mentioned above; a school which over the last few years has moved forward with its vision of providing academic support for kids who might otherwise have been given no hope.
Generally, in presbyteries and congregations, the questions are being asked about how to be church in new and relevant ways.
Yes, in some, if not many, cases the answers are not clear. From what I see, in the Uniting Church we are better placed than many to connect with the community around us because, generally speaking, we are inclusive in our approach to others.
We are not a church experiencing comprehensive decline but rather a church having to address significant change both within the church and society and in the ways we interact with society.
In all this we need courage and a generosity of spirit. I see evidence that we are up for the challenge.