What an idea!
In church a few weeks ago, I encountered a children’s story called What Do You Do With an Idea? It’s by Kobi Yamada and I don’t think it’s particularly new. The image for the idea in the story is a golden egg with stick legs wearing a golden crown. I won’t tell you the story but if you’re interested, you can listen to it on YouTube here.
I’ve been mulling on the story since then and reflecting on what happens to ideas in the UCA.
For the recent joint Assembly/Synod celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Union, the Assembly General Secretary, Colleen Geyer, raided the UCA Archives. There were displays of photographs, documents, newspaper reports and video footage of the Opening Worship for the first Assembly (accompanied by a soundtrack of the music from the ’70s – those were the days!).
As I wandered around the exhibits, I was struck again by the sheer audacity of the ‘idea’ — the vision — that brought the Uniting Church into existence. I was also amazed by the courage, tenacity and sheer energy of those founding people who did the work in Congregations and councils across three denominations, to bring that idea to fruition.
How did they convince all the people who must have argued it was impractical, unrealistic, unfeasible, unnecessary or all too hard? Even a cursory acquaintance with the history of the Christian Church would give the impression that giving legs to ideas on this scale — ideas that change the world — is unusual. However, quite obviously, it is possible.
The celebrations were held in the Lyceum Theatre at Wesley Mission, Sydney. These days, on the wall of its foyer, is a familiar quotation from John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” This similarly audacious, unrealistic idea underpins and shapes the signature ministries of Wesley Mission to serve the complex needs of those on the edges and to advocate on their behalf, in order to change the world.
Where do ideas come from? Who do they come to? What happens when they arrive? Where do they go? And the big one: is there any room for ideas in the way we organise ourselves as church?
My hunch is that our ‘responsiveness to ideas’ track record has not been great in any of the councils of the church in this Synod over the past few years. In this respect, we’re probably not vastly different to any of the people in the Biblical story confronted with new ideas. Think of the reactions of Abraham and Sarah (Don’t be silly!), Moses (Why me?), Jonah (You can’t make me!), Jeremiah (I’m too young!), the rich young ruler (I’m too busy!), Martha (I’m also too busy!), among many others. It may also be the case that we have a preference for patching up old ideas rather than attending to new ones.
As I write this, it is still more than two months until the Synod gathers on 29 September. The planning is well advanced, the logistics are in hand and the agenda is coming together. The new Moderator will be installed, a new General Secretary will be appointed, boards and councils will be reinvigorated with new membership.
What if all those people and bodies together held a commitment to make space for the future, to attend to the new ideas that emerge among us and to give legs to opportunities presented to us? What if the Synod itself, in its deliberation and decisions, could capture some of the audacity of the vision that brought the Church into being? And what if it could empower leaders across the Church to give legs to God’s new ideas?
Rev. Jane Fry is Acting General Secretary of the UCA Synod of NSW/ACT