Reaching the summit on education

Edmund Hilary couldn’t have reached the summit of Mt Everest 60 years ago without Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and their support crew. The recent Moderator’s Summit on education for discipleship and leadership would probably not have reached quite the same degree of participation, trust and open sharing without the skills and thoughtfulness of facilitators Peter Kaldor and Naomi Nash from New River.

Whether it’s Bluff Knoll or Everest that you’ve climbed, one of the benefits from the top – on a good day – is the panoramic view of the surrounding territory. One of the key objectives was to provide the Commission on Education for Discipleship and Leadership (CEDAL) and the participants with a broad overview of ways in which education for faith formation is being carried on across the church. When the Commission was established by the 2009 Annual Meetings, the Synod and Presbytery affirmed that it “upholds as a central purpose the achievement of a culture in which formation for faith and discipleship becomes ‘prized, appreciated and accessible’ and to this end would establish a single body to build an informed and integrated learning community directed to the mission of God.”

As this event confirmed, CEDAL does not hold exclusive title or responsibility for such learning and development, and the Commission values partnerships with congregations, ministers, worship leaders, and many other bodies and staff members in fulfilling these responsibilities.

Accordingly, a wide variety of officers and bodies took part in the two day Summit that was held at St Peter’s and Emmaus Church in Joondanna on Friday 22 and Saturday 23 February. Participants included Rev Ron Larkin, moderator; Kay Dowling, general secretary; Rev Dr Ian Tozer, the new Associate General-Secretary (Education); along with Rev Anne McAndrew, Candidates for the Ministry Commission; Rev Emma Matthews, recently ordained Deacon and school chaplain; Andrew Broadbent, candidate for ministry; Tony George, school principal; Rev Dr Ian Robinson, university chaplain, Emeritus Prof Brian Hill, retired educator and member of Billabong Canning Vale Uniting Church and Rev Jeni Goring, minister of a joint Anglican and Uniting congregation.

Whilst we could only open the event to a limited number of people, we did make efforts to involve a wide range of views and positions. Some people had been members of the church all their life; some had only relatively recently become Christians or returned to an active life of faith. Some of the voices were very familiar to other members of Presbytery or Synod in the light of many years of active participation. However, some of the voices were quite new to many of the other participants, having exercised their roles primarily at congregational level or having come from interstate or overseas relatively recently.

Over 40 submissions were received from participants or other interested members of the church who wished to raise matters for the attention of the Summit or of CEDAL. These resources provided information to expand of points of view that couldn’t all be expressed verbally within the meetings, and also serve as an ongoing reference for CEDAL and its sub-committees as they continue with their work in these areas. A number of the written and spoken statements expressed concerns from people holding an evangelical theological perspective who felt that their views were not being adequately respected or expressed within CEDAL or the Perth Theological Hall.

Whilst participants may have all had different ideas about how they could have made better use of the time we spent together, there was none-the-less a wide appreciation for the way in which the facilitators created a ‘safe and respectful space’ for people to air their views, their hopes and their concerns without denigrating one another personally. Peter and Naomi, on behalf of the moderator and the commission had encouraged us to avoid old ruts, to be as constructive as possible and to seek to listen to God’s spirit at work at all times through the formal and informal sessions.

One of the collective attempts to express our common passion for the purpose and vision of education was summarised in this way: ‘To equip the Uniting Church in WA for lifelong Christian discipling by enhancing understanding and interpretation of the Gospel message of hope, love, reconciliation and forgiveness.’

During a short interval between concentrated sessions of listening, considering and describing the educational landscape, needs and priorities in the church, participants stepped outside for a breath of air. Half a dozen ‘table-less groups’ who had shared in discussion then picked up a rope and tried to pull a suit case to themselves. With all the teams competing it ended up pretty much a stale mate. But then given a number of ropes and a heavy four wheel drive vehicle to pull, a small number of people proved that, when all pulling in the same direction, they could move a massive lump of metal.  With that active parable in mind, we were encouraged to look beyond personal preferences and biases to see where we could work together as fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard, to touch people’s lives with the presence of God and bring in the harvest.

CEDAL will continue to reflect on the submissions and the contributions to the Moderator’s Summit on education for discipleship, with a firm commitment to learning from it and more effectively harnessing its energy and resources through lay education and the ministerial education program for the sake of the growth of the whole church. Further feedback and consultation will occur with as many other bodies and officers and members of the church as possible. Similarly, the new associate general secretary for education committed himself to learning from the experience as he shapes his priorities and objectives in taking up this new role on behalf of the church and us all.

May God continue to work through us all to make ministry happen and to grow new ministry agents.

Ken Devereux, chairperson, Commission for Education for Discipleship and Leadership

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