It has been a busy few weeks for me. I have been:
- Working through the Synod Strategic Plan with the Strategic Advisory Group,
- At the President’s Conference on the Honouring of First People in Darwin,
- At the General Secretary’s meeting and Assembly Standing Committee in Sydney, and
- Participating in discussions and planning around the UCA commitment to the Commonwealth Redress Scheme.
The Strategic Advisory Group, with a broad spread of representatives from the Synod, Presbytery, Schools and Caring Agencies met in Shoalwater for a weekend in mid-June. Significant progress was made in defining goals and objectives for the next five years. In broad terms, the plan recognises the struggle the Church currently faces in an increasingly secular world, admits that current structures and approaches are no longer helpful and focusses on building a new platform based on our Strategic Directions, our potential for Community Mission and need for new skills in leadership.
The latest data from the Census and National Church Life Survey has not been encouraging but we are a people of hope who serve the living God and we believe implicitly that we are called to build the church in its many facets of community, denomination and commitment to justice and peace.
The Strategic Directions for the Synod and Presbytery were established in 2015, as follows:
- Developing a Culture of Open Communication
- Promoting a Culture of Faith Formation and Faith Sharing
- Developing and/or Promoting Relevant Education, Training and Leadership Development Resources, Programs and Projects
- Increasing the Church’s Capacity for Community Engagement
It is really important to recognise that these are not separate directions but four energies which move us in the same direction so that we are:
- Uniting in God’s Mission to the World
- Growing Communities of Christ-Followers
- Present in Worship, Witness and Service
While numbers in membership has declined throughout the Christian church, we do have a strong property base established by past generations who had a commitment to presence on virtually every street corner. This is one of our strengths but how do we use it to reach the community when numbers have declined to critical levels.
The Strategic Advisory Group have endorsed a Centres for Mission approach which establishes one place as a resourcing centre for several nearby congregations. It is like a Parish model on steroids. The concept is not new, in fact it was the basis of a plan prepared 20 years ago but never fully put into effect. While we might regret the loss of the past 20 years, I believe that now is the Kairos (God’s timing) for this plan.
The approach will require a strategic review of each and all of our congregations and church sites throughout the State, as well as the development of new sites in the areas which have mushroomed in the past decade.
Funding will be sourced through a new Foundation Trust which will be presented for approval at the Synod meeting in September. The existing Foundation will then be settled. While we still await the consent of the Resources Commission and Investment Fund for release of funds, it is anticipated that the corpus of this Fund will provide a sufficient investment return to establish at least one new Centre for Mission each year as well as providing funding for training of ministry agents and future leaders.
Training of Ministry Agents
I use the term to include lay leaders rather than simply the ordained ministry.
Our capacity to provide adequate ministry oversight in the current climate is severely limited. Not only are many of our ministry leaders at or beyond retirement age, but we have not produced student graduates from Theological Hall in anything like the numbers we need. Further, it is really difficult to attract younger talent from the eastern States, or even from overseas. We need a training program which will produce adequately skilled ministry leaders for today’s world in the shortest time possible. For this reason we have employed Rev Dr John Squires to work on this program in order initially to upskill current ministers and lay leaders and to provide for a continuing succession of ministry agents who will be able to lead the Church into the future.
In my devotions recently, I read a comment made by President John F Kennedy. He said, “We stand today on a new frontier … but the new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises – it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.”
This is where we also stand today – we have before us, not a set of lovely promises, but some strong challenges.
It is my prayer that what the Strategic Advisory Group have developed will provide sufficient means for us each to take on the challenges which lie before us.
Rev David de Kock
General Secretary, Uniting Church WA