Listening Journeys

What will the congregations of the WA Presbytery of the Uniting Church look like in 25 years’ time? That was the question that was posed when Thrive Mission Committee presented a report to the 18th Annual Meeting of the Presbytery of WA in June. But more than a question, the report also put forward some proposals that could influence the shape of that journey over the next 25 years.

It’s relatively easy for a committee like Thrive to come up with a report that is filled with lots of good ideas, but what are we to do with such a report, and how is it going to make any difference to the diverse congregations of the Uniting Church in WA?

I recently attended a professional development day where I was introduced to the story of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb of Jesus. (It’s recorded for us in John 20) Three different verbs are used in the original language of the text to unfold the deepening levels of seeing:
The first level: I see, I notice, I observe;
Second level: I wonder, I imagine, I turn over in my mind;
Third level: I perceive, I understand, I realise the significance, I see things in a new light.

As a pilgrim people we have begun an important journey from facts (the first level), to curiosity (the second level) to insight (the third level).

At the Annual General Meeting of the Presbytery on 17 June 2023 the following proposals were agreed upon by consensus.

  1. Commit to the implementation of the 25-year Mission & Property Strategy for the WA Presbytery of the Uniting Church WA as
    a resource for congregations and faith communities within the Presbytery to enable us to continue playing our part in the mission of God in sustainable ways; and
  2. Request Thrive Mission Committee to develop and implement a two- year process of mutual listening with our congregations and
    faith communities, with other Presbytery committees and networks, schools, agencies and with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) to explore together how this strategy can be implemented with regular reporting to Presbytery on progress, feedback and outcomes.

THE FIRST LEVEL: I see, I notice, I observe.

This process of mutual listening that was described in the second proposal we have been calling “Listening Journeys” and this is the first level of that process of seeing the way forward for the Presbytery over the next 25 years.

It starts with us meeting with local congregations and asking questions about who you are, what makes you tick as a congregation, what your dreams for the future may be, and your observations about the challenges you need to address in order to continue that journey into the future.

Thrive Mission Committee and Pastoral Resources Committee will be appointing small teams of people who will visit local congregations to hear your stories. The visits are not about telling congregations what to do, but are about seeing, noticing and observing.

THE SECOND LEVEL: I wonder, I imagine, I turn over in my mind.

These listening journeys will provide an opportunity for both Presbytery as a whole, and the local congregation to not simply provide information, but to begin to wonder about those facts that have been imparted and to begin to imagine a new future.

It’s an opportunity to wonder what will happen if growth doesn’t happen; if the congregation continues to diminish without seeing new shoots of hope and anticipation. It’s an opportunity to wonder what the congregation would look like if it were to share its resources with another congregation. It’s an opportunity to imagine what the congregation would look like if significant changes were to happen to the model of church, the way we manage our buildings and property, or the way we perceive the wider community.

THE THIRD LEVEL: I perceive, I understand, I realise the significance, I see things in a new light.

These listening journeys have already begun, and it is the hope and prayer of the WA Presbytery that as these listening journeys continue into 2024 we will begin to see new opportunities to further the mission of God in our local neighbourhoods.

As we listen to each other and begin to wonder about what the future may look like, there will be a dawning of fresh vision and ideas will be shared. For many congregations there is a fear that the church will not exist in 25 years time, but with renewed vision and hope, positive steps can begin right now to bring about the changes that will bring new life to the church.

This journey is now underway and we are preparing to provide a legacy for the future, however, as we listen, and observe, and as we begin to wonder and imagine, we need to be open to see things in a new light. The challenge before us is not simply to ask what the Uniting Church will look like in 25 years time, but what our local congregations will look like in 2024 as we leap into a new year of hopefulness and expectation of God’s fresh calling.

Rev Rob Douglas, Presbytery Minister: Mission. Uniting Church WA

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