Rev Dr Mark Lawrence might be new to the role of General Secretary of the Synod but he is definitely not new to the Uniting Church.
Mark has spent most of his professional life working in the church in a range of positions, the most recent as presbytery minister pastoral care in the Presbytery of Port Phillip East.
Mark believes that knowledge of the complexity and nature of the Uniting Church will be one of the strengths he brings to this role, as he has an appreciation of congregations, presbytery, synod and agencies.
The job of the general secretary is a daunting one. The person has to hold in balance pastoral qualities and theological knowledge, alongside strong business skills, outstanding leadership and an appreciation of Uniting Church polity. It involves significant issues and change management and relies on both diplomacy and an ability to make the hard call.
So, what resources does he draw upon to manage the day-to-day stresses of such a varied and demanding job?
“A disciplined reading of and reflection on the lectionary, a gathering up of the week preceding in prayer, a daily prayerful attitude, and regular attendance in my local congregation,” the general secretary responded.
Mark is coming into the leadership of the synod at a key time. Externally the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse will put the spotlight on the practices of religious institutions over the past 40-50 years.
The new general secretary says that as a Church we need to sit humbly and own up to the fact that in both the Uniting Church’s history pre union and more recently, there have been times when people have experienced abuse.
“I think the Uniting Church has some runs on the board in how we have dealt with issues of abuse in the past and we have put substantial processes and practices into place to guard against abuse happening again,” Mark explained.
“We have responded as empathetically and as sympathetically as possible with those who have raised concerns.
“The way we built trust has been to develop positive environments and to work in ways as the Basis of Union says to be a fellowship of reconciliation, not for our own sake, but for the sake of bearing witness to Christ.”
Internally, there are what Mark describes as the “structural challenges”.
“The financial stuff, the property issues, as the church strives to be faithful and thoughtful, will be front and centre for us as we try to work through what the Uniting Church presence will be in VicTas in next 5-10 years,” Mark said.
And there are all the issues relating to being in a different time – a reality very different to the reality of the Uniting Church at the time of formation. Mark is not afraid of change. He believes change can be embraced within the context of meaningful and purposeful relationships.
“Our reality is that whether we react to the change or control it as much as possible, it will be a different synod in 10 years’ time, and it is likely that there will have to be significant change while I am in the gen sec role.”
“As a Church we need to constantly delve into our nature and our mission and we are constantly called to understand what our nature is, as this informs our mission.
“Who are we as disciples of Jesus? Who are we as praying people? Who are we as people who want to read the Bible and learn about living in positive relationships and living in a saved relationship with God? Who are we as learning communities? Who are we as people who want to support each other travelling the way of Jesus?
“That sort of nature, the identity of the Church, seeking to live out the commitment of being a cross cultural Church, of positively working together with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, these things will help shape our mission into the future.”
Mark stresses that he takes time to ‘smell the roses’.
“I enjoy tinkering away on the odd occasion, fixing up broken bits of furniture, play a little bit of guitar, and love dinghy sailing.”
He is also a taxi driver to 13 year old Ethan and 10 year old Tobias, and enjoys outings with wife Ruth, their boys, and friends. In his own words, ‘the stuff you do in families’.