“I always joke that 1977 was a big year. It was the year I met my wife (Catriona), the year The Uniting Church was born and the year Collingwood had a drawn grand final.”
Although Jim Milne is not ‘officially’ a member of the UCA, he cites this particular year as an example of the way the church ethos is woven throughout his life.
“The church theme is recurring,” Jim said.
“My grandmother was Presbyterian, so as a kid I went to a Presbyterian church apart from a short time the family spent in Sydney, when I went to a Congregational church. And the school I attended was Methodist.
“It’s interesting how the connections continued. When I met Catriona, she was working as a social worker at what is now Kildonan UnitingCare, and my father-in-law was a Uniting Church minister. So there has always been this alignment with the church and its values and ethos.”
It is these values Jim will bring with him as he takes on his new role of Synod Property Officer. Responsibilities of the role include providing support to Uniting Church bodies (congregations, agencies, presbyteries and so on), fulfilling many of the Property Trust’s statutory obligations, maintaining the UCA Land Titles Register and overseeing the administration of all UCA Bequests. The role was previously held by moderator-elect, Dan Wootton.
Jim began his career working for a large accounting firm. While he says the training and experience were invaluable, he knew that he didn’t want to become partner. When his children got older, Jim decided to follow his heart.
“I thought it was time to put something back into society and looked around for not-for-profits,” Jim said.
“I started working for the church on 11 July 2005, nearly eight years ago.
“I’ve been involved in the property side of things for a few years now and enjoyed that. I was also Manager of Budgets and Shared Services in accounting and prior to that doing accounting operations. So when this role came up I was very excited about applying for it.”
One of the major differences Jim sees between the commercial world and the NFP sector is clearly financial. In corporate business, profit is the ultimate aim. The worth of a company is measured in dollars and cents. Reliance on government funding, donations and bequests does present challenges in the NFP sector, but Jim feels it is those attitudes towards money that make working in the sector worthwhile.
“The way we measure the success of our organisation is totally different,” Jim said.
“It’s not the bottom line or the profit, it’s the services we provide and what have we done, what difference have we made?
“The lure of profit is not there. The dollars are important but in a very different way.”
Jim is inspired by the people he meets and the examples of selflessness he has witnessed throughout the years working at the synod. One of his tasks in his previous role was reviewing reports from UnitingCare agencies.
“Opening up some of the reports, you would see a page of volunteers. These are people who have given up time and believe in that organisation. It balances to me the idiocy of the 6 o’clock news. People with doom and gloom, who say the world’s a terrible place. There are a lot of people out there who are good. The world is a good place.”
Speaking with Jim, the value he places on those who give so generously to help others is clear. He talks with passion of the responsibility he feels towards those who entrust the Church with their time and money.
“We need to have stewardship to look after the resources we’ve got and just be a bit more careful and think twice before we spend.
“One of my philosophies is to think of the person in the pew in church on a Sunday who puts money in the plate. I always question how they would feel about us spending that money on a particular task.’
“That thought process is a good check – a wake up call in a way.”
It is this same thought process that Jim feels will help him as he takes on his new role. Jim wants to emphasise the importance of the Property Services Unit as just that – a ‘service’ for the Church community.
“As some of our congregations have shrunk, some of the local expertise has disappeared,” Jim said.
“We provide that service to the congregations and agencies. If they have a real estate property they are thinking of selling or they don’t know what to do with a property. For example, they might have a manse that is surplus to needs. We have property experts that can assist.
“Some of the agencies are doing some quite remarkable developments – independent living units for example. Some have done these before so have a bit of an understanding, some haven’t. So we can provide that assistance. Not just on the building side. There’s the financial modelling side, the review of drawings side and so on.”
Jim is excited about the challenges the new role presents and is under no illusions that, at times, difficult decisions will have to be made. He feels his eight years working for the Church have given him a good understanding of aspects of the Church that someone completely new to the role might not have. He understands church terminology and is familiar with how the presbyteries function.
Jim has also developed an understanding of the diverse and inclusive nature of the church and those who work within it.
“We have very eclectic beliefs, even within the synod building.” Jim pauses for a moment before adding: “Perhaps the best example of that ethos is the church even accepts people like me – who barrack for Collingwood.”