THROUGHOUT the Uniting Church, thousands of hours are devoted each year to serving on committees. Without the dedication of such volunteers very little would actually be achieved within the church.
The reasons people offer their time to work on committees are many and varied.
Some may have a particular skill set they feel they can contribute; others may want to expand their skill set and knowledge of the workings of the church. Maybe an individual is unhappy with decisions made in the past so, rather than complain, will join a committee in an attempt to make a difference. And for others, the social aspect of committee membership may be important.
Rev Ian Fry certainly knows a thing or two about serving on committees. In 1945, at the tender age of 10, Mr Fry was appointed treasurer of the junior Methodist Order of Knights (MOK) at his local church in suburban Adelaide.
He credits his mother with prompting what was to become a lifelong desire to be involved.
“Without parental example and encouragement, children are not likely to become involved in church youth work and experience any base that will encourage them to become more involved in the life and work of the church in later years,” Mr Fry said.
“In my case, it was my mother’s strong commitment to the Methodist Church and my consequent attendan
ce at Sunday School and membership of the MOK that influenced my early world view and belief in an ultimate authority – God.”
Throughout the past 68 years, Mr Fry has been kept busy on a variety of committees. His skills have been used in everything from local cricket clubs and agricultural pest control boards to membership of UC Standing Committee and a special consultation in Lusaka, Zambia between religious leaders from South Africa organised by Bishop Desmond Tutu.
He has travelled to places such as the Middle East, African and Papua New Guinea and been involved in high-level discussions around issues of interfaith relations, reconciliation and world peace.
Mr Fry acknowledges that, at times, he took on too much of a workload, often to the detriment of those closest to him.
“For long periods I would have little or no private evenings and insufficient weekend time with my family, simply going from one meeting or working group to another,” he said.
But in spite of the drawbacks, Mr Fry encourages people to think about the ways they might contribute. When asked about the skills people need before volunteering, he emphasised that people need to look carefully at their motivation before joining committees.
“People need to recognise the difference between a call and a personal ambition for authority,” he said.
A willingness to listen, patience, and recognition of another’s point of view are among the many attributes Mr Fry feels are necessary for committee work.
Both personally and as a member of the church, Mr Fry feels the work of committees is invaluable.
“To be involved in church committees … can be a very rewarding experience,” he said.
“Your confidence grows and you feel a sense of satisfaction that you are contributing to the life of the congregation. But when you step outside the parish portals and into presbytery and its sub-committees, a whole new world opens up to you.”
While Mr Fry has had more experience than most working on committees, Bethany Broadstock is still a babe-in-the-woods.
It was during the Assembly meeting last year that Ms Broadstock observed the church in collective discernment and decision making. She was so impressed with the process that she became a member of Standing Committee at the end of the meeting.
“The way my church makes decisions has made me proud many times,” Ms Broadstock said.
“It acknowledges every person has a role to play in discerning the heart of God for the Church, and I find it to be honourable of people in allowing them to wrestle and contend and feel they have been heard.
“We should claim it not just as a process but as another way we witness to the Christian call to community and attempt to navigate the struggles and issues and hurts that can come from life together.”
Ms Broadstock is currently a committee member on the Assembly Standing Committee, the Assembly task group on baptism, confirmation and membership, Vic/Tas lay staff consultative group and the ministry formation committee for the presbytery of Yarra Yarra.
It is clear that Ms Broadstock sees her involvement in committees as an extension of her growing relationship with her faith and the church.
“Because active engagement with the life of the church is becoming such an important part of who I am, I tend to consider it an investment and not a sacrifice, especially at my age as I learn and grow my understanding of myself and of the Church.
“The biggest benefit for me so far has been a selfish one, in that involvement with committees has helped to cement my sense of belonging within a wide church structure which is complex and complicated.
“They have helped me to network, build relationships and have thrown open doors to other opportunities I never could have imagined. For me they have been empowering and inclusive, and as a young person I have been especially grateful for that.”