As well as responding to requests to support various exciting events around the Church, I sometimes get to initiate projects that I think are important. I want to tell you about one of those: a project to re-establish a database of national statistics on UCA congregations and ministers.
That may sound dull, but I’m pumped about it.
For a start, it will be great to finally have answers to the questions I’m routinely asked by leaders of other denominations and our partner churches.
Questions like: How many UCA congregations are there? How many ministers?
Because, for these, and many other important questions about the Church nationally, the answer is all too often: “We don’t know.”
The Assembly last published national statistics in 1994.
In that time the UCA has undergone dramatic changes. Not only has the UCA reduced numerically, we’ve become smaller as a proportion of the population and aged noticeably.
The UCA has also developed a more diverse cultural and linguistic profile. It has engaged in extensive innovation in congregational life and in the organisation of presbyteries and synods – sometimes responding to sheer necessity but just as often out of a refreshed missional vision.
The role and experience of ministers has also changed with developments such as the increasing numbers of chaplaincies; the reduced number of rural placements; the increasing number of fractional placements; the diversification of congregational forms and life; and the increase in the age at which people take up their first placement.
Synods and presbyteries have maintained good records of the life of their congregations and faith communities. Some have gone further, undertaking quite sophisticated surveys to guide their mission planning and resourcing. But the collection and collation of national statistics is now long overdue.
If the Assembly is to play its part in overseeing and resourcing mission, it needs to gather the information that will tell us about the Uniting Church as a whole.
I’m hoping you can help me with this.
During August, I will be distributing two different census forms. One is for congregations and is to be completed by a church representative. A paper copy will be mailed to the congregation and an online option offered as well. The other is a brief online census for all ministers (whether or not they are in placement, including retired ministers). Synod general secretaries are collaborating in this project and have provided me with contact lists in order to distribute the census forms.
With your cooperation and goodwill I want to be able to tell the Uniting Church’s story near and far. To do that well I need to know something about every congregation and minister.
Please take part because everyone counts in the story of God’s pilgrim people.
Rev Prof Andrew Dutney
The Uniting Church in Australia