Who is involved in the review?
The MSR team is predominantly comprised of skilled members of the Uniting Church with various gifts and graces representing diverse aspects of the Church; including active congregation members, ordained ministers, a former-presbytery chairperson, an agency CEO and experts in strategy and governance. They are supported by a small paid staff team. The team began to come together in early January of this year, with a few more members joining in March when we had our first ‘complete’ team gathering. There have been some necessary staffing changes along the way due to illness and existing workloads, and we thank all those who have contributed to the life, knowledge and progress of the MSR so far.
The team currently comprises Rev Dr Mark Lawrence (Chair), Dr Jason Talbot (Program Director), Pradiksha Oommen (Program Consultant), Dr Andrew Glenn, Rev Graeme Harrison, Ken Tabart, Leeanne Keam, Rev Nigel Hanscamp, Joy Nunn, Alice Lam.
Why are we doing a review? / What are the main aims of the review?
Church leaders and commentators have been noting the shape, size and face of the Church, the changing environment of Australian society and religious engagement for some years. This has led to strong indications that the Church needs to revisit how it expresses the mission of God in the communities where it is called to mission, its worship and discipleship life, as well as its relationship with its agencies, schools and institutions.
While this has led to some adaptation, there has been little impetus towards substantial change. The worship life, synod structures, relationships with church agencies, institutions and schools, perspectives on mission and discipleship, and ministerial placement expectations have remained substantially similar to the Church that existed at the time of Union. This has created significant stresses with Church systems, with leadership and confidence unable to match the expectations of the older systems with the new environment.
The May 2013 Synod meeting resolved to request the Synod Standing Committee to undertake a Church-wide Major Strategic Review (MSR). The aim of the MSR is to form a broad vision and plans for the future of the Church within the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. It is also to undertake a holistic financial sustainability review to support that vision and plans. The review team is seeking input from the whole church to inform the review. Alongside decisions made at Synod meetings, the Synod Standing Committee will progressively develop appropriate 21st Century vision and plans suitable for implementation within the Church’s various ministries and committees.
Can you briefly explain the process of the review?
One of the challenges is to foster an environment that brings the best of our practices of prayerful discernment and strategic planning to the same table. Through this amalgamation of process the Church can understand and address the issues underpinning the Resolution, whilst remaining true to its purpose.
The Major Strategic Review is a collaborative journey of listening, discernment and discussion about the Church in the 21st Century.
The MSR Team is undertaking its work through a process involving:
Listening to a wide variety of voices from across the Church, including its various councils.
Collating the information, comments, prayers and feedback received.
Commissioning particular theological, financial and social research to inform the team’s consideration.
Reflecting on the data, its context, meaning and potential impact on the Church.
Discerning what the information means and possible options for the future.
Discussing the findings and options with the wider Church and listening to the feedback.
So far, the team has held more than 25 consultations with all presbyteries and a range of church boards and committees. There have also been numerous meetings with a variety of individuals, small groups and other representative bodies of the Church.
The MSR team is grateful for people’s willingness to share their fellowship, concerns, prayers and thoughts. These meetings are just one of the ways that the team is using to gather information to help us on our task.
In April, we issued an open invitation to the Church to share their thoughts with us through a narrative-style questionnaire which was circulated through Crosslight, the MSR website and email. We would like to thank each and every one of the more than 800 who responded as individuals, groups and as councils. This has given the team an opportunity to hear a range of hopes and concerns, bold ideas and prayers for the Church’s response to God’s mission in the future.
The process of listening is an ongoing one and there is much more work to be done, however it is a vital part of the overall review and it is important that we take the time to do the work properly.
Are you able to identify any recurring themes or issues at this stage of the review?
There are a number of recurring themes regarding opportunities for the future.
There are many examples where such opportunities are being pursued at a local level, a broader and more co-ordinated approach is likely to deliver great benefits. Some of the emerging themes include:
The wider Church has access to a large pool of resources (people, property and social capital). However, in many cases these resources are underutilised. A more dynamic and missional focus on resources could provide great opportunities for growth.
A broader view on the changing nature of the Church and the leadership requirements for the future (across the Church) is required. We need to develop more leaders with the skills needed in the current times and with the vision to help the Church express the mission of God in contemporary society.
Governance and procedural requirements can be improved to reduce the demands on individuals and congregations, allowing more time to focus on mission.
The Church is very diverse, with mission happening in a wide variety of places and ways. This diversity also brings difficulties with communications and complex relationships. A focus on breaking down silos and making stronger and more meaningful connections across the Church is required.
While the listening and discernment process is ongoing and more testing is required, a number of common words, phrases and themes have been heard in relation to mission. These include:
The Church is on a journey to continually seek new and better ways to express God’s mission;
The Church is the voice of those without a voice;
Love, justice, compassion;
Acceptance and equality;
Help and guidance for people in times of need or those suffering disadvantage.
When will you tell us the results of the work so far?
We will be providing an interim report to the Synod meeting in September, which will outline the work that has been done so far, the emerging themes and offer directions for the future. Ahead of this report we will be meeting with each of the presbyteries, boards and committees to provide a briefing on the findings to date. We will also be providing updates through various mediums, such as Listening Post, in the coming weeks and months.
When will the review finish?
Undertaking a strategic review such as this is a process of reflection, discernment and improvement. In a sense it is a journey that does not end and has continuous improvement as its goal and purpose. The listening and thinking processes that the Major Strategic Review Team is employing should form an ongoing part of all aspects of the Church.
Within the process of ongoing self-reflection and improvement there is a need to achieve milestones. Alongside the report to the Synod meeting in September, the Team expects to be making recommendations to the Synod Standing Committee progressively over the coming months and through the first half of 2015.
How can people have their say and/or ask questions?
To date we have received large volumes of information and feedback from a variety of sources as mentioned above. This is an ongoing and as yet incomplete process with many more voices to be heard. We encourage input and feedback from across the Church. Listening Post is probably the best starting point:
listeningpost.victas.uca.org.au/msr, or write to us at Major Strategic Review, Secretariat, 130 Little Collins Street, Melbourne: VIC – 3000, or email: MSR@victas.uca.org.au