October letters

Costs per church member?

How many cents in the dollar of our weekly offering is needed to operate the UCA bureaucracy?   Bryan Long makes a telling point in his letter in the September issue ‘Rethinking Church Structure’. How many staff are employed in the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania with its eight presbyteries? At what annual cost? What is the breakdown of staff between, say, financial, property services, clergy placement, local mission, overseas mission, theological education, chaplaincy and social justice? What percentage of that total salary cost is attributable to each activity?

If a flow-chart was drawn up to show the movement of issues between presbytery and synod, what overlap and duplication exists? How many committees exist at each level of governance and to whom do they report? If the decision making process of the UCA was shown in diagrammatic form, would there be clear demarcation of reporting and decision making responsibilities?

Looking at the realistic number of church members in Victoria and Tasmania, how much per member does it presently cost to run our church structure?

Turning to other states in Australia, what are their comparable costs? More importantly, how much does it cost to operate their church bureaucracies per member?

Is there duplication in, say, servicing overseas missions or liaising between the different Australian synods?

Although it may be a more difficult exercise, what are the comparable costs in the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches and do their episcopal, hierarchical structures deliver these services more cheaply?

We expect our governments, federal, state and local, to deliver uniform services to every person in Australia in a timely and cost efficient manner, so the same standards should be applied to all levels of church governance, no matter in which state we worship.

Alan Ray
Mont Albert, VIC

Every year, the following year’s Mission Support Fund budget (which includes many aspects of synod-based ministries and operations and grants to presbyteries for presbytery ministers and general expenses), is developed by BOMAR (Board of Mission and Resourcing) with input from the synod’s Finance Committee. Robust discussions are held relating to balance between mission and ministry activities and the essential administrative tasks of the Church. All costs, including staff numbers, are analysed and compared to previous years and future need requirements assessed also. The final budget is then presented and approved to the Synod Standing Committee (SSC), and income and expenditure analytics against the budget is reported to at every SSC meeting throughout the following year. The Synod Property Board has oversight of the Property and Insurance budget, providing the same degree of scrutiny in both the development and oversight of this budget, again with input from the synod Finance Committee. The Church’s finances are presented in detail to the Synod meeting every 18 months and annually through its published annual audited accounts. The Major Strategic Review is addressing a number of issues raised in this letter.
Rev Dr Mark Lawrence,
General Secretary.


Keeping all children safe

Recent synod statements make clear that the church must be a safe place for children. They echo concerns uncovered in the Royal Commission and the actions of Jesus (Mark 9:33-37; 10: 13-16) when he places children at the centre, affirming their presence as the kingdom of God.  The strong care offered to children in church spaces raises questions about children in detention centres on islands to our north and in our cities.

Church agencies have been active on asylum. Has the synod encouraged Church members, and instructed synod staff, to care for children in other than church spaces? Does the synod hear and respond to child specialists who demand that all children be released from these centres?

More sharply, given the regular reports of brutality and self-harm, does the synod request church members to become informed about the detention centres and, aware of the brutalising impact on both peopled detained and also staff, demand  their immediate closure?

Anyone who has taken an interest in these centres knows how invisible they are to everyday life, and how resistant they are to change. What actions might assist? As reported in The Age (19 September) some are taking their concerns about detention centres to the boardroom and stock market. This is not new to the Uniting Church, with experience of ethical investment (and divestment) opposing uranium mining, challenging South African Apartheid by boycotting Shell petroleum, and in environmental areas.  Money will do serious talking, as the extent of the violence in the detention centres is made plain. Will the synod collaborate with those acting here?

Finally, many people participated in candlelight vigils to mark the drowning of three-year-old Alyan Kurd. Grief for him took us to so many fleeing warfare and persecution. Australian planes were being readied to bomb Syria, as they now do, threatening to prolong the conflict and produce more asylum seekers. In the midst of the fear and chaos in the Middle East, and the unrest fomented in our local communities, will a small child in a policeman’s arms, and a girl whose mother refused to give her up, (Mark 7: 24-30) help us?

Will the synod assist us to see the links between displaced children and warfare? Will the synod as an agent of the gospel of peace, assist us to recognise Jesus, friend of children, and encourage in us that same friendship?

Rev Dr Wes Campbell (retired)


Eureka moment

I was most interested in the article by Bryan Long. I am a member of the Forest Hill congregation of the Uniting Church, and have been involved with the Uniting Church, (and previously Methodist and Presbyterian Churches) all my life.

My great, great grandmother, Anastasia Withers, was one of the three women who sewed the original Eureka flag that was used at the Bakery Hill bloodbath at Ballarat on the 29 November, 1854.

I have a didgeridoo and singing routine and I have today offered my services (free) to Fie Marino and NextGen.

Geoff Walker
via email


Right decision

Unlike another writer who expressed his disappointment over the Synod Standing Committee’s decision to withdraw from ACCESS Ministries, I believe that it was the best possible step with regard to ACCESS we could take as a church.

This comment is made from experience. In a number of my placements in congregations, from the early 1980s until 2009, I served as a CRE teacher in local primary schools.

In the 1980s, the old Religion in Life curriculum was excellent. It reflected a broadly ecumenical understanding of the Christian faith, as well as respecting the diversity of the school communities, including people of faiths other than Christianity as well as people of non-religious viewpoints. As well, the material was age-appropriate for all grade levels. By the time I chose to conclude teaching CRE in 2009, the material had deteriorated to reflect a very narrow understanding of Christian faith, along with being rather ‘babyish’ for the 5th and 6th grade pupils I taught.

However, the worst factor I experienced with ACCESS Ministries in recent years was an inconsistency in how they described their program, depending on to whom they were speaking.

  • On the one hand, when they were in communication with principals, school councils, parent groups, governments, the media, and mainstream denominations such as the UCA, they described their programme in essentially educational terms.
  • On the other hand, when in communication with their volunteers, and with churches and individual donors within their ‘conservative evangelical’ support base, they spoke of the schools as ‘mission fields’ for the supporting churches (with the context implying an older and narrower use of the word ‘mission’ than most of us would use in the UCA).

As a minister of a mainstream denomination who was also a CRE volunteer, I saw both descriptions of the program – frequently.

In 2009, I felt I could no longer personally participate in what I increasingly regarded as the deliberate dishonesty of ACCESS Ministries, so I resigned as a volunteer CRE teacher.

While I recognise that the decision of Synod Standing Committee reflects a sad situation over which none of us should rejoice, I believe it is the only decision that our church could take with integrity.

Rev Dr Bob Faser
Claremont, TAS.


Well done

Thanks for a great Crosslight for September. Your interview with Gillian Triggs was a cracker. It enabled this outstanding Australian to speak without the continual political ‘white noise’ and get her inspiring story told.  Your article ‘Blooming Marvellous’ was a fine tribute to those many, many floral artists who Sunday by Sunday, enhance worship with the beauty of flowers.

Jim Foley
Via email


Revelling in Revelations

Field days in rural areas are great opportunities for people to come together to see the latest equipment and technology, hear information and discussion sessions on agricultural and scientific breakthroughs, to share ideas, products and craft, but primarily to meet up with friends and hear what is going on in your region and beyond. North Eastern Victoria presbytery took this idea and developed its own version of theological field days.

This is the fourth time we have gathered for a day-and-a-half to meet and share together.  It is open to anyone in our presbytery and beyond, and is free. We know that people travel significant distances and stay overnight so we don’t want to exclude anyone on grounds of cost. We simply ask those who can to make a donation to the cost of the day and the meals.

This year 40 people sat down to a three course dinner on Friday night, provided by our caterer extraordinaire, Janette Smith, to hear Rev Dr Sunny Chen introduce us to the book of Revelation in his own inimitable style. He had braved the Hume Highway and driven north out of Melbourne for the very first time and discovered a whole new world en route to Wangaratta. We discovered a whole new world through him in Revelations.

Sixty people came the next day to hear part 2 of Sunny’s talk, and then to engage with a smorgasbord of workshops.  Workshop topics ranged from learning about leadership and councils of the church with Rev Dr Jenny Byrnes, to unpacking myths about refugees. We explored PowerPoint in worship and discussed how to create meaningful devotional spaces in an op shop or anywhere.

We are blessed with a strong tradition of education in our presbytery. Keen lay and ordained leaders are willing to share their knowledge and get involved in planning this annual event of the Mission and Education Committee. We also continue to be supported by staff at the Centre for Theology and Ministry and appreciate that greatly.

Most of all it is a gathering of the people of God in the north-east  and beyond, encouraging one another and gaining new insights and skills to continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ and grow in their faith. The rural church is alive and well. Look out for Field Days again next year.

Wendie Wilkie


Unfair boycott

In the September issue of Crosslight there was a call from the recent UCA Assembly meeting to support Palestinian Christians with a “boycott of goods from illegal settlements in the West bank”.

To be even-handed on this perplexing issue, I would recommend that this boycott should be adopted for every other country worldwide which is persecuting, and even killing, Christians. Yes, the plight of the Palestinian Christians is one of many issues emanating from this conflict; however, boycotting of goods from the West bank will hurt both Palestinian and Jewish people.

Further to Professor Dutney’s last paragraph, he should explore further the underlying problems with this issue and look at it from an Israeli point of view also, i.e, how and what happened with the outcome of the 1967 war. This problem will not go away until surrounding Muslim countries accept the right of Israel to exist.

His last eight words state “an affront to the gospel of Jesus Christ” and this issue is one of the many ‘affronts’ facing Christians in the world at this present time.

D Stephens
Boronia, VIC




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