By John Emmett
Church properties. We drive past, stand in front, meet outside, are gathered into and dismissed from them. They become familiar, loved places. What is our understanding of church properties – places where worship, formation, witness and service have often been associated with Godly encounters? Sometimes, the spaces and architecture of Church property, together with memories of participation in community, are woven into the fabric of our identity as persons of faith, or of a particular tradition of Christian faith.
Rev Robert Gribben wrote: “Christianity is … unafraid of matter. It worships a creative God, who has not hesitated to use tangible, visible things – water, bread and wine, light, oil, a book – to be living signs of grace, of God’s characteristic closeness to humankind. So it matters what we do in church architecture and in the furnishings of our churches. Each element, from design to manufacture, from placement to relationship, is capable of being a sacrament of God’s truth, drawing us, through the senses God has given us, closer to the One who has entered creation in Jesus Christ and remade all things” (Living Stones , 1997.)
Since 2010, the Church has been working through the influence of the Synod’s resolution that there “is a case for mission motivated development”. Building on publications, such as A Theology of Property for a pilgrim people (2008), resources have explored the implications of mission motivation for property.
Explorations included: consideration of commonwealth to the UCA, understanding the practice of mission motivated development, discerning mission and the use of property, and property enabling mission. Each links back to a pivotal statement from the Theology of Property for a pilgrim people: “[Church] property is both a place and a form of proclamation.” The function of Church property is to witness to and aid in the proclamation of the gospel.
God’s mission has a Church; the Church has property through which to engage in God’s mission.
Property Applications engage various councils according to the Church’s polity. (Regulations: Section 4 Property.) Responding to the Church’s call for effective governance of property affairs, Property applications for works exceeding $1 million require substantial investigation. This includes thorough consideration of mission commitments, financial matters associated with the proposed works, and a congregation’s future through a formal business case.
The Mission Motivated Development principles – including vocation, relationships, community building, presence, story and place – provided a positive platform from which to consider mission commitments.
However, a practical diagnostic instrument was required to assist the Church’s councils and Property Board in their examination of a property application.
The Property for Mission Workbook is that instrument. After trialling in major projects and the Asset Strategy Program, the Workbook has been produced for Church councils, presbyteries and Synod’s Property Services. Users will learn about themselves. Vision will be clarified. The challenges of sustaining mission commitments will be better understood, and the complexities of managing significant Church assets for mission purposes clarified.
The Workbook respects the roles functions of each of the Councils in terms of mission. God’s mission is to be recognised and missional responses imagined – initiated first in local contexts, then regionally. Such mission is grounded in everyday relationships, reflects the particular context in which the relationships are formed and exercised, shapes people in the faith of Christ, and leads to establishing or adding to the body of Christ – the church. These are ways in which the UCA faithfully invites people to receive and enter God’s contrast society, the kingdom of God.
The Workbook does not construct mission plans or scenarios, understanding that these are functions of the Church council, presbytery and institutions of the Church. However, the Workbook assumes competent mission plans adopted by the Church council and endorsed by the presbytery. Nor does the Workbook dictate property types, or architectural elements of Church property.
In a post-Christian Australian culture, local contexts and cultures will provide backdrops in which Church properties must assist local churches and their partners to faithfully serve, witness and worship. However, the Workbook does provide some materials and exercises to assist the various councils of the Church assess Church property for its capacity to work in this manner.
The Workbook provides six easy-to-use enquiries, each accompanied by a Reporting Page. The enquires include: mission commitments and activities overview, property requirements – spaces and places, property audit and user priority, funds and finances, a property for mission assessment and a vision for property.
The results of the six inquiries inform the objectives for any property application. These objectives then become the lens through which the business case will be evaluated. Proposals will be assessed by the various councils of the Church.
The Property for Mission Workbook is one practical instrument that assists the Church to understand and provide for the function of property in the context of God’s mission.