More than 70 people attended an ‘open space technology’ forum in late November to have their say on major organisational changes underway in the Vic/Tas synod. The same group was invited back to a feedback workshop last month.
As part of the strategy to seek new ways of being church, a resolution was passed at last year’s Synod to form a Mission and Capacity Building Unit.
Some of the areas that will be brought together as part of the new unit include the Commission for Mission, the Centre for Theology and Ministry, BOMAR (Board of Mission and Resourcing) and resourcing of placements.
Staff and board representatives from these areas were joined by presbytery representatives as they considered how the Uniting Church might meet the changing needs of contemporary society.
The ‘open space technology’ forum was chosen to enable those present to set the agenda and discuss what they felt was important. At the start of the event, participants were invited to write questions or concerns on a piece of paper which was then displayed on the wall. People could then choose which conversations they wanted to engage in.
One participant thought that asking people to set the agenda was a good idea, as it highlighted that many people were concerned about similar issues. It also demonstrated how easy it is for misunderstanding to occur.
“What I am realising is that people have different definitions for words,” she said.
“For example, I was just in the capacity building discussion because I was curious to see what other people think capacity building is.
“Some people see it as resourcing and giving information to congregations. Whereas I see capacity building as training people, and giving them skills so they can do it themselves.”
She said that people felt comfortable to express their opinions about the effects the changes might have and this had been mainly positive.
“For some people, the comments that I’m hearing are very anxiety ridden,” she said.
“But the first discussion I went to was about how to rebuild trust between people, congregations, presbyteries and synod.”
Another participant felt the day was an opportunity to better understand different areas of the church.
“I think it’s exciting because it’s empowering. It’s also an encouragement to create better communication between synod, presbyteries and congregations, to actually help some of those conversations to happen.”
At the follow-up session in January, attended by close to 60 people, table groups were asked to give feedback on the themes and areas of focus in the new unit.
Whilst there was support for the direction of the implementation, some participants hoped they would receive an outline of the new unit’s organisational structure.
The development of this structure will be a key aspect of the Synod Standing Committee’s considerations during March and April.
It is expected that the new-look unit will be operational in the second half of the year.