Sixty representatives from across the presbyteries and synod gathered at the Centre for Theology & Ministry last month to hear about progress relating to future plans for the presbyteries.
At the June 2016 Synod meeting a resolution was passed to establish a Presbytery Transition Team (PTT) which would work closely with the Strategic Review Implementation Team to develop flexible new models of Presbytery resourcing and ministry.
The purpose of the 17 June meeting was for the PTT to report to the representative group on what they have heard in their consultations across the synod.
PTT convenor, Rev Paul Stephens, said the team has consulted far and wide, including meeting with other synods, talking with local and overseas theologians, consulting the architects of the Basis of Union and reading extensively on the role of presbyteries in other places.
“We met with Norman Young and D’Arcy Wood to hear how those who framed the Basis of Union perceived the role of presbytery,” Mr Stephens explained.
The Basis of Union (paragraph 15) states that presbyteries as part of their role of oversight are ‘to exhort congregations to fulfil their high calling in Christ Jesus.’
Mr Stephens said this role of oversight is crucial in the life of the Uniting Church, which the PTT has been describing as ‘pastoral, missional leadership’.
As the PTT has travelled around the presbyteries, they have heard many stories of new life, some of which they shared with the CTM gathering in June.
However, they also heard story after story of presbytery leaders being worn out by the demands of their role.
“There are many challenges during this time of enormous change for the Church and presbytery leaders are at times burdened by the pastoral load of offering leadership into change,” Mr Stephens said.
“We were surprised to find ourselves reflecting at length on the role of chairpersons in the life of presbyteries.
“We discovered that by regulation chairs hold a key role for leadership, indeed for ‘pastoral oversight’.
“The responsibilities of those in the role are significant and seem to be growing.”
The specific question relating to future resourcing of presbyteries (as per the 2016 Synod resolution) was not raised at the June event.
Mr Stephens said one of the key recommendations coming to Synod will be that the model of presbytery teams should vary according to the needs of the particular presbytery.
He also said the report will also present some options relating to the presbytery chairperson role.
The PTT is now in the process of preparing its final report which will be presented to Synod Standing Committee in August and the Synod meeting in September.