Powering up the Network

On Saturday 15 July it was my privilege to join about 60 people from the Banyule Network of Uniting Churches for their retreat day focused on mission planning.

The day was built around three key sessions:

  • seeking to strengthen understanding of God’s mission
  • exploring a refreshing of mission priorities
  • exploring future leadership for mission and ministry.

Table groups engaged the topics with energy. There was enthusiastic response to the introductory inputs and to the questions that provoked focused explorations.

I asked myself: Where did such energy and enthusiasm come from? What encouraged 60 people to give up their Saturday and share in this way?

First, it seemed to me (as an ‘outsider’ to the Network) that they had a lot to talk about!

Like those fellow travellers on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35), the Banyule Network needed to discuss everything that had been happening. Over the past 10 years or so, they have walked a particularly adventurous journey that began as a deepening partnership across a number of congregations.

They have explored new models of ministry that have changed and challenged their structures. They have completely re-thought their use of property as a resource for supporting mission. An Asset Strategy Plan was developed in partnership with Synod Property Services that proposed rejuvenated and flexible property configurations for mission and ministry. It also put in motion the selling of surplus property assets and positive short and long-term financial management.

In recognition of the need to be open to changing ways of being church, new gathered communities have emerged in a variety of contexts. These include Cross Generation congregation, SPACE for young adults, two Messy Church groups, and the Café of Dangerous Ideas.

Second, there was energy arising from the recognition that the Network is growing and changing. This led to a desire to learn from the journey.

They asked questions such as: what has been helpful and hopeful in the changes; what has been hard and perhaps painful; what can we learn from the journey that might inform us going forward; how do we begin to redefine ourselves in the light of all that has happened so far?

I trust Jesus is their companion on the road. The journey of change is not always easy. It often comes with much wrestling and difference of opinion. Nonetheless, God leads us all on. Every gathered community, small or large, city or rural, can do the sort of wrestling that the Banyule Network is doing. We are all called to walk the pilgrim road.

But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there was energy in the room because there were signs in their life together that the Spirit of God was moving amidst this Network.

At the forefront of this day was a desire to continue to discern the activity of the Spirit’s guiding hand, and to discern the call of God upon them as God’s people in Banyule.

My hope is that, amidst all the challenges, the Banyule Network is increasingly discovering life in God’s mission in a privileged movement energised by God’s ‘high calling in Christ Jesus’ (Basis of Union #15c).

As I write this a new booklet, Supporting Information on the Statement of Intent, has been released for use across the synod.

It is a resource for seeking to articulate a further key element of the synod’s strategic direction. In response to identified issues across the life of the Church, the 10 Statements of Intent form a tool to strengthen those attributes that would encourage and shape a vibrant Church – one that might continue to grow as a faithful sign and instrument of God’s mission.

I was initially surprised to see so many of these Statements of Intent active in the life of the Banyule Network of Uniting Churches. I was surprised because they have not drawn directly on these Statements for their inspiration. The Statements are only now being more fully articulated for use across the Church.

But perhaps I should not be surprised. If these Statements are an aid toward vibrancy of life, then I should expect to see those Statements reflected in the vibrancy that I felt at the Banyule Network retreat day. Indeed, almost every Statement is reflected in the opportunities that are energising and challenging the Network.

I pray God’s blessing be upon all gathered communities across our synod. May each community draw on the energy and power of the Holy Spirit in seeking to be a vibrant sign and instrument of God’s mission in and for the world.

And I pray that the new booklet Supporting Information on the Statement of Intent is a help in your gathered community.

Supporting Information on the Statement of Intent is available at: ucavictas.org.au/visionandmission.

David Withers
Strategic Framework Minister

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