A few weeks ago I participated in the biennial South Sudanese National Conference in Melbourne.
The theme for the conference was ‘First Be Reconciled’ based on Mathew 5:23-24.
It was my privilege to share the weekend with my brothers and sisters from South Sudan. I listened to their stories of war and conflict, pain and suffering, escape and refugee camps.
I also heard stories of their new life in Australia – stories of discrimination and displacement, shattered dreams and hopes.
According to the Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion survey, African immigrants experience up to five times more racial discrimination than people born in Australia. The 2016 survey found that more than three-in-four South Sudanese migrants – most of whom arrived as humanitarian refugees – say they have experienced discrimination. South Sudanese youth are over represented in youth detention centers.
The Synod of South Australia was the first synod in the Uniting Church in Australia to ordain a South Sudanese woman. I had the privilege of meeting her at the recent conference. I understand the synod provided her with three years of funding to minister amongst her people. But the funding will soon run out, and she is wondering what’s going to happen to her people. Will they be deprived of a shepherd?
Of late, I have been reflecting on the relationship between mission, ministry and money. The question I ask myself again and again is, “Are mission and ministry based on affordability?” From my observations, it appears this is so.
Let’s take the example of the South Sudanese communities within the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania – Springvale, Melton, Footscray, Hoppers Crossing and Werribee. They average from 50 to 120 members. None of them have ‘paid’ ministers or pastors exercising ministry because they can’t afford it. The South Sudanese migrants are one of the most disadvantaged communities in Australia.
Are mission and ministry only for those who can afford it? Are they based on affordability?
It seems that if a community doesn’t have capacity to pay a minister or a pastor, they don’t get one. It doesn’t matter that the community has an authentic mission.
The South Sudanese are not the only group in this situation. The Burmese communities within our synod also face the same predicament.
There are congregations within our synod with less than 10 or 25 members on Sunday mornings who have part-time or even full-time ministers/pastors. Some of these congregations have incomes through property rentals, bequests or sales of property proceeds. I have heard of one congregation that has less than 30 members on Sunday mornings and $1.5 million in the bank.
We are a church that champions justice, the common good and the support of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in society. And yet it seems we have not taken the time to consider the needs of some of the migrant communities within our own synod.
I am not naïve. I know we have limited resources so can’t fund every ministry we desire. We do need to prioritise. So the question is, how do we prioritise and fund mission and ministry in our synod?
I keep hearing that the growing part of the church is the CALD communities and yet some of these communities fail to receive financial support. Who would advocate for them? Is there justice if a 25-member congregation can afford to have a part-time or full-time ministers while a congregation with more than 80 members is deprived of one? How can we truly be a JUST multicultural church?
The synod is restructuring. Will the new structure make any difference in identifying the growing CALD communities within the synod and find support for them financially? Or will mission and ministry continue to be based on affordability?
Rev Swee Ann Koh