Property and progress
Now when the Church is soul searching about the issues of property and mission, I commend the timely insights of Property and Progress for a Pilgrim People by Rev Dr Michael Owen (Morning Star Publishing 2017). Dr Owen was formerly principal of the Theological Hall in Perth.
The subtitle asks: How much has the Uniting Church now lost the way? The author accuses the Church of being under the influence of modernism and managerialism. The danger of modernism, according to Owen, is that it sees the past as dated and tradition as something that should be overcome. The author is concerned that the Church’s policy documents emphasise ‘new forms and expressions of church’ and ‘emerging change’.
Owen reminds us that the managerialism mentality currently advocated by the Church authorities sees that the sale of existing assets may be required to promote that goal. I agree with his view that any standards, principles or policies borrowed from other forms of human communal, societal or political life may have, at most, subordinate validity and application with the Church.
The Church must not be driven by managerial principles but by a Christ-centred theology.
It is not too late to re-assess our stewardship of resources.
It was sad to read in the December Crosslight of Synod’s Major Strategic Review impacting upon the position of director of Communications and Media Services and the consequent redundancy of its outstanding director, Penny Mulvey. As someone who spent a decent slab of their working life in the daily news media and corporate communications, I have valued the high degree of professionalism brought to the communications position by Penny over the past seven-and-a-half years.
At a time when churches need innovative, creative and sensitive approaches to communications, it has been good to know that Synod’s were in capable hands. Media awards bestowed on Crosslight bear witness to this. Penny’s article on the Reformation in the December (and 25th anniversary) issue gave clear evidence of fine journalism.
Well done, you good and faithful servant and may the road ahead find you another working environment where you are “warmly received and greatly encouraged”.
Rev Jim Foley (Retired)
Rutherglen, situated in northeast Victoria, has a population of 2500 people and is a close-knit community. Our mature-age UC congregation is very supportive of each other and the community in general.
Over the last few years, we have received what appears to be a never-ending stream of requests from synod to provide details of our church finances, attendance records and such. Many questions included in such surveys are often so vague in their nature and restrictive in their formatting, that one wonders what the actual intention of the question is. To quote Jenny Gordon’s comment ‘Are we in danger of overloading our congregations?’ The reply would surely be a resounding ‘Yes’.
As part of our outreach to the community, a dance group uses our hall four afternoons a week each school term. This usage, and a simple agreement form that covers all our requirements, has been in place for over 10 years and has worked well for both parties. The (per hour) rental we charge is nominal but, in return, the hall is kept clean, tidy and used almost daily instead of only once a month for morning tea after the service. This rental, whilst minimal, is useful income without putting strain on the dance group or us.
We have now received an 11-page ‘Licence Agreement’ legal document to be completed and returned to synod. A page full of instructions listing criteria to be met accompanies the Agreement and, while very thorough, lacks the church’s call to care for others and shows that it cares only for itself. Quoting the document – ‘Unsure about anything?’ – yes, we are. Where is Christ in this administrative overload?
If, because of the demands of this new document, we lose our friendship and liaison with the dance group, we will also lose the rental paid and the loss of outreach will impact on the wider community. No, they don’t pay the first of the month – they pay at the end of each term. Yes, they have loud music playing – no complaints have ever been received from neighbours. Yes, they know that the hall is available except when we have a funeral in the church. To this end, we are happy to allow extended usage on any given day, to make up for this lack of availability. Yes, they have installed dance equipment/mirror and while we don’t use the barre to stretch before a service, when we do use the hall, our numbers appear to double!
The dance group and other people who wish to hire the church hall are generally friends and neighbours in the literal, as well as the biblical, sense. Church council and congregation members volunteer in many other spheres in the town such as the UC op shop, driving the community car, men’s shed and many other activities. Their time is better spent doing this rather than filling out complicated, aggressive forms that do not appear to demonstrate the spirit of Christianity.
We are members of the Uniting Church to worship God, not to fill in forms.
Zelma Eltringham on behalf of Rutherglen Church Council & Congregation
Cultivating a new future in 2018
Port Phillip East Presbytery has engaged Rev Phil McCredden of the Ecclesia Leadership to facilitate a cultural change. Hopefully he will lead us to reimage God as the Creative Spirit who gave birth to the universe in an explosion of matter and energy 13.8 billion years ago.
In the Bronze Age imagery of the first century an imperious God sat enthroned above the blue dome of the sky with his Son at his right hand.
The Earth was the centre of being. The greater light, the Sun, went to bed in the west and miraculously reappeared again in the east. The lesser light, the moon, was a gift to humans for the setting of the seasons. The stars were LED lights set into the blue dome sky. For the first Jewish Christians, Jesus resurrected to the bodily form was the Christ come to restore the Israeli kingdom of David as suggested by the third creation story [Gen5:1ff].
With Earth seen as but a tiny speck in the vast cosmos, it is now appropriate that we grant God a greatly enlarged image; that we see Jesus as at-one with the Creative Spirit, its human face, one who is both real and relevant to the grown-up men and women of this day. ‘Jesus’ has been held captive by the church as the one who endured the pain and humiliation of the cross for Christians alone. We can now see him as the one who directs all humanity to a new way of peace. The first creation story, with which so much of our ageing membership was indoctrinated as literal truth when children, becomes a great poem of praise to the Creative Spirit whose idea is effective.
Neil Gordon Cameron
Too much talk
In the December issue of Crosslight Greg James suggests a further three years of discernment on the status of same-gender marriage within the Uniting Church, a further three years of ‘respectful listening’. Surely the Uniting Church having debated, I am sure respectfully, the status of same-gender marriage for something in the order of five years, has exhausted the process of ‘respectful listening’ and has reached a place of decision making. However, due to our curious and cumbersome process of decision making it would appear that the Uniting Church is, on this issue, paralysed.
As consensus has eluded us, let us move to a point of common sense and allow those within the Uniting Church licensed to perform marriages to do so in accordance with their own conscience. (Even our politicians in the end had the wisdom to do this.) In this way those licensed to perform marriages within the Uniting Church and who, in all good conscience, are wanting to marry same-sex couples may do so. Those who do not sit comfortably with same-gender marriage are free to make their decision in accordance with their conscience. And the church will respectfully acknowledge the right to differ.
A further period of ‘respectful listening’ I presume to result in a Uniting Church tick of approval for same-gender marriage, or the reverse, we do not need. The whole process of ‘respectful listening’ has for me quite a strong whiff of sitting in judgment upon a very primary relationship of some Uniting Church members. From my recollection the Gospel accounts have quite a bit to say about sitting in judgment upon others.
For the sake of the Church, and for the sake of all people within the Uniting Church, let us move into a space where the marriage law of Australia is embraced by the Uniting Church, and reflected in the actions of the Uniting Church. Should this not be done, we have one great comfort and that is this – that God and the blessing of God are not confined within the Uniting Church, nor indeed within any church. God is the God who goes before to lead and to beckon, the God of the beyond, and it may be necessary for same-gender couples, hurtful though it is, to move beyond the Uniting Church.
Re ‘Image Problem’ in Letters to December Crosslight. Like your correspondent Andrew Whitely I too am a person of ‘mature years’ (81 in 2017), but unlike him l was not ‘confronted’ by the image showing a Rohingya refugee carrying his invalid parents in separate baskets hung across his back; rather I was inspired by his devotion and determination to save them from certain death.
Mr Whitely was also concerned for any children being exposed to this photo, but forgets that far more graphic images can be viewed on TV news programs most nights of the week. As a retired primary school teacher I would have no problem with a middle/senior school child who brought this image along for ‘show and tell’ or a current affairs discussion, because such examples of heroism, endurance and compassion can be a means of enlightenment for all of us.
Finally he worries that such images “induces a sense of helplessness” , without realising that the audience can play an important part in helping to alleviate or minimise such suffering, through charitable fundraising, letter writing, attending demonstrations and marches, school sponsorship and exchange programs, and so on.
Thanks Crosslight editors for continuing to alert readers to some of the injustice and evil perpetuated in this world, and hopefully stir many of us into action in God’s name.
Mount Eliza, VIC