I’ve recently found myself reflecting on the passage in 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul talks about the foolishness of one follower of Christ saying “I belong to Paul”, while someone else says “I belong to Apollos”, when ultimately all belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God – as Paul concludes at the end of that chapter.
Along the way through the chapter Paul talks about how anyone involved in the work of building up the community in the love of God is a co-labourer with God.
We work with confidence that God’s Spirit is in us together, and with humility about the limits of our own understanding.
This passage has plenty to say to us among the broad family that is the Uniting Church across Victoria and Tasmania. It has plenty to say about relationships with other denominations too.
While I usually prefer to think of our relationship with God as being that of children or friends who are beloved of God, there is some value in the language of being co-labourers when we are talking about the work of building up the community in the love of God – and the point that Paul makes in this passage is that we are labourers together.
One of the key projects that I’m involved in as Moderator is the Faithful Futures Project, which is very much about the presbyteries and the Synod working together to help to plan for the Church over the next 10-15 years.
I’ve mentioned this project a few times, but as not everyone knows all of the details let me answer a few questions about it here.
What is the Faithful Futures Project?
The Faithful Futures Project is working to prepare the church for the next 10 to 15 years. The project was initiated out of conversation at the Presbytery Synod Forum recognising that there are common challenges and opportunities for the church right across Victoria and Tasmania.
Some of the challenges include the changing age profile and size of congregations, availability of leadership, and the burden of property maintenance. Some of the opportunities include growing in ways of worship, witness and service that are already being experimented with, listening for where God’s Spirit is inviting us to reach out in faith, love and hope.
Who is involved in the project?
Project meetings have included up to two members of each Presbytery, along with up to two from the Synod Standing Committee, with me chairing. A member of the Synod Intercultural Forum has always been invited. Contributions from members of eLM and representatives from Uniting Vic.Tas and Uniting AgeWell have also been welcomed.
After the initial meeting, a small steering group consisting of Prof Tom Spurling (Port Phillip East), Deb Bye (Gippsland), Rev Linley Liersch (Port Phillip West) and myself have been meeting regularly to help to guide the Project.
What is the vision?
The Vision of Following Christ, walking together as First and Second Peoples, seeking community, compassion and justice for all creation resonates strongly through the Uniting Church across Victoria and Tasmania. Some presbyteries have this (or similar) as their Vision statement; it has been the vision statement for the Synod since 2016. More information about the statement can be found at https://victas.uca.org.au/vision-and-mission.
What is the hoped for outcome of the project?
All presbyteries have various versions and degrees of strategic planning, which was our starting point – along with the strategic framework for the Synod, which is due for renewal in any case. Given the common challenges and opportunities, albeit with plenty of local particularities, it makes sense for some strategic planning to be shared commonly across Victoria and Tasmania.
The project aims to produce a statement of the Vision and Goals for the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania that is simple and straightforward, with some clear goals that can help to direct the allocation of resources for the sake of the worship, witness and service of the church into the future.
How does this link to Act2?
Act2 is the national project which is working to discern and make decisions about the ongoing shape of the Church in response to God’s call. The projects link in several ways. One stream of the Act2 project is working towards structures that are most helpful for supporting communities of faith in various forms, which will support the possibilities we may discern.
One of the other streams of Act2 is considering the restructuring of the responsibilities and boundaries of area and regional councils of the Church, to address a number of developing issues and to provide greater flexibility.
The Faithful Futures Project will ensure that we have some common planning and focus across Victoria and Tasmania that will be able to stand, and guide resource planning, even if structural changes occur.
What happens next?
Presbyteries, and the meeting of the Synod, are going to be asked to engage in deep discernment about how we can best respond to the vision of Following Christ, walking together as First and Second Peoples, seeking community, compassion and justice for all creation into the next 10 to 15 years – which means looking beyond some of our current worship, witness and service arrangements ahead to where we discern God’s invitation for particular effort into the future.
What difference will it make?
Having a broad strategic plan does not in any way replace the call for personal and local discipleship and discernment; nor does a strategic plan in or of itself “save the church”. As individuals and communities of faith we are called to following Christ in all sorts of ways, which involve generosity, hope-sharing, compassion and care.
Having a clear vision and goals will help to provide for sharing faith into the next generation; and the act of working together on the vision and goals will help to ensure that the goals and resource provisions are most helpful and appropriate.
Which brings me back to 1 Corinthians 3, and the ways in which we are all called to be co-labourers together. Presbyteries are one way of bringing together wisdom from across regions to provide oversight for those regions. The participation of members from across the regions, listening together for God’s call, is what makes them work.
I also want to briefly mention the Synod Standing Committee, since we are approaching another Synod Meeting at which some of the membership is likely to change over. It is marvellous having a team of people from such a range of backgrounds, bringing together diligence, prayer, creativity and attention for overseeing the responsibilities of the Synod between Synod meetings.
The current SSC includes members from regional, rural, and suburban places and forms of worship, in which worship is celebrated in traditional, creative, and various language styles. They have interests including intercultural inclusion, tech, ecumenism, camping, ministry with children, finance and property, and also manage to be involved in their wider communities through activities like the CFA, Girl Guides, basketball, environment groups and food security initiatives. As the Synod meeting approaches, I encourage your consideration of the membership of the SSC for the next few years.
In all of our labour, our rest, and our faithful living may God bless us with humility and love, for God’s spirit dwells in us together; and we all belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Rev David Fotheringham