That the Assembly
1. direct the Standing Committee to establish a process which will enable a wide-ranging analysis of the fundamental governance needs of the Uniting Church in the 21st century;
2. (a) authorise the Standing Committee to establish the terms of reference for the review which shall include specific reference to the place of synods in the life of the Church; and
(b) request that recommendations, including but not limited to, the potential divestment, merger or dissolution of synods be brought to the 15th Assembly in 2018.
The Uniting Church was born at the height of denominationalism and volunteerism in Australia. Its system of governance assumes that the membership is willing and able to sustain a complex network of interrelated councils and their associated boards & committees.
However in the post-modern, post-denominational twenty-first century, it has become clear that the UCA is over-governed, and that a fundamental re-think of its governance is needed. It has become clear that the existing system of Presbyteries, Synods and Assembly is becoming unsustainable. The grass-roots membership of the church find the current system distancing and remote, with decisions often made “up there” where they have a perception of having little or no say.
In an environment of declining human and financial resources and increasing compliance requirements, the Church needs to ask afresh what structures will best equip it for mission.
The Uniting Church has long understood that ‘the congregation is the embodiment in one place of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ (Basis of Union paragraph 15a). It also stands in the Reformed tradition with its commitment to semper reformanda (that the church should be ‘always reforming’). Congregations need care, equipping and oversight – a function that is best undertaken as close to the local ministry coalface as possible. Presbyteries’ role of close-quarters pastoral oversight, encouragement and stimulation of Congregations, therefore, remains as important as ever.
However, Presbyteries are unable to provide Congregations with the necessary support in areas such as finance, property, compliance, theological education, WHS, advocacy and social justice. As these are issues which impact the Church nationally, they therefore are best dealt with on a national level.
It is therefore timely to ask the following questions:
• What do Synods achieve that cannot be better achieved elsewhere?
• Is there sufficient similarity in the tasks of the Assembly and Synods to effectively combine them into one body?
• Is there sufficient similarity in the functioning of each Synod to effectively combine them into one national body?
• Will moving many of the responsibilities currently undertaken by Synods, to the Assembly reduce needless duplication, realise the benefits of economies of scale, and thus represent a more efficient stewardship of the resources with which God has blessed the Church?