“The hallmark of a ‘congregation of learners’ is a culture of learning, in which learning permeates every aspect of the congregation.”
“The church does not have an educational program; it is an educational program.”
Formation and education are core dimensions of Christian community, discipleship and mission. The new Assembly Formation, Education and Discipleship (FED) unit and Working Group seek to provide vision and collaborative leadership for the Assembly in growing disciples for the sake of the mission of God. This report is based on the first 18 months of operation.
1. CE RESEARCH PROJECT & RESOLUTIONS OF ASC
In March 2013 the Assembly Standing Committee received the Report of the Christian Education Research Project conducted in 2011 and 2012 and made several resolutions, including the following:
13.11.02 note Assembly minute 00.28.03 (9th Assembly) “to name the teaching ministry as a core function of each council of the church” and to affirm that the Assembly has a role in Christian Education;
13.11.03 affirm that the role of the Assembly in Christian Education is to provide for the Uniting Church nationally a cohesive vision of Christian education which sees
a) congregations as lifelong learning communities of discipleship for the sake of the mission of God;
b) church leaders as effective educational leaders, capable of guiding a community in forming disciples;
c) congregations developing a culture of learning for and from engagement in mission – mission-shaping discipleship;
d) promoting Christian education as a distinctive ministry yet also integral to worship, teaching, doctrine, formation, community life and mission;
e) developing and promoting Christian education and formation as vital, interrelated contributors to growth in discipleship in Christian community;
f) developing Christian identity within the theology and ethos of the Uniting Church;
g) developing Christian education and formation for the shaping of Christian identity in our globalised, pluralistic, multi-faith world;
h) calling the church to ways of learning together that reflect our ethos as a Uniting Church – our commitments to the first peoples, to being a multicultural church, a priesthood of all believers, a multi- generational community of faith, and a community of women and men.
13.11.11 establish a Working Group in the area of Christian education within the mandate of Uniting Faith and Discipleship from July 2013;
13.11.14 thank and discharge the Christian Education Research Project Steering Committee
The resolutions also affirmed the need for clearer attention to the educational approaches used in Assembly resources designed to assist congregations [13.11.05 (e)] and a more intentional approach to the ways in which Assembly programs, projects and resources assist congregations to be life-long learning communities of discipleship, and how these are then communicated. [13.11.05 (c)]
2. APPOINTMENT OF NATIONAL DIRECTOR AND WORKING GROUP
The ASC approved the appointment of a senior staff position in Christian Education. Following advertisement and a selection process, Mr Craig Mitchell was appointed as National Director –Formation, Education and Discipleship for a five-year term commencing in January 2014.
The Formation, Education and Discipleship working Group was established in July 2013 and has met on three occasions – December 2013, June 2014 and December 2014 – and will meet in November 2015.
The FED Working Group has consisted of Rev Dr Ian Price (Convenor), Rev Lindsay Cullen NSW/ACT, Rev Sue Ellis SA, Mr Drew Hanna VICTAS, Ms Elaine Rae QLD, Rev Robin Yang VICTAS. Mr Neil Thorpe QLD. Dr Deidre Palmer SA, Mr Rohan Pryor VICTAS, Rev Duncan MacLeod NSW/ACT, Rev Swee-Ann Koh VICTAS, Rev Fie Marino VICTAS, Ms Susan Burt SA, Rev Dr Adam McIntosh VICTAS, Mr Rick Morrell WA, Rev Tom Kerr (staff), Mr Craig Mitchell (staff), Rev Glenda Blakefield (staff ex-officio).
A reorganisation of responsibilities within Uniting Faith and Discipleship resulted in the work of Rev Tom Kerr, National Consultant – Youth and Young Adult Faith Development, being brought within the FED work area. The National Youth Activities Reference Committee was discharged in 2013, with its responsibilities being assumed by the FED Working Group.
3. VISION AND COMMUNICATION
The FED unit has sought to promote a vision for formation and discipleship based around three key emphases identified in the Christian Education Research Report.
1. Congregations as lifelong learning communities of Christian discipleship
2. Effective leadership of lifelong learning communities
3. Discipleship as learning from and for mission
The initial strategies for fostering shared vision have centred on establishing or expanding communication networks.
• Facebook pages for FED, Childrens ministry and Youth ministry
• FED on Twitter @UCAFED
• Facebook Groups for “Forming Faith, Growing Disciples” and “Multimedia in Ministry”, NYALC and About FACE
• A FED Newsletter has developed from being print-based to being an online ‘curated’ resource at www.fednews.org
• Blogs – growing-disciples.org and raidingthefridge.wordpress.com
• Events – ncyc.com.au, aboutface.org.au, nyalc.org.au
“Vision for Lifelong Discipleship” – Planning Tools
The FED unit is working in collaboration with synods’ staff to produce three ‘overview’ resources to assist ministers, church councils and other congregational leaders to plan intentionally how they form and education children, youth and adults for lifelong discipleship. We expect these to be available in mid-2015.
The FED Unit is orienting its main strategies around collaborative work with synods and presbyteries. Hence an initial focus has been engaging with synods’ staff in lay education and ministry with children, youth and families to build relationships and determine shared areas of interest nationally. Several initiatives in this report have been developed by these means. The National Director also visited several rural presbyteries in various synods to consult with presbytery staff.
Through participation in a number of networks, the National Director has sought to provide support, encouragement, ideas and expertise as well as fostering shared work. These include the National Lay and Leadership Educators’ Network, the Assembly Mission & Evangelism Network, the Assembly Worship Working Group, the National Schools Consultative Group and the Education for Ministry Working Group. Both Tom Kerr and Craig Mitchell participate in Chync – the synods’ children and youth ministry network gathering.
The ASC resolutions in July 2013 also provided a mandate for seeking greater collaboration in terms of education and communication within the Uniting Faith & Discipleship team. This is an ongoing work-in-progress.
5. EDUCATION AND TRAINING
The National Director has offered education and training at the request of synods and presbyteries. In 2014 and 2015 this included the Synod and Presbytery of Western Australia, Port Philip West Presbytery, Synod and Presbytery of SA, Presbytery of Tasmania, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Synod of NSW-ACT, Hunter Presbytery, the Northern Synod and the Presbytery Ministers National Gathering.
FED Stories is an initiative to encourage regional gatherings for mutual learning about processes and practices of forming disciples. Based on the popular “TED Talks” (ted.com), FED Stories invite people to tell current stories from congregational practice and reflect on their learning. FED Stories gatherings have so far been held in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Newcastle.
FED Videos is an online resource sharing short excerpts of interviews with ministers and lay leaders talking about their congregations’ approached to formation, education and mission. www.fedvideos.org
As part of his study leave in 2014, Craig Mitchell presented a paper titled “Remixing and Reframing the Sacred: the use of digital media in curating liminal religious experience” at the International Society of Media, Religion and Culture meeting in Canterbury, England.
6. NATIONAL YOUTH EVENTS
The FED Working Group has established a FED Events sub-group to assist in the oversight of national events for youth and young adults. This is also the primary focus of Rev Tom Kerr’s work.
6.1 National Christian Youth Convention 2014 – 7-10 January 2014
‘Yuróra seeks to mobilize young people to experience Jesus, to act in faith, to shake the church and beyond’.
This was the mission statement of Yurora (The word Yuróra comes from the Dharug language and means passionate.) Hosted by Parramatta-Nepean Presbytery with support from Uniting Mission and Education, Yurora was attended by 1300 young people and adult volunteers. With a new Festival-style program and significant participation by Pacific Islander cultures and indigenous people, NCYC 2014 displayed energy, diversity and richness that was a great blessing to those who attended. The new program style also opened up fresh possibilities for a more varied approach to NCYC in the future.
The practice of NCYC being hosted by different synods on a rotational basis has proven increasingly difficult to sustain in times when the staff and volunteer leadership of youth ministry and the organizational capacity of synods are often stretched or under-resourced. The financial risks for the host body are also significant. Those operating an NCYC are to a large extent doing it for the first time (with some learning from previous NCYCs passed on). The challenges and risks of learning on-the-job are quite substantial. With this in mind, the achievements of NCYC 2014 are to be applauded. On behalf of the whole church, the FED Working Group expresses sincere appreciation to the NCYC 2014 Management team, its Co-ordinator Rev Christine Bayliss-Kelly, Parramatta-Nepean Presbytery, Chairperson Mr Bradon French and Uniting Mission and Education, NSW-ACT Synod.
The FED unit will be undertaking work in 2015 to completely revise and update the NCYC Operations Manual and Policies and to produce a more comprehensive and realistic risk assessment approach for future NCYCs.
For the sake of future planning with synods, the FED Working Group has determined that NCYC will next be held in 2017 and 2020. The Working Group is currently considering proposals regarding the hosting of NCYC in 2017 and anticipates making an announcement at the Assembly meeting in July 2015.
6.2 National Young Adults Leaders Conference 2014
“amazing multicultural community”
“I got to learn heaps and make new friends”
“embracing the love of God”
“space for deep conversations”
“challenged to think about serving”
“helped young people’s voices be heard”
“I was touched and it was a stepping stone”
“a kingdom of God experience”
60 young adults and adult mentors attended NYALC in Sydney in December 2014. Young adults came from 10 indigenous communities across Australia, along with Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, South Sudanese, Korean, Filipino, Indonesian, and Anglo cultures. Input was provided by President Rev Prof Andrew Dutney, Rev Elenie Poulos, Ms Rahnee Tsetsakos, Dr Deidre Palmer, Mr Adrian Greenwood and NYALC co-ordinators Rev Tom Kerr, Mr Bradon French and Rev Nicole Fleming. President-elect Stuart McMillan and UAICC elder Ray Minniecon were also among the mentors present. Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive, indicating the continuing strength of NYALC as a significant leadership and discipleship event in the UCA.
6.3 About FACE 2015
“My relationship and understanding was virtually non-existent before. I was not actively seeking to be involved but now I will be seeking to learn more about the Aboriginal people in my own area.” Halleigh Childs, QLD.
This year About FACE was an all-age adventure, with 17 participants aged from their late teens to their 50s. The 16 day program included people visiting indigenous communities in Port Augusta SA, Alice Springs and Ernabella in the Northern Territory, Lismore in northern NSW and Grovedale in Victoria. Following a week in their chosen community, participants spent a further week engaging with more than 150 representatives at the UAICC national conference in the northern Tasmanian village of Poatina, as well as participating in briefing and debriefing sessions. The FED Working Group expresses deep appreciation to the Victoria and Tasmania Synod Commission for Mission, in particular About FACE Co-ordinator Jill Ruzbacky, for organizing the event, to the UAICC for its ongoing commitment to the program, and to the communities who hosted the participants.
6.4 National Youth Ministry Conference
In 2013 and 2015 the Assembly has encouraged ministers, youth workers and youth leaders to attend the National Youth Ministry Conference, an interdenominational training event held on the Gold Coast. Following good attendance in 2013, the UCA has been invited to offer suggestions regarding the event’s program. By co-ordinating accommodation for the group, the FED unit is able to provide time and space for UCA participants to reflect together on the experience and engage in mutual support and encouragement. Rev Tom Kerr and FED Events convenor Mr Drew Hanna co-ordinate the UCA involvement in this event.
The Uniting Church has 50 schools with about 50,000 students. This constitutes a major investment and opportunity regarding the formation of children and young people.
The National UCA Schools Consultative Group meets twice a year. Elaine Rae from the QLD Synod Schools Commission has been the liaison person between this group and the FED Working Group. The National Director also attended these meetings. The group discusses a range of issues of mutual interest including matters of governance, relationships between synods and schools, UCA school chaplaincy, duty of care, religious education, and UCA identity and ethos. Matters related to the Royal Commission have also been discussed.
With the encouragement of the FED Working Group, the Consultative Group has been working on a national UCA religious education curriculum framework. The plan is to bring this to the 2015 Assembly meeting for endorsement.
8.1 Baptism and confirmation
The FED Working Group is developing a suite of new resources relating to preparation for baptism for children, youth and adults and for confirmation of youth and adults. These will be released at various stages during 2015.
8.2 Preamble to the Constitution
In co-operation with the Doctrine Working Group, FED is producing a print and video resource to assist people across the Uniting Church to become familiar with the Preamble to the Constitution, how it came about and its significance for the church.
8.3 “We are the UCA” Video Series
This project involves producing a series of short three-minute videos about the story, beliefs, values, shape and mission of the Uniting Church for use with community services agencies, schools and congregations. The National Director is working with a reference group based in Queensland and has sourced initial funding from agencies and councils of the church. The plan involves releasing Series One consisting of five videos in 2015 and Series Two of up to seven additional videos in 2016 depending on funding. Series Two is aimed at baptism, confirmation and discipleship formation and will explore beliefs and practices of discipleship in more depth.
9. NEW INITIATIVES
The FED Working Group has endorsed the development of two new initiatives to be developed and launched during 2015.
9.1 National Discipleship Learning Framework
Following the Review of the Ministry of Lay Preacher, the Assembly Standing Committee agreed to establish a national competency framework for Lay Preachers. This has prompted the FED Working Group to work on a broader framework of competencies and capacities for discipleship and lay leadership. The purpose of the framework is to assist educators in the Uniting Church to plan education and training for church members at differing levels of competency and faith maturity. The framework is a guide: it is descriptive, not prescriptive, in terms of learning outcomes. The secondary purpose is to provide a framework for a repository of training resources that can be accessed by educators across the Uniting Church. The framework will be benchmarked broadly against vocational education levels. The FED Working Group hopes to launch the framework at the 2015 Assembly meeting.
9.2 National Leaders Network
The aim of the Leaders Network is to enable people in regional (synod, presbytery, assembly) leadership roles to connect with one another online for mutual learning, exchange of ideas and resources, and shared planning and development. While the online environment provides anywhere, anytime contact, it also easily allows leaders to set up face-to-face meetings. The Network would provide a discrete number of interest groups, each with a facilitator and technical support. The FED Working Group has established a small group to further develop the concept and explore how it might be hosted. The aim is to launch the Network during 2015.
10. FUTURE PLANS
Planned work for the next triennium includes the following:
10.1 “Vision for Lifelong Discipleship”
Working with synods and presbyteries education and mission staff on how they might use the resources provided by the Assembly with ministers and congregational leaders.
10.2 Collaboration with Synods, Presbyteries and Assembly Agencies
The FED unit will seek to explore collaborative ventures with other councils and agencies as a primary strategy within its mandate
10.3 Colloquium on Formation, Discipleship and Mission
The FED Working Group plans to hold its first annual Colloquium in November 2015 in Melbourne to encourage the sharing of both theoretical and practical presentations.
10.4 FED Stories
We hope to foster more FED Stories Events across Australia on a regional basis. We hope to implement live internet video streaming of some of these events on a regular basis.
10.5 FED Videos
The online library of videos of leadership interviews will be expanded with further guidance on how they might be used by church councils, in theological colleges and in continuing education.
10.6 National Youth Events
The FED Working Group and staff will work towards the resourcing on NCYC 2017 and the next NYALC and About FACE events.
Working with the National Schools Consultative Group, we hope to give attention to the preparation and continuing education of people in school chaplaincy roles in UCA schools.
10.8 “We are the UCA” Video Series
The series of videos will be completed by the end of 2016
10.9 National Discipleship Learning Framework
We aim to provide an orientation to the Learning Framework to synods and presbyteries’ staff and to work with them to populate it with available training resources and a ‘live’ diary of events. This will then lead to identifying resource gaps and exploring ways to address these.
10.10 National Leaders Network
Following the establishment of the Network in 2015, the FED unit will be demonstrating to synods and presbyteries’ staff how to access it and encourage participation by people in regional leadership roles.
From 2016 we will seek to collaborate with Multi-cultural and Cross-cultural Ministry on approaches to discipleship with second and third generation CALD young adults
As a new work area in the life of the Assembly, we have worked hard to establish a presence and to develop the means to foster shared interest, conversation and planning for lifelong discipleship across the Uniting Church. We see this as vital for the church as a whole and integral to God’s mission. We encourage the Assembly to see the intentional growing of disciples as a key priority for all councils of the church.
Rev Dr Ian Price, Convenor,
Mr Craig Mitchell, National Director