The Northern Synod includes all the Northern Territory, the Pitjantjara Lands in northern South Australia and the Kimberley region including Broome. The Synod has two Presbyteries; the Northern Regional Council of Congress (NRCC) includes the Synod’s Indigenous members and the Pilgrim Presbytery of Northern Australia (PPNA) includes our non-Indigenous members. Both Presbyteries have the same boundary as the Synod.
Our Synod has chosen to keep this current model, rather than to move to a one synod/presbytery model. The key reason for doing so is that the NRCC Presbytery functions better when working in the languages of its members, rather than being hamstrung by the use of English. Hence the use of the Anangu’ku, East Arnhem, West Arnhem and West Kimberley Area Ministry Councils whereby they develop their own mission and ministry plans using their own God-given Aboriginal languages.
- God’s presence is strongly evidenced through Coordinating Support for Indigenous Scriptures (CSIS) which has been renamed Coordinate. The active commitment of our Indigenous members to be directly involved in Bible translation into their own languages is a real blessing for them as it also is for the rest of the Synod. Another part of the blessing comes through working with our partners the Australian Society for Indigenous Languages, (AuSIL), the Bible Society, Aboriginal Resource and Development Services (ARDS), Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) and Nungalinya College. Further details are available at www.coordinate.org.au (well worth a look!!)
- The Synod has supported the establishment of several part-time roles so that our members can have greater access to and involvement in Bible translation, Safe Church, social
justice and the environment, and national youth events such as NCYC and NYALC. Our facilitators working in these areas have brought fresh energy to our life across a range of areas.
- Our Synod has a new Moderator with Rev Thresi Mauboy Wohangara being inducted at our Synod in June 2015. Rev Mauboy follows on from new UCA President Stuart McMillan and we give thanks to God for both these people and their ministries.
- Nungalinya College in Darwin, where we are in partnership with the Catholic and Anglican churches, continues to offer courses in theology, English literacy, music and media. Plans are underway to begin some course delivery in Alice Springs. Continual changes in government funding mechanisms is making planning and training delivery increasingly difficult – something we could do without. On the upside there has been greater engagement with the UAICC Ministerial Education Board and we look forward to seeing where this may go.
- Other Northern Synod agencies, ARDS, Somerville Community Services and our two schools Kormilda College in Darwin and St Philips College in Alice Springs continue to live out the mission of the Synod.
One of the most significant changes in the Northern Synod has been the increased participation of peoples from culturally and linguistic diverse backgrounds. In addition to the NRCC Presbytery and our two Indonesian congregations, people from Africa and the Pacific are coming to our church, and to Alice Springs and Darwin in particular. One of the strengths of the Uniting Church is our ability to live within a diversity of theological views and continuing to be church is a wonderful challenge for our future together.
RESPONSE TO THE ROYAL COMMISSION CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
The Northern Synod has undertaken actions to make our Church safe for all participants. The activities include:
- Regular training sessions for all Ministers and key Presbytery lay people on the UCA Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice;
- Inservicing the Called to Care resource since 2005, focusing on making the church a safe and caring place;
- More recently, inservicing the Safe Church resource, replacing Called to Care;
- Appointment a Safe Church officer to conduct training, make congregational visits and report to the Synod on issues, including how congregations are implementing the Safe Church package;
- Funding the Safe Church officer to attend national Safe Church training conferences;
- Forming a Synod Child Abuse Task Group;
- Receiving from and having input into the Assembly National Task Group;
- Undertaking a review of Synod agencies as to the policies and processes they had in place in preventing, monitoring and addressing instances of child sexual abuse.
The Northern Synod appreciates being part of a larger organisation whereby work being undertaken within other Synods and national task groups is shared with our Synod. We are mindful that further work needs to be done, hopefully to allow for a nationally consistent approach to how our Church prevents and responds to matters of abuse.
The Northern Synod has not had any formal engagement with the Royal Commission. The Synod is not aware of any child sexual abuse complaints against ministers or lay members of the Synod, nor are there complaints relating to the agencies of the Synod.
God is good.
As a people of faith and hope, let’s go with that.
Synod General Secretary
Synod of NSW and the ACT
In the last triennium our Synod has faced a number of significant challenges. We have experienced a significant budget crisis, which has severely curtailed the contributions which the Synod could make to both Presbyteries within our bounds, and to the Assembly. Post the GFC our Synod continued to maintain business as usual, which saw us eating into capital reserves. If we continue at this rate then we anticipate that we have less than two years before our reserves are depleted. For this reason, the Synod is urgently working on a strategy to reduce our debt and at the same time build a growth fund which will secure our financial future.
The budget crisis has certainly dominated our landscape and our thinking over the past few years. But it is not the only thing which defines us. We have also developed a new Synod mission plan in which we say “we are at a pivotal point as a church. We know that we are declining, we know that we are ageing – but that is not the story which shapes our identity and future! We are good news people.” We are therefore able to say that there is a tangible sense that the Holy Spirit is blowing through our Synod. We hear good news stories bubbling up… Of congregations engaging with their community in a new way, like a community garden or shared project with the local neighbourhood centre; of chaplains sitting with people after fires and floods, or by a hospital bed, with university students over Bible study, listening ears in times of crisis and struggle; of our synod boards and staff working more closely together and finding joy in their common task of serving the wider church.
The mission plan then identifies nine areas of discernment. For each of these areas we set a major objective and a number of initiatives which we will seek to pursue in the coming three years. We have engaged a consultant to help us implement this plan and each of the Synod boards is working within their areas of responsibility to fulfil the initiatives we have established.
THE ROYAL COMMISSION
Since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse was established, the Synod has been actively preparing to respond to Commission. Over the last twelve months, the Synod has been more actively engaged with the Royal Commission with a number of Synod entities being involved in public hearings, most notably Case Study 23 involving Knox Grammar School.
The Royal Commission case study into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse at Knox Grammar School (KGS) concluded on Friday 6 March 2015. The Royal Commission was reconvened on the morning of 28 April 2015, to complete one outstanding matter . The Knox Case Study was an intense and challenging experience for all concerned requiring months of careful research and preparation.
The Synod Royal Commission Task Group continues to work openly and transparently with the Royal Commission and all relevant parties. In particular, the Synod is committed to actively contributing to healing and justice for survivors and their families and to ensuring that pastoral care is at the heart of the church’s response. Towards this end, all internal procedures for governance, child safety and claims management are being reviewed and a redress scheme is under development. This will be based on Uniting Church values, will take into account research and consultation papers from the Royal Commission and a comparative analysis of existing schemes in the Uniting Church and in other similar organizations. Draft guidelines for the conduct of litigation for those cases where survivors choose to pursue compensation through civil litigation have also been developed.
As far as the Knox hearing is concerned, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission will provide written submissions to the Royal Commission on or by 19 May 2015 after which time the Uniting Church will have four weeks within which to make submissions in response. The expectation is that the final Royal Commission report will be released later this year.
WESLEY MISSION as an agency of the Uniting Church providing Out of Home Care in the community responded and participated in Case Study 24 of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held during March 2015. The public hearing was a Policy Hearing examining the Systems, Policies, Practices and Procedures employed by both Government and Non-Government organisations involved in the Out of Home Care Sector and what might be done to achieve the best possible outcome for children in care.
Prior to the hearing, the witnesses were required to prepare written responses to 6 areas to be examined by the Royal Commission, which were:
1. Recruitment, Assessment and Training of Foster and Kinship Carers and Staff in Residential Care;
2. Monitoring of Children in OOHC;
3. Systems, Policies, Practices and Procedures for reporting allegations;
4. Systems, Policies, Practices and Procedures for responding to allegations;
5. Systems, Policies, Practices and Procedures for supporting children who have been sexually abused in OOHC; and
6. National Initiatives (in OOHC)
The Public Hearing focussed primarily on the first 5 Areas with the 6th area being interspersed throughout the hearing. Wesley Mission’s CEO, Rev Dr Keith Garner appeared before the Commission to contribute to the discussion about Area 3 although was asked several questions relating to Areas 1 & 2 which had preceded his evidence. It was clear in the questioning of Keith that the Royal Commission considers the Uniting Church, and it’s various agencies throughout Australia, a significant entity in the OOHC sector. Additionally, it was observed that the Royal Commission had some misunderstanding of the overall structure of the Uniting Church both nationally and on the State jurisdiction bases of the various Synods.
It is expected that the Royal Commission will be issuing a Consultation Paper to follow up Case Study 24 and that the Uniting Church and its agencies ought to provide a response if they feel it is in the best interest of the Church.
Wesley Mission was also the recipient of a Summons for Production with respect to its operation of the Dalmar Children’s Home in Carlingford NSW during the period 1949 to 1994. A significant amount of material was submitted to the Royal Commission in response to the Summons. At the time of writing, there has been no further communication from the Royal Commission in respect of this matter and as such it is unknown whether the Royal Commission will be holding a Public Hearing in relation to Dalmar Children’s Home.
But we keep coming back to our budget issue! It has required hours of consultation, speculation, frustration and trying to find a way forward for the common good. The city Presbyteries have been working closely with the Synod Uniting Resources Board to identify possible solutions. We have undertaken a major piece of work led by Rev Niall Reid, on property for a Pilgrim people. This has involved many consultations with Presbyteries and discussing potential ideas about how we can deal with the enormous property assets which we hold in this Synod and how to use them for the good of the whole church. At a time when people are feeling stressed because of the budget issues I observe that we often retreat into familiar “silo” mentalities. Distrust begins to grow again. It becomes harder and harder to find creative solutions to the situation we find ourselves in.
It was Einstein who said that the problems of the world couldn’t be resolved by the same kind of thinking that created them in the first place. The popular application of this maxim comes to us in the form of what has become known as the definition of organisational insanity: trying to achieve significantly different results by doing the same thing over and over. In other words, what got us here won’t get us there if “there” is to be a new missional movement in our church. Perhaps a more visual way of saying this is that we cannot dig a hole over there by digging this hold deeper – and yet that is what we seem to do most of the time.
As a synod, we proposed a national discussion on being more collaborative in our approach to theological education. There have been three meetings, some ideas, but no clear way forward. We participated in a national discussion on governance structures in our church. Every synod seems to be saying that this is an issue, but our approach seems to remain as an incremental tweaking rather than a radical upsetting of the system. I worry that if we restructure the organisation but leave the original paradigm in place and nothing will change within our church. A new paradigm begins to emerge, most often with opposition by those who still hold strongly to the established paradigm – for example, Copernicus saved his neck only by recanting from the “heresy” implied in his theory but was still imprisoned for life. This is probably because some have invested their sense of selfhood in the paradigm and so receive their legitimacy from it. This is also why we find it so hard to permit a questioning of our core organisational beliefs (commonly called sacred cows).
One size will not fit all anymore. If our only answer to the strategic challenge we face is another tweak of the same institutional paradigm that got us here, then we must expect to be (and will be) sorely disappointed and church attendance will continue its long-term trend of decline.
Peter Drucker once stated, “people in any organisation are always attached to the obsolete – the things that should’ve worked but didn’t, the things that once were productive and no longer are.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Our church faces an uncertain future. In our synod UnitingCare is going from strength to strength. It must be acknowledged that it also faces challenges in the work that it does in an increasingly regulated environment. However, we are all pleased to see the increased cooperation between UnitingCare and local congregations. This has led us to develop a concept of “hubs” – perhaps others will think of them as regional congregations. We have been trying to develop congregations where there will be enough services to create a critical mass for engaging the community on a number of levels. This is hard work and we are at the early stages of developing this model.
Our theological community at the Centre for Ministry has been working hard to develop a new approach as the Uniting Learning Network. We hope that this will give a greater reach into congregations throughout the Synod as well is providing educational resources for the continuing education of ministers.
I apologise if this snapshot of the life of the synod has become a little sermonic! Our Synod, indeed the whole church, is at a critical point – an observation which has been made over and over many times in the past three decades. Too much of what we do feels to me like “fiddling while Rome burns”. Our systems of governance are groaning, we have lost ground and we have difficulty knowing which way is forward. How do we continue to be ambassadors of hope? Can we affirm with Paul “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair… So we do not lose heart”? (2 Corinthians 4:8, 16)
Rev Dr Andrew Williams
Synod General Secretary
Synod of Queensland
The demographics of Queensland continue to present both challenges and opportunities to the church in terms of establishing new congregations and expressions of mission such as the provision of community services.
Our population is growing at over 1.5% per annum—there are almost 4.8 million Queenslanders and two thirds of these are located in the south-east corner of the state. Queensland is the most decentralised of Australian states, with 50% of the population living outside the state capital. We are also an ageing population, and according to the 2011 Census, 8.4% of us nominate the Uniting church as our principal religious affiliation.
The Synod of Queensland is made up of eight presbyteries; seven geographical and one aboriginal and islander. Each of the geographical presbyteries has a full-time presbytery minister.
Health and community care services are primarily provided through UnitingCare Queensland and Wesley Mission Brisbane. The Synod is involved in church and church-related schools and colleges, university colleges, and a wide array of chaplaincies.
The Synod of Queensland is engaged in a revitalisation journey called “Together on the way, enriching community”. In response to God’s Call to witness to the world, the Uniting Church in Queensland is committed to: Uniting in Christ; acting with love, living with hope, witnessing in faith, and working for justice.
The following are some of the challenges and highlights of the past three years:
The 31st meeting of the Synod of Queensland in October 2014 inducted Rev David Baker as Moderator and appointed former principal of the John Flynn College Gary Doyle as General Secretary. The CEO of UnitingCare Queensland Anne Cross was honoured as the 2014 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year and the national government and community category winner.
CONTEXT OF MINISTRY
In recent years, Queensland has experienced a number of rapid onset natural disasters. Severe tropical cyclones, widespread flooding together with extended drought across many regions have cost the State dearly and presented significant challenges for mitigation, resilience and recovery.
While tourism is Queensland’s leading tertiary industry, with millions of interstate and overseas visitors each year, the rapid investment and development in coal, minerals, petroleum, gas and geothermal energy has dominated the state’s economy. Queensland rural towns are seriously impacted by mining and fly-in fly-out (FIFO) or drive-in drive-out (DIDO) work and there are ongoing implications from mining and Coal Seam Gas (CSG) industries for agriculture, communities and the environment.
Based on the 2011 population census, 20.5% of Queensland’s resident population, identified as being born overseas. Some of these multicultural communities are large and well established due to a long history of migration while others are relatively small and have newly arrived.
These are just some of the many economic and demographic challenges facing Uniting Church congregations in Queensland as they seek to develop sustainable mission and intentionally engage with their local communities.
RESPONSE TO THE ROYAL COMMISSION INTO INSTITUTIONAL RESPONSES TO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
The Queensland Synod has been actively engaged in the work of the Royal Commission. The Synod engaged a Senior Legal Counsel in May 2013 whose primary role has been to advise and assist the Synod in their work relating to the Royal Commission. They have undertaken a review of all allegations of child sexual abuse which have occurred in the Synod’s schools, agencies and congregational settings. The Synod has also reviewed their child safety policies and procedures and continues to work in the area of review and improvement having identified many areas of broader consideration as a result of issues that they have learnt from the public hearings, issues papers and reports of the Royal Commission. The Synod is seeing a greater awareness of child safety issues across the life of the Church, with a heightened understanding of the ways in which to work towards preventing child abuse as well as the effective support and response to claims of abuse when they are made known to the Church. In response to the Royal Commission’s work, the Synod has taken steps to collect information and to actively demonstrate child safety in congregational life. These steps have been resource intensive; however there has been a high level of engagement and assistance from the congregations. Our schools and agencies involved in the care of children have likewise been reviewing and assessing their policies and procedures to ensure they meet best practice.
The Royal Commission have published issues papers seeking the response of institutions in relation to areas such as civil litigation, child safe institutions, preventing abuse in out of home care and redress. The Queensland Synod has been active in assisting the preparation of the submissions made by the Uniting Church.
Ms Anne Cross, together with the Rev Professor Andrew Dutney, has been engaged directly in assisting the Royal Commission in the area of redress. They were invited to contribute to round table conferences together with other faith based organisations, government instrumentalities and stakeholders such as the insurance council. They both also provided evidence to a public hearing of the Royal Commission into redress.
The structure of and participation in redress scheme is currently an issue which the Synod is working on and is looking forward to the Royal Commissions final report being released in August this year. The Synod has been working hard on identifying the element of a fair and just redress scheme and assessing their current practices. This Synod sees it as imperative there is direct government involvement in a redress scheme at both the commonwealth and state level and remains hopeful that the future redress scheme will be a national scheme encompassing all relevant institutions and levels of government.
While there is still considerable work to be done, the Synod of Queensland is in an improved financial position to that reported to the Thirteenth Assembly. Very large financial contributions and ongoing resource commitments to governance in relation to Shalom Christian College and the administration of Congress Community Development and Education Unit Limited have further impacted the recovery.
The Synod of Queensland and UnitingCare Queensland are official partners with the Recognise campaign for constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. All church members and Synod and agency staff are being encouraged to listen to Indigenous peoples and to engage with the question of constitutional recognition.
The church is employed in a number of church-planting activities and is actively engaging congregations about options for creating new faith communities in non-traditional settings and re-imagining the shape of the contemporary church. The Synod has developed “Stats have Faces”, a self-managed resource to provide congregations with the tools to look at demographics and missional opportunities in their local area.
While affirming the ongoing provision of mental health services by UnitingCare Queensland agencies and Wesley Mission Brisbane, the Synod is preparing resources and identifying training information to assist congregations to engage with and support people living with mental health issues.
There are around 12,000 students in Uniting Church schools in Queensland and the Synod provides residential opportunities for 1,500 tertiary students and chaplaincy support to a range of educational communities throughout the State. The Uniting Church Schools Commission works directly with school and college boards, their senior leaders and partner associations to ensure the processes and structures are in place to provide best-practice organisations, programs and services.
UnitingCare Queensland is a services sector leader in innovative and meaningful stewardship of energy and resources. Each of the UnitingCare sector groups is intentional about embedding sustainable practices and developing effective processes in the areas of energy, water, waste, transport and ecologically sustainable development. The Synod of Queensland continues to encourage congregations to engage in the sustainable use of resources and is working directly to assist congregations in the areas of loss prevention, risk management and the challenges of legislative and regulatory compliance.
The Synod of Queensland is working in consultation with other church and community groups to respond to the Queensland Government’s amendments to the Youth Justice Act (1992). These amendments have far-reaching implications for young people aged between 10 and 17 years alleged to have broken the law. Children are transferred to adult prisons when they turn 17 years (if they have at least six months left on their custodial sentence), adult courts are given access to juvenile criminal history when sentencing, courts can “name and shame” repeat offenders and make breach of bail an offence, and the principle of detention as a last resort has been removed. We are working to bring about alternative legislative reforms based on best practice.
UnitingCare Queensland provides services in more than 400 geographic locations across Queensland through service groups UnitingCare Community, UnitingCare Health, Blue Care and ARRCS (Australian Regional and Remote Community Services).
ARRCS was established in February 2014 as a new service group of UnitingCare Queensland to provide aged care and community services in the Northern Territory previously operated by Frontier Services.
UnitingCare Queensland supports 13,343 jobs (FTE), 52% of these in regional Queensland. Staff travel thousands of kilometres to care for people in some of the more remote areas of Queensland—from Thursday Island in the far north, to just south of the Queensland border, out west as far as Mt Isa and Charleville, and to the most isolated regions of the Northern Territory.
Annual revenue is in excess of one billion dollars and UnitingCare is continually investing in new and improved facilities as well as the latest clinical technology.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
In Acts chapter one the story tells of the disciples gazing up into the sky when suddenly two men dressed in white asked them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” Gazing into heaven is not necessarily a bad thing if it doesn’t become the only thing, but if it is all we do we fail to live up to our calling to be God’s church.
In the decades ahead the challenges facing local congregations and the Uniting Church as a whole will be to maintain a credible witness to the Gospel and to demonstrate tangible ways in which the church is making the community a better place to live.
Presbytery and Synod of South Australia
The vision of the Uniting Church in SA is that we become:
An innovative, growing church proclaiming Jesus Christ, empowered by the Spirit to transform God’s world.
It is an exciting time in the life of the SA Presbytery and Synod as we live out this vision. Whilst there are numerous challenges before us as a church we continue to move forward with passion and purpose as God’s people. Informing this forward momentum is the celebration of what has been in our life as the church. The following is a brief overview of various highlights since the last Assembly in 2012:
- Hosting the Presbytery Ministers’ Conference in 2014 in the Barossa Valley
- Building a new church at Playford in the northern suburbs of Adelaide
- “God at the Fringe” event – an event sponsored by the Uniting Church as part of the Fringe Festival
- The induction of Rev Do Young Kim into the Adelaide Korean Uniting Church. Do Young was ordained by the Korean Presbytery in NSW.
- The commissioning of Mrs Denise Champion as a pastor in the Port Augusta congregation of the UAICC.
- In 2014, Denise Champion, the Chair of the UAICC in South Australia, authored her first book “Yarta Wandatha”. It is an inspiring and moving reflection on her story as an Adnyamthanha woman and a disciple of Christ. Through the stories she shares, Denise invites us into “the long memory of God in this land.”
- As a Presbytery and Synod we participated in the Assembly initiative “A Destiny Together” in March 2014. A number of South Australians participated in the Prayer VIgil in Canberra and hosted events in South Australia. calling for justice for the First Peoples of our country, reconciliation and healing.
- Uniting College for Leadership & Theology hosted the National Theological Educators in December,
2014; worked with local Deacons in hosting the Deacon pre-sessional for all deacon candidates in the Uniting Church in February, 2014; has planted a hub at Newlife Uniting Church in Queensland
- The tireless dedication of the Disaster and Recovery Ministries Coordinator, Mrs Wendy Perkins. While many of us were enjoying our summer holidays in 2014/15, Wendy was working with agencies and displaced persons as the Sampson Flat bushfires caused widespread devastation in South Australia.
- Kids Camp Out (KCO), an annual event for children aged 7-12, continues to be a tremendous success. KCO is a worthwhile event in itself, but it is also part of a much bigger picture – the Uniting Church’s sustained, long-term commitment to ministry with children and families and intergenerational Christian community.
- Ministry with Youth and Young Adults – participation in National Young Adult Leaders Conference (NYALC) and, About Face. Hosting the National Conference for UAICC young people. “Around the Table: Conversations with the Moderator” – a series of conversations with youth and young adults with the purpose of listening to each other, offering support and encouragement, exploring our Christian faith and the significant issues that face us as Christian disciples living in the 21st century.
- We launched the “Beyond Violence” Campaign at the June 2014 Presbytery and Synod meeting. This campaign seeks to join with other community groups in raising awareness and promote conversations regarding domestic violence and the interventions and preventative work that is required for children and adults to be safe in their own homes, homes, where all people can flourish.
- The Synod’s relationships with its associated organisations (schools, aged care, community service) have been further developed in recent years in the areas of governance, synergy and events including Pancake Day and the Target and UnitingCare Christmas Appeal.
B28 – 2 Reports to the Fourteenth Assembly – The Uniting Church in Australia
Ministry with Asylum Seekers And Refugees
Our Solidarity and Justice officer, Rev Sarah Williamson (who completed her placement early this year) has worked with local church justice groups, the Assembly, Director of Uniting Justice, Rev Elenie Poulos, the President and our Moderator, in focusing on the plight of children in detention, who are seeking asylum among us. We are working with many churches and community groups, which are offering support and encouragement to asylum seekers and refugees and are advocates for a more compassionate response to people who are seeking refuge among us.
Our international partnerships have benefitted recently by a visit in April 2015 by the Moderator, Dr Deidre Palmer and International Mission Officer, Adrian Nippress. Deidre and Adrian travelled to the Philippines to strengthen our Partnership with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and learn more about the mission work taking place on the island of Luzon. As a direct consequence of the visit, the Moderator and General Secretary signed a revised Partnership Agreement with North Luzon Jurisdiction of the UCCP, building on our partner involvement since 1992. During October 2014 members of the Presbyterian Church of the Republic of Korea (PROK) arrived from South Korea to visit Uniting Church congregations in Adelaide as a key outcome of the Partnership between UCSA and PROK in place since the early 1990’s.
- The changing landscape of the church/congregations was discussed at the Presbytery and Synod meeting in 2013 with the presentation of “A Charter for a Pilgrim People”.
Also at the October 2013 meeting, the Presbytery and Synod adopted a new five year Strategic Plan. This plan is centred on 4 key directions:
- Trusting Relationships
- Build and deepen trusting relationships, in response to the gospel of Jesus the Christ
- Gifts and Strengths of the UCA
- In gratitude, affirm and celebrate the signs of God working in the world through the gifts and strengths of the UCA in SA
- Foundational Values and Core Activities
- Remind, refresh and resource the whole church regarding our foundational values and core activities
- Key Issues Shaping the Next Ten Years
- For the Presbytery, Synod and Ministry Centres to engage and resource the Church to address key issues that will shape the future of the church over the next ten years
- Challenges and Opportunities
The Presbytery and Synod of South Australia is spending 2015 considering how to maximize its structures and practices for future financial and missional vitality. This is a period of great opportunity as we seek and discern new and recycled ways of being God’s people. Central in this season of change is the cultural motif of being a Church that is “in it together”. We are seeking to enhance an “in it together” culture through structures and practices that have a primary focus on:
- Strengthening Congregations
- Strengthening Leaders
These two foci are already proving immensely helpful filters through which our decision-making is informed.
The Royal Commission continues to provide opportunities for healing and growth in the life of the church in SA. The following outlines the engagement of the Synod in SA with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
In South Australia the Standing Committee appointed a Task Group of 4 members in February 2013. This Group has met regularly since that date working in accord with the Assembly approved Terms of Reference and furnished Standing Committee with periodic reports. As colleges, schools and community service organisations associated with the Uniting Church in South Australia are all separately incorporated organisations, over which the Church does not have management or operational control, the focus of attention has been how the activities of the Royal Commission impact upon congregational life and what opportunities this presents for the continuous improvement of policies and procedures to ensure the safety of children.
There has not been any formal engagement between this Synod and the Royal Commission. Nevertheless, the Synod remains committed to the development of best practice policy and procedure to ensure the safety of children in all activities in the life and community of the Church.
The suite of Safe Church policies has been reviewed and the Called to Care Training Manual updated. The Called to Care training package will be reviewed to ensure that it also reflects any learning from the outcomes of the Royal Commission.
The focus of the Royal Commission has provided an opportunity to review policy and practice central to the safety of children in all aspects of the church. We have identified that there has been a need to have congregations aware of the imperative to have safe systems and that there is a need to ensure that all congregations are aware of and implement Called to Care. Action has been taken to reinforce child safe procedures.
In the coming years we look forward to a rich season of change that is seeking to see Congregations and leaders flourish within the Presbytery and Synod of SA. There is also excitement around future events. We are looking forward to welcoming women from across Australia and beyond when we host the Uniting Women’s Conference in 2016 (April 28 – May1) at Kent Town Uniting Church. The theme is “Sharing Stories of Hope”.
There are countless people across the Presbytery and Synod of SA that serve so faithfully and we wish to thank them. It is also important to say a particular thank you to Rev Dr Graham Humphris who served the Church with faithfulness and diligence in SA for two years as Moderator and eight and a half years as General Secretary. As Graham continues to serve the church in a significant capacity we are extremely grateful for the legacy he has left within the Presbytery and Synod. He has been an essential part of laying a great foundation on which the future of the Uniting Church in SA can be built.
As we move into the future, we are hopeful and expectant, as we respond to and participate in the transforming activity of God in our world.
Rev Nigel Rogers
Synod General Secretary
Dr Deidre Palmer
Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
This report provides some brief snapshots of developments within the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, using key descriptive headings.
MAJOR UNDERTAKINGS, ACHIEVEMENTS AND DISAPPOINTMENTS
Uniting our future: The May 2013 Synod meeting resolved to declare special circumstances (Reg 4.6.3), to address a financial crisis brought about by the collapse of Acacia College and other matters in the life of the Church, by divesting a significant number of properties within the Synod. The program of divestment became known as Uniting our future. This program raised a number of significant issues related to understanding the nature of the Church‟s polity and key drivers for mission and ministry in the 21st century. Some of the effects of Uniting our future have produced a lack of trust in some parts of the Church. Other parts of the Church have found the themes and challenges presented by Uniting our future ultimately to be encouraging for taking bold steps in mission. The program achieved its aims within the timeframe provided for in the Synod‟s resolution.
Major Strategic Review: In the resolution to declare special circumstances, the Synod also resolved to undertake a whole of Church Major Strategic Review (MSR/Review). The MSR‟s aims are to produce a vision and plan for the future of the Church in Victoria and Tasmania within the context of being in a multicultural and multi-faith environment and to undertake a holistic financial sustainability review to support that vision and plan. The September 2014 Synod meeting affirmed the MSR‟s key emphases to explore the following key themes: The changing nature of the church; Faith formation and discipleship; Leadership, training, governance; Relationships and communication; Resources: people, property, social capital; and Our financial future.
The MSR will be completed at the end of 2015. It is reviewing resourcing and governance arrangements for both the councils and institutions of the Church, in light of a developing vision statement and mission principles. This Review is engaging in a broad-based consultative process (with significant numbers from across the Church participating in a range of opportunities for involvement), and is led by a Review Team comprised of members of the Church, supported by a Program Management Office.
Wesley Upper Lonsdale Development: The Synod Standing Committee resolved to partner with the Wesley Congregation (Congregation) and Wesley Mission Victoria (Mission) to work with a developer to develop the Wesley Church site in Lonsdale Street Melbourne to provide updated facilities for the Congregation, Mission, and Synod Offices. This is a major undertaking that will include building a commercial tower on the site (funded by the developer) and provide for increased open space in the heart of the city, along with greater opportunities for ministry and mission to be provided by the Congregation and the Mission.
Context within which ministry of congregations appears to be changing:
Across the Synod the number of ministry placements is decreasing and there is an increased number of less than full-time placements being presented. These congregations are generally aging and reducing in membership. This trend is occurring in metropolitan, regional and rural contexts. An exception to the trend is that congregations that are comprised of people from a non-Anglo background are generally growing in number, with membership and participation that reflects a wide spectrum of age groupings.
Notwithstanding smaller and ageing congregations (generally), many congregations are introducing new mission programs and „fresh expressions‟ for worship and discipleship. These initiatives emerge from a deep and abiding commitment responding to gospel hope, the desire to share faith, and continuing development of discipleship. Presbyteries and facets of Synod-based ministries and operations are providing substantial support and assistance for these local initiatives.
Context within which work of the Synod is being undertaken:
Synod-based ministries and operations are undertaking their range of responsibilities in a context of increasing complexity and demands of government and civic regulatory compliance. This has produced increased awareness of the need for the Synod to have oversight and/or visibility of activities undertaken in the name of the Church and to address both risk and compliance issues as the Church seeks to engage in ministry and mission activities. The general decline in congregational membership is having a direct impact on the ability of the various councils and institutions of the Church, including Synod bodies, to fill leadership roles and maintain a healthy turnover of membership. An increased proportion of Synod staff and members of Boards do not have a UCA background. This highlights the importance of orientation processes to assist people who want to contribute to the Church‟s life and mission, but have not been „formed‟ in it, to be oriented to the Church‟s ethos and its particular polity and governance arrangements.
Challenges and opportunities that this changing context is producing:\
There is an ongoing openness to varying expressions of being Church expressed in councils and institutions of the Church. This has emerged from both faithful leadership and stewardship over a significant period of time and from the „climate‟ developed through experience of Uniting our future, the MSR, and a host of innovative presbytery-wide and congregation-based projects and programs. In this range of expressions there is a challenge to ensure that various parts of the Church express common values and shape „meaningful‟ responses as one Church together, rather than competing expressions of being the Church in contemporary contexts. The challenge and opportunity to develop leadership for mission in the 21st century is a significant reality in the life of the Church and is being responded to in a variety of ways. Likewise, governance arrangements for both councils and institutions of the Church that honour the UCA‟s polity and respond effectively to contemporary compliance and regulation needs also present both a challenge and an opportunity.
Hopes, plans and major matters requiring attention that face the Synod over the next three years:
The Synod will continue to exercise its “responsibility for the general oversight, direction and administration of the Church’s worship, witness and service in the region allotted to it” [Basis of Union, para 15 (d)]. The outcomes from the MSR and their implementation will be significant over the next three years in the exercise of this responsibility. These outcomes will be reflected in areas including a vision and mission principles for the Church‟s worship, witness and service, which will impact on the work of Synod-based ministries and operations, on relationships with institutions of the Church, and on recommendations for change within other councils of the Church. In this the Synod will have a role to provide leadership and education for various councils, boards and committees of the Church within its bounds in response to recommendations emerging from the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations and from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission).
The Synod will continue to seek to support and work with presbyteries, congregations, agencies, schools and other institutions of the Church in a variety of ways to assist in and provide leadership for worship, witness and service that reflects the church‟s call to be “a pilgrim people, always on the way toward a promised goal…” [Basis of Union, para 3].
ROYAL COMMISSION RELATED MATTERS
What has the Synod done in the area of policy around child safety?
The Synod has developed a whole of Synod Keeping Children Safe Policy and associated draft guidelines for implementation. This builds on, and integrates with, the Safe Church training program and draws upon good practice within the UCA and beyond, including Child Wise and the Child Safety Commissioners. The Synod‟s Working with Children Check Policy has also been revised to take account of new legislation in Victoria and Tasmania. The Synod Persons of Concern Policy has been utilised with five Agreements currently in place. A further two are in process.
The relevant policies of entities across Synod have been audited in 2014. Following Case Study 24 of the Royal Commission, a project was commenced to achieve consistency in policy, procedure and practice across our agencies providing Out of Home Care.
How has the Synod Royal Commission Task Group responded to its terms of reference?
In addition to the policy audit, the Task Group has conducted an audit of congregations, those in specified ministries and retired ministers to ascertain if they have any knowledge of cases of abuse. This has not revealed any pattern of systemic abuse across the Synod. All known cases have also been audited. Agencies and schools have been surveyed and there are no instances reported of employees moving or being moved from one institution to another.
What has the Synod learned from the Royal Commission?
The Synod is very conscious of the Commission‟s concerns around lack of consistency in approaches across the UCA and our seeming inability to speak with one voice and to share knowledge and resources. Case studies and statements from the Commission have been monitored to inform the development of the Synod‟s Keeping Children Safe Policy. In response specifically to Case Study 24 on Out of Home Care, a project has commenced to address the lack of consistency and coordination across Church agencies delivering this service and ensure ongoing continuous improvement. UnitingCare Victoria and Tasmania is also instituting a Heritage Service to better coordinate the response to care leavers for access to information and support. It is also clear that records need to be accessible and in electronic form, and the Synod is working to achieve that goal.
Are children in our churches and institutions safer now than three years ago when the Commission was announced:
This is a difficult area to comment on definitively. The Synod‟s strategy is to continually enhance the development of a culture of safety for children and other vulnerable people. To this end relevant Synod bodies continue to raise awareness across the Church and to provide resources. This has included the issuing of specific booklets and posters to congregations, frequent website updates and regular articles on Royal Commission matters in Crosslight. Safe Church training has continued and these matters have been covered in ethics training days and were discussed at the Synod Meeting.
What formal engagement (if any) has the Synod had with the Royal Commission?
Wesley Mission Victoria has appeared before the Commission in Case Study 24. There was direct interaction with the Commission to clarify its requirements for Case Study 24 as these clarifications evolved.
What new procedures and improvements have been implemented and how have these been received?
Working with Children Checks (WWCC) are now required in Victoria through amended legislation and for Tasmania with new legislation effective from 1 April 2015. In Victoria checks are now required for those in specified ministries and appointed leaders. In Tasmania they are required for those involved in child-related religious activity within the Church. As part of this process, audits of Church records have been undertaken to determine who holds WWCCs and consideration of the best system to manage and monitor these in the future.
The new Safe Church Recognition Program was launched at the 2014 Synod. Thus far, twenty-five congregations are participating in the program and it is expected twelve will be formally recognised in the next twelve months.
As noted above, to facilitate a more co-ordinated and better response to those who have been in the Church‟s care over time, UnitingCare has been working with relevant agencies to develop a UnitingCare Victoria and Tasmania Heritage Service to centralise access to records and information, and to facilitate other support required.
Issues that have been identified as in need of re-examination:
In an era when child sexual abuse and abuse of other vulnerable people is clearly recognised as not acceptable, our Church polity remains a significant risk factor. It is now appropriate to direct entities in our Church to ensure as much as possible that all behaviours are acceptable. The Synod must also be able to direct that mitigating protective measures be undertaken, and have the capacity and mechanisms to monitor compliance.
Electronic retrieval of documents pre-2012 has been identified as an issue due to changes in platforms used within the Synod. Solutions are being explored.
What data has been collected and how is it being used?
Case Study 24 Out of Home Care data has been collected on policies, practices and reports of child sexual abuse. This is being used to inform the development of consistent and best practice. Significant effort is being put into the scanning of paper files relevant to this area. The Synod has records of all past and current claims, as reported.
Next steps in improving child safety:
A Communications Strategy for the implementation of the Keeping Children Safe Policy has been developed. This recognises the complexity of covering the whole Synod and it will need to be rolled out in stages. Discussions have commenced regarding enhancing the capacity of Synod to implement and monitor child safety as an embedded, identified function and responsibility within the Synod. This is necessary to consolidate a culture of child safety across the whole Synod into the future.
Rev Dr Mark Lawrence
Synod of Western Australia
The end of 2015 marks ten years since five presbyteries combined to form one Presbytery of Western Australia with the same boundaries as the Synod. In transferring powers, most went to the Presbytery. In reporting on its work, it is very hard not to report on both the Synod and Presbytery.
The last triennium has seen significant challenges in governance and major changes in leadership, including the early conclusion of placement of the General Secretary, Kay Dowling. No permanent appointment has yet been made; however, after review, preparation to appoint a new General Secretary is underway. It is hoped to bring a name to the Synod in September.
The time and energy these challenges have required has impeded our progress as a church and severely impacted those in Synod and Presbytery roles. It has also led to consideration of the Moderator also being the Chair of the Presbytery. Conflict of interest policies have been reviewed and strengthened.
CONTEXT AND ITS CHALLENGES – EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL
During a period of mining boom, the Synod could not capitalise on it or offer ministry to a rapidly-growing population. The recent down-turn in mining is affecting the state as a whole. Being asset-rich (primarily property) and cash poor has handicapped the Synod’s ability to adapt to changed conditions and to finance new opportunities.
Even though the population of metropolitan Perth has increased from 1.4 million (2006 census) to an estimated 2.2 million (March 2015), we have continued to face declining membership and increasingly smaller congregations as shown in the 2013 Uniting Church Census of Congregations and Ministers. Proceeds of property sales have helped to support the construction costs of one new set of congregational buildings. Some congregations have been very thoughtful about concluding their life and allowing the resources built up over time to be available to the wider Church.
More and more metropolitan congregations are now dealing with what most rural congregations began to face in the 1980s, primarily being unable to support the costs of a placement, even part-time. Similarly, financial support for the wider Church from congregations has fallen, which has reduced the possibility of supporting struggling congregations. Property is a major source of income for the Synod and Presbytery, including that contributed by a small number of congregations. All that is collected from congregations – apart from some property income – supports ministries outside the Synod and Presbytery office, including in rural ministry, First Third ministry and theological and ministerial education.
Most non-metropolitan congregations with placements are found in regional towns and centres. Rural resource ministry in smaller towns and rural areas has continued, although there is currently only one person in this role. Since 2012, a number of rural congregations have disbanded.
It is becoming clear that a resource ministry model may support the increasing number of lay-led congregations. For example, the worship resources that have been distributed to rural congregations without placed ministry are being used by more and more metropolitan congregations.
It is now seven years since the initial appointment of a First Third specialist to a joint congregational and Presbytery placement. The goal is to allow such appointments to have localised ministries as well as to offer ministry more widely within the Presbytery. The First Third initiative has been a significant effort to renew ministry with people in the first third of life (understood as from 0 to 30 years) in a holistic way. It acknowledges the need for ministry with and by members of the second and third thirds.
CONGRESS WA REGIONAL COMMITTEE
The WA Regional Committee of Congress is working towards being a separate Presbytery. It is planned that a decision will be made at the Synod in September 2015.
MINISTRY TO THE COMMUNITY
The UnitingCare agencies and the congregational community service agencies have continued to offer a wide variety of ministries to the community. UnitingCare West has received a number of special awards and some special funding in recognition of its work and the CEO has been acknowledged in particular.
Juniper (Uniting Church Homes) took over some of Aged Persons programmes in WA (including some within the Northern Synod) previously undertaken by Frontier Services. The Synod is profoundly grateful for Juniper’s ability to make a contribution in this respect, as the Synod was unable to do this.
The UnitingCare WA Forum allows the large Synod agencies to collaborate and the Congregational Community Services Commission and its staff to work with congregations, providing a wide range of support and advice.
THE ROYAL COMMISSION INTO INSTITUTIONAL RESPONSES TO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
The General Council of the Presbytery and Synod has overseen a Special Purpose Committee chaired by Robert Watson, past Moderator, a Social Worker who has decades of involvement in UnitingCare agencies. It receives reports from and gives updates to the Assembly Task Group. Legal advice is provided by a Partner in HWL Ebsworth who attends the Committee pro bono.
Laserfiche document management software is in place to facilitate secure and confidential storage and fast retrieval of relevant documents and records.
- An outline of practices to promote child-safe practices since 1994 was produced
- Code of Ethics training for ministers and some lay members has been provided and the attendance lists summarised for the period since 2002.
- Congregations, schools and agencies have been advised of the work of the Royal Commission and requested to provide relevant records of alleged abuse to generate an audit. Initial response from congregations was limited.
- A forum was held at one of the Church schools for members of their governing bodies.
- The ecumenical Safe Church training under the auspices of the National Council of Churches in Australia was adopted and an agreement signed in 2012.
- An inventory of policies and procedures was undertaken in 2013 – 2014. Follow-up with all congregations and other Church bodies was pursued with particular telephone contact with those who had not responded earlier during 2014.
- Ministers, both those in placement and retired, all who work with children are regularly reminded of the need to have a Working With Children Check (WWCC) and a national Police Clearance.
- Training on the Code of Ethics and Sexual Misconduct Awareness has taken place.
- A special session led by Rev Lauren Mosso of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania was held in 2014 for those involved in the Church’s discipline processes.
- Safe Church training has taken place at various times in the last triennium in both city and country areas. In March 2015, training was sponsored by the Anglican Church and open to Uniting Church participants.
It has become clear that there is a need for tighter policies and procedures and greater awareness of Safe Church processes to help prevent future incidents and to deal with past abuse. While it is difficult to assess whether children are safer in our Churches now, the awareness in congregations, schools and agencies, of procedures related to Working With Children Checks, National Police clearances, and child safe practices are better known. An audit has been undertaken into clarifying congregation policies and training in order to identify gaps and deficiencies around child safe practices.
The Synod has provided a submission to the Case Study on Out of Home Care and this has been the only formal engagement with the Royal Commission so far. The WA Synod has had input to the Assembly Submissions. It has been helpful to have been regularly supported by Rev Alan Thompson of the National Task Group.
There have been regular updates and articles in the WA Synod on-line News and Notes, its magazine Revive and there is a dedicated Safe Church section on its website, linked from the home page which have all raised the level of awareness within the broader church population. Feedback from church members has been mainly positive with comments that they feel better informed. Appointing a part-time staff person (0.2FTE) to support his work has allowed more contact with congregations and other bodies by phone and email.
There has been an increasing understanding about child sexual abuse and the need for Safe Church practices within the UAICC in WA, although discomfort for some multicultural church groups arising from sensitivities about discussing Child Sexual Abuse in public, mixed gender forums has been evident.
Our next steps will include more and on-going education and training in both metropolitan Perth and country areas; further promotion of the Safe Church message through our magazine Revive; providing congregations, agencies and schools with policies around safe church and child safe practices to promote consistency; and promoting a Code of Conduct all lay people in leadership roles and those working in child related activities.
A major project has been undertaken with a view to setting missional directions which can then be the basis for planning and strategic decision-making throughout the Presbytery.
A process that began in 2012 has included work during sessions of the Presbytery in 2012 and 2013, a “Listening Workshop” in 2014 where many members shared their views, and our Mission Planner, Rev David Kriel conducted interviews with a range of persons from each of the “thirds” of life. He took particular care to meet with people who are not involved in the formal processes and councils of the Church.
Our Synod magazine Revive has regularly published articles on this work and the General Council of the Presbytery and Synod has been given progress reports.
A workshop was held earlier this year with leaders of the Church and the four strategic directions to be put to the Presbytery in May are:
• Developing a culture of open communication
• Increasing the church’s capacity for community engagement
• Developing relevant education, training and leadership development resources, programmes and projects
• Promoting a culture of faith formation and sharing
The four strategic directions are identified to enable the Presbytery to exercise its roles of resourcing, supporting, oversight and inter-connection within the Church, with particular focus on congregations. The May meeting will use open space technology to collate proposals for implementing the four strategic directions to enhance the worship, witness and service of the Presbytery.
The Synod of WA has been through a difficult time in recent years. It has been grateful for the wisdom, pastoral sensitivity and grace-filled support of other parts of the Church, where people from other Synods, particularly the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, have offered time, advice and expertise to help it work through some of its challenges.
It is also profoundly thankful for the many hours given by those who serve on its committees and other bodies in order to do the work of God.
The Uniting Church in WA thanks God for faithfully sustaining it and prays that God will lead it into greater faithfulness and fruitfulness as it glorifies God, confesses Christ and rejoices in the Holy Spirit.
Rosemary Hudson Miller
Acting General Secretary