B3 – Report of the General Secretary

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1 During the last triennium the role of the General Secretary has required more than ever the need to actively engage in the management and leadership of an Agency. The crisis within Frontier Services has added significantly to the demands on the time of the General Secretary and the Secretariat team more widely. This has meant that other aspects of the role have been unable to receive the attention that they would normally expect. I appreciate the understanding of the members of the Assembly Standing Committee, my colleagues and the wider church. I continue to be immeasurably appreciative of the understanding and support of my family and the faithfulness of God who has called me to this role and never left me lacking for the resources that are required.

1.2 The role of General Secretary encompasses a number of broad areas of responsibility. Perhaps the most obvious is the responsibility to support the work of the meetings of the Assembly and its Standing Committee, ensuring that the meetings and other work are appropriately resourced and its decisions are implemented. The Standing Committee’s strong focus on governance has led to a major work focus on establishing and supporting the systems and organizational structures that enhance good governance. Within the very lean Assembly structure there is no other staff person who can assist with this piece of work. With respect to the role of the General Secretary this has included implementation of decisions in relation to UCA Assembly Ltd, the establishment of a governance group which meets six times a year, major involvement in developing the tools for ASC engagement with Agencies and regular work on risk registers.

1.3 The General Secretary also has oversight of the Secretariat, which includes the Associate General Secretary, the Accounting unit, Communications, and support staff, comprising approximately 12 full time equivalent (FTE) staff. From July 2015 the financial, accounting, payroll and HR functions for Frontier Services have been delivered by an expanded Assembly Accounting Unit. Apart from additional staff being engaged to enable this work the staff in the Secretariat has been quite stable.

1.4 As CEO for Assembly operations the ultimate responsibility for the performance of National Directors rests with the Assembly General Secretary. Oversight and support of National Directors can only be provided in the current structure because the Associate General Secretary, Rev Glenda Blakefield, carries a significant line management role. Unfortunately the deterioration in Frontier Services required a much more hands on engagement in the management of that Agency than has been required in any agency previously and as such less availability for supporting other senior leaders.

1.5 Representing the Church and the Assembly comprises the third element of the responsibilities of the Assembly General Secretary. My opportunities to meet directly with members of the church have been greatly constrained by the demands of other parts of my role in the last triennium. However attendance at Synod meetings is a priority and has proven to be a great way to remain connected to the issues and concerns of various parts of the church. Ecumenical involvement has been principally through participation in the National Heads of Churches meeting, the National Council of Churches (NCCA) Executive meetings, attendance at the Assembly of the World Council of Churches and working with the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) in a variety of ways. In May I was appointed to the Executive of the CCA for the next five years.

1.6 My ability to respond satisfactorily to many requests that come my way has been due in no small measure to the unqualified support and professionalism of my PA, Ms Jenny Bertalan and the often unnoticed staff of the Secretariat who provide the foundations upon which it is possible for the office of General Secretary to effectively function.

1.7 Although the ASC has its own report it does not include an acknowledgement of the important contribution that the members of the ASC make to the encouragement and support of Assembly staff. In particular I express my appreciation the President. Andrew has offered significant leadership within the church and to the wider community and supported the staff of the Assembly wherever he has been able to do so. The work of the Assembly between its normal meetings could not continue without the service of the people who are members of the Assembly Standing Committee. Significant demands are placed upon the ASC and there has been an exceptionally large load to be borne between meetings. The Assembly has been well served by the hard working members of its Standing Committee.

2. THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE

2.1 Over the last three years the financial circumstances of the Assembly have deteriorated at a more rapid rate than the longer term decline which is referenced in every report of this kind. The Assembly Finance Report conveys the seriousness of this situation for the structure and way of delivering the ministries of the Assembly in the next triennium and beyond.

2.2 As the church has sought to adjust its structures to match its membership size and skill base it has become clear that there are some areas where change needs to happen in the way that things are done. The Assembly does not seek to be immune from the need to refocus and re prioritise but seems to have to do so with very little opportunity to plan in advance.

2.3 Like all “mainline” churches in liberal western democracies the number of people who choose to identify with the UCA, either in the census or through participation in various aspects of our life, continues to decline. Some are inclined to see this as a sociological inevitability and to just accept fading away gracefully. The alternative is to find again the church’s historic conviction that being a disciple of the Risen Christ is a critical decision for us personally and socially; that being part of a Christian community (in a sense broader than Sunday morning worship attendance) is an essential part of sustaining and expressing that discipleship; and finding our voice to issue this invitation to discipleship in fresh words and deeds. The future for the Uniting Church lies at neither end of the theological poles which seem to so confidently claim that the future lies with them. If the UCA as a whole embraces and lives out of the orthodox and central theological, biblical, relational and organisational values of its Basis of Union it would be in a much better place to serve the mission of God in the world.

2.4 The legislative and social context in which the church operates has always been one of the drivers for change in the church’s operational and structural arrangements. Ongoing legislative and Tax Office action around the charitable sector and the increasing complexity of the environment in which congregations and agencies operate requires that the church have the capacity to respond in timely, effective and efficient ways. The Uniting Church does not have the structures and decision making processes that are effective for all the issues of these times. Great care needs to be taken when identifying the alternative methods for the exercise of authority in order that the theological, particularly ecclesiological, dimensions in the alternative structures that arise are appropriately addressed. This need sustains the case for why General Secretaries and other leaders in the church require a theological capacity and spiritual disposition that is able to hold and affirm the centre of what faithfulness looks like for an organisation while at the same time crafting a new organisational expression for a church which at the end of the day must be an incarnated expression of the people of God.

2.5 The significance of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse for the way in which the UCA operates as a national church cannot be underestimated. The UCA is not so much a national church as a federated one. The Royal Commission finds the fractured nature of the UCA to be problematic in its goal of strengthening child protection. This is not the only context in which the capacity of the UCA to be the best that it can be is impeded. The UCA needs to find the way of being more integrated across a number of areas – information sharing; capacity to make consistent policy decisions and to apply them consistently; finding a common voice more quickly; resource sharing and the like. This is not the same thing as the organisational unity of our various decision making bodies, although it can be argued that there is scope for more of this in some areas; or overwhelming the differences that context requires in favour of some bland uniformity. However it does require a greater willingness to submit ourselves to one another for the sake of the gospel.

2.6 A regular reference in my reports has been observations about, and encouragement to, national co-operation. In the last triennium there have been a number of significant examples of national collaboration. The most significant being the rallying around by the church’s aged care sector to support the transition of Frontier Services Aged Care. This is a wonderful example as is the subsequent ability to move those services to the UnitingCare Queensland entity – Australian Rural and Remote Community Services, and Juniper (from WA). National co-operation has been very well illustrated through the co-ordination of the work of the National and Synod Task Groups around the Royal Commission. Also the national staff positions in support of the National Task Group have been funded on a formula that allows the Assembly and Synods to contribute proportionally. The new position of National Disaster recovery Officer is another role that it only possible because three funding bodies have come together to enable the position to be created and be located within the Assembly. My view continues to be that the future of Australia is national and that the church will need to adapt itself to this reality. It continues to be my hope that we will find the way to do this before it is pressed upon us from a position of weakness.

3. MAJOR FOCUS OVER THE LAST TRIENNIUM

3.1 In March 2013 the intractable nature of the problems within Frontier Services Aged Care became apparent. Since that time until the present addressing the massive governance, management and financial implications has been a consistent and substantial focus for the General Secretary. Enough is said elsewhere about this matter that I do not need to say more here. However it is impossible to overstate the impact which this series of events has had on the Secretariat workload, and as such must be mentioned when reflecting on what has been the major focus of the last triennium.

3.2 The other major focus for the triennium was the Standing Committee’s continuing attention to improving the systems and practices of governance. It is a body of work that has come a long way and the outgoing Standing Committee has provided a solid base on which the next Standing Committee can continue to build.

4. MY ACCOUNTABILITY AS A MINISTER OF THE WORD

Regulation 2.2.1(a) lists the 12 duties of a Minister of the Word. A review of that list of 12 items allows me to see where they find expression in the ministry of General Secretary. Yet this list of 12 things is problematic when it comes to considering the vocation of a Minister of the Word. Principally because it presents the vocation of a Minister as a set of tasks – almost an ecclesial set of KPI’s.

At its heart this list of 12 responsibilities is a list of strategies through which Ministers give expression to their vocation. The vocation of a Minister of the Word is to assist the church to be faithful to its Lord by enabling it to know its true identity and sustaining the character that is appropriate for the Christian community. Sometimes that has been done through the 12 points in Regulation 2.2.1(a) and sometimes in other ways.

My home congregation is Revesby and I participate as often as possible. Presbytery attendance suffers from the impact of my travel commitments.

The Sydney Assembly office is committed to the practice of weekly staff worship every Tuesday morning. Although not all staff members participate regularly, the fact of weekly worship with a solid core of participants from across the staff, is a very good reminder of who it is we are called to serve through the Assembly.

Rev Terence Corkin
General Secretary

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