71. THEOLOGY OF MARRIAGE DISCUSSION (Facilitation Group)

Please note that proposals below are not necessarily in their final agreed form. Formal minutes of the 14th Assembly will be published as soon as practicable. 

Further coverage on the marriage discussion: http://assembly2015.uca.org.au/culturally-appropriate-marriage-discussion-to-continue/

It was resolved to:

1. receive the report on ‘The theology of marriage and same gender relationships within the Uniting Church’;

2. request the Standing Committee, in consultation with the UAICC and Multicultural and Cross-cultural Ministry, to explore how the Uniting Church can engage in further discussions about marriage and same-gender relationships in culturally appropriate ways; and

3. request the Standing Committee address immediately, through appropriate mechanisms, the following work:

(a) to engage with the continuing work of the Doctrine Working Group as outlined in its report to the 14th Assembly;

(b) to engage with the members of the LGBTIQ community and the wider Church in discussions about marriage and same-gender relationships;

(c) in consultation with the relevant Assembly working groups, to prepare a report to the Fifteenth Assembly with appropriate recommendations, as well as supporting theological, liturgical, pastoral and educational resources; and

(d) in consultation with our ecumenical partners, where appropriate, to investigate the implications of changing the Church’s current relationship with the Commonwealth Government with respect to the conduct of marriages.

4. request the President to issue a pastoral letter to the Church affirming that the UCA seeks to be an inclusive Church that embraces LGBTIQ people as full members of our church community and is committed to active and culturally appropriate discussion about marriage; and

5. request the General Secretary, in the event that the Commonwealth Marriage Act or other relevant legislation, is changed, to write to all Uniting Church marriage celebrants, advising them of their freedoms and constraints under that legislation and as celebrants authorised by the Uniting Church.

 


70. CHAIRPERSONS OF COMMITTEES

That the Assembly

Declare elected the following persons:

 

(1) Admission of Ministers Commission – Chairperson – Rev. Dr John A Evans

(2) Adult Fellowship National Committee – Chairperson – Mrs Margaret Pedler

(3) Frontier Services – Chairperson – Mr Jim Mein

(4) UnitingWorld Relief and Development – Chairperson – Rev. John Ruhle

(5) UnitingWorld Church Connections – Chairperson – Dr Andrew Roderick Glenn

(6) Formation, Education and Discipleship – Chairperson – Rev. Dr Ian Price

(7) Legal Reference Committee – Chairperson – Mr Warwick van Ede

(8) Defence Force Chaplaincy Convenor – Chairperson – Rev. Dr Murray Earl

(9) Theology and Discipleship Convenors’ Forum – Chairperson – Rev. Carolyn Thornley

(10) Multicultural and Cross-cultural Ministry – Chairperson – Rev. Kisoo Jang

(11) Church Polity – Chairperson – Rev. Gordon Ramsay

(12) UnitingJustice – Chairperson – Dr Deidre Palmer

(13) UnitingCare – Chairperson – Mr Peter Bicknell

(14) National Working Group on Doctrine – Convenor – Rev. Alistair Macrae

(15) National Working Group on Worship – Convenor – Rev. Dr Graham Vawser

(16) Relations with Other Faiths Working Group – Convenor – Rev. Michael Barnes

(17) Christian Uniting Working Group – Chairperson – Dr Morag Logan

(18) Education for Ministry Group – Chairperson – Rev. Prof. Andrew Dutney

(19) Historical Reference Committee – Chairperson – Margaret Reeson


69. RELATIONSHIP WITH CHINA CHRISTIAN COUNCIL (UnitingWorld)

That the Assembly

 

1. welcome the emerging relationship between the Uniting Church in Australia and the China Christian Council and affirms the importance of this relationship;

2. encourage UnitingCare and UnitingWorld to collaborate in growing this relationship, particularly in mutual learning and support for social services provision and theological education; and

3. encourage UnitingCare and UnitingWorld to use their learning and experience from this relationship to strengthen their own agencies and share them for the benefit of the wider Uniting Church.

 

Rationale

a) The opening paragraphs of the Basis of Union of the Uniting Church in Australia calls us to “seek a wider unity in the power of the Holy Spirit” within the ecumenical context, and with particular geographic focus “to seek special relationship with Churches in Asia and the Pacific”. The budding relationship with the China Christian Council (CCC) is an outworking of this call.

b) The CCC is a rapidly growing church who have recognized their need for leadership development both in theological ministry as well as in the provision of social services, as the church steps into the gap to provide care for the an ageing society (Currently China has 200 million people over 60 years old, a figure that will double in the next 20 years). This has influenced the nature of the relationship with the UCA to date, highlighting an area of shared interest and capacity.

c) The relationship between the UCA and the CCC has grown over the last five years through several interactions:

2010:    Initial contact between UCA and CCC

2011:    UCA President Rev Alistair Macrae led the first official visit to China

2012:    CCC President Rev Gao Feng and General Secretary Rev Kan Baoping led the first official visit to the UCA; attending the 13th UCA Assembly and visiting theological colleges and UnitingCare facilities.

2013:    President Rev Prof Andrew Dutney and President Elect Mr Stuart McMillan led a delegation to attend the first joint theological conference between the UCA and the CCC titled ‘One Shepherd, One Flock’.

2014:    UnitingCare hosted a visit from the CCC Social Service Dept who were researching quality aged care services for China. Two CCC theologians participated in the Basis of Union Conference in Sydney on the topic of “Unity of Partnership in Social Service”.

2015:    Following the invitation of the CCC, UnitingCare/UnitingWorld teams made two visits to CCC services, one to research current state of aged care services in China, and another to deliver professional and management skills training to 90 aged care services managers from across China. The training was hugely successful.

d) The interactions between UnitingWorld, UnitingCare and CCC have resulted in a depth and breadth of relationship with stakeholders in China including the CCC national leadership, the Provincial Synod leaders, theological seminaries, aged-care providers and a local Christian-business association.

e) Both UnitingWorld and UnitingCare have recognised the mutual benefit of their Agencies and the wider UCA engaging with the CCC, as UCA’s theology and practice of ministry, mission and social service are re-examined and renewed in the context of sharing and learning with a vibrant and growing church with a richly different history and culture.

 


68. LEADERSHIP IN CONGREGATIONS AND FAITH COMMUNITIES (Facilitation Group)

This proposal arises from the report of the Facilitation Group regarding the proposals on Eldership in
the Uniting Church.

That the Assembly

In light of the changing contexts in which congregations and faith communities worship, witness and serve, request the Standing Committee to establish a Task Group:

(a) to explore the nature, role and function(s) of current lay leadership practices, including
eldership, within congregations and faith communities;

(b) informed by the findings from the exploration requested in clause (a), to re-imagine lay
leadership in congregations and faith communities for effective mission and ministry in
the 21st century;

(c) to conduct a consultative process engaging the councils of the Church; and

(d) to bring a report with appropriate recommendations to the 15th Assembly.


Membership Discussion Background

MEMBERSHIP

1. Background

I. In 2007, Rev. Dr. Rob Bos wrote a paper, A Church of Passionate Disciples, which was well received.

II. In 2010 a discussion paper, Church Membership, was developed and distributed to all Presbyteries for responses.

III. The Assembly Standing Committee (ASC) felt the responses were too mixed to do more work on it and take something to the Assembly in 2012.

IV. At the 2012 Assembly, a proposal was brought to the Assembly asking that the matter of church membership be taken up. As a result the ASC appointed a Task Group to prepare a discussion paper, however the group did not meet or produce such a paper.

V. In 2014 the ASC asked the Formation Education and Discipleship (FED) Working Group to arrange for the development of a document that is a simplified summary of concerns raised by respondents to the 2010 Church Membership paper, and which identifies possible future directions arising from the Church Membership document. This document is the outcome of the FED Working Group’s work.

2. Changing Context for Membership

I. Australian society has changed dramatically since the 1960s and 1970s. The church is no longer the centre of the local community. Far fewer Australians live their whole lifetime in one locality. Loyalty to and participation in longstanding institutions such as churches, trades unions, service and sporting clubs, and political parties have significantly diminished. For younger Christians, denominational affiliation counts for little. So the notion of lifetime membership of one congregation or even of one Christian denomination is passing. The church’s concept of membership needs to be responsive to these changes.

II. The Assembly’s work in the 1990s on baptism and the catechumenate brought a recognition that our definitions, categories and procedures relating to church membership are complex. Currently we recognise baptised members, confirmed members, members-in-association, plus adherents. The church requires the keeping of baptism registers and rolls for all three categories of membership and for adherents, plus an annual review of all rolls, certificates of transfer, and even lists of absent members.

III. Many congregations find they have confirmed members who rarely participate in the life of the congregation yet retain their voting rights according to the Regulations. They can even appeal if their names are taken off the membership roll (Regulation 5.2.3). On the other hand, others come to participate in the life of the congregation and may be regarded as faithful members, but have not formally become confirmed members or members-in-association or have not transferred their membership from another congregation. Strictly speaking these active participants currently cannot vote in meetings of the congregation. Adherents may attend and speak at meetings of the congregation but also cannot vote. They can be appointed as members of committees, but are not members of the congregation (Regulation 1.1.23).

3. Core Membership Proposals from Church Membership Paper

I. The 2010 Church Membership Paper proposed moving to a new understanding of confirmed membership characterised by active discipleship and involvement in the life of a congregation. This is instead of a single Service of Confirmation which grants lifelong, confirmed membership of the Uniting Church. Confirmed membership will involve a regular and repeatable recommitment to the Christian faith and to the congregation.

II. It was proposed that the current membership categories be simplified and that the category of Member-in Association be removed.

III. These proposed changes would mean that those able to participate in the decision-making life of the congregation will be active (confirmed) baptised people. The emphasis would be on baptism and discipleship – understood as following Jesus and actively participating in the life of the local community of faith, not simply gaining voting rights or joining an institution.

4. Summary of Consultation Process

Affirmations: The consultation process affirmed the idea of limiting decision-making responsibility in local congregations to active members. In general there was support for giving attention to discipleship, recognising the importance of baptism as the sacrament signifying identifying with Jesus Christ and being incorporated into his body, the church, and fostering active involvement in the life of the congregation.

There are two areas of concern derived from the consultation:
Administration in Local Context: Concern about having to make an annual or repeated commitment in order to remain recognised as an active member of the congregation; reluctance to take people’s names off membership lists.

Inclusion: Reluctance to encourage people to become baptized if they were not already baptized; pastoral implications of people no longer being regarded as confirmed voting members if they did not participate in the annual service; did not want to exclude those that had been members even if they were no longer active; there were those who were concerned about the implications for rural and remote people who are not able to attend worship regularly but still consider themselves active members of the Uniting Church.

5. Principles for Membership

The following principles are offered so that the Assembly might consider possible ways forward. These principles attempt to capture the concerns raised during the consultation process, while also maintaining the core principles from the Church Membership paper.

I. Confirmed membership is characterised by active discipleship and involvement in the life of a congregation.

II. Decision-making in the life of the congregation will be by active confirmed baptised people.

III. Confirmed membership is symbolized by an act of commitment that is to be repeatedly affirmed.

IV. Membership categories will be simplified by removing Member-in Association.

V. Church Council’s are to administer membership in a way pastorally sensitive and inclusive according to their context, under the oversight of the Presbytery.

VI. The Assembly will develop a range of resources including many options for administering church membership in congregations according to the above five principles.
Appendix: Background Questions and Answers

The following questions and answers are offered in response to the above proposals from the 2010 Church Membership Paper.

Is baptism necessary for those who want to follow Jesus Christ and participate in the life of the congregation?
People can be followers of Jesus and share in the life of the congregation without being baptised. But a person cannot become a confirmed member of the Uniting Church without being baptised. Baptism is the recognized means of grace by which people are initiated into the life of faith in Jesus Christ and the Christian community (see Basis of Union para 12). Preparing for baptism can be an opportunity to learn more about the Christian faith and is a powerful symbol of God’s grace and our response. So, whether it is for infants or adults, baptism should be taken seriously by both those involved and the church.

How does a person become a confirmed member of a Uniting Church congregation?
There are three ways:
• By being baptised on profession of the Christian faith and being actively involved in the life of the congregation.
• By being baptised as an infant or child, personally professing the Christian faith in confirmation and being actively involved in the life of the congregation.
• Having been baptised as an infant, child or adult, having moved from another Uniting Church congregation or from a congregation of a Christian denomination recognised by the Uniting Church, and being actively involved in the life of the congregation.
In each case it is the Church Council that formally recognises a person as a confirmed member of the congregation for the next 12 months or other agreed period. And in each case the person participates in the annual commitment service or, if unable to be present, signs the annual covenant or commitment statement.

Is confirmation just about voting rights?
Confirmation is much more than simply obtaining voting rights in the church. While it should not be regarded as a sacrament, it is an opportunity to reaffirm baptism and growth in discipleship including the importance of actively participating in the life of the congregation.

Is there still a place for confirmation education?
Yes, although referring to them as discipleship training courses is preferable. All those considering becoming confirmed members of the church for the first time should participate in a discipleship training course. The annual commitment service can include the sacrament of baptism for those not previously baptised as infants or children and a confirmation service for those previously baptised. Note that participation in a discipleship training course is not a one-off experience but is expected to be a regular part of growing in faith and discipleship.

Why an annual commitment service?
Most congregations and people function on an annual basis. This would enable congregations to consciously include newer people, plan discipleship training courses, invite people to renew their commitment to Jesus Christ and the church, and be more intentional about their record-keeping. However, an annual service may not be warranted in every congregation. The Church Council will determine the period of time between the special commitment services, with 12 months regarded as the norm.

Why bother changing the Regulations concerning church membership and emphasising active participation as the basis for voting rights?
While it is difficult and time consuming to change the Uniting Church Constitution, it would be helpful to simplify the Regulations and make the changes suggested. This would reduce the rolls congregations need to keep. Under our proposals congregations will have a baptism register, a roll of confirmed members and a pastoral list. No change is proposed to the right of appeal against the removal of a name from membership (Regulation 5.2.3).

Who is recognised as a confirmed member of the congregation?
All those who are recognised by the Church Council as confirmed members, as in question 15 above, and who have signed the covenant or commitment statement. See also question 24.

Are people other than confirmed members able to participate in the life of the congregation?
Emphatically yes! While not being eligible for election as Elders or Church Councillors, people associated with the congregation who are not confirmed members are eligible to take part in the life of the congregation and to serve on committees or task groups of the congregation.

Will the proposed new arrangements apply to all confirmed members of the Uniting Church?
Yes, but with these understandings:
• under Constitution clause 6(a) the Uniting Church is committed to recognising as confirmed members all those “who were confirmed members in one of the uniting churches” – that is, a confirmed member prior to June 1977 in one of the three churches that formed the Uniting Church. If a Church Council believes it should no longer recognise a person as a confirmed member under the proposed new arrangements, and that person was a confirmed member of one of the uniting churches and wishes to continue to be recognised as a confirmed member, then the Church Council shall continue to recognise that person as a confirmed member;
• some confirmed members of congregations live in remote areas of Australia or overseas and are thus unable to be actively involved in the life of the congregation in which they hold their membership; where such persons wish to retain their confirmed membership of the church, the Church Council of their “home” congregation will continue to recognise them as confirmed members;
• some confirmed members of congregations are unable to continue with active involvement in the life of their congregation due to ongoing ill-health or advanced age; Church Councils will continue to recognise such persons as confirmed members unless a person asks not to be so recognised.
• Note, however, that the current provisions for removal of a person’s name from the congregational rolls (Regulation 1.6.2) will continue to apply to all members, including those referred to in this question.

What about those who are confirmed members in a faith community?
Under Regulation 3.9.2(b) confirmed members in a faith community may hold their membership with a congregation or with the Presbytery. The proposed new arrangements will apply in each case. Where membership is held in a congregation, the Church Council will consider active involvement in a faith community as fulfilling the requirement of active involvement in the congregation. Where membership is recorded with the Presbytery, the Presbytery will review the list of confirmed members annually, and active involvement in the faith community will be a requirement for continued recognition as a confirmed member. Faith communities will also be encouraged to hold an annual commitment service.

Formation Education and Discipleship Working Group,
May 2015




3. APPOINTMENT OF THE BUSINESS COMMITTEE (Business Committee)

That the Assembly appoint the following persons as members of the Business Committee for the Fourteenth Assembly: Terence Corkin (Chairperson), Geoffrey Grinton (Business Manager), Stuart McMillan, Alison Atkinson – Phillips, Glenda Blakefield, Chris Budden, Michelle Cooke, Dennis Corowa, Haloti Kailahi Rosemary Hudson Miller and Deidre Palmer.



5. ORDER OF BUSINESS (Business Committee)

That the Assembly approve the order of business and the timetable submitted by the Business Committee, noting that decisions to vary the order of business and timetable can be taken by the Assembly at any time.