Thank you for your kind and generous words.
As I have thought about standing at this place and time my mind has raced across all the things that I could and might want to say. You will be grateful to know that I am not going to say them all.
Among other things my mind has turned to when I was first called and appointed to this ministry as someone relatively inexperienced in some of the skills required for the role of an Assembly General Secretary. Someone who had spent 20 years in ministry in western NSW but who kept getting approached for Executive roles.
From the very beginning I have had a very strong sense that this was a call of God through the voice of the church. It took me seven years to start to enjoy the job but I was always certain that I was in the place that I was meant to be serving, and that is enough. There have also been many wonderful experiences and people to meet that are only available to a very few people in the life of the church. I have been richly blessed and privileged to have those opportunities because of the role that I have had. When I spoke at the Assembly in 2000 after my appointment one of the things that I said was that we were all being very brave in making this decision. It was a big risk that we all took but I think in hindsight it paid off most of the time.
I am able to tell you with confidence that there is no calling from God that God is not able to equip us to fulfil; if we are open to that gift. I want to thank everyone who has been part of enabling the ministry that I have been able to exercise as Assembly General Secretary.
There are many people who taught me so much. Some did it with careful and considered advice and sharing of wisdom. Others provided experiences that would grow me as a person. And some people did it accidentally through their kind and on occasions awful behaviour. We grow as people in many ways and though they are not always easy, they are paths that are worth travelling.
Fortunately this is not a journey that one makes alone; and I have been greatly blessed by those people who have kept me balanced and grounded – my lovely wife Julie, my wonderful daughters Bec, Nat and Moni; and of more recent years the delightful William and Sienna. Thank you.
To the Presidents who have mentored and supported me I am forever grateful. For the closest colleagues in ministry – the Associate General Secretaries in the Assembly and many National Directors and the Synod Secretaries, I have appreciated your support and to be able to work with you in the service of the Gospel. There are too many colleagues to name them all; but there is one who has enabled my ministry to be far more effective than it would have been on my own through the skill, grace, warmth, loyalty and capacity to make up for my bad memory that was brought to her role – thank you Jenny.
Perhaps you have worked this out for yourself, but being a General Secretary in any part of the Uniting Church is not for the faint hearted. Well you wouldn’t want to be too emotionally, spiritually or psychologically weak either. Thankfully it isn’t heavy lifting all the time but these last three years have been quite full on. I have joked many times of late that adrenaline is my favourite drug. I can assure you that my favourite spirit is the Holy Spirit, and I want to give thanks to God for the way I have been equipped and strengthened for this ministry. I am sure that I have been sustained by the prayers of the church. Please pray for Colleen and the President and all the General Secretaries, Moderators and others in leadership – they need it.
When I went from being a Parish Minister to being a Presbytery Minister one of my parishioners expressed bewilderment as to how it was possible to be a Minister if you were not preaching every week and serving in a congregation. It probably beggars belief to her that you could be a Minister and work as a church bureaucrat.
Those of you who have read the General Secretary report to this Assembly will know my answer to that theological question so I will not repeat it here. However as I have reflected on my time as the Assembly General Secretary I am firmly convinced that its roles, responsibilities and privileges have aligned very strongly with the sense of vocation that I had when I was called to ministry in my early 20’s.
My sense of vocation has not been centred on preaching.
The characterising of my core vocation is found in Ephesians 4: 11 – 12 “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”
And I delight in that call because I am convinced that the gospel is life giving and that the church is indispensable to the service of the Gospel. So I have sought to help the Church to live out of the core values which we have espoused – the covenant with Congress; the multicultural character of the church; the equality of women and men in ministry; openness and vulnerability to different people and ideas; respect that allows us to live with divergence of belief and practice within the broad streams of orthodoxy; inclusiveness and the justice imperatives of the gospel – confident that if every member, congregation and agency of the Uniting Church would live this way then we would be far more effective in the proclamation of the gospel in Australia.
As I move on to my next phase of ministry it is not altogether clear what that will look like. However I am sure that it will continue to reflect the core of my calling which is to equip the saints for service for the sake of the mission of God through the body of Christ.
I continue in this time of discernment confident that nothing is wasted in the economy of God. So I will take with me the memories, the thankfulness, the relationships, the new gifts and all that I have learned and see what God does with them.
And to God be the glory in the Church now and forever. Thank you all.