May 7, 2022
Members of the 16th Assembly have had their first opportunity to engage with the Act2 report in an information session on Saturday morning. Act2 is process of discernment about how faithfully following Christ in our time and place shapes the Uniting Church into the future.
Catherine Pepper, who is a member of both the Assembly Standing Committee and Act2 Task Group, introduced the report and proposals.
“In the days before the pandemic, the ASC recognised both our calling and the challenges we face as a Church – those things that make it difficult to live out calling in this time and place. Out of this, Act2 was discerned.”
“What began then was a whole-of-church national process to explore the opportunities and challenges that face us. The proposals we bring to this Assembly are the result of a two-year-long period of consultation, reflection and discernment.”
Proposals currently before the 16th Assembly do not mark the end of the Act2 process but invite the Assembly to affirm a range of things about the identity and vision of the Uniting Church and to mandate a new stage in the process to explore certain directions. This would likely establish a new task group to undertake further extensive consultation across the church with further proposals to return to the 17th Assembly. You can read the full report and proposals here.
Ms Pepper named some of the common themes and challenges identified through the process.
“The world around us is changing. Western culture is increasingly secular, we have fewer and smaller congregations, fewer paid ministry agents, and regulatory oversight of our communities has increased while public trust in the church and other institutions has declined.”
“Since our beginnings in 1977 we have been exploring and living into our calling by God to be a fellowship of reconciliation, coming together despite seemingly irreconcilable differences to be a pilgrim people.”
“In the Spirit of our identity and calling, we have an opportunity to consider the opportunities our changed context presents us. Things like freeing up resources where they are most needed, and discerning new ways of being church that perhaps have never been imagined before.”
Ms Pepper spoke of how a design thinking and innovation framework has informed the planning and consultation process driving the Act2 project which began in early 2020.
There have been eight iterative steps to the point: an introductory paper, an initial online survey, six online national conversations, a report on feedback, a second online survey, a series of theological studies on the Basis of Union and a series of online conversations with different groups across the Church.
The Act2 Task Group also consulted with several other denominations which have undertaken organisational change in recent years.
Assembly Standing Committee member Richard La’Brooy seconded the proposal.
“I am the Chaplain at Newington College, a Uniting Church school in which I am constantly faced with the prospect of how to do ministry in new and innovative ways and the need to do church differently.”
“As part of the Act2 process we have also heard the need for change and for fast change. We are at a point in history where we need to explore our identity as a church to build a flourishing future. We know that if we don’t, we will struggle to have a vibrant future in the decades to come.”
“Our identity as a pilgrim people means we are always willing to follow the leading of the Spirit, and Act2 asks us to live deeply into that calling as we discern God’s calling for the next stage of our journey.”
Presenters of the Act2 report fielded questions for clarification from members around the consultation process going forward, resources that will be allocated to the project and its scope in terms of intercultural engagement and supporting faith communities to be active in discipleship. The Act2 report was discussed in community working groups and this feedback was reported back to guide further discernment.