Act2 Report Reflections
Richard La'Brooy offers the first in a new series of reflections on the Act2 Report
August 9, 2023
In June 2023 the Act2 Project released ‘In Response to God’s Call’, its newest report and the first since the 16th Assembly.
Drawing on a deep well of insight gathered over six months of engagement, during which time the Act2 Project Unit visited every state and territory and contacted over 1600 local communities, the report seeks to hold a mirror up to who and where we are as a Church at this moment of our life.
The whole Uniting Church is invited into further discernment on concrete future directions over the next four months – but listening deeply to the insights of the report itself is essential to have these conversations well. We seek to imagine a path forward that does not deny our current reality, while holding fast to the promises of God who offers us abundant life and in whom we have “hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).
As we continue to grapple with the report, we’ve asked members of the Act2 Steering Committee to reflect on their own highlights. The first comes from Richard La’Brooy, Steering Committee member and Chaplain at Newington College in Sydney.
"At a local level, many of us have lost the ability to tell our story"
written by Richard La'Brooy
To the outside eye, the pile of papers before me would have looked insignificant. A series of aged sheets of yellow legal paper with faded typewriting set across the page. The last page contained 21 seemingly strange signatures with names underneath that were awkwardly typeset. Yet to me, and other members of the Assembly Standing Committee, we were standing before a sacred relic of the Uniting Church. We were looking at the original Basis of Union document that was signed by the 21 members of the Joint Commission on Church Union.
The original Basis of Union was part of a presentation by Christine Gordon, the Assembly Archivist, to the ASC meeting. After the presentation, Christine gave us an opportunity to view these artefacts up close. My hand hovered over the signatures, not daring to touch it, knowing in signing this seemly insignificant piece of paper those people had birthed our Uniting Church. It was the closest we could come to anything that might be considered a ‘relic’ in our relatively young Church.
I’ve reflected on that moment a lot over the last few weeks, and particularly as I continued to reflect on the Act2 report, In Response to God’s Call. There are many incredible insights that have come from that Report, but one area that struck me most was in Section 2 What we have heard, particularly the reflections on Workstream 2 - our National Identity. What is remarkable in that part of report is how deep the collective identity of the Uniting Church runs through our veins. We know the Basis deeply and seek to “live in a Basis-shaped Church”. That image of a “Pilgrim People” is central to how we try to be as the Uniting Church.
The report goes on to say that many of the landmark statements of our Church, including the Covenant and the We are a Multicultural Church statement, deeply permeate our self-understanding. That deeply entrenched identity is something of which to be proud. It tells us that these statements are not dusty relics, but are living, breathing documents that continue to speak into our life. It tells us that these documents don’t just sit in the realm of committees or boards, or in the abstract, but rather run deep into the heart of our Church. That is a great achievement and something of which to be proud.
Yet that section of the report also highlights many areas of our National Identity that need renewal. We often talk of being the “third largest Australian denomination”, yet the reality of the data tells us we are closer to fifth. Our perception of our identity doesn’t acknowledge the reality of decline that we see across the Church.
Many across the Church lament the loss of our public voice in Australian society in a post-Christendom world. Yet many can’t articulate how our voice should be best used. At a local level, many of us have lost the ability to tell our story. Our local web presences are often out of date, and many think the public presentation of our life is disjointed.
As we continue to discern deeply where God is calling the Uniting Church into the future and as we grapple with the comprehensive picture of the Church that comes from this report, we must ask ourselves what our National Identity might look like into the future. How can we continue to tell our unique story into the broader community?
Those aging sheets of yellow legal paper upon which the original Basis of Union were typed are not dusty relics but are living, breathing expressions of our unique identity. We should be very proud that the Basis and other documents continue to speak to and inspire the Church. As we continue through the Act2 process we must ask ourselves how they might be speaking into our Church today.
How might they inspire us in new and fresh ways as we discern together what the Uniting Church will look like into the future?