B25 Synod of South Australia

1. BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTION TO THE SYNOD

As we report to the Fifteenth Assembly, the South Australian Presbytery and Synod can note a number of significant developments in our life and mission over the past three years that the Church can celebrate. There are also a number of challenges that are requiring careful, prayerful discernment in order to find God’s direction for the future. In all of this we can say that God’s faithfulness toward us is steadfast and a source of both comfort and inspiration.

The Presbytery and Synod of South Australia is guided by the Moderator’s theme of Grow Nurture Flourish: Grow relationships with God and one another that foster the sharing of stories of faith; intentionally Nurture discipleship; Flourish in service to the world.

The vision of the Uniting Church in SA is that we become:

An innovative, growing church proclaiming Jesus Christ, empowered by the Spirit to transform God's world.

In order to achieve this vision, in 2014, the Presbytery and Synod adopted a five-year Strategic Plan. This plan is centred on four key directions:

  • Trusting relationships
  • Gifts and strengths of the UCA
  • Foundation values and core activities
  • Key issues facing the next 10 years.

Each key direction had a number of action points.

In addition, a Vision and Values Workshop conducted across the operation life of the Presbytery and Synod produced our key core values of In it Together: Make it Stronger: Serve like Jesus. These values will be developed as a behavioural compass for all staff.

While much has been achieved in filling these goals and plans there still remains work to do as we pilgrim on our way to a promised place.

2. STRATEGIC MAPPING

It became apparent while moving into 2017 that a missional priority resource needed was a strategic map of the Presbytery which provides a clear and informed overview of congregations across SA. Therefore, a strategic mapping process was implemented with the following agreed purpose being to enable the Uniting Church in SA to:

  • Identify strategic locations for new and existing UCSA congregations
  • Provide a map of all current congregations according to agreed criteria
  • Prioritise the allocation of resources (personnel, property, finances) to the areas of
  • Making disciples (including conversion growth)
  • LeadershipInnovation
  • Inform any review of the future structure of the UCSA

These missional priorities continue to provide a fundamental direction for the work of the various ministry centres within the Presbytery and Synod. Additionally, it was important to realise that these missional priorities should not create an exclusive set of endeavours which preclude other new initiatives arising throughout the mapping process.

3. REFURBISHMENT

The Synod Office has a fresh look with a recent refurbishment. The Uniting College has also undergone a refurbishment, with part of the property sold to a Christian school. The primary purpose of the refurbishment projects at Brooklyn Park and 212 Pirie St was to provide long term stability for the housing of the Presbytery and Synod operations.

The completed refurbishment at Level 2, 212 Pirie Street has produced a stunning result. The operations of the Presbytery and Synod in this space will be secured for many years to come ensuring sustainability in the housing of all staff working in this environment. A similar outcome has been achieved for all the operations of the Presbytery and Synod based at the Brooklyn Park site. The site become fully functional at the beginning of 2018 with the new environment providing an inspired workspace for the decades ahead.

Of significant importance is the financial reality of both these projects being on budget. This is testimony to the excellent stewardship underpinning these property developments. Therefore, the foundation has been consolidated in terms of the location and quality of the facilities in which the operations of the Presbytery and Synod occur. Furthermore, it provides significant alignment with the Presbytery and Synod Strategic Plan when it speaks of “maximising the resources of our asset-rich church to meet the mission and ministry opportunities of the 21st Century”. In undertaking these refurbishment projects, the Presbytery and Synod has made the most prudent and wise investments in the long-term housing of its operations. Thus, it can be genuinely claimed that the resources of our asset-rich church have been maximised in this regard.

4. MINISTRY AND LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT (MLD)

A cultural norm within the strategic operations of the Presbytery and Synod is to “make it stronger”. In 2016 this value underlined the rationale for developing a Mission and Leadership Development (MLD) Ministry Centre focused on ensuring a significant strengthening of the work embodied within this area.

Over 2017 the MLD Board gradually established a series of subcommittees to manage the range of work within the MLD ministry centre: MLD Operations, Formation Education and Discipleship, Public Theology and Mission, and Leadership Development.

While there have been significant staff vacancies in Justice and Mission roles, Congregations have continued to be engaged in these areas through Mission Resourcing and the Public Theology & Mission Committee. Areas of work include Refugee Support and Advocacy, Anti-Poverty advocacy, Beyond Violence, and ‘It’s no Secret’ (Suicide). Our commitment to the Covenant with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress has been further explored through two younger members having completed internships with Mission Resourcing and further opportunities to partner in projects together, sharing the road.

Links and visits were made and continue to be supported with our International partnerships with United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), which are well supported by partnership groups meeting regularly. We have endeavoured to welcome well culturally and linguistically diverse congregations, most recently a Lai congregation.

Intergenerational discipleship has continued to provide support, training, coaching, resources and events. Our annual camp events have undergone a significant transition which has seen a partnership with Uniting Venues emerge, now running at the historic Adare Camp & Caravan Park. Partnership with Baptist, Lutheran and ecumenical events have enabled a range of resourcing across the Church. Directions are also emerging for the Third Generation, a strong Uniting Church Adult Fellowship meeting upcoming challenges, and in the areas of spirituality and worship.

Our Formation processes have seen growth in our offerings and have generally been well-subscribed. We were grateful for the leadership of Rev. Dr Steve Taylor as Principal and his fresh approach to formation for mission, We have also been glad to welcome back Rev. Prof Andrew Dutney as Principal and Executive Officer for Mission & Leadership Development. The ongoing focus on the internship program and the strong number of Period of Discernment (currently 43) give us encouragement for the future.

5. GENERATION AND REGENERATION

The Generate 2021 Project is a bold, hope-filled approach to enhancing the life of the UCA in South Australia. The purpose of Generate 2021 is grounded in the Presbytery and Synod strategic plan which outlines the need to “prepare for the regeneration of the church by exploring diverse models of church-planting”. The UCSA launched Generate 2021 in July 2016 with a focus on both exploring and implementing diverse models of church planting by:

  1. Generating 10 new congregations through church planting by 2021.
  2. Regenerating 15 existing congregations by 2021.

The project name “Generate” implies that new opportunities will emerge. Furthermore, this initiative will seek to be generative in strengthening a “missional sending” culture amongst congregations. This is also encapsulated in the way in which 2021 avails itself to a scriptural essential of church planting which is, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” (John 20:21 NRSV). The reference to 2021 also outlines the timeframe for which the project will run.

Specifically, the Church Planting initiative is aimed at planting new churches that would be a new startup or a campus extension from an existing congregation that would:

  • Grow through people coming into a living relationship with God through Jesus
  • Grow disciples and empower them to share in God’s work of making more disciples
  • Seek to plant more churches

Some achievements to date are:

  • A Project Officer 0.4 FTE was appointed in July 2016.
  • A Church Planting Framework has been set out that provides for a broad approach to starting Faith Communities or Congregations utilising a wide range of Church Planting Models.
  • A sustainable funding model for 10 startup church plants has been agreed to which provides up to $50,000 for a church plant. These funds are given on a dollar for dollar basis and within a “pay it forward” model. $500,000 has been set aside for this.

Regarding the goal of planting 10 new churches in the next five years, it can be noted that in 2018 there will be at least three new startup church plants in UCSA. One has already commenced, and after four weeks has an average attendance of 40 people with many of these aged under 30 and a number of previously unchurched/dechurched people.  Another plant will be launched on 6 May and another in September 2018.

6. UNITING LEADERS PROJECT 2018-2020

Following the endorsement by Standing Committee of the SA Synod’s participation in the Uniting Leaders Project (UL), a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the QLD Synod that engaged both parties in sponsoring this project. The partnership includes collaborative endeavours including consultations and training across SA and QLD Synods. The Uniting Leaders Project will launch across the life of the UCA in 2018, for an initial period of 3 years. UL Project seeks to answer the underlying question of what leadership in the UCA needs and what resources the UL Project should offer, for example, education, church planting and church regeneration through developing leaders.

7. RESPONSE TO THE ROYAL COMMISSION INTO INSTITUTIONAL RESPONSES TO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

Following the Assembly Standing Committee establishing the National Engagement and Response Task Group to respond to matters identified by the Royal Commission, the South Australian Standing Committee established a Task Group in March 2013. The Task Group has met regularly during the past five years to consider the work of the Royal Commission, report to the National Task Group, update the Safe Church Committee concerning the activities of the Royal Commission and make recommendations for changes and improvements to Child Safety policy and procedures. The Task Group developed an Interim Redress Policy and Procedure for use in the South Australian Synod pending the implementation of a National Redress Scheme by the Federal Government. To date, we are thankful that this Interim Policy and Procedure has not had to be used.

The Task Group considers that its work is nearing completion and that the next phase is to operationalise matters emanating from the recommendations of the Royal Commission. This has already commenced with the development of a reviewed Child Safety Policy for distribution to congregations. The Task Group recommends that it be discharged from 30 June 2018.

8. CONFERENCES

The Transforming Worship conference, organised by the Centre for Liturgy, Ministry and the Arts was an outstanding national conference that resourced the people of God and offered fresh worship ideas. The UL17 Conference was held at Hope Valley Uniting Church from 22-24 August. It featured keynote speakers Nancy Beach and Mark Conner. The attendance at the event was up by 41% compared to the UL16 Conference with 211 people from across Australia attending.

The inaugural National History Conference was held in Adelaide to coincide with the 40th anniversary in June 2017. The Uniting Church National History Society was formed and a new start is underway in preserving the historical record for future generations.

The 2016 UnitingWomen Conference was held in Adelaide and saw 400 women from all over Australia and the world gathered at Wesley Kent Town Uniting Church and Prince Alfred College. The conferenced focused on “Sharing Stories of Hope” from women’s daily lives. What was experienced at UnitingWomen 2016, will continue, as participants embody the compassion and love of Christ in our daily work, relationships and life in wider Australian society. The success of the SA conference enabled the $5,000 seeding money to be handed over to the QLD Synod for the 2018 UnitingWomen Conference in Brisbane (27-30 September). 

9. CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

How would we know, as a Presbytery and Synod, if we are healthy or otherwise? Would it come from NCLS data? Would it be clarity about why we exist? Perhaps it is about reflecting on where we have come from and where we are now? Is it effective alignment of the Presbytery and Synod’s operations with the Strategic Plan? Within each of these questions there are partial answers that would reflect the state of the Presbytery and Synod. However, I would suggest that the primary way of answering the question is to firstly look at where God is at work and what is flowing from this. There are times when God is at work in ways where a harvest is being reaped and there is a beautiful time of renewal sweeping the church and communities. Other times it can be that God is doing a refining work to prepare the Church for a new season. Irrespective of what we see, God is always at work.

The 2016 Mission and Service Fund Budget was prepared with the distinct intention of arresting the worrying trend toward increasing financial instability for the Presbytery and Synod. Throughout 2016 the “in it together” approach of the whole Church was clearly leading to a stabilising of the Mission and Service Fund Budget. Following the audit of the 2016 financial statements it was evident that the budget was not only balanced but a surplus was delivered. This was a fantastic achievement which created a financial precedent for subsequent the years to enhance the sustainability of the financial resources of the Presbytery and Synod. In 2017 the Mission and Service Fund was once again presented to the Presbytery as a balanced budget. Our Presbytery and Synod were challenged when our General Secretary/CEO Rev. Nigel Rogers returned to Queensland for family reasons. The placement of a new General Secretary is underway.

10. CONCLUSION

The past three years have seen a number of significant challenges. Several new initiatives have been commenced. As we go forward we will need to continue to evaluate and rethink some of these new initiatives to ensure that they are filling the changings needs of the congregations and communities we serve. As we move into the future, we are hopeful and expectant, as we respond to and participate in the transforming activity of God in our world.


Rev. Sue Ellis, Moderator
Malcolm Wilson, Acting Interim CEO/General Secretary