B25 Synod of Western Australia
The Synod of Western Australia gives thanks to God for all those who work tirelessly for the sake of Christ’s Church, for the sustaining Spirit who has been with us in difficult times and for the guidance of God which leads us forward in the journey which lies before us.
The last triennium has seen many significant changes in governance and leadership in the Synod intended to overcome the challenges faced since early 2013. As noted in our last report to the Fourteenth Assembly the time and energy required by these challenges had impeded our progress as a Church and severely impacted those serving in Synod and Presbytery roles.
After an extended search, Rev. David de Kock was appointed as General Secretary from 1 March 2016. In addition, Rev. Steve Francis was elected for a second term as Moderator.
2. DEALING WITH THE CHALLENGES
Two significant factors gave rise to the challenges faced by the Synod:
- The combining of five presbyteries to form one Presbytery of Western Australia in 2006, with the same boundaries as the Synod, led to a blurring of responsibilities between the two councils, and difficulties in relation to the combined role of Moderator and Chair of Presbytery.
- The steps taken in setting four missional directions for the Synod and Presbytery in 2012 and 2013 had not materialised into an overall mission or strategic plan.
3. MOVING FORWARD IN GOVERNANCE
Apart from settling the leadership with a new General Secretary and a new term for the Moderator, the Synod and Presbytery took steps in 2016 to create a clearer distinction in the responsibilities of the two councils.
As a first step, a Chair of the Presbytery and a Secretary of the Presbytery were elected to separate the roles from those of Moderator and Secretary of the Synod. Both were voluntary roles. By-Laws and Rules for Committees were adjusted to take account of the change, and a separate Presbytery meeting was established.
The process has not been without difficulty. The move back to the definition of regulated responsibilities for Synod and Presbytery after ten years of merged responsibilities and unclear boundaries continues slowly. Clarity between the two Councils is however materialising and has begun to bear fruit. The Presbytery has established a Standing Committee which meets monthly and the General Council (a combined Synod/Presbytery group) was replaced with a Synod Standing Committee.
4. MOVING FORWARD IN MISSION
It has been mentioned earlier that the Synod/Presbytery had determined four strategic directions. These are:
- Developing a culture of open communication
- Increasing the Church’s capacity for community engagement
- Developing relevant education, training and leadership development resources, programs and projects
- Promoting a culture of faith formation and sharing
After 18 months of work and consultation with the Presbytery, Schools and Agencies, these four strategic directions were incorporated into the Synod Strategic Plan 2018-2021 at the Synod meeting in September 2017.
A Christian Community for Everyone
- Uniting in God’s Mission to the World
- Growing Communities of Christ-Followers
- Grounded in Worship, Witness and Service
- To preach Christ the risen crucified one and confess him as Lord;
- To bear witness to the unity of faith and life in Christ, rising above cultural, economic, national and racial boundaries;
- To engage in fearless prophetic ministry in relation to matters which deny God’s active will for justice and peace;
- To act with God alongside the oppressed, the hurt and the poor;
- To accept responsibility for the wise use and conservation of the finite resources of this Earth for the benefit of all;
- To recognise, treasure and use the gifts of the Spirit given to all God’s people for ministering; and
- To live a creative, adventurous life of faith, characterised by openness, flexibility, hope and joy
From The Inaugural Statement to the Nation – June 22, 1977
Recognising the significant changes which have taken place in society, particularly with regard to faith-based communities, the Strategic Plan seeks to build collaborating communities, bringing together congregations, schools and community care agencies. Many congregations have declined in size so that they no longer have the critical mass to support a single entity initiative, but working with each other and with the burgeoning work of schools and agencies, we see the potential to develop stronger faith-based communities in our society.
Allied to this has been the initiative of the Moderator, who, together with the General Secretary, has worked tirelessly to build up the relationship between the Synod and the Schools and Agencies. The relationship with our seven schools, university residential college and three caring agencies (Juniper UC Homes, UnitingCare West and Good Samaritan Industries) is building very positively.
5. NEW SHAPES OF MISSION
The Synod and Presbytery have also embraced the Fresh Expression movement and committed to Mission-Shaped Ministry programs being rolled out across our Congregations. Words like “Fresh Expressions”, Mission-Shaped Ministry” and “Messy Church” are now an essential part of our vocabulary.
A new initiative in reaching across generations is also being implemented through the Uniting Generations Ministry which replaces the former First Third approach. We continue to find a source of hope in our Multicultural Ministry with many ethnic groups seeking a relationship with the Uniting Church, and undertaking training in the Basis of Union and Uniting Church practices.
Within the Synod, significant changes are underway with regards to our education priorities. New staff have been appointed to develop and expand the education and training for missional discipleship which is offered across the Synod.
Over many years, the Synod, through the Perth Theological Hall, has had a relationship with other denominations in training for ministry through the Perth College of Divinity and Murdoch University. In time, the other denominations withdrew, leaving the UCA and Anglicans. The decision was made in June 2017 to give the 12-month notice to withdraw from the Perth College of Divinity. Long-serving staff have come to the end of their time as Uniting Church teachers in this structure. Formation for ministry and Field Education opportunities will continue to be provided to candidates within the Synod. Theological education for candidates will be undertaken in Perth and online, through the developing collaboration that is taking place across the UCA theological colleges.
The Synod recently also appointed a Deputy General Secretary who has specific responsibility to drive the Strategic Plan, through the coordination of collaborating groups and the release of funding which is being made available through the newly established Uniting Church Foundation Trust.
6. FUNDING THE MISSION
The Synod has faced large deficits for several years. This has been drastically reduced in the last triennium as costs and the challenge to beneficial contribution of Synod staff has come under review. For the last two years the Synod has broken even on costs and it is the intention to operate on a balanced budget from 2019.
For 2018 however, the Synod authorised a significant budget deficit ($1.4 million) to fund the inaugural year of the Strategic Plan. In subsequent years the Strategic Plan will be funded through the Foundation Trust which has been replenished through the sale of surplus property and other sources to create a viable corpus for an ongoing future.
7. WORKING WITH CONGRESS
The WA Regional Committee of Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress had been developing plans to become a separate Presbytery but these were forestalled by a review by the National Committee of Congress. The Synod works closely with Congress in the development of plans and budgets, including the revitalisation of Beananing Kwuurt Institute (BKI). A language research project is underway and the Board of BKI are developing plans to effectively build relationships within the Indigenous community in WA.
8. THE ROYAL COMMISSION INTO INSTITUTIONAL RESPONSES TO CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
The Synod Royal Commission Task Group has provided effective leadership to the Synod in guiding responses from the Presbytery, Schools and Agencies. Two staff are now employed in a Safe Church Unit to provide training and policy guidance to the Synod and responses to survivors seeking records and/or redress.
This team also monitors professional standards and compliance with the Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct policies. Regular Safe Church Awareness Training Workshops are held across the Synod. In order to ensure an effective roll out the Standing Committee has approved a consequence policy for non-compliance with the training standards for the Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice, and Safe Church Awareness Training.
Finally, we pray with Paul, that “being rooted and grounded in love”, we may grasp “the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ”. We seek to remind ourselves that God “is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever”. (Ephesians 3:19-21 NRSV)
Rev. David de Kock