Reflection 5: Rev Sandy Boyce
November 23, 2022
This reflection is part of a series offered by the Assembly's Growing in Faith Circle to continue reflection and engagement on the Uniting Church's founding document, the Basis of Union, 50 years after it was first published.
The series was inspired by and is a response to "The Basis of Union at 50 - It's Present and Future" - an online conference hosted late in 2021 by Pilgrim Theological College, which brought together more than 70 people nationally across the Church.
The intention in sharing these reflections is to continue and expand the conversation. These responses are looking for threads, themes, questions and possibilities weaving between, hiding amidst, and hoping across several of the initial reflections offered at the Conference.
Reflection 5: Rev Sandy Boyce co-convenor of the network of Deacons in the Uniting Church, President of DIAKONIA World Federation and Executive Officer of the Victorian Council of Churches
How does the Basis enable and/or limit the UCA’s capacity to develop forms of church, ministry and mission which engage the contemporary context?
For me, the locus of mission in the Basis seems primarily centred on the gathered church. Deacons are particularly sensitised to this, even those who work in congregations.
I also see anticipatory wording throughout the Basis - the church awaits with hope the day of the Lord Jesus Christ on which it will be clear that the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of the Christ, who shall reign for ever and ever (para 1); Jesus is a representative beginning of a new order of righteousness and love (para 3); the renewal and reconciliation of the whole creation; The Church lives between the time of Christ’s death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things; A pilgrim people on the way (paras 3 and 18). Plenty more examples!
The reign of God is clearly both future and already present - God's reign arrives wherever Jesus overcomes the power of evil' (Bosch, P.32), wherever the values of the reign of God are lived out.
The Basis says Jesus of Nazareth announced the sovereign grace of God whereby the poor in spirit could receive the Father's love. The style of mission and service has been radically re-thought in the past five decades since the Basis was prepared. 'The poor in spirit' is less a spiritual concept and now concretised. We read the biblical text through that lived reality. We now understand that it is not the church that has a mission, but that God has a mission in the world and invites the church to join as partners and co-creators.
We now less talk about church and mission as an add on, and more about the mission of the church. Mission is seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission.
Defining mission becomes important. Many will be familiar with the 5 marks of mission:
- to proclaim the Good News of the reign of God
- to teach, baptise and nurture new believers
(Clearly the first two are reflected in the Basis of Union)
- to respond to human need by loving service
- to seek to transform unjust structures of society
- to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
The final 3 are picked up in the 1977 Statement to the Nation and later the 1988 Statement to the Nation. One wonders if the Basis needs to be referenced at all when it provides a less than adequate scaffolding for the current missional context where justice making, peace building, inclusivity, hospitality, connectivity are some of the missional imperatives. Salvation is not limited to an individual's relationship with God. Evil exists in social structures as well as the human heart. Salvation is also about healing and wholeness and can be applied to situations which are life-denying for people and are part of the salvation for which we hope and to which we commit ourselves as Christian disciples.
The Report to the 1991 Assembly stated an important missional dynamic, that the church exists as both gathered and scattered. The focus is on Deacons, but it is also about the diaconal ministry of the whole people of God as an inescapable response to the Gospel. ‘Deacons in the Uniting Church are called: to be, along with the scattered members of the congregation, a sign of the presence of God in the everyday world; to be especially aware of the places in the community where people are hurt, disadvantaged, oppressed, or marginalised and to be in ministry with them in ways which reﬂect the special concern of Jesus for them; to recognise, encourage, develop and release those gifts in God’s people which will enable them to share in the ministry of caring, serving, healing, restoring, making peace and advocating justice as they go about their daily lives.’
There is no particular nod to this in the Basis (apart from referencing the order of Deaconesses and the nod to the renewal of the diaconate) but there is a clear missional imperative to connect church and community in our time and place and to engage in the prophetic task of speaking up for the marginalised. It's core to the place of Pilgrim in the heart of the Adelaide CBD.
Not surprisingly, for a new church, there is no reference in the Basis to the disruptive nature of the Gospel that is part and parcel of transformative, liberating mission, where there needs to be a preparedness to question and critique structures and systems that need to be dismantled and upended so that people can live with dignity, equality, and equity.
The Christology in the Basis speaks to the gathered church, but it may not be expansive enough for the scattered church. Jesus' mission and ministry embraced both the poor and the rich, the oppressed and oppressor, the sinners and the devout. He worked to overcome alienation and to break down division and hostility, deliberately crossing cultural and social boundaries.
Can the Basis serve as a catalyst for followers of Jesus to continue his mission in the world, to be those who actively co-create a world where justice prevails, where we seek the common good and respond in compassion to human need, where it is fair and equitable, where there is social and economic inclusion, and people are able to live with dignity? And where is care and justice for all creation?
The posture of the church towards mission, and as it orients its life to enflesh the good news in the world, is also important. The Basis speaks about serving the world for which Jesus died. It is interesting to consider what it means for the church itself to be a servant, taking on the posture of serving others beyond the walls of the church and setting aside power, privilege, triumphalism and control. Mission is best done with bold and deep humility, shared humanity, and solidarity and hospitality as companions on the way. The Basis was a document prepared at a time when the Church still had a recognised place in the fabric of society, but we can no longer claim that privilege. It is mission from the margins, affirming the agency of those who are marginalised, participating in their struggles and sharing their hopes.
There is much in the Basis that informs, guides and shapes our life together. The Basis also says the Uniting Church will stand in relation to contemporary societies in ways which will help it to understand its own nature and mission. So there is fluidity and flexibility, and opportunity for innovation and change, including fresh approaches to mission even if they are not specifically referenced in the Basis. We must make space for new voices at the table.
Rev Sandy Boyce is a Minister in the Uniting Church in Australia, ordained to the Ministry of Deacon in 2007. Sandy is co-convenor of the network of Deacons in the Uniting Church, and is the President of DIAKONIA World Federation. She currently serves as Executive Officer of the Victorian Council of Churches