Rightly explaining the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. So writes Paul to his “beloved child”, Timothy, in the second letter that we have addressed to this co-worker.

(On the reasons why this letter may well not have been written by the apostle Paul himself, but by one of his followers after Paul’s lifetime, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/10/01/in-the-name-of-the-apostle/)

The letter presents a scenario that sees Paul in prison (1:8; 2:9), in contact with a group otherwise unknown from his letters—Eubulus, Pudens, Linus and Claudia (4:21). As Paul was previously in Corinth and Miletus (4:20) and is in Rome as he writes (1:17), the letter itself suggests a time near the end of his life. He writes, we are led to believe, as a mature believer, imparting wisdom to a younger co-worker.

This assumption is supported by some of the imagery used, with Paul describing his life as “poured out as a libation” (4:6) and stating that he has “fought the good fight” (4:7). We know virtually nothing of this period from Acts; the last description of Paul that we have in Acts (28:30–31) is generalized and non-specific, so we can’t cross-check with anything there.

This letter, like 1 Timothy and Titus, gives indication of disagreement and conflict within the early Christian communities, with varied understandings of faith being present in the place where the recipient of the letter is based.

 The opponents envisaged in this letter are described largely with reference to their verbal activity: they utter “profane chatter” (2:16), their “talk spreads like gangrene” (2:17), they engage in “wrangling over words” (2:14) and “stupid and senseless controversies” (2:23); they “captivate silly women” (3:6) and their “myths” are listened to by people with “itching ears” (4:3–4). The author certainly possesses a vivid vocabulary!

The author contends that these opponents are “people of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith” who oppose the truth (3:8), “wicked people and imposters” who deceive others (3:13); they have been “ensnared by the devil” (2:26). The long list of vices (3:2–5) might also be inferred as applying to these people. The rhetoric is aggressively antagonistic.

 The one specific identifying mark of these people who have “swerved from the truth” is their assertion that “the resurrection has already taken place” (2:18). Against this, the author refers to the future appearance of Jesus (4:1, using the Greek word epiphaneia, most unusually for Paul). There is also a quotation of scripture to refute the heresy (2:19, citing Num 16:5 and Isa 26:13).

Paul offers clear guidance to Timothy as to how he is to deal with such opponents. He provides Timothy with short, concise summaries of the faith that they share (2:11-13; see also 1 Tim 2:5-6 and 3:16) and advises, Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. So Paul instructs Timothy, whom he charges to be an apologist (one who contends verbally, and vigorously, for the faith).

The apologetic that Timothy is to exhibit is succinctly expressed in the excerpt from the letter set in the lectionary as this Sunday’s epistle reading; Timothy is to rightly explain the word of truth (2:15).

This letter shares an apologetic quality with the first letter to Timothy, in its concern for “godliness” (2 Tim 3:5), “the truth” (2 Tim 2:18, 25; 3:7, 8; 4:4) and “the faith” (2 Tim 1:13; 2:18; 4:7). It provides various indications of the content of this faith: an epitome in three short clauses (2:8), a more discursive exposition of “the gospel” in poetic form (1:8–10) and a five-line hymn (2:11–13), introduced as yet another “sure saying” (2:11).

Paul, the nominal author of this letter, is set forth as a model for Timothy; he is described as having been “appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (1:11) who provides “the standard of sound teaching” (1:13).

This “sound teaching” is entrusted to Timothy (1:12), who is exhorted to “guard the good treasure entrusted to you” (1:14). That’s the “word of truth”, direct from Paul. This word, in turn, is to be entrusted to “faithful people” (2:2) who in turn become teachers. So the letter clearly explains the way in which “the faith” is to be passed on from teacher to associate to local leaders. Paul’s authentic letters do not emphasise this line of authority in the same fashion.

 In his calling as a teacher, Paul has encountered suffering (1:12; 3:11), but he has placed his trust in Christ (1:12) and Christ has strengthened him (4:17). According to this pattern, Timothy ought then expect to suffer (2:3; 3:12) and should stand “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2:1).

The imagery used to explain the leadership role entrusted to him refers to the soldier (2:3–4), the athlete (2:5) and the farmer (2:6); these images are consistent with the rhetoric of self-defence which Paul employs (1 Cor 3:8–9; 9:7, 10, 24–25). By contrast, the reference to household utensils (2:20–21) runs counter to the way Paul used similar imagery (“we have this treasure in clay jars”, 2 Cor 4:7).

 The author of this letter expresses a firm confidence that he has gained “the crown of righteousness” (4:8) in his eternal destiny. For Paul to write this would be unusual, as he elsewhere uses this imagery to describe other people (not his own destiny) as his crown (the Philippians, Phil 4:1; the Thessalonians, 1 Thess 2:19–20).

As the letter draws to a close, the author asserts that “the Lord will rescue me…and save me” (4:18). This heavenly rescue, assured for Paul, is promised also to those who faithfully exercise their ministry; Timothy, and other leaders, will find themselves in the company of Paul, in the heavenly kingdom (4:8). It is noteworthy that Paul regularly expresses hope in his future fate, without claiming clear certainty about it (Rom 5:1–2; 8:24–25; 1 Cor 9:10; 2 Cor 1:9–10; Gal 5:5).

It is doubtful, to me, that this element of the letter reflects Paul’s regular way of thinking. My reading of Paul’s letters is that he has much more of a concern for the present realities of life, and how the Gospel is at work in the present, than with the promise of a future off in the distance. He does not dismiss the future; but his energy and passion is oriented towards living by faith in the present.

The letter provokes us to ponder what it is that we regard as essential to the word of truth, how we go about rightly explaining that word of truth, so that others will be grasped by the good news and feel welcomed and affirmed within the community of faith.

 

See also https://johntsquires.com/2019/10/01/in-the-name-of-the-apostle/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/17/harness-the-passion-but-restrain-the-rhetoric-musing-on-the-role-model-which-paul-offers-in-galatians/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/17/let-your-gentleness-be-known-to-everyone/

Gracious openness and active discipleship as key characteristics of church membership

Today, in the Congregation where I am serving in ministry, as a group we refreshed our membership and reaffirmed our commitment to active discipleship within the Congregation and the community where it is based.

The classic way that we deal with membership in the church has been in terms of status. This is how membership is defined, both in the Constitution of the Uniting Church as well as in the Regulations which govern the ways that we operate. The status of a person can be identified in that we are baptised members, or confirmed members, for instance.

So, the questions asked to determine membership are along the lines of: Is the person baptised? Has the person, if they were baptised as an infant, confirmed their baptism by a public declaration of faith? Or has the person been received into this Congregation from another denomination?

That is how we have usually compiled membership roles. Identify the date of your baptism, or the time when you confirmed your faith, or show a letter of transfer from another denomination. All of that is in terms of status. It is about setting good boundaries, defining clear limits. It is a closing off of the membership list at a clearly demarcated point.

Another way to approach membership is in terms of function. In this approach, the questions become: How does the person express the commitment of membership? What tasks and responsibilities might reasonably be expected from the person? How is a person’s faith commitment evident in their daily lives? These are matters of how the person functions as a member. This is about being active within the group, and about seeing the boundaries of the group as fluid, transparent, open.

There is a section of the UCA Regulations which provide a guide for membership that is more dynamic than the status categorisations, that sets out what is expected of members in a UCA Congregation in active, dynamic terms. The section is a description of Confirmation, in terms of the key markers that will be expressed by a member.

CONDITIONS AND MODE OF CONFIRMATION

1.3.3 Confirmation shall be according to an order which meets the requirements of the Assembly and which makes provision for the candidate to declare: acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, determination to follow him in daily life, intention to participate actively in the fellowship of the Church and to support its work, and resolution to seek the extension of the reign of God in human society.

There are four key features in this paragraph:

* acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord

* determination to follow him in daily life

* intention to participate actively in the fellowship of the Church and to support its work

and

* resolution to seek the extension of the reign of God in human society.

This offers an understanding of membership in terms of a gracious openness, which is not bound by legalistic requirements, but which celebrates the active participation of people in the life of the church. This more accurately reflects the nature of the church as a inviting community of grace and inclusion, rather than as a closed book matter.

When we raise the issue of membership within the church community, I propose that we do it NOT in terms of “are you baptised and confirmed?”, NOT in terms of “do you attend Sunday morning worship?”, NOT in terms of “are you on the rosters?”, or “do you contribute financially?”, BUT rather in the terms set out in Regulation 1.3.3, to foster this sense of gracious openness.

Thus, we would be looking for people to make commitments in various ways: first, a faith commitment, traditionally expressed in terms of commitment to Jesus as “Saviour and Lord”; and second, to the local community of faith in Queanbeyan, in four specific ways.

One element is that people would express their commitment through active discipleship in their daily life. That is, discipleship is not measured primarily by what people do on Sunday, but by their deeds and words on each and every day of the week. It seems to me that, after expressing faith in Jesus, this aspect is the primary measure of membership.

Good members are active disciples. How that is expressed is worked out differently by each person, in accord with the gifts that the Spirit has given them, for their specific ministries.

Alongside this, there is a commitment to active participation in the fellowship of the Church, which can encompass the various ways that people gather together under the umbrella of the UCA: in Sunday morning worship, in weekly coffee groups, in fortnightly discipleship groups, in the regular bible study groups of the congregation, in the prayer group, in Messy Church gatherings, in friendship group gatherings, and in other ways that people gather together.

Good members participate regularly in fellowship. Participation in any one, or more, of these gatherings contributes to the overall sense of fellowship that we share as a community of faith. No one gathering is of more weight or more significance than any other.

Membership also involves active support for the work of the church. This can be in physical ways, through providing morning tea or mowing the grass or counting the offerings or reading scripture in worship or leading worship in the aged care facility or praying regularly for the people of the church and the mission of the church … and in many more ways.

It can also be in financial ways, through contributing a regular offering to support the work of the church (and such offerings may be given electronically or directly during worship). Good members are supportive of the ministry and mission of the church.

It is also clear that membership involves a commitment to work for the reign of God in human society. This can take many and varied forms: assisting in preparation of meals for the needy, participation in rallies relating to climate justice or justice for refugees, serving with Meals on Wheels or visiting people in a hospital or an aged care facility, taking people shopping when their mobility is limited or providing meals for people whose domestic situation is difficult, and in so many more ways.

Good members are working for the health and flourishing of others in society.

In association with supporting the mission and ministry of the church, and seeking the reign of God in our society, we might reasonably expect that good members are also willing to bear witness to their faith commitment, to offer words alongside of deeds, to speak about their faith as they participate in fellowship and serve others in need, to testify to their faith as they stand for justice and work to encourage one another.

And although it is not specified in the formal documentation of the church, it would make sense for us to be wanting to talk about what we value, to testify to the one who loves us, to share faith in appropriate ways with others. That might provide a fifth mark of the church: good members are committed to discipling others.

Of course, this looks like a long and daunting list. And it is! Probably there is no one of us who could affirm that we do all of these things each and every week of our lives. Yet, the list is aspirational (we aspire to be like this) and visionary (this is what we imagine we could be like). It is a good list for us to commit to.

I hope that all congregations are able to demonstrate this gracious openness as they encourage members to be active disciples.

Climate Change: a central concern in contemporary ministry

This year, I am sharing in ministry with a colleague who has a brief for fostering discipleship amongst young people, with adults open to fresh expressions of being church, and for strengthening community connections in our local area. She is my guest blogger for this post.

Thanks to Pastor Amy Junor for thoughtful words about the impact of climate change and centrality of this issue in ministry today.

The morning of Climate Change Pastoral Care training, we stood in a circle, acknowledging the traditional owners of the country on which me met. Smoke swirled up from the ceremony we had just shared. I stood with my hands being squeezed by two strangers, and I squeezed back my acknowledgement of their presence. We were outside, under beautiful trees – preparing, to ask together how we care for ourselves and others in a world where climate change is an encroaching issue.

Later in the morning, I was text-messaging members of my faith community about the statistics we were reminded on in the morning session. I told them I was feeling emotional, grieving again at the grim picture before us. I entered a session afterwards where we were given 10 things that ministry agents can do to help care for people experiencing climate distress. Number 8 was to live in a well-functioning and connected community where the burden can be shared. I told my people that I am grateful that we can speak about these things together.

In the afternoon, we listed to voices from our nearest neighbours in the pacific islands and what climate change means for them. We heard from indigenous voices. We spoke together about how we hold the information about our situation and respond helpfully and practically. I drove home that evening in the middle of an enormous rainstorm – the wild world we are called to care for refusing to be ignored. The first line of Psalm 19 played on repeat in my mind.

Fast forward a month, I am in a Generation Next conference in Canberra where attendees consider the health and wellbeing of young people. I ponder the anxiety about climate change that is clearly being announced to us via the actions of our young people (e.g. climate strikes). I wonder how we nurture the generations we are yet to see in a way that equips them to deal with the stress and pressures they will experience in a changing climate.

Two weeks later I am completing a sacraments course in Canberra Region Presbytery. I think about how the natural world plays such a central role in how we worship God. I wonder what it would sound like for our churches to share sacraments specifically acknowledging and committing to our shared stewardship of the planet.

Fast forward to Synod 2019 at Knox Grammar School in Sydney. As the Synod considers a proposal for action on climate change, one of the speakers asks all the people at Synod who are under 40 to stand. He gestures around the room and says ‘all these people are…’ – well, I won’t repeat here what he said exactly because it is an expletive. I wished strongly that this was news, but those exact words are frequently used in self-reference by my peer group (20-40-year olds) when they speak about their future considering climate change. I message my faith community and tell them about the proposal. We celebrate that a body of the wider church recognises the issues and corporately chooses to act.

I text messaged my youth group, asking what they know and think about the issue. Two girls respond; ‘VERY concerned about our climate + the environment in general’ (yes, one of them capitalized the ‘very’).

I have a friend who has been part of our congregation and is one of the most environmentally responsible people I know. She lives in a way that means her footprint on the planet is minimal, with very little waste and very much recycling. She said to me at one point as we spoke about climate action; ‘we don’t need one person to do this perfectly, we need everybody to be doing this imperfectly”. This has stayed with me as I have processed these stories.

In fact, another of the best ways we can care for people (and young people especially) is to be actively modelling proactive (if imperfect) care for the creation around us.

Maybe for you the first step is changing an aspect of your lifestyle to be more sustainable. Maybe for you it is working with your congregation to minimize the waste generated by your Sunday morning service. (There are resources relating to local congregations at http://ecofaith.org/ and https://sa.uca.org.au/justice-advocacy/environmental-advocacy/ea-resources)

Perhaps you want to start by contacting Common Grace to learn more about what you can do. (https://www.commongrace.org.au/climate_change)

You may even write a letter to your local MP informing them of changes that could be made in your neighbourhood to combat climate change.

These stories and others like it are far from over. I hope that we as followers of Jesus can step forward gently, squeezing hands as we acknowledge and grieve the reality and commit to hopeful action together.

Amy Junor, July 2019

See also https://johntsquires.com/2019/07/09/advocacy-and-climate-change-growth-and-formation-treaty-with-first-peoples-synod-2019/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-ii/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/05/to-care-for-honour-and-respect-the-creation-we-need-to-stopadani/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

Advocacy and Climate Change, Growth and Formation, Treaty with First Peoples: Synod 2019

Synod this year was a rich experience of being the church. In the church, we are young and old, and at every point in between. In the church, we are black, brown, and white; we have round eyes and almond eyes, curly black hair and shiny bald pates, flowing blonde hair and cropped short hair.

Around 15 people from the Canberra Region Presbytery attended the three days of Synod this year, in grounds of one of the Uniting Church schools, Knox Grammar, in Wahroonga. We were part of over 300 people who participated in the meeting.

During Synod, we worshipped. Each day began with worship, supported by an amazingly-gifted group of musicians, filled with prayers and songs and scripture and silence. Each day ended with worship, with an act of reflection based on doing, not just listening.

At regular points, we were invited to pause, reflect, share, or pray about what we had been considering. In one session, we prepared for prayer by writing words of gratitude on a piece of paper, folding it into the shape of a plane; and then we prayed by sending the plane shooting through the air to the accompaniment of a resounding AMEN!

During Synod, we listened. Principal Peter Walker led three studies on scripture, drawing from the letters of Paul as well as medieval and reformed church leaders, focussing us on the Christ who is the unifying centre of our diversity. Pastor Jon Owen spoke of working on the ground with people, in inner city Melbourne and now, in his current role with Wayside Chapel in Sydney.

And we listened some more. Karina Kreminski inspired us to consider “what in the world is God up to?” in our neighbourhood. And Josh Gilbert, a young indigenous farming man, spoke with passion and commitment about how it is possible to have an impact, to make the changes, that will enable us to reduce our carbon footprint and move towards a healthier environment for future generations.

During Synod, we deliberated. Each day we listened to proposals, deliberated about clauses, discussed action plans, explored and debated and applauded and sighed and waved cards, making decisions about matters of significance within the church and across our society. This is the business component of Synod, and it is always important to give adequate time to prayerful consideration and thoughtful discussion of the array of proposals presented to the Synod.

In two sessions, we met in smaller Discernment Groups of about ten people, to give focussed attention to one or two specific matters each day. Feedback from each group is then collated and fed back, the next day, to the Synod meeting in,plenary session. This is an important part of the way that the Uniting Church attends to business in its councils. Each person’s view is important, and Discernment Groups provide an opportunity for everyone, even the shyest person, to contribute to the making of policy.

One thing that the Uniting Church does well, is advocate. On the first day, we spent a productive time exploring a comprehensive report on what is being done, and considering what might be done, to advocate for the needs and of particular groups in our society. The Uniting Church has been the lead body in seeking fair treatment in relation to illicit drug usage, and very active in the Give Hope campaign for Asylum Seekers and Refugees.

The Uniting Church has been involved in the broad community movement to seek better arrangements for Affordable Housing in Sydney, and relentless in pursuing responsible living within our environment and climate change advocacy. There has also been involvement in policy development relating to domestic and family violence, as well as the scourge of poker machine gambling. We were asked to consider what other issues required attention.

In one session, a large group of younger members of the Synod gathered on the stage, along with the Uniting Earth Advocates and the Uniting Director of Mission, Communities and Social Impact. They made a compelling presentation which convinced the Synod to adopt a Climate Change Strategy Plan. This has multiple elements, each of which needs significant and sustained buy-in from all of us across the Synod.

We adopted another proposal which urges the people across the Synod to Focus on Growth in a wide variety of ways: growth in discipleship and growth in relationships, as well as growth in numbers and in impacts. This is to be a priority for Congregations and Presbyteries in the coming years.

We approved a Renewed Vision for Formation, to engage people across the church in forming leaders in local contexts, discerning those gifted for ministry, and providing deeper Formation all pathways for those candidating for a specified ministry within the church.

And we enthusiastically supported a set of proposals, shaped around the theme of NAIDOC Week 2019 (Giving Voice, Telling Truth, Talking Treaty) to encourage people across the church to become better aware of how to relate to First Peoples and to advocate with our governments for treaties to be established with First Peoples nations.

During Synod, we learnt and rejoiced. There were evening events outside the ‘business sessions” during Synod: the screening of the powerful documentary ‘Half a Million Steps’, highlighting the plight of people struggling to access drug treatment as part of the Uniting-led Fair Treatment campaign; and a Saturday night festive Revivify Worship Event with music from various cultures and a keynote address from Jon Owen.

During Synod, we made a bunch of regular administrative decisions. People were elected to vacancies on each of the four Synod Boards, as well as a new group of twelve people to serve as members of the Standing Committee of the Synod until the next meeting in 2020.

In a most unusual (but understandable) move, Synod decided to extend the term of the Moderator, Rev. Simon Hansford, by another three years. With this extension, the Moderator’s term will now finish in 2023. The combination of significant turnover of senior leadership within the Synod, and changing expectations in society, were the motivators for this decision.

Members of Synod are drawn from all fourteen presbyteries across NSW and the ACT, as well as from the Congress of First Peoples. Not every congregation has a person present at Synod—some have multiple members present. There is always an equal number of ordained and lay people attending, and CALD groups were particularly in evidence throughout the meeting—Korean, Tongan, Fijian, Samoan, Kiribati, and no doubt a number of other ethnicities. It was great to see the substantial number of younger delegates present. Almost one third of the membership was attending their first Synod meeting. We well depicted the diversity of people of faith in our contemporary church.

The meeting ended with a final worship service, featuring lively music, moving prayers, and thoughtful reflection on the three days of this gathering.

Synod meetings always serve an important personal function as well. After a couple of years interstate for Elizabeth and myself, this meeting offered us both opportunities to catch up with friends and colleagues from many different locations, as well as to meet new people and find out about the challenges and opportunities facing these folk. Those opportunities were greatly appreciated. It also offered opportunity to network in strategic ways about specific matters in our current placements. So that made attending the Synod a most worthwhile, enjoyable, and productive experience.

There are reports on many of the matters noted in this report, on the Insights website. Go to http://www.insights.uca.org.au/news

See also https://johntsquires.com/2019/07/07/giving-voice-telling-truth-talking-treaty-naidoc-2019/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/07/19/climate-change-a-central-concern-in-contemporary-ministry/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/09/19/discernment/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/26/the-uniting-church-is-not-a-political-democracy/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-i/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-ii/

The DNA of the UCA (part II)

Two years ago, for the fortieth anniversary of the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia, I prepared a resource exploring the key characteristics of this church. This week, for the 52nd anniversary, I am reposting those thoughts. Here is a second set of five key characteristics.

VI A very important dimension to being the church in this country is that we are a church in Covenant with the First Peoples of Australia. From its earliest years, the Uniting Church has been involved in actions which express our solidarity with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Older members will recall events at Noonkanbah Station in the Kimberley in 1980, when Uniting Church members stood in solidarity with the traditional owners, the Yungngora people, against the mining of their land.

The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) was established in 1985, and a Covenant between the UAICC and the UCA was implemented in 1994. This Covenant recognises that working for reconciliation amongst people is central to the Gospel.

In 2009, the Preamble to the UCA Constitution was revised to recognise the difficult history of relationships between the First Peoples and the later arrivals, as Second Peoples. Our present relationship is one which seeks to ensure that we commit to the destiny together which we share as Australians.

VII In the same year that the Congress was formed, the Uniting Church declared that it is a multicultural church, which rejoices in the diversity of cultures and languages which are found across Australia. The Basis of Union recognises that we share much, as Australians, with people of Asia and the Pacific. The Uniting Church has maintained strong relationships with churches from these regions, as well forging new links with churches in Africa and the Middle East.

The Statement to the Nation, issued in 1977, acknowledged that the Uniting Church seeks a unity that transcends cultural, economic and racial distinctions. Within Australia, there are currently 12 national conferences based on regional groupings and people from 193 language groups who belong to the Uniting Church.

Each Sunday, worship takes place in Uniting Churches in 26 different languages, not including the many indigenous languages used in worship by first peoples across our church.

Through UnitingWorld, we maintain partnerships with churches in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. We are truly a multicultural church. Through the Relations with Other Faiths Working Group, the Uniting Church has been active in developing relationships with other faith communities. We are firmly committed to constructive interfaith relations.

VIII Over 40 years, the Uniting Church has shown that it is a church which is prepared to engage in difficult discussions about contentious issues. Our Basis of Union commits us to learn from the insights of contemporary scientific and historical studies, and affirms that we remain open to correction by God in the way we order our life together.

In the early years of the Uniting Church, debates about Baptism were the focus of great controversy. Infant baptism had been an integral part of the worship practices of each denomination which joined the Uniting Church, but Ministers and Elders Councils were receiving regular requests for baptism by adults who had been baptised as infants but had come to a personal faith later in their lives. After debates stretching through the 1980s and 1990s, the Uniting Church has developed a clear set of protocols to cover such requests.

Another area of enduring controversy has been that of human sexuality. There is a wide diversity of opinion within society relating to such matters, and this diversity is present within the Uniting Church. Once again, from the 1980s though into the present era, lively debates regarding human sexuality have taken place in the various councils of the church. In dealing with such issues, we have learned how to debate with respect and integrity with ongoing conversations looking to employ a “Space for Grace” process to encourage respectful, empowering, and inclusive decision-making. Let us hope that this trait stays firmly embedded in the DNA of the UCA.

IX The Uniting Church inherited from its predecessor Churches a strong commitment to advocating for justice for all. Many Uniting Church congregations and members are actively committed to serving those people who find themselves on the margins of society. This commitment was clearly articulated in the 1977 Statement to the Nation and it has been evident in many actions undertaken by Uniting Church members over the decades.

The Uniting Church has joined in common cause with other groups and organisations in society, in advocating for a welcoming attitude towards refugees; in lobbying for a fair and just system of caring for people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness; in seeking equity for workers in their workplace; and in many other issues.

A regular stream of policy documents and public resolutions point to a clear and unbroken commitment to seeking justice for all.

X In like manner, the Uniting Church has always been a church which honours the environment and supports a sustainable lifestyle.

Although such matters are firmly on the radar of the public now, they have long been integral to the DNA of the UCA. Once again, the 1977 Statement to the Nation flagged such commitment. A series of subsequent documents attest to the ongoing determination of the church to live responsibly, in such a way that we minimise the damage we cause to the environment in which we live.

Our partnerships with Churches in the Pacific have intensified our awareness of the negative impacts that are resulting from climate change. We know that we need to act now, to reduce the threat.

So, many congregations and individual members of the UCA are seeking to implement practices that will reduce their carbon footprint on the planet. We know that we owe it to future generations, to live responsibly in the present.

For the first five key characteristics, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-i/

So: these are ten strands to our DNA, as far as my thinking is concerned. What about you?

Would you add anything? Take anything away?

What do you think are the essential aspects of our UCA DNA?

See also https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/15/what-i-really-like-about-the-basis-of-union/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/20/alongside-the-basis-of-union-there-was-the-statement-to-the-nation/

The DNA of the UCA (part I)

Two years ago, for the fortieth anniversary of the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia, I prepared a resource exploring the key characteristics of this church. This week, for the 52nd anniversary, I am reposting those thoughts. Here are the first five characteristics.

I When the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches joined together in 1977 to form the Uniting Church in Australia, they declared that this union was both in accord with the will of God, and that it was a gift of God to the people of God in Australia.

Since then, the Uniting Church has been a church which is committed to working ecumenically with other Christian denominations. That commitment is one very important aspect of our DNA as a Uniting Church.

We belong to the National Council of Churches in Australia and the World Council of Churches, where we co-operate with many denominations.

Nationally, we have participated in ongoing conversations with other denominations (Anglican, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic). At the grassroots level, our ministers participate in local ministers’ associations in hundreds of towns and cities across the nation. We are an ecumenical church.

II The Uniting Church is a church which values the ministry of all the people of God and seeks to order itself in accordance with the will of God. Our Basis of Union affirms that every member of the church is engaged to confess Christ crucified, and every person is gifted by the Spirit to engage in ministry in their own particular way. We are a church that values the ministry of each and every person.

Throughout the last 40 years, we have held our structures and forms of ministry accountable to ongoing scrutiny. Alongside the Ministry of the Word, to nurture and guide Congregations, we have introduced the Ministry of Deacon, to focus attention on people living on the margins.

We have also undertaken important conversations about membership and the relationship of Baptism to Holy Communion. We now have a clear commitment to an open table when we gather for The Lord’s Supper: all who are baptised (whether adult or child, whether confirmed or not) are welcome to share at this table.

III The Basis of Union makes it very clear that we are a church which is committed to equality and mutuality of women and men in ministry. Even before 1977, the three previous denominations had ordained women to ministry.

Since 1977, many women have stood on an equal basis alongside men, as Ministers of the Word, Deacons, Elders, Church Councillors, Lay Preachers,
Lay Presiders, Chaplains, and Pastoral Carers. We value the insights and experience of women.

In this our 40th year, lay and ordained women serve in leadership positions across all councils of the Uniting Church from Presbytery Chairpersons to Moderators to the Assembly General Secretary. Many couples minister together as husband and wife. Gender equality is most certainly part of our DNA!

IV Another contribution that the UCA has made has been to highlight the importance, when we gather in council, of being open to the Spirit, and seeking to discern the will of God.

We live this out in our councils by practising a process of consensus decision-making. The Manual for Meetings sets out the various elements that are involved in making decisions by discernment: a time of information, a time of deliberation, and a time of decision-making.

The infamous “coloured cards” are only one small part of the whole. The focus is on listening to the Spirit before we speak, and striving to find a way forward that most, if not all, people can see as the will of God for the church. This way of decision-making, which originated in the UCA, has now been adopted by the World Council of Churches and a number of its member Churches.

V Over the last 20 years, the Uniting Church has developed a firm commitment to strong professional standards, for Ministers as well as for lay people who exercise leadership in the church. Our commitment to professional standards emerged initially in response to the problems of sexual misconduct within the church. A whole section of the Regulations is now devoted to this.

Since 1999, all Ministers have been expected to adhere to a Code of Ethics, and this has most recently been revised to provide a Code of Ethics Ministry Practice for Ministers and a Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders. Ministers and pastors undertake regular training in aspects of this code, in ethical ministry workshops.

This, too, is integral to the DNA of the UCA.

For part two, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-ii/

See also https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/15/what-i-really-like-about-the-basis-of-union/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/20/alongside-the-basis-of-union-there-was-the-statement-to-the-nation/

Discovering new futures … letting go of the old

This month, I am taking up a portion of my future placement in the Canberra Region Presbytery, in a 25% supply role, alongside of my 75% IIM Placement. This will run through into early next year, when I will move into the full time role as Presbytery Minister—Wellbeing in the Canberra Region.

I was asked to offer some reflections on the theme for the May meeting of Presbytery, when we will be considering what it means to be discovering new futures and letting go of the old. So, here goes …..

From time to time I hear people reminiscing about “the ways things used to be”. Often, the narrative is one of “things just aren’t as good now as they used to be”. You might know the script; it goes something like: “not enough people ‘come to church’ on Sunday mornings … we have no Sunday School … there is no Youth Group … the Women’s Fellowship has closed … the rosters have empty spaces … nobody wants to do the flowers … there aren’t enough greeters.”

I hear these things. I listen. I nod and make empathic noises.

I start to talk about how things are, indeed, different now. How the church is in a different place in society. How society itself is different, now, from 30 years ago, 50 years ago, 60 years ago. How people are looking for different things, now. How the Sunday morning four-hymn sandwich, sitting quietly and listening to a 20 minute monologue, is not what “younger people” accept as valuable, any more. (And some “older people”, too!)

I might push back a little more. What does this congregation offer, to people who are looking for a place to connect with their faith? How do we welcome people? How do we disciple people? How do we connect with people in the ways that they best appreciate and look for? What are we doing to grow our own sense of what it is that people in the community around us are hungering for?

I wonder whether this is the right line to take. I wonder whether this just reinforces the resistance and strengthens the frustrations of those who express these things to me.

So, could there be a different line of approach to take? From time to time, I mull over a different kind of response. One that goes something like this, instead:

The challenge that faces the church as our numbers decline, is in fact a wonderful opportunity. It is an opportunity for us to renew ourselves. It is an opportunity to become deeply incarnational. It is an opportunity for us to contextualise the way we express and live out our faith. It is an opportunity to discover new futures.

To be incarnational, means to enter fully into the reality of human life that we find all around us. It means to “take on the flesh” of the society of which we are a part.

(Don’t freak out—that is entirely biblical. That is what, we say, Jesus did, when he “became human” and “pitched his tent in our midst”—to paraphrase John 1:14.)

To be incarnational, means to live in this world, amongst our fellow human beings, as one of them, bringing into this situation a sense of the “more than” that the Gospel offers; a sense of the “dimension beyond” the immediate that we proclaim.

To be incarnational is to be contextual. To be immersed in the context. To be part of the community that lives, sleeps, eats, shops, works, plays, and relaxes, within the very neighbourhood where the church is.

Instead of yearning for more people to come to church on Sunday morning, perhaps we should become more active in engaging with people out there in the parks, the shopping centres, the gathering places, in our local community. These are the new futures waiting for us to discover them.

Instead of lamenting decline, perhaps we need to be seizing the day, grasping the opportunity, becoming deeply incarnational, ensuring that we are thoroughly contextual, as we discover the new futures that God has in store for us.

The church, in many places, has lost contact with people in the wider community. Long ago, the church was at the centre of society. Every local church was a community hub. People from the community, with minimal or no religious commitment, were regularly in the church, on the premises, interacting with church people.

Over time, the church lost those connections. We gradually moved closer to the edges. We lost this strong central position, this robust community engagement. Slowly, but surely.

So now, the challenge is to recapture that central position, to re-engage with the community, to reconnect with people across the spectrum of society, to be incarnate within the community, to let go of the old and discover our new futures.

The challenge of the moment is the incarnational opportunity. Can we hear the call, to let go of the old, and discover new futures? Let’s seize it with enthusiasm!