As a Presbytery - Addressing the Challenges of our time

30 Aug 2020 by Rev Dr John Squires in: Letters, Thoughts, News

Meeting as a Presbytery, addressing the challenges of our time

From Rev Dr John Squires - Presbytery Minister for Wellbeing and Secretary to Presbytery.
When members of Presbytery met by ZOOM recently, we voted to fill the position of Co-Chairperson of the Presbytery, using the *poll* facility provided by ZOOM. This enabled us to have a secret ballot, which the scrutineers could see to verify, for this position.

In testing the *poll* facility, we took a brief snapshot of the people who were attending this online meeting. The statistics are of interest as we think about who we are, what our calling is, how we respond to the challenges we face, and what our mission might be in the future.

Location. For some years now, we have referred to the component parts of the Presbytery in this easy-to-remember phrase: Country, Coast, and Capital. We are blessed with a diversity of locations, a diversity of Congregations (and one Faith Community) in our area. Our meeting on 15 August reflected that range of diversity. 56 people attended this Presbytery meeting: 45 voting members, and 11 others participating as observers or visitors. (There were also a small number of apologies form people unable to participate on the day.)

Of those 56 people, 40 people (71%) were connected with Congregations in the Capital area. Nine people came from the Coast, while the remaining seven came from Country Congregations. This almost (but not quite) represents the spread of Congregations across the Presbytery: there are 26 in the Capital area (that’s 60%), six in the Country (although there are sixteen locations where UCA worship is held), and five on the Coast (but with ten worshipping locations).

Lay and Ordained. In terms of category of attendance, 26 people (47%) were participating as lay members elected by their Congregation, while 16 ordained Ministers (26%) were present, and three people were attending as co-opted members. A few marked that they were visitors, or “just here for the biscuits” !

This breakdown represents the strong commitment in the Uniting Church to share the responsibility of governance and oversight amongst the whole people of God. Whilst some denominations have decision-making bodies that are made up entirely or overwhelmingly of ordained ministers, in our church we ensure that the number of lay members is never less than the number of ordained members. This is affirmed in the Constitution of our church: #27 for Presbyteries, #33(d) for Synod’s, and #40 for the Assembly.

It is also reflected in the clear affirmation in the Basis of Union, that “every member of the Church is engaged to confess the faith of Christ crucified” and that we will provide in this church for “the exercise by women and men of the gifts God bestows upon them” (para. 13). Those lay people who have gifts of spiritual oversight, discernment, strategic planning, and pastoral concern for the mission of the church, are precisely the kind of people we need (and we have) as members of our Presbytery.

The Presbytery relies on both ordained and lay members as it carries out its responsibilities to “stimulate and encourage the Congregations” (Constitution #26). The full array of such responsibilities are documented in detail in Regulation 3.1.3, under these headings: “oversight of Ministers, oversight of Congregations, wider work of the church, selection and oversight of candidates, ordination, accreditation or recognition of ministries, oversight of Lay Preachers, placement of Specified Ministries (detailed world which is delegated to the Pastoral Relations Committee), general administration, and other matters (including the provision of lay people to preside at the sacraments)”.

Age. The third question in the *poll* that members of Presbytery took when meeting on 15 August, was to indicate their age. The majority of attenders (70%) were aged 60 or more: 28% in their 60s, 38% in their 70s, 4% aged 80 or older. Another way to look at this set of figures is to note that two in five present at the meeting were aged 70 or more.

At the other end, 17% were in their 50s, 9% in their 40s, and just 4% in their 30s. And that set of figures makes very clear the challenge that we have, as a church, as a Presbytery, and within each of our Congregations. The challenge is to provide experiences of church that connect with people who are not part of the dominant demographic (the 60 and over people). The challenge is to shape our life as disciples so that we connect with people in the communities in which we live, shop, work, and play—so that the percentage of “younger” people will grow, over time.

To the future. A dedicated cohort of people have been meeting on a regular basis to explore this over the past year—initially, meeting in person, and then, when restrictions came into force, meeting online by ZOOM. There explorations have been through the Mission Shaped Ministry course, which has been taught in our Presbytery along with people from the Parramatta Nepean Presbytery. The course is oriented toward fostering fresh expressions of faith, which invite and involve people who are not currently part of our church life.

In the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the associated necessary restrictions, the challenge of growing fresh expressions and involving new disciples remains paramount. How are you grappling with this particular challenge?

Rev Dr John Squires
Secretary to the Presbytery
Presbytery Minister—Wellbeing
Canberra Region Presbytery
Uniting Church in Australia
0408 024 642
blogs on ‘An Informed Faith’