Country, Coast, and Capital: Our Presbytery

24 Apr 2022 by Rev Dr John Squires in: Letters, Thoughts, News

Country, Coast, and Capital: the Canberra Region Presbytery

From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing

Have you ever wondered about the size and scope of our Presbytery, and what takes place in the Congregations across our region? Presbytery Ministers Andrew Smith and John Squires have prepared this overview of Presbytery life.

The Canberra Region Presbytery is a large Presbytery, stretching from Goulburn, Crookwell, and Yass in the north, along the Southern Tablelands into the Monaro Plateau, to Jindabyne and Bombala in the south. It also takes in the South Coast of NSW, from Batemans Bay to the Victorian border just south of Eden. It spans a distance of 460kms north—south, and about 180kms east—west.

Local Uniting Church people have beneficial stewardship of property in 44 locations in that region, arranged into 26 organisational units called congregations. Worship takes place, on a regular basis, in each of these locations, with active participation in services by local lay leaders, as well as active and retired Ministers and Pastors. This worship inspires and sustains the people in loving service of one another, local communities and beyond.  28 of these 44 locations are in rural areas, either on the south coast, or in the rural regions to the north and south of the capital area of Canberra and Queanbeyan. 

There are 16 properties in the capital area, which serves a population of almost half a million, with 16 ministry placements covering those Congregations. A further 7 ministers cover rural areas—so, as you can see, many of these Congregations are lay-led. That is a trend that has been evident in rural areas for some decades; it is now also starting to impact on urban churches.

The Presbytery is the body that provides oversight, co-ordination, and resourcing to each of these Congregations. The two key committees in this regard are the Pastoral Relations Committee, which ensures the pastoral care and oversight of all Ministers and Pastors as well as the Congregations themselves; and the Mission Strategy Committee, which works with local Congregations to develop viable mission plan, and which also contributes to the overall Presbytery Mission Plan. The two fulltime Presbytery Ministers resource these committees and ensure that their work is carried out.

The Uniting Church does not simply offer opportunities for people to worship each Sunday, or each month in some cases. A long involvement in aged care is evident in the two fine facilities run by Uniting in Canberra, as well as another one recently acquired in Eden. We employ chaplains in these facilities, as well as in the hospitals in Canberra; they work with quite a number of volunteers who provide pastoral care on a regular basis.

Many Congregations are active in outreach to their local communities; providing food for people in need is a common outreach, as is seen by the Food Pantry at Eden, Monty’s Place at Narooma, PivotPoint at Bateman’s Bay, the Community Kitchen at Jindabyne, the Community Meals Programme in Goulburn, the Early Morning Centre in Canberra Civic, the Emergency Food Programme at Tuggeranong, St Benedict’s Community Centre in Queanbeyan, and a number of other local enterprises.

Shelter for the homeless has been provided for some years through Safe Shelter at St Columba’s Braddon and, more recently, the Pink Sleepbus for women at Tuggeranong. There are countless Op Shops run by Uniting Church Congregations with much assistance from community volunteers, in almost every rural town and in many of the Canberra suburbs. These Op Shops provide a safe and friendly haven for many people in the community, as well as offering low cost items for sale.

There are currently projects investigating how land held by the Uniting Church might be used to assist people with housing needs in the community in Bega, Curtin, and Queanbeyan. The Presbytery Property Committee provides key support for developing Uniting Church property for these kinds of projects, and for assisting congregations in the best care and use of properties in their stewardship for what we understand to be the purposes and mission of God.

Alongside local support for people in need, people in this Presbytery are active in advocating for the rights of people who are suffering—because they are refugees, because they have become homeless, because they have experienced domestic violence. These concerns are acted on by the Presbytery Social Justice Committee and by individual members. Through various organisations and groups. In addition, a number of Congregations have members who are active in local environmental groups, and Uniting Church participation in climate change rallies is always high. We believe that personal compassion and social justice go hand in hand.

A relatively silent way by which the Uniting Church is active can be seen in the observation that, in community groups and service clubs, the participation rate of people of faith is much higher, proportionately, than other people. Virtually every country town in the Presbytery (and, indeed, right across the country) has a good percentage of members in their service clubs from the local Uniting Church. 6% of people say, in the Census, that they attend the Uniting Church, but we’d like to think that our impact in local communities reaches many more than 6% of the people.

Our worship of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ and made present by the Holy Spirit, makes us committed to working for the common good alongside other people of goodwill in a wide range of enterprises and activities.