“Not another ZOOM meeting!”

7 Nov 2021 by Rev Andrew Smith and Rev Dr John Squires in: Letters, Thoughts, News

“Not another ZOOM meeting!”

Andrew Smith and John Squires
Canberra Region Presbytery Ministers

It is more than likely that this cry went up in a number of households across the Canberra Region Presbytery some weeks ago, when the Pastoral Relations Committee wrote to Church Councils, advising of requirements for extending the authorisation of lay people who are currently recognised as Lay Presiders in their Congregations.

Because of the constraints of lockdown and the uncertainty of when restrictions were to be lifted, at that time the decision to offer refresher sessions online was the only realistic option. With authorisations due to explore at the end of 2021, the need was evident; and the solution was obvious. So, like it or not, a total of 32 people from across the Presbytery joined in the series of four Sacraments Refresher sessions that were offered in September and October.

These refresher sessions covered the understanding of sacraments in the Uniting Church, some current matters relating to worshipping online, the component parts of the liturgies for Baptism and Holy Communion, and the practicalities involved in each sacrament. Each session included case studies and plenty of opportunity for small group discussions as the topics were explored.

The capacity for lay people to preside at the sacraments was introduced in the 1990s by a decision of the Assembly Standing Committee, after having received advice from the then Doctrine Commission. (John Squires was a member of that commission at that time, and he well remembers the robust discussions as we explored the theology and practicalities involved in this issue.)

That decision, in the end reflected fidelity to what the Basis of Union states at the very end of paragraph 14, when it canvasses the possibility of a “reconsideration of traditional forms of the ministry”, noting particularly the “renewed participation of all the people of God in the preaching of the Word [and] the administration of the sacraments”.

Alongside the these sessions for Lay Presiders, which Elizabeth Raine and John Squires led, the two Presbytery Ministers collaborated to present two sessions on the Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders, which had been introduced by the Assembly Standing Committee some 30 years after the earlier decision about Lay Presiders. This Code applies to all volunteers who exercise leadership within the Church—Church Councillors, elders, worship leaders, chairs of committees, and team or activity leaders.

For Ministers and Pastors, as well as Chaplains and Candidates, a Code of Ethics had been adopted by the Assembly in the 1990s. That Code was revised in 2009 (it is now known as the Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice) and since that time, all those converted by that Code have been required to participate in a three-hour workshop, twice each year, to focus on one aspect of the Code, using the method of case studies to stimulate thinking and discussion. The sessions on the Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders provide a complementary opportunity for lay leaders to learn and share together, also using case studies.

In both of these training opportunities, it has been pleasing to see the growing partnership of the Canberra Region Presbytery with Riverina Presbytery. Already the Ministers and Pastors from the Riverina share in the online Ethical Ministry workshops that we offer each six months. This year, lay leaders from a number of Riverina Congregations participated in the Sacraments Refresher and Code of Conduct sessions.

Other online training opportunities have been offered this year by Andrew Smith, making use of the Godsend material developed within the Fresh Expressions movement, as well as some of the Mission Stories from a presbytery in Victoria. There was a further zoom session with Rev Christine Palmer about how principles and practices from Mission Shaped Ministry are being used to grow toward a Fresh Expression of Church in a new suburb and its surrounds in South-West Sydney, making use of video resources prepared by Rev Mat Harry who is New and Renewing Communities Catalyst in the Vic/Tas Synod.

These sessions emerged out of the weekly lay leaders online support gathering that Andrew Smith initiated in 2020 when the pandemic hit. The Godsend training series ran over the evenings of five Mondays. Average attendance was 15, including 14 from the Canberra Region Presbytery, two from Illawarra Presbytery, and one each from Sydney, Parramatta-Napean and Mid North Coast Presbyteries.
These sessions have also been a natural extension of the earlier training in Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM)—training that commenced in person in late 2019, but which moved online when the initial stages of the pandemic hit in March 2020. That online training was a collaboration with the Parramatta Nepean Presbytery as well as Cameron Eccleston of the Synod’s Uniting Mission and Education (UME) team.

This year two people from Canberra Region Presbytery are participating in online MSM training through UME with the Sydney and Georges River Presbyteries. Andrew Smith and Lauren Harkness (Managing Director of Rise Events and Sanctuary) recently joined online with the Illawarra Presbytery MSM cohort to present the unit about starting something new.
There have been other online conferences during the pandemic period that a number of people from the Presbytery have participated in, including the Out of the Box mission conference earlier this year, the Neighbourhood Matters training, and mentor training offered through UME. There has also been engagement from the Presbytery with online international conferences, including sessions with Fresh Expressions UK, and with Mark Berry about New Monasticism.

And Elizabeth Raine is currently drawing to the end of an online Wisdom Studies series, exploring the various books of the Wisdom literature that have appeared in the lectionary since the middle of the year. The weekly session, offered on Thursday morning and then repeated in the evening, has had over 60 people taking part—25 members from Tuggeranong, another 25 from a dozen other Congregations in the Canberra Region Presbytery, another group from the Riverina Presbytery, and some others from churches in Sydney.

Elizabeth offered this series after she had co-taught, with John Squires, two online units in the Living Our Faith series of training courses for Lay Preachers, through UME—that had almost 40 people from our Presbytery and a further 20 from the Riverina and other Presbyteries involved. Some of the participants in this course who are active in leading worship have been using the sessions as preparation for the sermons that they have been delivering in their Congregations on the following Sunday. With half of the Congregations in our Presbytery being lay-led (no Minister in placement), equipping and resourcing that lay leadership is vitally important work.

So—yes, another ZOOM meeting! But many of these meetings have been opportunities for connecting, learning, and sharing, growing in faith and discipleship, and better equipping ourselves for engaging in the mission of God!

The videos and resources for the Code of Conduct training sessions can be accessed at


The Sacraments Refresher sessions will be uploaded to the Presbytery website soon.

Videos of the Wisdom series of studies can be accessed at the YouTube channel of the Tuggeranong Uniting Church. Go to https://tuc.org.au and click on the YouTube icon at the top of the page.