How do disciples learn to share faith and engage in mission? What does the Uniting Church expect of its leaders, both recognised and informal? How do diversity, culture and faith embrace each other? The Assembly meeting celebrates both the diversity and the unity of the Uniting Church, and poses significant questions around leadership, learning and education.
The August 2015 edition of Crosslight includes useful summaries of many significant matters considered by the national Assembly meeting in Perth, as well as some great photos that add to the Assembly meeting website.
Many of the decisions made, and others not made, highlight the need for further learning around discipleship and leadership. A key challenge is to support diverse cultural approaches to leadership and education. Expanding learning opportunities beyond the cognitive, linear and critical modes of Western education involves the use of story, art, drama, music, hospitality and community, as well as the more commonly structured education resources and courses. Respectful relationships take time and trust.
Leadership in the Uniting Church is a shared responsibility and process: often reliant on individuals with passion, initiative, charisma, intentionality, or perseverance (or all five, plus more!), but always shared in a community of faithful disciples who seek to discern and follow God’s invitation to mission and active faith. Effective leaders need self-awareness and reflection-in-action. Commitment to shared discernment recognises that my perspective is not the only possible faithful one; robust respect is needed to find an agreed way forward when your worldview and assumptions challenge mine, and mine yours.
When even experts disagree, how are local leaders to make sense of diverse perspectives and pressing challenges? How does a diverse network of faith communities discern between superstition and reliable evidence, or to live with difference and even paradox? What is the nature and identity of the Uniting Church within the universal Christian Church in the world?
The Assembly’s discussions and decisions on membership, eldership, oversight and governance, solidarity with and support of Congress, CALD and LGBTIQ communities, the ministry of Pastor, and the complex matters around marriage and theology – each of these and many more indicated the diversity of faithful expressions of discipleship across Australia. Space for Grace highlights the need for time to build mutual trust, and for careful listening to diverse cultural perspectives.
Globalised western culture seeks to create individualised consumers intent on meeting our own needs in a competitive marketplace, but the Christian faith tells us a different story. We are children of a loving God, members of a family that includes the marginalised and powerless, a community that challenges injustice or inherited privilege, and shares power as well as love. What does this mean in concrete terms? How do we discern the faithful path between inherited traditions and creative expressions of the gospel?
The Uniting Church has lived with this tension from its inception, and has encouraged different concrete answers to emerge in different contexts. In a sense the Assembly can be seen to decide as little as possible, while still setting a solid foundation for common worship, witness and service – and education. Adult educators recognise that much (if not most) learning is tacit: informal and often unconscious, in response to the changing demands of everyday life, and in particular to the challenges faced and problems solved. Educational networks such as the Assembly’s Formation, Education and Discipleship Working Group, and educational communities like the Centre for Theology & Ministry, cannot ‘solve’ the problems faced by the church – but they can (and do) provide a wide range of learning opportunities and resources, both formal and informal, to assist local leaders making sense of faith in contemporary contexts.
Take charge of your own learning, and look for opportunities to explore more deliberately, more deeply, and more broadly. Join with others also on the journey of faithful discipleship in service to the world in which Christ was incarnate, and for which Christ died, and was raised to new life. The Assembly meeting did not solve the problems faced by the church, but it did work hard to identify faithful foundations and creative space for the diversity of the Uniting Church in the challenging contexts of ministry and mission in the twenty first century. There is much more to learn, and many faithful companions for the journey.