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Forty years on, our hope lies in the great disruptor

June 19, 2018

Angry about the Uniting Church? Here’s how to make anger work for change

Is there any hope left for the Uniting Church? Over the last 40 years the Uniting Church in Australia has significantly declined in membership across the country. More congregations are being closed than started. The average attendance at worship services each Sunday is around 30 to 40 people.

The 15th Assembly is looming with the storm clouds of the same sex marriage conversation on the horizon. Our life now as a denomination is all consuming, making it difficult for many to see future possibilities for the renewal, growth and flourishing of the Uniting Church.

As the Dean of Formation I am passionate about seeing missional leaders formed and placed into ministry contexts where they can flourish. The question of whether there is sufficient hope within this denomination to inspire people to missional leadership is fundamental to this work.

Christ, the great disruptor

My response is that of course there is hope, even in the midst of the all-consuming nature of the now. Hope has a certain rhythm, a certain cycle. To break out of the now—that can so easily infuse a sense of hopelessness—requires a disruption. Christ is the great disruptor of the church. It is why the Uniting Church declares in its Basis of Union that Christ not only rules but also renews the church.

The cycle of hope requires a disruption in the now that allows for the “not yet” to (re)emerge. The disruption needs to cut deep into the fundamental reality of who we are, what we are capable of and why we exist. Effective disruption can create a new horizon for the Uniting Church in Australia that renews the understanding of our identity, purpose and capacity.

St Augustine said: “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

It is entirely appropriate that there is a righteous anger, a deep dissatisfaction in the Uniting Church at present concerning who we have become, the misalignment between our purposes and actions and the decline amongst many Congregations.

It is this type of anger, as opposed to the aggressive and vengeful expression that recklessly points the finger of blame, that should be a catalyst for change. Without courage, though, the change will never come and the anger will only fester.

Get real

Seeing the not yet, the new horizon full of possibilities, still requires a move from the aspirational to the real. We must not merely talk about what could or should be changed. Courageous decisions that lead to real change for the renewal of the church are what we need.

The Uniting Church has lived through 40 years and during this time there has not been any major review of its core structure, polity, culture and missional effectiveness. A major review could certainly consider areas such as:

•  What would renewal look like?

•  How could we increase our missional effectiveness?

•  Where are things working and what can we learn from this?

•  What changes in our culture, polity, structure and decision-making are needed?

Courage begins with the humility to let go of why, who and what we want the church to be now—and to consider renewal which will benefit those who will be living into the life of the church in the next 40 years.

Are we courageous enough to conduct a review with the humility and openness to explore concepts like non-geographic synods? Could we have a review that focuses more on what is central to our unity as a church rather than be driven by our diversity, which often perpetuates division and disunity?

Most of all, are we willing to let Christ renew our life as his church, no matter what we need to sacrifice?

Letting go

One of the greatest disruptors of the now is sacrifice—the willingness to let go of what we hold onto—so that Christ can give us something new that underscores our identity, purpose and capacity as the people of God.

Renewal of the Uniting Church in Australia is more important than any other issue facing the life of the church. A new, hope-filled landscape is what missional leaders need to be formed for. This is a courageous work of sacrifice that the church needs now for the next 40 years of its worship, witness and service.

Written by
Nigel Rogers

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