Synod ministers (both working and retired) met together at West Denton on March 6th for what the moderator described as “an opportunity for ministers to talk together about issues of concern generally but particularly about where God’s generous nature has been revealed in community and church amidst the financial downturn”. She added, “As someone once said ‘A budget is a theological document. It indicates who or what we worship.’”
Stuart Brock put pen to paper when he got home.....
What is the Issue?The issue presented was that of finance and the necessity to cut costs.
Perhaps the issue is wrongly focussed. Poor financial situation a symptom of a wider problem not the major issue. Finance and other resources should follow the determination of what we are about as a Church/Denomination. In stringent times prioritising even more important.
Where then is the URC going? Is it about ecumenism or is it about mission? The two are linked but where we put the emphasis determines policy.
For me, the key is the mission of the church. URC has been described as a pioneer denomination. Let’s blaze a trail for the renewal of the mission of the whole church and be experimental and risk takers. (Leaving things as they are is an even bigger risk!) Invite our sister churches to come with us. But we do not have the luxury of waiting nor of negotiating of positions on the way ahead. We must do it anyway, even if it is ecumenically inconvenient.
A definition of the URC’s task: to Share the Way of Jesus: to Live the Way of Jesus
So, find relevant ways of sharing and demonstrate the Way by the quality and integrity of our common life. I suspect that many people today are suspicious of ways of power in society and they are suspicious of organisations like the church that use/misuse power. (vide child abuse scandals of last decade)Question: Do people in our communities want to know about the Way?
Answer: evidence = roadside shrines, full retreat centres, demand for teaching on spiritual pathways (BUT not so much Christian!) popularity of books/websites on spirituality. Not conclusive evidence but suggests still real interest. If this is the case why are we concerned as much if not more for the plant and buildings than for the spiritual and mission dimensions of church life?We have a Gospel to proclaim (and live.) How?
Find ways to bring Christian spirituality back into the forefront of our church life. We have a treasure that is insufficiently being offered to both the church and the community around us. True spirituality will guide us into action for peace and justice at every level.
Practicalities:Privilege the mission of the church over the maintenance of existing structures.
Fit resources to agreed tasks. Any task that falls outside the agreed agenda for mission ruthlessly jettison or put on back burner pending more generous times.This would mean………
Buildings – Identify congregations that are in inappropriate buildings and persuade into rented halls or house church groups. There will be resistance and this will need to be sensitively handled. A policy as a Synod = agree not to further subsidise outmoded buildings. If necessary let these wither on the vine whilst maintaining pastoral care of congregation.
Adapt, for whatever uses are envisioned in the locality, remaining buildings. Sell all superfluous buildings and put money into mission projects and people.
Ministry – Effectively already down to 1 FT Minister per MP. No further reductions. The current situation is creaking and giving rise to stress and anxiety among remaining ministers.
Use FT Ministers as supervisory agents of the mission of their local MP, training local ordained ministry (one to every congregation) on apprentice model, acting as senior ministers chairing local team of FTM, NSM , LPs,Elders and providing vision, direction and encouragement.
Set aside ministers (or others?) with gifts of communication and getting alongside others to simply be in a spirit of presence and availability in their localities. (Models from the past – the Celtic wanderers). Current model = the role of the Holy Island director.
Set aside a gifted person for this ministry under SCM as a Synod missioner available for periods of time to go to a MP to practise and promote presence ministry.
OR use gifted ministers who have retired and could devote a percentage of their time voluntarily
Either way – such a person under discipline of responsibility to Synod via Ministries?)
Required: a retraining of all categories as well as congregations in this new pattern of ministry. Expectations must change if any new way is to work!! This developmental work to be the prime function of Synod
We are weary in well doing (often with poor results.) We all need encouragement! Ministers might find this in more frequent times of worship together with opportunity to share in a relaxed setting issues, problems and ideas. Try monthly ministers meetings for one year? No fixed agenda – just being and relaxing.
Congregations – why not regular worship together in some of our larger buildings –s ay quarterly. Nothing encourage more than than the occasional large gathering – we are not alone!
Simplicity – An antidote to notions of power.
Simplify our structures – only those groups and committees essential to maintaining staffing and promoting the mission of the church retained at every level of the structure.
Simplify our local church life – stop trying to run churches of today like the large organisational set ups of the Edwardian era. Only attempt to maintain those activities which enable worship and mission. Scrap everything else.
Simplify personal discipleship – living simply and sacrificially with the notion of sufficiency and no more – antidote to the overweening culture of having material prosperity at huge cost to others and to the planet.
There is much above which is about the death of old ways. But it is through death that we find life.
Today is an opportunity to let God reshape the church into something that can speak by its life and witness to our time and culture.‘Now is the acceptable time. Now is the hour of salvation.’