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Highfield Community Church. Photo: YouTube

The Downs eyes the future

The Downs Presbytery Minister Rev Neil Thorpe emphasised the importance of pausing and listening for opportunities for mission during his presentation to the 33rd Synod. “God is already at work in our community and it is important to create space and opportunities for people to connect with God,” said Neil.

His presentation included videos with an overview of congregations, faith communities and mission in The Downs, as well as the growth of the Highfields church plant.

The report outlined the diverse and challenging mission of this region which includes two patrol ministries, Leichhardt Patrol and Cunnamulla-Burke and Wills Patrol, within its boundaries. It noted that, given the extent of need in rural and small congregations and the decreasing resource base, Presbytery faces a future in which it will have limited capacity to meet these needs solely from its own resources.

In a context of population decline, large-scale changes in agricultural business and the relatively recent impact of the mining industry developing in the Surat Basin, the Presbytery has focused on developing a stronger and more corporate understanding of mission. A mission task group was formed in late 2016, assisted by a two-day workshop in February this year with Standing Committee and the Pastoral Relations Committee, as well as the work of Carolyn Kitto.

It is expected that proposals by the task group will be put to the November Presbytery meeting for consideration.

Synod members also heard that in late 2016 the Presbytery purchased the building complex at Birdsville from Frontier Services in order to provide the patrol minister with a base to maintain ministry in the Diamantina Shire.

Challenges ahead for The Downs include maintaining a Uniting Church identity in existing small congregations and in key locations.

“In remote locations and rural towns, the local capacity to support fully stipended ministry is diminishing to a point where external support needs to be considered. The challenge is for the Presbytery, in consultation with Synod, to determine which locations are critical for the Uniting Church to maintain an ongoing presence,” said the report.

Looking to the future, Presbytery consultations are identifying the need for congregations to establish new ways of engaging with their community.

“Those congregations that continue to seek a ‘comfortable’ option of self-focused ministry with the ministry agent primarily providing care to them, are unlikely to have a viable future,” said the report.

“The challenge for the Presbytery is to equip current and future ministry agents with the skills to engage and lead congregations in finding fresh ways of witness, worship and service in and with their wider community. This means cultural change in the expectations of Christian community and a willingness to release the ministry agent to explore further mission opportunities.”

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