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Navigating the financial crisis

WHEN I was told that this month’s Journey would take a retrospective look at the Fitzgerald Inquiry years, I found myself remembering the painful period that led up to that Inquiry and the impact upon the Uniting Church in Queensland.

In 1986, John Harrison took a look at the first 10 years of the life of the Uniting Church and entitled the book Baptism of Fire and that is certainly how it felt.

The pain of those first 10 years came from our attempt to express the gospel we were struggling with the relationship between the mission of the church and the social and political structures of our nation.

We gained a reputation as a church that took social justice seriously, was willing to address issues that affected our whole community and attempted to bear witness to God’s reign. Today we face a different experience of pain. The pain we now face is one of our own making.

We had hoped the Uniting Church Investment Service (U.C.I.S) would produce enough money to pay for the work of the Synod, allowing the contributions to the Mission and Service Fund (which come from congregations) to be used to fund Presbyteries and the mission grants to congregations and faith communities.

This led to some risky investments which proved faulty. When compounded by the Global Financial Crisis we now find ourselves in a situation where U.C.I.S cannot provide money to the Mission and Service Fund. This led to the decision to cease funding a number of Synod appointments.

The danger is that in these difficult times we want to withdraw and protect what is left. We try to retreat and hold onto what we believe is ours, to regain our sense of security.

When we respond like that we show that we are looking for our safety and security in the god of mammon. However it is the god of mammon that has failed us, not the God who sent the son that we might live.

Despite human sinfulness which led to our turning away from God, God has not turned away from us. Instead “while we were still sinners Christ died for us”.

God acted generously and invited us into a new reconciled relationship with God and with one another.

When we feel as though we are in the far country, facing famine and living on scraps, we need to turn our face towards home. We need to take seriously our place as children of God, entrusted with a mission as servants with Jesus Christ.

While many predicted the demise of the Uniting Church in Queensland because of our stand for justice and those who were treated poorly, the opposite happened.

In our attempt to proclaim the truths of Christ in wider social and political circles we were seen as people seeking, however imperfectly, to live out our calling.

According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Now is the time for us, as the Body of Christ, to take bold new steps in serving God’s mission.

Rather than becoming protective of our past and holding onto what we believe is ours, we need to act generously and passionately to see God’s reconciling work fulfilled in and through us.

I was excited at the last Synod when, on hearing of the financial situation we faced, people responded thoughtfully and prayerfully asking, “How can we help?”

Part of the response was to launch an immediate appeal inviting 1000 individuals or congregations to each contribute $1000.

That appeal has raised over $100 000 so far; further generosity would make a significant difference.

We need to see an increase in giving by individuals and congregations to the Mission and Service Fund.

This is the fund that enables the Synod to provide theological education for lay and ordained members; it funds the financial and property services that support the Church’s mission; it funds the Office of Moderator and General Secretary and it funds the Presbyteries.

All of these areas have been significantly reduced in the past 12 months.

We also need to make all under utilised property available to the Synod so that it can be sold or used in new ways to serve the mission of God.

We have a tremendous amount of property that we have received from generations before us that we regard as ours by right.

We need to recapture the vision and passion for the Kingdom of God that our forebears had and not simply believe that keeping the church doors open is the same as sharing with Christ in making God’s reign known in our midst.

While we are “on the way together” we can only continue if we reflect the love and generosity with which God has dealt with us.