One Church. If One Church is the “what” of Project Plenty’s focus on church’s identity, what is the “why” that undergirds this priority?
Perhaps the why of one church is to enhance the relational dynamics and operational efficiencies between all key stakeholders. This could lead to innovative opportunities, financial savings and a clearer sense of identity within the branding of the Uniting Church.
Or maybe the purpose is to ensure that risk is managed effectively. Or that a clearer line of sight across all the governance and regulatory demands of the church is maintained. The benefits are that the (one) church is empowered to become the best corporate citizen it can be by adopting a “fit for purpose” approach that leads to healthy organisational change.
Let’s adopt another lens. The “why” of one church might also be applied to the church as a missional movement, where the Uniting Church’s purpose emerges from scripture, the creeds and the Basis of Union. These sources establish that the church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The church is one because its unity is held together by the grace and love of God who reconciles people to himself through Jesus Christ. Take this away and the church becomes just another humanist organisation seeking to do good in the world.
As a missional movement, the Uniting Church in Australia holds that the congregation is at the heart of its life as one church. The Basis of Union declares that the local congregation is “the embodiment in one place of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping, witnessing and serving as a fellowship of the Spirit in Christ” (Paragraph 15). This does not exclude schools and agencies from being important contexts in which people participate in God’s mission, but it highlights that the congregation, through gathered worship, embodies the culture of God’s new creation and new humanity. It is from this gathered life that God’s people are sent to bear witness to the gospel through words and actions in their everyday living.
In light of this, being fit for God’s missional purpose requires the church to get out of its own way so that the love, hope, joy and peace of the good news of Jesus Christ gets all the attention. Articulating the fit for this missional purpose as one church is the relatively easy part. The “fit”, underpinned by the purpose of God’s mission, focuses the resources of the Synod on equipping the oversight responsibilities of the presbytery, which in turn strengthens the life and witness of local congregations. The hard part is having the wisdom and compulsion to live into this fit as one church to fulfil God’s missional purpose.
Rev Nigel Rogers
Rev Nigel Rogers is the Dean of Formation and Dispersed Learning at Trinity College Queensland.