There’s a bit of concern in some parts of the church about how we are going to get out of this, and will we still be the same.
Some are concerned about having access to financial resources to sustain us over this time, some about how we are making the most of this time in terms of our worship, witness and service to our communities and networks.
I’d like to address a couple of underlying issues that will both reassure and challenge us.
The Uniting Church is structured in such a way that all of the assets of the whole church are behind every part of the church. We are not all separate, stand-alone entities. Each part of the church has their particular authority and responsibility, but we aren’t autonomous parts.
This is of course, a deeply biblical principle—Paul articulates it clearly in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapters 12 and 13.
This is a tremendous benefit to us in times like this. Some other churches and a lot of not-for-profit enterprises are established as stand-alone enterprises and have no other backing or support than their own resources.
That means say, for the line of credit the Synod is offering parts of the church for this time of crisis, that in the final analysis, the whole church is behind that line of credit.
If an entity is struggling to be able to repay a loan, or can’t pay its bills, the members of the governing body won’t have to sell their homes to pay that part of the church’s debts. We will work this out together.
This relies on us all having some moral character—the moral character of recognising we all are connected to each other, and we all have to pull our weight to support each other.
Fundamentally, this is the theological issue that is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. I’m talking about the idea of “covenant”. The promise one party makes to another party that they will be faithful, that they will stand by the other, no matter what. That’s at the heart of the Old Testament story. Abram, the landless wanderer, without children, wakes up in the middle of the night, sees the stars, and hears God say, “I will bless you, give you a land and an inheritance,” and Abram trusts God, and so the blessing can flow. At Mt Sinai, God says to a motley mob of runaway slaves, the descendants of Abram, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” The whole story of the Old Testament is, “in the midst of human sinfulness, will God stay faithful?” and the answer is “Yes!” That’s covenant!
Christians believe that in Jesus Christ, the covenant established between God and the now named, Abraham, and his descendants, becomes available to all people. That’s the story of the New Testament, the story of the church of Jesus Christ. It is in Baptism that we are bought into this covenant relationship with God, through the ministry of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit.
We in the Uniting Church have sought to structure our life to reflect that fundamental truth.
Now any part of the church could decide, “Well, the rest of the church’s assets are behind us, so we don’t have to care.” Or even, “Great! Then we don’t have to change.” That’s the risk of covenant, because God doesn’t give up on God’s promises, so we could, if we wanted to, bludge off that; neglect to be truly faithful. That would be a grievous sin, however. It’s just like cheating on your family, really. It would diminish us profoundly. It would be an abuse of trust.
So we are all in this together. That’s a profound reassurance.
But the challenge is that this doesn’t mean we don’t have to change, that the way any part of the church is currently organised can stay the way it is because the rest of the church will pay. That’s also a form of abuse of trust.
Being “all in this together” means that we, in all the parts, have a responsibility to be the best we can be; to contribute to the whole as best we can, so that we can live, flourish, and grow in our ministry to the world.
It means we are answerable to one another. That’s what our various councils are for. It means being open enough to raise questions we don’t know the answers to.
Being all in this together doesn’t mean that we can, or should seek to, avoid really challenging questions about the way we are operating, either as a part of the church or as the whole church.
Being all in this together calls from us real character—truthfulness, humility, imagination, honouring the rest of the body of Christ.
So, there’s a few questions that arise, and come to particular focus in times such as this:
- “What changes need to happen to our ordinary way of doing business?”
- “What opportunities are present for us to fulfil our mission in these days?”
- Most fundamentally, “How will we live out the covenant we have with each other?”
Many of you are working out these questions. They’re really the questions underlying every governing body, all the time.
Our work together as a church in Queensland in Project Plenty has already set us on a good path.
We cannot avoid some challenging decisions and people will be, and have been, impacted by those decisions. We will do what we can to ameliorate those impacts.
Yet, we are “a pilgrim people, always on the way to a promised goal”, and our prayer, as prayed by our Uniting Churches in the Basis of Union, is, surely, that we will “look for a continuing renewal in which God will use (our) common worship, witness, and service to set forth the word of salvation for all people”; that “we are ready to go forward together in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church”; to “remain open to constant reform under his Word” (Basis of Union Paragraphs 3, 1).
The best of all is, God is with us. That hasn’t changed. And it never will.