Under the theme “Expressing Our National Self”, people shared meals of hospitality, listened to the major trends of the world, discussed the challenges of social service, and talked about a common future.
It was at two symbolic locations, the National Press Club and National Museum, that our collective presence has a message – we are one. Church leaders and social service leaders came to the same space to share a communion of God’s love and discern a purpose of loving and serving our neighbours.
UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little opened the meeting by saying: “People are important, and change is possible”. She outlined the organisation’s mission - to work toward a healed and reconciled world in which all people thrive.
Social service is an essential part of the Uniting Church’s identity and mission. When the UCA was formed in 1977 our Statement to the Nation declared: “A Christian responsibility to society has always been regarded as fundamental to the mission of the Church”. Today the reason for us to be continually involved in social service is still our response to the Gospel value through active engagement in social affairs.
Social service has expanded the scope of the Uniting Church. The large footprint of the UnitingCare network speaks of something more than numbers and locations; it is a network of human relationships. God is indeed in the margins, using the margins to reshape the centre.
UnitingCare Australia’s National Chairperson Bronwyn Pike engaged the audience through table discussions. People discussed the topics “Expressing Our National Self”, “Collective Purpose and Proposition”, “National Strategy for Working Together”. A new social media “Zeetings” was used for table groups to provide feedbacks.
The forum is a platform for the faith-based ministry and the rights-based action to listen to each other, and more importantly to listen to the voices of people. Our vocation is about loving God and loving and serving neighbour; in a non-biblical language, that is to enable all people to thrive. In serving people we discover the loving purpose of God: each person is God’s beloved and created equal in the divine image. With our collective size, we are positioned to transform communities.
Some leaders have recognised that we have come a long way to work collaboratively. We have been brought together to address national issues like Redress, NDIS, Aged Care, and provided input into Out of Home Care. In the future, there are many ways that we can work together. Having a shared narrative between the church and the service network, mapping out the wide range of services nationally, enhancing network connections, developing an outcomes measurement framework, these are just some examples of working together.
In reflecting on the forum, Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer highlighted the shared vision of the Uniting Church and our UnitingCare agencies.
“This vision arises from the Uniting Church’s understanding of God’s deep desire for us and the whole of creation, for love, peace with justice, mutuality, respect, dignity, reconciliation, and healing. We see this vision embodied in the life and transforming mission of Jesus,” said Dr Palmer.
“Our conversations in table groups around our common purpose and strategies for working together have generated constructive ideas on how we could use the substantial expertise and gifts of the Uniting Church and UnitingCare Australia network to contribute to an Australia, where all people can flourish.”
The Uniting Church is a movement of pilgrim people. The national self of the service network is also in the making. This forum has highlighted two interrelated things for us: relevance and collaboration.
Our national identity is to be contextualised within trends and developments in the daily work of serving peoples.
Our public good is to be measured by outcomes for individuals and impacts in communities.
In order to be relevant to the changing context, community services and church identity are called to mutual affirmation – as partners within the life of the Uniting Church – to partake in God’s mission in the world.
Rev. Dr Ji Zhang is the Assembly’s Theologian-in-Residence.
Read more from UnitingCare Australia's 2018 Leaders Forum:
Uniting Church in Australia President Dr. Deidre Palmer delivered a blessing to mark the opening of the new UnitingCare Australia offices in Barton ACT.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving was delivered by Rev Dr Ji Zhang, the Assembly's Theologian-in-Residence.