40. BAPTISM, CONFIRMATION AND MEMBERSHIP (Hunter Presbytery)

Friday, 15 June 2012

That the Assembly resolve to:

I.          direct the ASC to strongly encourage congregations to hold annual covenanting services and regular reaffirmations of baptism (both through confirmation services and other reaffirmation of baptism services, namely A Congregational Reaffirmation of Baptism and A Personal Reaffirmation of Baptism) as a way of strengthening discipleship;

2.         request the Standing Committee to

(a)     appoint a Task Group to do further work on a practical way to implement a form of affirmation of discipleship and membership that affirms the importance of baptism and confirmation (as signs of membership in the Body of Christ, and commitment to discipleship), and yet also recognizes that only active baptized members should be able to participate in the decision-making life of the Church;

(b)     establish terms of reference for the Task Group that include:


  • building on the earlier work begun by Rev Dr Robert Bos, Rev Dr Chris Walker and the ASC through 2010 and 2011

  • being cognizant of the implications of these decisions for our place in ecumenical conversations and the views of the Basis of Union

  • bringing a report and any proposals for changes to the regulations in relation to membership to the Standing Committee by November 2013; and

(c)     bring firm recommendations, including regulatory changes regarding membership categories, to the 14th Assembly.

Rationale:

Most people who talk about the response of the church to the changed context of modern/ post-modern Australia emphasise the importance of discipleship rather than membership. There is a danger in this kind of emphasis because it can reinforce the tendency to see faith as about personal spirituality and individual responses and to ignore the communal and interdependent nature of Christian faith and practice, but the point is an important one.

The issue of membership is also under stress because of changing views about belonging, and questions about membership in institutions. Also people particulate in Christian communities to explore faith and to deep their journey with God, building relationships and wishing to share in decisions that impact on their discipleship and place in the community without formally becoming members.

The challenge for the church is that within the traditions that form the Uniting Church we have used the two markers of discipleship and participation in the Body of Christ – baptism and confirmation – as markers of membership in the institutional community of the church which needs to make decisions.

For the last few years there has been a broad conversation through the UCA about ways to deepen discipleship (such as re-affirmation of baptism, strengthening confirmation processes, holding covenanting services that also re-affirm personal commitment), and allow for other ways to recognize membership that emphasise the need for commitment and active participation. There have been many discussions and numerous papers within the ACS [1], and consultations with presbyteries and other bodies about the suggestions being offered. The conversation seems to be stalling, and the Hunter Presbytery believes that the issue is too important for this to happen.

In making the following proposal for further work on this issue, the Hunter Presbytery would welcome the opportunity to contribute to any task group that is established.

[1] In fact, over a 10 year period from 2002 the Assembly or its Standing Committee has addressed this matter on 9 occasions. Eight papers have been written to assist this discussion. An outline of this discussion is attached.

Instances of addressing the Church Membership matter

 

Addressed

Date/Place

Document title

Person/Action

Gave rise to

1st & 2nd time

Prior to Assembly 2003

* Discussion Paper on membership
* 200 responses

Rob Bos

Assembly 2003 asking for “a detailed report on the issue of membership”. Became “Baptism & Membership”

3rd time

ASC Nov 06

 

Received report: “Baptism & Membership”

ASC asking for a discussion paper on “Baptism & Membership” to be prepared. Became: “A Church of Passionate Disciples”

4th time

ASC Mar 08

“A Church of Passionate Disciples(included on responses of the church to it)

Assembly Gen Sec was tasked

* Request the General Secretary to facilitate the preparation of a resource for members to discuss “what” and “how” of membership (This Resolution 08.21.03  - not acted upon).
* “Request Theology and Discipleship to monitor this process and report back to the ASC on possible next steps”

5th time

ASC Nov 09

“Suggestions from the Doctrine working group” in regard to the paper

“A church of passionate disciples”

Chris Walker

ASC asked for a “report [as distinct from “suggestions”] from the National Working Group on Doctrine in regards to the paper “A church of passionate disciples”

 

6th time

ASC Mar 10

“Church Membership – Feb 10” (on confirmation freshly understood and covenanting communities)

Chris Walker

ASC asking Chris Walker to
* “develop a paper that takes up the issues raised in the discussion” and focuses on:
 - confirmation
 - covenanting
 - relationship between baptism, confirmation & participation in life of church

* make recommendations on further addressing the issue

7th time

ASC Jul 10

“Church Membership – Jun 10”

Chris Walker

Formed C’tee = Gregor Henderson, Andrew Dutney, Jenny Tymms & Chris Walker, asked to come up with a revised “Church Membership – Jun 10” suitable for distribution to Presbyteries

 

8th time

ASC Nov 10

“Church Membership – Oct 10”

Messrs Henderson, Dutney, Tymms & Walker

“Church Membership – Oct 10” directed to be
 - issued to all Presbyteries with a request for a response by 31 August 2011, with a view to Standing Committee considering the Presbytery responses in November 2011 and a report and recommendations then coming to the 13th Assembly (July 12)

9th time

ASC Nov 11

“Responses to the Church Membership Paper”

Chris Walker

ASC requested the National Consultant for Theology and Discipleship to
 - Report back to the Presbyteries on the nature of responses and the discussion that took place at the Standing Committee
 - refer to this report back to Presbytery in ASC report to Assembly July 12