The Uniting Church Adult Fellowship

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Late last year I read a comment by someone about what happens when you say ‘Yes’ to God. One phrase captured my attention. ‘You’d better hold on tight. It will be an amazing, life changing experience!’

Membership of the National Committee 2009-2012 came from within the Synod of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. When we came together as the National Committee elect, some of us knew we had very little experience of Adult Fellowship across Australia, others who’d been on a Synod Committee thought they did have some idea of what was ahead. None of us knew what God had in store!

Our journey, as we were called together  (in a similar way to that of Jesus’ disciples) meant we had to discover who we each were, to discern why God had us to be together and what it might mean. Certainly, we have been challenged to use all the gifts we thought we had and then some. We do know God does not waste anything.

In joy and in pain, together and individually we have learned something of what it means to live ‘For such a time as this.’  Our theme came as a gift to us through the story of Esther (4:14), when she was called to defend her threatened people and she was challenged to stand up for them.

Established as an Assembly Agency in 1982, Adult Fellowship is ‘the coming together of men and women in the church for a variety of spiritual, social, educational, recreational, service and mission support activities’. In reality the emphasis for much of the church’s life since union, has been on groups for women and to a lesser degree for men. More recently in a growing number of fellowship groups, membership includes both men and women.

Who are members of Adult Fellowship?

In one sense, every adult member of The Uniting Church is a member of Adult Fellowship. In many congregations and councils of the church, people look at me in astonishment when I mention Adult Fellowship. What’s that? Where does it exist? What does it do? When did it begin? How does one become a member? If there is an affiliation fee, to whom is it paid? In the parish of which I am a member, the directory lists four groups as being fellowship groups. I know of another two. Like many other congregations some of these groups are for women or men. Others include both women and men.

From what I have seen in visiting synods, groups that are inclusive are growing as they meet the needs of people who join them.

More than ever, I am convinced, that we need to lift the image of Adult Fellowship. Some synods have very active committees and communication networking including synod newsletters, which because of their content, regularity of publication, presentation and content are received and known by people in the wider church as well as within the synod it serves. I believe it is time that the church nationally gives serious recognition to the contribution of UCAF and its ministry in fellowship groups, congregations, communities, synods and nationally. 

When I took up responsibility in the National Committee, the information about membership indicated that there were 18.000 affiliated members of UCAF across Australia. More recently I have discovered that in 2009 information from synod bodies indicated membership of 16,500. From returns last year (2011) the figure is closer to 12,200.

Yes ‘we are ageing’. Many people tell me they cannot do what they used to do. I understand that quite clearly. It does not mean we give up.  As the church is changing in its life and form, we need to keep on discovering how God is calling us to be Adult Fellowship, for such a time as this.

In many rural communities without a ministry placement it is obvious that those who provide leadership are members of Adult Fellowship. Some meet together every Sunday for worship – sometimes there is someone to lead the service, often not. Those gathered read some of the scriptures set for the day, talk about one passage, pray together and sing or read a hymn or two. They also meet for coffee during the week, are discovering who each other is, and pray with and for one another. They contribute funds to church or community groups as they able.

A distraction, for many people with whom I have spoken, is their experience of ‘formal’ meetings. They are put off by the need for detailed minutes. We need to free up our meetings and keep business to a minimum. Sometimes I become impatient with long discussion over very simple issues. Long ago I remember a group taking an hour to decide ‘what sandwich fillings we will have for our next function’. I have used this phrase about issues in Adult Fellowship and the wider church.

Other groups are bound by the need to have formal office-bearers, President, Secretary, Minute Secretary, Treasurer, etc.  Whether there is this formality or a small group willing to take on leadership, we need to ensure the vitality of fellowship in our groups, no matter how big or small. If someone has an idea, let them run with it and support their effort even if ‘we tried that before and it didn’t work’.

The National Committee’s mandate is to plan, co-ordinate, and facilitate activities for its members, facilitating the work of Adult Fellowship nationally promoting the mission and witness of The Uniting Church in Australia. 

How does one do this in an organisation that generally functions on a presbytery or synod basis?

One of the questions raised of us at Assembly 2009 was about our relationship with people of Aboriginal and other non-English speaking backgrounds. Despite the committee’s encouragement for some of our multi-cultural sisters and brothers to participate in the Celebration, this did not happen. We had anticipated one person who enthusiastically registered – but did not appear and has not responded to follow up. We offered two places for people from Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), without any response despite many conversations and written contact with people.

Prior to Assembly 2009, Adult Fellowship was encouraged to take up the Next Gen initiative of the Assembly. Some background information was made available to Synod UCAF groups through Consultation 2009. We were advised that detailed ideas on implementation would be forthcoming. Despite our attempts to gather the information to enable synod and local groups to take up this priority, changes in staffing has meant that no further information has been available.

About 150 people from each state and territory participated in the 2010 Celebration held at Greenhills Centre, Canberra. This was a significant time for those able to attend. The days of fellowship, included rediscovering through Bible Study, hearing from Assembly Staff how the ministry of UnitingCare, Defence Chaplaincy, the role of President and General Secretary, Frontier Services and Uniting World is touching and enlivening people, and what changes will need to happen, if these and other ministries are to continue into the future.

And yes, there was lots of food, fun, and faith sharing!  For a few folk, that time continued in the tour that followed travelling through the Southern Highlands, Illawarra and Blue Mountains areas. Our thanks to Geoff and Judy Hicks who arranged and were hosts on this tour.

‘Food, Fun and Faith, whoever had that idea was onto something!’ was a comment from one retired minister as he reflected on Food for the Journey, (food for body and spirit), a collection of recipes, devotional pieces, handy hints and funny quotes, came into being through the concentrated efforts of a few people, particularly the consistent, faithful and painstaking effort of Janice Willis.

The hope was that this small book would encourage and nurture people in their faith journey.

Was it needed? It depends how one looks at the end result. You will probably know that as a result of sales close to $ 45000 has been handed over to the John Flynn Foundation. That foundation supports the ongoing work of Frontier Services patrol ministries.

Ten thousand copies of Food for the Journey are out there in the world. We do know that some people have found the ‘fun and faith’ pieces capturing them as they began looking at recipes. We do know that some people have been touched and begun talking about faith for the first time. To all who joined in the distribution and sales network we offer our thanks.

There are many inspiring stories in the collection, production and distribution of copies.

Two smaller projects, initiated by Rev Noreen Towers, encouraging and nurturing discipleship are Powerful Moment Booklets – Moments of Destiny stories in the lives of people; and Powerful Moments of Fellowship, a report from members of the committee.

When we asked Alistair Macrae, President of the Assembly to commission Both Food for the Journey and Powerful Moments of Destiny, at the Celebration in 2010 I said that I believed God had a ministry for each of the books. That is the reality of their journey.

Adult Fellowship is linked with several international groups. In our term there has not been as much contact as in previous years with the former World Reformed Churches (WARC). There have been changes. However other links have been maintained.

Last year the Twelfth World Assembly of the Federation Methodist and Uniting Church Women was held in Johannesburg. Eleven women delegates from Australia attended Including Denise Champion, Chairperson of UAICC in South Australia. Eldrene March, a member of the national committee and ecumenical relationship focus was appointed the representative of the national committee.

I had been strongly advised that I should not be the representative (as my predecessors have been) because women from many countries would find my participation as a male voting member intimidating or inappropriate. Consequently I accepted an invitation to visit the Northern Territory during the time of the Assembly.

Mrs. Jean Gunn (Vic/Tas) wrote to me in 2010, raising her concern that there had not been any Aboriginal woman at the previous Assembly in Korea. Jean began saving fifty cent pieces towards the cost of sending someone. She also had initial discussion with UAICC people in her synod hoping to identify people who might be willing to accept an invitation to attend the Assembly..

After protracted contacts and discussions with many people the committee was delighted when Denise accepted the invitation to attend. She is a good ambassador for Australia and we look forward to her continuing contribution and ministry. Australian Church Women have awarded Denise a Winifred Kiek scholarship (for one year) to assist in her ministry formation.

Mrs Ann Connan (a former Past President of the National Adult Fellowship Committee) was elected World President of WFMUCW for 2011-2016. We offer congratulations and our ongoing prayers for Ann and her family in this ministry within the wider church.

Australian Church Women Inc (of which Adult Fellowship is a member) has held two national conferences of ACW in the last three years. It has been my privilege to represent Adult Fellowship and contribute to these conferences (Canberra 2009, Adelaide 2011). The Uniting Church is well represented in membership of State Units and the National Committee. Clearly the Uniting Church is held in high regard.

An initiative rising out of the UCAF Consultation in 2009 is the establishment of the Joan Stott UCAF Bursary. Under the terms of the bursary, up to two people who are 35 years of age or under, and in process of leadership formation in any area of the church’s ministry, may be grated a bursary of $1500 each for one year.

Applications are called through each synod UCAF committee, who are asked to arrange interviews and recommend applicants as possible recipients/ awardees to the national committee.

In the first two years there have been five applicants, three in 2010 and two in 2011,

Jessica Morthorpe (NSW/ACT) and Rod Fisher (Queensland) were awardees for 2011. Laura Lindsay (NSW/ACT) and Luke Williams (WA) are the 2012awardees. Each is asked to provide a report of their at the end of their bursary year.

Remembering and giving thanks!   During this triennium we have developed a formal record of the contribution made by Past Presidents of Adult Fellowship.  We have a brief biographical statement (and photo) of each one in Assembly trienniums since 1982. That information be included in the UCAF Working Procedures. Each received formal acknowledgement of their ministry through UCAF. One of the highlights for me has been opportunity to catch up, even if briefly with most of the Past Presidents.

A glimpse of the church across Australia has been one of the privileges for me in chairing the National Committee. I was honoured to be invited to visit in most Synods in the three years. Detailed programs, generous hospitality, safe travel by air, train, coaches and family cars, welcoming people, many long time friends re-discovered and new ones begun, have allowed me to see some of Australia I had not experienced previously and to gain a good picture of Adult Fellowship, its life and place in the ministry of The Uniting Church.

It was good to be in South Australia for a week in October 2010 as it allowed my participation in several gatherings - Fellowships Days; the activities of UCAF working groups; their bus trip (meeting folk in small rural groups), taking part in worship, and many conversations. I am encouraged by the ways in which various activities are an integral part of the Synod’s work, and the wider outreach of Mission and Frontier Services activities.

For visits in 2011, I asked where possible to meet people who had been affected by natural disasters. March was to begin in the Cairns/Tully area. Heavy rain following on cyclone Yasi meant that part of the visit was cancelled. Townsville was the starting point then south to Rockhampton, Mackay areas affected by cyclone and flooding and visits out of Brisbane in a variety of settings.

In May there were many people, events and communities included in the visit within Vic/Tas synod. I valued a week in the Western District Presbytery during which I met people in a number of small rural congregations and fellowship groups. All of them are discovering new ways to be in fellowship with one another and their community.

August and early September found me initially in Alice Springs then WA meeting with people at the Old Timers Home and Fete, in worship, Fellowship Days in Perth and Busselton and brief visits with folk in Kojonup, Mt Barker and Albany.

The Committee

I want to express our thanks to the members of the National Committee (2009 – 12) for their commitment to the life of Adult Fellowship, the roles they have accepted, the gifts they have shared and the new ones they have discovered, Denise and Allan Secomb, Margaret and Ron Gregory, Rev Noreen Towers, Eldrene March, Janice Willis, Judy and Geoff Hicks, Lyn Drabsch,

Within the church we often overlook the gifts of older members – their wisdom and guidance, multiskilled efficiency, attention to detail, ability to think ahead, calm questioning, encouragement and support of others always undergirded with prayer. They are often the glue that keeps us together through change helping us to stay together. Is it because they have faced it all before?

In the 2012-2015 triennium, members of the church in Western Australia will form the National Committee. We offer them our ongoing support and prayer as they take up this ministry on behalf of the Assembly with people across Australia. We look forward to their leadership and all the stories that emerge through their theme, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ 

We thank God who guides, strengthens and sustains this instrument, Adult Fellowship which draws us together and gives us opportunities for witness and service and for this committee granted an amazing three years of life changing experience!

Rev Alistair Christie
Chairperson
UCAF National Committee 2009-2012

 


 

APPENDIX A


UNITING CHURCH ADULT FELLOWSHIP
NATIONAL COMMITTEE
MANDATE

Responsible to:  The Assembly

Reporting arrangements:

The Assembly and the Standing Committee

Mission Statement:

To facilitate the network of Adult Fellowships nationally in order to promote the mission and witness of the Uniting Church In Australia.

Mandate:
  1. To foster and develop links with Synod committees of adult fellowships.
  2. To appoint representatives, as agreed with the General Secretary, to various ecumenical bodies such as Australian Church Women and international bodies such as World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches’ Department of Partnership of Women and Men, and Bridgebuilders International.
  3. To organise and facilitate conferences and meetings of adult fellowships as appropriate.
  4. To consult and co-ordinate with other Assembly agencies on ways adult fellowships may participate and assist in the ongoing life and witness of the Uniting Church in Australia.
General: The responsibilities of every agency include:
  • focusing the activities of the agency on the vision of the Assembly as a whole;
  • advising the Assembly and/or the Standing Committee on policy matters within their area of responsibility;
  • making policy decisions where the Assembly or the Standing Committee has delegated authority for certain policy areas, either through the agency mandate or by resolution;
  • participating in cross-agency projects and teams established by the Assembly or the Standing Committee.
Power to appoint:
  • To establish working groups for special tasks related specifically to the mandate.
  • To make recommendations to the Standing Committee to establish other working groups for special tasks related to but not part of the mandate.
Membership of the Reference Committee:
  • President and up to eleven members from one synod for each three year term (the Synod base to rotate each triennium), appointed by the triennial UCAF Consultation and noted by the Assembly or the Standing Committee;
  • power to co-opt to ensure appropriate competencies, representation and development of new leadership.

 

Approved by Assembly Standing Committee, August 2006