General Secretary

1.     INTRODUCTION

1.1 During the last triennium I have continued to find the ministry of Assembly General Secretary to be stimulating, varied and stretching. Throughout I have continued to appreciate the prayers of the church, the constant support and assistance of my colleagues and the faithfulness of God who has called me to this role. My sense of call continues and so once again the Assembly will have before it a proposal that I receive an extension of my call as the Assembly General Secretary for another three years. I await the call of the Church afresh in this decision.

1.2 The role of General Secretary encompasses three broad areas of responsibility. Perhaps the most obvious is that I have a responsibility to support the work of the meetings of the Assembly and its Standing Committee, ensuring that the meetings and other work are appropriately resourced and its decisions are implemented. In this context I have oversight of the Secretariat, which includes the Associate General Secretary, the Accounting unit, Communications, and support staff, comprising approximately 12 full time equivalent (FTE) staff. Post the 1998 restructure of Assembly Agencies the General Secretary became the CEO for all Assembly work. There are about 10 Agencies / major areas of work and numerous committees and working groups; some with staff support and many voluntary. Such a responsibility, alongside other expectations would be impossible to fulfil without the excellent co-leadership offered by the Associate General Secretary, Rev Glenda Blakefield, and the exceptionally capable National Directors who are such great leaders in their own right. Finally I have a responsibility for general leadership in the life of the church. This encourages me to have a wide view and engagement with issues as they develop in the life of the church and also draws me into significant ecumenical representation and engagement – a role that has increased significantly over the last three years and which can be very time consuming.

1.3 My opportunities to meet directly with members of the church are greatly constrained by the parts of the role that require me to be in a variety of other places. However I try to attend each synod meeting. This is much easier to achieve now that several meet every 18 months rather than annually. I also welcome and accept invitations to Presbytery meetings when they are offered and the schedule permits.  This is an important context for keeping abreast of the life of the church and to hear first hand of the interests and concerns of the members of the church. If not able to be present face to face with people it is my aim to respond promptly to mail, phone calls and email. My ability to respond satisfactorily to many requests that come my way has been due in no small measure to the unqualified support and professionalism of my PA, Ms Jenny Bertalan and the often unnoticed staff of the Secretariat who provide the foundations upon which it is possible for the office of General Secretary to function effectively.

1.4 Although the ASC has its own report it does not include an acknowledgement of the important contribution that the members of the ASC make to the encouragement and support of Assembly staff. In particular I express my appreciation the President.  Alistair has not only offered significant leadership within the church and to the wider community, he has also been a pastor to many members of the Assembly staff, including myself. The work of the Assembly between its normal meetings could not continue without the service of the people who are members of the Assembly Standing Committee. Significant demands are placed upon the ASC and there has been an exceptionally large load to be borne between meetings. The Assembly has been well served by the hard working members of its Standing Committee.

2.      THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE

2.1 Over the last three years the longer term implications of the global economic crisis have continued to become evident. This has had a significant and negative impact on the income of many synods. The Assembly receives 80% of its funding from the annual synod grants (ex Government grants for specific purposes and donations raised by UnitingWorld and Frontier Services) and so it is in a very vulnerable position when the synods need to reduce their level of financial support which has been necessary in some cases over the last three years.

2.2 As the church has sought to adjust its structures to match its membership size and skill base it has become clear that there are some areas where change needs to happen in the way that things are done. There are some proposals before the Assembly that illustrate a response to this aspect of the changing landscape.

2.3 Like all “mainline” churches in liberal western democracies the number of people who choose to identify with the UCA, either in the census or through participation in various aspects of our life, continues to decline. On the one hand there is the option to see this as a sociological inevitability and to just accept fading away gracefully. The alternative is to find again the church’s historic conviction that being a disciple of the Risen Christ is a critical decision for us personally and socially; that being part of a Christian community (in the broadest sense) is an essential part of sustaining and expressing that discipleship; and finding our voice to issue this invitation to discipleship in fresh words and deeds. The future for the Uniting Church lies at neither end of the theological poles which seem to so confidently claim that the future lies with them. If the UCA as a whole would embrace and live out of the orthodox and central theological, biblical, relational and organisational values of its Basis of Union it would be in a much better place to serve the mission of God in the world.

2.4 The legislative context around the definition of charity, the tax treatment of church related entities and the machinery of the Charities Commission with its interest in reporting, accountability and governance reminds us that the church cannot assume that the legal and social context in which it has been privileged will continue unchallenged or unchanged.

2.5 A regular reference in my reports has been observations about, and encouragement to, national co-operation. My view continues to be that the future of Australia is national and that the church will need to adapt itself to this reality. It continues to be my hope that we will find the way to do this before it is pressed upon us from a position of weakness.

3.      MAJOR FOCUS OVER THE LAST TRIEENIUM

3.1 With such a broad ranging brief it is difficult to identify a major focus or two as I so often seem to be doing many things at once. Perhaps one thing that should be mentioned is the work undertaken in response to the encouragement given to me at the time of my current extension. I have been encouraged to engage more with Asia and other ecumenical relationships on behalf of the Uniting Church. Some of the ways that this has expressed itself is in closer involvement with the Christian Conference of Asia including being on an ongoing working group to redraft its constitution. The UCA has been very involved and supportive of changes in the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), which was formerly the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, as it has reflected on the shape and character of its life. This involvement has also included assisting with the production of its new constitution and more significantly working with Jill Tabart in developing, promoting and educating the WCRC in its own consensus process.

3.2 A major undertaking in the last triennium was the revision of the Regulations which has resulted in a major restructure of parts of the Regulations. This has been a demanding piece of work that has required my attention on and off for most of the last triennium. It would not have been possible for me to see this work through without the significant skill, leadership and commitment of Andrew Johnson who delivered much of the content of the project as it moved through its various stages.

3.3 During the last twelve months there has been a major restructure of the Accounting and Office Services area of the Secretariat with significant staff turnover. There is an excellent team in place and the benefits of the changes are evident to all. There have also been important changes within the Communications unit and these are also bedding down well.

3.4 The final focus point to comment upon is one that will continue in the next triennium for the Standing Committee. It is the issue of governance and how the Standing Committee adequately fulfils its role, not only of oversight, but also in governance. It is clear that the two roles are different and to overlook one leads to becoming a business because it is forgotten what it means to be a Council of the Church. To forget good governance leads to dangerous and destructive practices that manifest themselves in many and varied ways. It is a body of work that the outgoing Standing Committee has offered to the next Standing Committee and in which the General Secretary will have a significant leadership and supportive role.

4. MY ACCOUNTABILITY AS A MINISTER OF THE WORD

Regulation 2.2.1(a) lists the 12 duties of a Minister of the Word. A review of that list of 12 items allows me to see where these things are done as General Secretary. Yet this list of 12 things is problematic when it comes to considering the vocation of a Minister of the Word. Principally because it presents the vocation of a Minister as a set of tasks -almost an ecclesial set of KPI’s.

At its heart this list of 12 responsibilities is a list of strategies through which Ministers give expression to their vocation. The vocation of a Minister of the Word is to assist the church to be faithful to its Lord by enabling it to know its true identity and sustaining the character that is appropriate for the Christian community. Sometimes that has been done through the 12 points in Regulation 2.2.1(a) and sometimes in other ways.

My home congregation is Revesby and I participate as often as possible. Presbytery attendance suffers from the impact of my travel commitments.

The Sydney Assembly office is committed to the practice of weekly staff worship every Tuesday morning. Although not all staff members participate regularly, the fact of weekly worship with a solid core of participants from across the staff, is a very good reminder of who it is we are called to serve through the Assembly.

Rev Terence Corkin
General Secretary