Theology and Discipleship

Theology and Discipleship sits within the mandate of Uniting Faith and Discipleship and collaborates within other units of the team

 

1.         THEOLOGY AND DISCIPLESHIP

 

The Theology and Discipleship unit of the Assembly works closely with the Doctrine and Worship working groups.  It is also linked to the Mission and Evangelism network which has transitioned effectively from a national working group to becoming a network of synod people involved in and concerned about mission and evangelism.  The National Consultant seeks to be in touch with presbyteries and synods and groups of people across the national life of the Uniting Church and participates in the Assembly Standing Committee.

 

The context in which the work of Theology and Discipleship is carried out is the post Christendom, postmodern, secular and multicultural nature of contemporary Australia.  While Australia was never really Christendom in the European sense of the word, the current place of the Church is more marginalised.  While people argue about the meaning of ‘postmodern’, we have as a culture moved from the modern emphasis on reason to an emphasis on experience, from confidence in science and the expectation of progress to a more sceptical and relativistic view of life. The market and consumerism dominate while there is also the recognition of many cultures and sub-cultures which may result in conflicts.  Australia is a secular and multicultural nation now which also means being a multi-religious society.  The Church and Christianity is still the major group but other religions and those with no religion ensure that their voices are heard.  If anything the Christian voice finds it difficult to be heard well when reporters for the media often give attention to other religions, those with no religion or seek out stories that discredit the Christian Church.  Nevertheless there are still times in our national life such as when tragedies happen that the Church is looked to with appreciation.

 

1.2        Thinking Theologically

 

In this context there is a greater need to be able to think theologically. It is important that we come from a predominantly theological rather than sociological or managerial perspective.  We have to be clear as to what we as Christians hold to be true.  Even in the church we should not assume people know what Christianity and the Church is about.  Our actions ought to be congruent with our beliefs but it is misguided to think we should concentrate on our actions and not worry about theological reflection.  We do need to live out our faith but that also means knowing more clearly what Christian faith is about given the context and challenges that face us. As we think through things theologically we will be in a better position to respond appropriately to our situation or to deal with it proactively.  As a Uniting Church we come from a Reformed and Evangelical tradition while being part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  As we develop our tradition it is important that we be true to the thoughtful and hopeful tradition we represent.  The Basis of Union continues to guide us but there are questions and issues that go beyond what it directly deals with.  So it is a matter of drawing on the Basis of Union while addressing the matters that present themselves.

 

The Doctrine working group has sought to provide a range of papers and resources for the Assembly and Assembly Standing Committee, for presbyteries and synods, and for congregations. There is the need to read the Bible appropriately with discipleship in mind.  So the pamphlet How to Read the Bible – 12 simple guidelines was written and translated into several languages.  Discussion starters on a range of topics called Doc.bytes, aimed to be used in Church Councils, small groups and by individuals, have been written and continue to be added to, the latest one being on “Conversion”.  A number of discussion papers and issues papers have been written either at the request of the Assembly Standing Committee or initiated by the Doctrine working group. These have ranged from “A Guide to contemporary Faith” to “Towards a Theology Relating to Mission.”

 

In 2011 a blog for Theology and Discipleship under Chris Walker’s name was commenced.  A range of subjects have been written about twice a month from “Empire” to “Baptism” as have reports of significant conferences, notably the International Ecumenical Peace Conference held in Kingston, Jamaica and the World Methodist Council and Conference held in Durban, South Africa  in 2011 which the National Consultant participated in.

 

1.3.       Living our Faith

 

As indicated above thinking and action go together.  In fact it is a mistake to separate them.  They are inter-related for action informs thinking and thinking influences action.  Theology and ethics are connected in Christianity.  Thinking and acting, prayer and service, spirituality and involvement are necessarily related.  We are known both by what we do and what we profess.  Sometimes our actions reveal what we really think even if we profess something different.  Hopefully our theology and actions are closely related with our theology giving meaning and depth to our actions and what we do informing our theological reflection.

 

Worship involves both theology and liturgical action.  Worship is performative action which has a role in the formation of people as Christians.  David Pitman wrote about this in “Worship as Formation” in one of the Theology and Discipleship blogs. 

 

The Worship working group has provided Uniting in Worship which has a raft of resources as well as worship services.  The new CD-ROM of UIW2 makes it easier for people to make use of these resources when preparing worship.  The Worship Resources section of the Assembly website has a good deal of material.  Papers such as “A Very Short Guide to the Service of the Lord’s Day” and “The Nature of Christian Worship including a consideration of Contemporary and Alternative Worship” are available on the website. 

 

More recently teaching DVDs have been made to assist people in leading the various components of worship.  “The Prayers of the People” and “A guide to worship for the people of God” DVDs have been professionally produced and have been made available across the Uniting Church.  They have proven to be a popular resource.  The goal is to assist all involved in leading worship to do so with understanding, flexibility and confidence that will enhance the worship life of the congregations, faith communities and gatherings of people of the Uniting Church.  Such worship will contribute to the way we glorify God and to the formation of people as disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

One of the main components in worship is music which conveys our theology.  The National Consultant was involved with the Songs that Unite song competition and with the development of the new Music website for the Assembly.  The Worship working group is connected to this significant development.

 

As one tool to assist people to understand and live their faith, a Discipleship Training course, was developed by the National Consultant.  It was trialled at Northmead Uniting Church and then introduced to a range of groups and presbyteries across the Uniting Church. It is on the Assembly website.

 

1.4        Key Directions

 

The preparation and presentation of the above resources of Theology and Discipleship have been guided by the Assembly Key Directions

 

c)

 

  1. support and nurture a passion for evangelism, discipleship formation and leadership development;
  2. emphasize spiritual development and faith-sharing, providing young people with opportunities to lead; and
  3. explore new expressions of mission and Christian community and the renewal of existing forms.

 

in consultation with other Councils of the Church, and also

 

and d) committing to

 

  1. the articulation of our doctrine in a way that communicates clearly tomembers;
  2. articulate and celebrate our identity as the Uniting Church in Australia;
  3. the education of our members to better know, own and share their faith; and
  4. encourage a conversation as to what we need to be as a church;

 

1.5        Communication

 

Theology and Discipleship is conscious that there is the need not only to provide resources but make them known and available to the people of the Church.  As outlined above there are a range of resources from the Doctrine and Worship working groups.  Other resources can be found on the Theology and Discipleship section of the Assembly website.  The blog was added as a means of communicating more immediately about current issues and events.

 

It was recognised that there has been considerable work done over the past decade that can easily be forgotten.  So the major papers of the Doctrine and Worship working groups from 200-2011 have been gathered and edited by the National Consultant into a book titled, Building on the Basis published by MediaCom. This is a valuable collection of material that people can consult when they want to know what the Uniting Church has to say on different subjects. 

 

Another means of providing materials to the Church was to develop a CD-ROM.  It not only has the major papers of the past decade but also the Doc.bytes, conference papers and other papers from the Doctrine and Worship working groups. This CD-ROM has been sent to every synod and presbytery and theological college so they have the material on hand to draw upon.

All this material has also been provided to Assembly members on a USB.  It is hoped this will encourage people to consult and make use of the resources.

 

2.         WORKING GROUP ON DOCTRINE

 

Mandate           The Assembly ‘has determining responsibility for matters of doctrine’ (The Basis of Union, par 15e). The Working Group on Doctrine therefore responds to requests for work in particular areas from the Assembly and Assembly Standing Committee, and also initiates discussion concerning church life and practice.

 

2.1        Key Directions

 

c) in consultation with other councils of the Church;

 

  1. support and nurture a passion for evangelism, discipleship formation and leadership development;
  2. emphasize spiritual development and faith-sharing, providing young people with opportunities to lead; and
  3. explore new expressions of mission and Christian community and the renewal offorms.

 

 and d) commit to

 

  1. the articulation of our doctrine in a way that communicates clearly tomembers;
  2. articulate and celebrate our identity as the Uniting Church in Australia;
  3. the education of our members to better know, own and share their faith;
  4. encourage a conversation as to what we need to be as a church;

 

2.2        Doctrine and the Contemporary Context

 

Throughout the world, New Atheism, Progressive Christianity, consumerism and religious fundamentalisms strive for people’s allegiance. Within Australia the church faces increasing marginalisation and disunity as well as living in a multi-faith and multi-cultural context.  In this context, clarifying who we are as a church is particularly vital. This is one of the roles of doctrine, identifying who we are by clarifying what we believe, and enabling the church to be the church. We do not exist as a church without an understanding of our doctrine. Doctrine helps to shape the mind of the church, enabling us to live out the gospel in generative and generous ways

 

2.3        Particular Work Undertaken

 

The working group has taken up a number of tasks:

 

2.4        Faithful and Contemporary Faith

 

The working group understands the church as a community in which Jesus Christ is confessed as Lord, in which classic statements of the Christian faith are affirmed. The Basis of Union continues to be an authoritative guide for the Uniting Church as it seeks to confess the faith of the Church (see paragraphs 9, 10 and 11, particularly).The debate in both the church and the wider community concerning atheism, so-called ‘progressive’ Christianity and orthodox Christian faith, has prompted several pieces of work.  A paper “A Guide to Contemporary Faith” has been published and is available on the Assembly website. Previous work by the Principal of Trinity Theological College, the Rev Dr Geoff Thompson has been made available to the working group and is included on the Assembly website.

 

2.5        The New Preamble

 

The new Preamble regarding the acknowledgment of Aboriginal and Islander people as the ‘First People’ of this land, produced considerable discussion and debate as the Church undertook the process of altering the Constitution of the UCA. Paragraph 3 of the Preamble, which speaks explicitly of knowledge of God in this land before colonisation, was particularly contentious.  In response to requests by two synods for further work on paragraph 3, the ASC requested the WGD to undertake a process of listening to the Congress and providing resources for the wider church concerning this paragraph. After consulting extensively with the Elders and Congress during the latter part of 2010 and in 2011, personnel and a meeting were agreed.   It is proposed that in May 2012, the President of the Assembly, Alistair Macrae, with the convenor and secretary of the WGD, plus resource people from the Northern synod and the Congress, visit Darwin and/or Elcho Island, as the first major step in fulfilling the ASC’s request to the working group. It has been planned for appropriate materials documenting the consultation to be produced (video, publications, etc.) and made available to the Church.

 

2.6        Leadership and Sexuality

 

The work of previous Assemblies has been significantly shaped by the discussion concerning leadership of the church and same-sex relationships.  The working group reported to the last Assembly concerning the consultations held, and the resources which were developed, in that process.  “Sexuality and Leadership - Documenting the History” was prepared by the National Consultant detailing the long process of the Assembly’s response to issues of sexuality.  Dr Andrew Thornley was commissioned to write a survey of the responses of churches internationally which was published as “Sexuality and Church Leadership: an international perspective”.

 

An essay addressing the diversity of views on theology and sexuality was prepared and continues our response to the discussion of sexuality. Further papers arising in part from this discussion have been prepared including:  “On Being an Apostolic Church” and “Discerning the Work of the Holy Spirit.” Much of the work of the WGD on this issue is now found on the Assembly web page.

 

2.7        Lay Presidency of the Sacraments

 

The ASC requested the WGD to respond to concerns about the practice of increasing lay presidency of the sacraments.  The WGD and the Christian Unity Working Group has collaborated in this work which explored the ecumenical implications of lay presidency, ecclesiology and ordination.  The development of this work has resulted in the focus moving from the particular question of ‘Lay Presidency of the Sacraments’ to broader questions of ministry within the church, including questions of vocation, the importance of lay ministry and the place of ordained ministry. This work is ongoing and will continue into the next triennium.

 

2.8        Working with other groups from Uniting Faith and Discipleship and the Assembly

 

The WGD engages in regular conversation with other working groups.  A paper prepared by the working group on Relations with Other Faiths, “Friendship in the Presence of Difference: Christian Witness in Multi-faith Australia” was carefully considered by the WGD. 

 

A joint Colloquium with the Mission and Evangelism network was held to explore questions of contemporary missiology in Australia.

 

Work was carried out in response to a referral on Chaplaincy from the ASC.  This resulted in the Chaplaincy discussion paper which elicited a significant number of responses from across the country.

 

The WGD is glad to have cross members from the Christian Unity Working Group and the Working Group on Worship to ensure we are in touch over mutual concerns.

 

Theological Listeners from the working group have assisted the ASC to reflect theologically on its meetings. Though acknowledged as being generally helpful, an ASC review changed the way this reflection is undertaken.

 

2.9        Resources

 

The working group has continued to develop an array of resources, including brief statements on particular subjects that are helpful to the wider church; such as further Doc.bytes and pamphlets on topics  such as “Apologetics,’ ‘ Baptism,’ ‘Marriage’ etc. The working group is seeking to increase the provision of these resources in languages other than English. Several significant documents have been published, including a CD-ROM with a wide array of Doctrine Working Group papers from 2000 – 2011. A book, “Building on the Basis” which has a smaller selection of the most significant papers is being published by MediaCom and is expected to be available at the Assembly. Other papers prepared include, “Church Membership”, a “Theology of Stipends”, and “What does it mean to be Church?”  A paper raising questions in relation to the Ministry of Pastor was presented to ASC.

 

2.10      Planned work for the Next Triennium

 

Further resources for the reception of the new Preamble will be provided. Provision of materials exploring a Contemporary Faith in a post-Christendom world will be developed.  Conversations with the Worship Working group on the understanding and celebration of the Lord’s Supper are planned. The Working Group is developing resources to enable the church to respond to some of the current challenges to Christian faith.

 

2.11      Membership

 

The WGD is committed to a diverse range of members on the Working group and is conscious of the need for gender balance, multicultural representation and the participation of younger generation members with suitable qualifications. There are several corresponding members. The working group is grateful for the leadership of the National Consultant for Theology and Discipleship, the Rev Dr Chris Walker. Chris and the Assembly staff of Theology and Discipleship provide dedicated and detailed support to the working group. The Rev Dr Wes Campbell has served as convenor for seven years and will conclude as convener at this Assembly. The Rev Rodney Horsfield has served the working group extremely diligently as a member and secretary since 2005, guiding the preparation and recording of meetings, and significantly assisting the convenor in allocated tasks. Rod will conclude his term as secretary later in 2012.

 

Rev Dr Wes Campbell (Convener)

 

3.         WORKING GROUP ON WORSHIP

 

            The Worship Working Group seeks to enrich worship in the Uniting Church in Australia by developing resources, papers, educational tools and information to encourage and enliven worship life. The Worship Working Group also provides the Uniting Church with various liturgical resources as requested by the Assembly or in response to requests from ministers, congregations or other members of the Church. In addition we nominate Uniting Church representatives to the Australian Hymn Book Committee, the Australian Consultation on Liturgy and the National Ecumenical Music Consultation, and receive reports from these bodies.

 

3.1        Key Directions

 

The Working Group on Worship has been guided in its work and activities by the following Assembly key directions

 

c) in consultation with other councils of the Church;

 

  1. support and nurture a passion for evangelism, discipleship formation and leadership development;
  2. emphasize spiritual development and faith-sharing, providing young people with opportunities to lead; and
  3. explore new expressions of mission and Christian community and the renewal offorms.

 

and d) commit to

 

  1. the articulation of our doctrine in a way that communicates clearly tomembers;
  2. articulate and celebrate our identity as the Uniting Church in Australia;
  3. the education of our members to better know, own and share their faith;
  4. encourage a conversation as to what we need to be as a church;

 

3.2        Uniting in Worship 2 CD-ROM

 

The production of this up-dated CD-ROM in partnership with Mediacom has been a major achievement. The Rev Dr Anita Monro and the Rev Dr Paul Walton made significant contributions on behalf of the Working Group. It includes everything in UiW2 and a wide range of other liturgical resources. Files are available in Word format and can be easily downloaded for editing and copying. This is an essential resource for every UCA Congregation.

 

3.3        Educational DVD’s

 

Two DVD’s addressing a range of issues in regard to the preparation and leadership of worship have been produced....the first focusses on the prayers of the people, and the second includes segments on the nature and shape of worship, prayers of confession, reading the Bible in worship and music in worship. They are available free of charge on request from the Rev Dr Chris Walker in the Assembly Office.

 

At least two further DVD’s are envisaged....one with a focus on presiding at the Sacraments and a second exploring the organization and use of the Worship Space.

 

3.4        Liturgical resources and the preamble to the Constitution of the UCA

 

The Working Group has produced liturgical resources consistent with the revision of our UCA Constitution. These include prayers of confession, affirmations of faith, and words of mission, and include versions suitable for “First Peoples” and those for whom English is a second language. These are now available on the website

 

3.5        Calendar of Other Commemorations (See UiW2 pp 566-571)

 

This Calendar offers us the opportunity to acknowledge those whose lives and ministries have enriched the church from the first century until now. The Working Group has commenced a process of gathering information in regard to each of those named to assist in a more informed celebration of their witness and service. In due course these “biographies” will be made available on the website and the possibility of publication in book form is being explored. Anyone interested in contributing to this resource is invited to contact the Working Group.

 

3.6        Colloquium on Worship and Preaching

 

The Working Group is in the process of making arrangements to host a Colloquium on the teaching of worship and preaching to be held later in 2012, to involve members of the Working Group and key teaching staff from our Theological Colleges.

 

3.7        “Little Green Book”

 

Early in the life of the Uniting Church, a resource for Holy Communion was published that quickly became known as “The Little Blue Book”. It proved to be very popular and was widely used. It can still be found in Uniting Churches across Australia. There have been many requests for a similar resource that incorporates the liturgical material now found in Uniting in Worship 2. Consequently, the Working Group is engaged in the preparation for publication of a “Little Green Book” for use in our congregations. It will include introductory notes for the guidance of those preparing worship, along with versions of both the first and second services for the Lord’s Day, a brief order for Communion and a service for Communion beyond the gathered congregation. We trust it will prove to be as helpful and as widely used as its predecessor.

 

3.8        In brief

 

The Lectionary, by arrangement with Mediacom, is now available on the website

Also on the website since the last Assembly...

A Very Short Guide to the Service of the Lord’s Day

Music in Worship resources

Two pamphlets for use in situations of bereavement, “Partners in Caring” (for Funeral Directors) and “When we lose someone we love”

A paper on contemporary and alternative worship

A resource for Daily Prayer suitable for many different situations

The UCA Baptismal Service with some optional additions from the United Church of Canada

Statements suitable for acknowledging the First Peoples of our Land

A liturgy for ecumenical occasions when a Eucharist is not possible

Affirmations of faith suitable for the major seasons of the Church Year

Work is continuing on the translation of UCA worship resources into other languages

 

3.9        Membership of the Working Group

 

            Since the last Assembly, the membership of the Working Group has changed considerably.  The Rev Bob Warrick, Rev Dr Anita Monro, Rev Kerry Pierce, Rev Carol Bennett, Rev Sue Pickering, Elenie Poulos, Rev Kath Hobson, Rev Pam Batson and Rev Leva Pat have all left the Group. The Rev Dr Stephen Burns, Rev Dr David Pitman, Dr Gewa Au, Mr John Tainton and Mr Craig Mitchell have joined the Group and, at the time of writing, two other names are ready to go to the Standing Committee for appointment. In addition, the Rev Dr Garry Deverell and Rev Matthew Stuart have become corresponding members and Rev Dr Gerard Moore has been appointed as a consultant.

 

3.10      Appreciation for the leadership of the Rev Dr Paul Walton

 

Since the last Assembly the Rev Dr Paul Walton has stepped down as convener of the Working Group after 15 years of service. During that time Paul has made a wonderful contribution to the life and worship of the Uniting Church, not least the oversight of the production of Uniting in Worship 2. We note his commitment and service with deep appreciation. He continues as a member of the Working Group. The extent of this appreciation will be presented in a special minute to the 13th Assembly

 

Rev Dr David Pitman (Convener)

 

4.         CONCLUSION

 

I wish to thank Chris Walker for the way in which he has followed through his role with the Doctrine and Worship Working Groups, and also attending and working with the Mission and Evangelism Network.  Chris has been an invaluable member of all these groups in preparing documents and papers and working with other members on documents both required by the Assembly but also encouraging the groups to be proactive.

 

The working groups on Doctrine and Worship have benefitted from the leadership of their conveners.  Rev Dr Wes Campbell has given faithful and consistent leadership as convener of the Doctrine working group for the past seven years.  He has guided the work of the WGD with theological acumen and a compassionate spirit in the midst of issues where the church’s diversity has sometimes complicated our discussions.  We are grateful for his leadership.  He will conclude as convener at this Assembly but continue as a member.  Rev Dr Rod Horsfield has worked with Wes and has ably supported the WGD.  His time as Secretary will conclude later in 2012.  We thank both of these people for their faithfulness to their tasks.

 

Paul Walton retired from the convenership of the Worship Working Group in 2010.  He had served in that role for fifteen years.  We thank Paul for his facilitation and oversight of the WGW in the production of ‘Uniting in Worship 2’, ‘A Short Guide to Daily Prayer’, ‘The Funeral Service’, and the many alternate prayers and devotions that can be accessed from the website.  Paul has been a faithful servant in his guidance of this Working Group.  We also thank Kerry Pierce for her work as secretary to the Worship Working Group.  David Pitman took over as convener in 2010 and will continue in the role for the next triennium.  

 

I also wish to thank Graham Beattie who helped Chris Walker guide the transition of the Mission and Evangelism Working Group to become a Network.  We thank Graham for his service as the convener of the Mission and Evangelism Working Group and Mission and Evangelism Network.  Peter Armstrong is now the convener of the Mission and Evangelism network with Duncan Macleod as deputy. 

 

We give thanks to God for all who dedicate time to the Working Groups.  This enables a robust discussion and diversity in thinking.

 

Rev Carolyn Thornley, Chairperson

 

Rev Dr Chris Walker, National Consultant