Property for a Pilgrim People
04 From the General Secretaryâ€™s Desk 05 Introduction: Are we ready to be Pilgrims? 20
Theology of Property
28 The Parable of the Sower: Understanding and resourcing mission for the Common Good 30 Principles of the use of property 36
Sales Proceeds Policy
44 A last thought: The need for change 45
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Foreword from the Moderator
Changing attitude to our property resources
hen Rev. Niall Reid was Moderator, he held a radical vision of how we might change our attitude to our property resources. We were recently reading in the lectionary from Matthew chapter 5 — the Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus calls us to lofty principles of ethos, attitude and action. It is not enough, in his Book, to act according to conventional wisdom, or ‘reasonable’ understanding based on human shortcomings and anxieties.
Rev. Dr Brian Brown Moderator
The Moderator is elected to give general and pastoral leadership to the Synod, assisting and encouraging expression and fulfilment of faith, and the witness of the church.
Time and again he says, “You heard that it was said…” followed by some statement of what might be understandable behaviour that no reasonable person would criticise. He then follows with, “But I say to you…” calling for exceptional attention to the details of ethical behaviour, and then going the extra mile. Applying such an approach to our missional use of property and other resources, Jesus might have said something like, “You have heard that it was said ‘charity begins at home’, but I say to you, ‘give without counting the cost, and your giving will be blessed beyond your wildest imagining’”. He did in fact say, “… give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap…” (Luke 6:38a).
in mind the words of poet Mary Gilmore, you may have heard that it was said, “My son’s bread is my son’s bread”, but I say to you that a church that is generous, inclusive and courageous sees all creation as family, to be fed and accommodated according to the need of all.
Give without counting the cost, and your giving will be blessed beyond your wildest imagining It is a tough call. We have become used to ‘our place’ as if we owned it. The fact is that we are bigger than just that. To quote Niall, “The Uniting Church has the credibility, ethos and resources that give it the potential to make a significant impact on the spiritual and social landscape of Australian society.” There is some irony that Niall now has a free-ranging role with the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT. Some might call it ‘karma’! I call it having the courage of your convictions. I am sure he is hoping that we all have that. We do it for Christ and the Common Good.
This does not mean that we give in order to receive. Rather, it means we err on the side of generosity because that is what is needed; whether it is out of our abundance or out of our scarcity. It means that while we recognise the all-too-human need to hang on to what is ‘ours’ (even when it isn’t!), in the Kingdom of God our ethos is to put the needs of others first. Bearing insights.uca.org.au
You can follow the Moderator on Twitter @BrianBrownUCA Insights special issue 2014 3
From the General Secretary’s desk Addressing critical issues facing the Uniting Church
n this special issue of Insights — Property for a Pilgrim People — we address one of the most critical issues facing the Uniting Church. How we think about property, and how we use this resource to the best advantage in the mission of God?
Rev. Dr Andrew Williams General Secretary The General Secretary is appointed by the Synod to provide leadership to the Church by actively engaging in strategic thinking about the life, direction, vision and mission of the Church.
In Acts we read how the disciples shared their lives and their belongings – they had “all things in common” and “as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold…and it was distributed to each as any had need”. In fact to press the point there is the troubling story of Ananias and Sapphira who are struck dead for keeping back some of the proceeds of the sale of a property. Some commentators doubt that in reality there was such a level of widespread communalism in the early church, and there is no evidence that it continued for very long into the Christian story. So what of the Uniting Church? It could be argued that since Union we have had too much property, particularly in towns and suburbs where there were three buildings from the three former denominations. While we can track the decline of members of the Uniting Church since 1977, it is harder to track the ups and downs of our property ownership. Many properties have been sold. But many are retained with much smaller Congregations to care for them. Some properties have found alternative use within the Church, for example, with a Congregation from a migrant community. Some properties have become a burden. There are many anecdotes about churches that remain open because a long-time member has said they wish to be buried from that church. We need to reflect hard on all these issues, and this is what the material in this edition allows us to do. I am sure that much of the property heritage that we have (and the resulting wealth of the church) was established by a faithful
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generation (sometimes called the ‘builder generation’) for whom the security that came with home ownership/property investment was an entrenched value. It is because of this generation’s hard work that we have such a legacy. Now we must ask, “What future do we want for the Uniting Church”? Of course we also have a peculiarly Uniting Church systemic issue. There is no single commanding authority in the organisation to force change on a reluctant organisation (such as amalgamating Congregations and selling buildings). Rev. Dr Bill Loader of the WA Uniting Church wrote a book explaining the basics of Christianity and the future of the church. He looked at some of the options for the church and then commented: “The worsening financial state of the Church is forcing the Church to consider some of these options, but it is far better if they are looked at with a view to being more effective than only with a view to saving money.” (Rev. Dr Bill Loader Dear Kim, This is What I Believe: Explaining Christian Faith Today, Canberra: Kippax Uniting Church, September 2001, p 47). We might all agree. But that is not how the Uniting Church operates. Rather, the Uniting Church is much more accustomed to making adhoc cuts, rather than doing so as part of a holistic strategy. There is no one part of the Uniting Church that can enforce a coordinated series of changes, and strategy seems to be something we like to talk about rather than act upon. Instead, there are just localised cuts as the need arises and lots and lots of talking! So this opens up questions about the very nature and structure of the Church, which must deal with the situation in which we now find ourselves. There is urgency about all these issues and we must address them! Let Property for a Pilgrim People stimulate your thinking!
Are we ready to be pilgrims? Since the churches united in 1977, the whole Uniting Church has faced many property questions: what to keep, what to sell and how best to use ...
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Introduction by the Rev. Niall Reid I have been called by the Church to help facilitate a conversation across the Synod about how we use our property resources to fulfil the mission of God. I have accepted the call because I believe it is from God. I also believe that the Uniting Church has the credibility, ethos and resources which give it the potential to make a significant impact on the spiritual and social landscape of Australian society. Determining how we use our considerable property in service of the mission needs to be a collaborative effort and in this special edition of Insights I am asking for your help. In the following pages there are discussion questions and case studies to help you engage with the process and to spark your imagination. There is not an expectation that anyone will seek to answer all the questions and an acknowledgement that different people will focus on particular points that reflect their interest or concern.
hilst acknowledging the challenges that face us, including the huge social changes in our society since the Uniting Church came into being: declining rates of attendance; the proportionately increasing costs of property maintenance; and compliance issues around complex state and federal laws, our focus must not be on the challenges but rather on the opportunities they offer for new and creative thinking. In response to the gospel, as we discern and define what God is calling us to be and how we can most effectively engage with our society, we will reform the life of the church and in the course of doing so must decide what sort of property will serve us best. Hearing the Word of God, understanding the times, facing its challenges and making strategic changes are not simple tasks. They require patient listening, careful discerning, persistent prayer, openness to new learning and a readiness to be led in new directions. It is well to remember that when Jesus sent the disciples out, he told them to take nothing for the journey — no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra clothing, no sandals (even). What do we need for the journey? What do we require to be effective in the mission God calls us to? insights.uca.org.au
This is an opportunity for us to work together, bringing wisdom and knowledge from our different perspectives and experience with the hope that in the conversation we will discern the guidance of the Spirit. At this stage there are no concrete proposals as to the way forward. It is envisaged that these will emerge from the wrestling of God's people. It is well to remember that God may speak through the least and unexpected and so I would encourage everyone to participate and not be afraid to contribute whatever God puts upon your heart. Spirit of God, may every person who reads these pages open their hearts and minds to you. Spirit of God, may they be guided by the teaching and example of Jesus as they seek your will. Spirit of God, may your vision emerge from the conversations of your people and come to life in your Church.
Some of our property can be of great benefit and some is simply a burden. Some property gives us a context for mission and some drains our capacity for mission.
Property for a Pilgrim People is not the final word. It’s part of an ongoing conversation that will take place in:
Our property is not an end in itself, but a means to be about God’s work of transforming the lives of individual people, our society and our world. Is it fit for the purpose, reflecting why we are here and giving expression to what we are on about? If not, what do we need to do to ensure it does?
• small groups established by presbyteries and Congregations
The good stewardship of our assets must ultimately be about the effective use of them for the mission of God.
Setting the scene: The goal of Property for a Pilgrim People The theological framework and principles in this publication are presented in a way to help us reflect on the possibilities that the creative and wise use of our property resources could achieve. We hope presbyteries with Congregations will use this publication as a resource for study, as a catalyst for creative thinking, and an aid in discerning God’s leading. The word ‘property’ refers to sales proceeds, sites, buildings and their contents owned by the Uniting Church, where the beneficial user is the Congregation or Presbytery.
• consultation with presbyteries and Congregations
• a third property workshop • Synod Standing Committee meetings; and • the Synod meeting in 2014. With the approval of the Synod, policy documents and guidelines will be prepared for implementation across the Church noting that the Synod (and its Standing Committee) has responsibility for the general oversight, direction and administration of the Church’s worship, witness and service in the region allotted to it [Basis of Union para. 15(d)]. This consultation process is vital given there will be a broad range of opinions. Achieving consensus may prove to be difficult. We encourage you to get involved in discussions in your Congregation and provide us with feedback. Responses should be forwarded to the Rev. Niall Reid at email@example.com.
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• the church is no longer central in most people’s lives
The past: God at the centre
• attendance at worship and involvement in church activities are optional and irregular
There have been significant cultural shifts in Australia over recent decades. Attitudes, behaviours and beliefs have changed. There was once general acceptance that God exists, that God is at the centre of our world and that most people believed in God. From these premises, it followed that: • every community had a church; many communities had several • most people ‘belonged’ to a church even if they seldom attended
• fewer people choose membership • Sunday offers many options apart from church • there are civil marriages, birth rites and funerals • the authority of the church diminishes while the authority of people over their own lives increases • politicians are no longer assumed to be Christian
• the church’s authority extended over members –and society
• society and its media distance themselves from a Christian milieu and values
• the church was central to society: Sundays were Sabbath days, rites of passage (birth, marriage and death) belonged to the church
• the church is understood to exist more to ‘satisfy the people’ in a ‘feel good ’or ‘self-authenticating’ society
• loyal members attended church regularly and everyone attended at Easter and Christmas
• greater denominational choice means a wider array of churches
• politicians were Christian and operated with Christian values • the church ran social and sporting activities for all ages • the church provided a wide range of social services, including schools, hospitals and charities • Christianity was the only public faith • church structures, buildings and liturgy were permanent • the word ‘sacred’ was applicable to church buildings. This past era is within the living memory of many churchgoers today. It has given general form to Australian church life.
The present: God on the edge The era of the centrality of God has been fast disappearing as we enter a time when, for the majority of people, the church is seen to be largely irrelevant. The existence of God is either ignored or, increasingly, denied. God is no longer central in people’s lives and, at best, exists on the edge of their consciousness. God on the edge implies a church on the edge, and this means: 8 Insights special issue 2014
• the form of church life of the past seems to be dying, leading many to regard the church as old-fashioned and belonging to the past • we now have many small, ageing Congregations with burdensome buildings to maintain and demanding health and safety regulations with which to comply. Yet it remains true that all major religions in Australia continue to affirm the importance of having buildings as a focus for community identity.
1. What are your own memories of your church when you were a child? 2. In what ways do you consider your own church building ‘sacred’, and why? 3. What are some of the major changes for the local or wider church in the last generation?
Case study: Every community had a church In a time when every community had a church, Broken Hill at Union had six Uniting Church Congregations in three parishes. This was within a small geographical area in a city where the population peaked at around 35,000 in the 1960s. Today, the town is home to around 19,000 residents with only one large heritage building for the Uniting Church Congregation. That one building places a strain on the Congregation. Fortunately, a new multi-purpose building has been built adjacent to the church. The vision is to provide connections to the community in a completely different context.
Case study: The church was central Many churches had sports clubs and tennis courts, and hosted regular dances and social events. Most people in the community were members or participated in the events. The NSW Churches Football Association began in the early 1920s as the New South Wales Protestant Churches Soccer Football Association. It grew to be the largest soccer association in the Southern Hemisphere during the 70s and 80s, having at one time as many all age teams as the rest of NSW combined. Many well known Australian players have played within its competitions, including 1974 World Cup Socceroos Ron Corry and Johnny Warren (Botany Methodist); 1979 - 80 Socceroo, Greg Woodhouse (St Pauls Bankstown & Chester Hill Presbyterian); and 1989 2000 Matildas keeper, Tracey Wheeler (Wentworthville Uniting). Pita Rabo (Guildford McCredie Uniting) went on to captain the Fiji national side and participate in 2002 and 2006 World Cup qualification campaigns after playing in the NSWCFA.
4. Which of these changes do you consider welcome and which are not? insights.uca.org.au
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The future Belief in God as one of the choices In the present day the idea of universal or absolute truths has declining acceptance in a culture where making choices and valuing differences has become the norm. This development presents both difficulties and opportunities for the church. On the one hand the Christian story is seen as one among many stories and cannot claim special privilege or authority in our society. On the other hand the acceptance of diverse ‘truths’ and many ‘ways of knowing’ makes more room for religious belief in general, including Christian belief. Our era is marked by the common search for a personal do-it-yourself spirituality. It is a culture of options with belief in God as one of many possible options.
Anticipating the future church It is not easy to anticipate the future shape of the church, but indications are that if current trends continue: • t he church’s place in Australian society will be as one faith group in a society of many faiths • t he church will be marginal to the main interests and activities of our society • t here will be a diversity of forms and styles of church life •d enominational loyalty will continue to decline •C ongregations will increasingly depend on lay leadership • t here will be fewer resources to maintain church structures, activities and buildings • t he church will be challenged by how to give expression to itself through its community service activity • s ome church communities will have only a loose connection with buildings.
Case study: Burdensome buildings Uniting Church members worshipping in North Croydon (in NSW) had dwindled to around 15 people. This was in a church building that could comfortably seat more than 150. The grounds and building required considerable maintenance, which was well beyond the capacity of the members. The church building was eventually demolished and an independent living facility was built in its place. This incorporated a chapel, where the Congregation worshipped for more than ten years. The final service was held on Good Friday, 2007. Today the facility is used for special occasions and fellowship activities of the Parish with members now attending and sharing their gifts with other Congregations in the Parish. Many relationships have formed between members of the Parish and those now living in the independent living facility.
Case study: A painful journey In June 2010, the former Oxford Street and Chester Street Uniting Church Congregations were amalgamated at the Chester Street site as Epping Uniting Church. The amalgamation took place after many years of discussion. At the insistence of the Presbytery of Sydney North ministers and members of both Congregations finally worshiped together at the Season of Pentecost 2010. A number of former Oxford Street members were unwilling to join the new community. There are members of both Congregations who still feel that the process was unfortunately harsh and many who nevertheless feel it was necessary. Despite an initial assumption that the former Oxford Street property would be sold, it is now accepted by the Epping Congregation, the Presbytery and the Synod, that the site should, over time, be re-developed as part of the greater redevelopment of the Epping area.
own property over time, Epping UC can see how the future redevelopment could help provide facilities for the future of the Church in the whole district. There are strong ecumenical (Covenanted) ties with local Anglican, Catholic and Baptist churches, as well as West Epping Uniting Church. During 2011, Epping Uniting Church (with the help of Sydney North Presbytery) refurbished the former manse at 9 Chester Street, converting it to a local community centre. This facility now successfully houses the Epping Church Office, the Relationships Australia Epping Community Hub and several diverse and multicultural community activities. It is already an important and noteworthy centre of activity with a sustainable future.
Case study: Spiritual connections The South Sydney Uniting Church parish encompasses the inner-city suburbs of Redfern and Waterloo. It is ecumenical and inclusive, affirming the gifts of people of all ages, cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations and identities. Weekly celebrations of the Eucharist sustain ministries in fine arts: • an Artist in Residence program engages faith and creativity • the Church hosts an artist-run space called the Orchard Gallery as well as fortnightly free art classes There is a community building and journalism is supported. The Church publishes a free community newspaper called the South Sydney Herald, which features contributions from 100 volunteers each month and circulation of 30,000). They also run projects that support of refugees and adult survivors of child abuse. Each week the church hall welcomes men in need of overnight accommodation thanks to a ministry partnership with local Catholic group, Cana Communities. The Church premises include a community garden, and a fresh fruit and vegetable pickup service that supports local farmers and organic, chemical-free farming.
Given the strategic nature of the site and the enthusiasm of St Alban's Anglican Church (which shares a common boundary) for redeveloping its insights.uca.org.au
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Case study: New forms of ministry within When Gordon Uniting Church (in NSW) experienced a decline in its worshipping Congregation, particularly amongst young families, it decided to offer Messy Church. It initially ran four times year, but due to demand was increased it to once a month. Today it has up to 60 attending (about two thirds the size of the weekly Sunday morning Congregation), many of whom would not participate in a traditional service.
Case Study: New Forms of ministry alongside Grace is a faith community that has been established alongside the existing Congregations of the Goulburn District Uniting Church. It is made up of six smaller faith communities that are each gathered around a particular interest or value: • Outdoor Adventure Church • The Den (a gaming community) • Christian Meditation • Supper Church • Messy Church • a youth community. These gatherings meet in a diverse range of places — people's homes, community spaces, the church hall — and come together for combined celebrations four times a year. These communities are connecting with a community of young adults and young families in the area, many of whom would not engage in more traditional worship and some of whom have had no previous church connection at all.
This strong emphasis on pilgrimage is reflected in the fact that the Uniting Church does not consecrate buildings Case study: New Forms of ministry beyond Midnite Cafe in Dubbo (NSW) is a dynamic late night live music event where music, coffee and art are used to create an ambient and natural conversation space. It has helped support local musicians and artists promote themselves and their work. Midnite Cafe has adapted to and operated out of various properties over a number of years. It is currently running monthly events in the Uniting Church hall while it searches for new premises. Midnite Cafe is a true third place. If we think of home as the first place and work the second, the third place is a community building or social space that serves as an anchor of community life. They’re a place where creative interaction is encouraged and fostered. Although not overt, the promotion of Christian community permeates Midnite Cafe. It is drug and alcohol free and an attractive alternative to the pub culture. It’s a place where people of all ages can come, hang out with their friends and make new ones without the pressure to conform to some of society’s more unhealthy pressures.
When people talk about the church dying, what is really happening is that a particular form and style of church life is dying and a new form and style of the church’s life is evolving. What do you think your local church could be like in another generation: its structures, its worship, its buildings, and its ministry? 12 Insights special issue 2014
ON THE WAY: Towards a future promised by God When the Basis of Union affirmed we are a pilgrim people, always on the way, it linked the Uniting Church to a long Christian tradition of pilgrimage. This strong emphasis on pilgrimage is reflected in the fact that the Uniting Church does not consecrate buildings. We are moving towards a future promised by God while holding to the presence of God with us now. The metaphor of pilgrimage underpins the tension in Christian history between a sense of place and of no place; between understanding God’s place as here, or local on the one hand and beyond, or universal on the other.
Places of God: This place and every place Christians have understood the places of God in many ways. Christian theology has always affirmed the importance of the material world. But Christian history has been wary of identifying sacred places and has tended, especially in the West, to emphasise time rather than place in discussions of how human beings interact with God. In Jesus, believers found not a temple or a promised land, but a person. In early Christian tradition places were sacred because of their connection with Jesus and the events of his life. Old boundaries of the sacred were pushed outwards to include sinners, the poor and the outcast. The first Christian martyr — Stephen — is remembered in Acts 7 enraging the people with reminders of their heritage as “aliens in a foreign land’ and declaring that, ”the Most High does not live in houses made by men”. The apostolic church was concerned with movement from ‘home’ outwards to the wider world. It was ‘on the way’ to Emmaus or to Damascus, that the early church remembered radical encounters with the risen Christ. In the early Christian centuries, holy men and women became places of pilgrimage in themselves as the holiness of the people of God overtook interest in places. The tombs of the martyrs and the desert huts of living saints were sought out. The people in those places, rather than the place itself, offered models of radical discipleship. insights.uca.org.au
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Augustine made a related distinction at the end of this period as Christianity adapted to a privileged place in the Roman Empire. He warned strongly against identifying the ‘city of God’ with the ‘earthly city’ or ‘the world of places’. God’s realm of spiritual realities was in parallel to but outside the unstable realm of politics and culture. Augustine’s sharp distinction influenced centuries of Western thought on the divide between secular and sacred history. With this came a suspicion, picked up by the sixteenth century reformers among others, of the idea that earthly places might mediate God. On the other hand, particular places have been significant in Christian history. Landscapes and locations have fired spiritual imagination as places of encounters with God. Athanasius records that when Antony of Egypt found his remote hill in Thebaid, “As if stirred by God, [he] fell in love with the place”. Since this time, other beautiful and wild places have been identified as a ‘map of paradise’ by holy seekers. The built environment has been important also. Monastic complexes, Gothic cathedrals, Puritan villages and Shaker communities are examples of theological architecture. All were designed with an awareness of how buildings can speak of God. Particular places are part of the memory of conversion stories. They have shaped powerful encounters with God. Paul was at a particular point on the road to Damascus. Augustine heard the lines that changed his life in a garden outside Milan. John Wesley was ‘strangely warmed’ at a prayer meeting in Aldersgate Street. Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood a call to ‘religionless Christianity’ in Tegal Prison. Thomas Merton suddenly found that God infused the entire world on a street corner in Louisville. Other places would have shaped those experiences differently and we would remember them differently. This connection between places of encounter with God and the stories of those encounters is part of the sense of the sacred that also attaches to many church buildings. Within the Christian awareness of the significance of place, there is a insights.uca.org.au
paradoxical insistence that God can be found in every place. The desert fathers who fled spiritual danger in the cities actually advised people to stay where they were called to be; to recognise that the holy place is always here in this place. In the monastic centuries, this stability of commitment to the particular place and community was affirmed strongly. Holy men and women were expected to recognise that until they could find God in that particular place they would not find God anywhere else. Through the centuries the spiritual advice has been that utopia – literally meaning ‘no place’ – does not exist over the next hill. The holy place is always recognised here.
Place: Community and story As mobility and change become increasingly valued over stability, commentators are paying more attention to the dynamics of place. They have noted that the shared memory of stories is often what makes a particular place special or sacred. These stories define it as a place rather than just a space. This applies not only to church buildings, but to schools, family homes, public buildings and other sites of significant events. Telling the stories is a way of participating in the meaning of the place; continuing to define it, and of shaping commitment to it. Usually it is those who do not know the stories of a place who are not committed to it and not at home in it. Newcomers, travellers, tourists, sea changers, hobby farmers all sit in a different relationship to the stories of a place that is home to a steady community. Whether and how stories enlarge and grow around a place is one hallmark of its sacredness in a community. A place without stories is never sacred. Without stories there is no place; the site is a non-place. This term was first used by French anthropologist Marc Augé. His work points out the non-places of the modern world where there is no real community. He argues that in non-places we could be ‘anywhere’. In supermarkets, airports, in front of a computer screen or in a traffic jam — we are at the same time ‘everywhere and nowhere’.
These non-places do not connect with the individual identities of the people who are there. There are no relationships lived out there and hence no memories or stories formed. The non-places of the new global village run the risk of forgetting that human beings have bodies. To create meaning we need to be somewhere.
1. H ow do you understand the image of the Uniting Church being ‘a pilgrim people, always on the way’? What does this image suggest in relation to ownership of property? Is there a place that is ‘sacred’ for you? What makes it sacred? 2. T ake some time to sit in your church building (if you have one). What do you notice? What are the stories here? 3. If there were a need for your Congregation to move, how could the stories be honoured? What does it mean that to say that ‘without stories there is no place’?
Case study: Moving and growing Terrigal Uniting Church (in NSW) moved from the town centre to a site owned by the Board of Education on the main road just out of Terrigal. The town site had very limited car parking, no room for expansion and limited capacity to provide community engagement. The church had a vision to be more than a worship space. It recognised there could still be a presence in town without owning a building and for a while the Congregation operated a café in leased premises. The church at Wamberal was closed and consolidated on the new site. The church grew and a new purpose-built centre was established for the articulated mission, which included significant community use.
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Case study Landscape as places of encounter with God When Rev. Alistair Macrae was President of the Assembly, he encouraged the Church to initiate Pilgrimages to Living Waters. The goal was to enable people to encounter God in the landscape in places along the way. Pilgrimages lasting from a few hours to a few days occurred all across the country, in the wilderness, the outback and in urban areas.
Case study: ‘Homes as places of encounter with God’ With white ants invading the structure and precarious pine trees posing a safety threat to visitors, in 1984 the Scots Kirk in the village of Murrumbateman was closed. An ecumenical bible study group began meeting in the home of a local resident. In 1994 the group had a vision: to re-establish a Congregation in and for the community. And so a new Congregation came together in the community centre in the village and set about refurbishing the Uniting Church property for a new mission. The Congregation, which became known as Murrumbateman Community Church, began worshipping in the church building. Initially, there were between 20 and 30 regulars. Soon after, the old Methodist Church from Yass was moved on to the site. Gardens were established and the Congregation became involved in community activities with the facility becoming a presence in the village.
Case study: Place of sanctuary in the city The doors of the Wollongong Mission (in NSW) are open between 9.15am and 3.15pm, Monday to Friday, for people to find a quiet space for prayer and meditation. Loud sobs and groans are often heard as people unburden their hearts to God and seek some way forward in life. Alongside the open sanctuary, the Wollongong Community Care Centre is known as a ‘safe place’ for those who find themselves homeless, unemployed, living with an addiction and/or mental illness. It is a place prized by people for its lack of judgement and its warm hospitality, including great meals, food parcels, patient listening and referral. The centre also serves morning tea and lunch to around 80 people each day.
These stories define it as a place rather than just a space. This applies not only to church buildings, but to schools, family homes, public buildings and other sites of significant events.
Thanks to that early vision of the bible group, today around 300 people use the hall each week for number of activities, including Uniting and Catholic worship services, Dance Academy, Joeys, Cubs, Scouts, glass workshops and a craft group.
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Community and sense of purpose
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Theology of property P
roperty is part of the Uniting Churchâ€™s life. The present situation and foreseeable future include the ownership, maintenance, acquisition, sales, management and utilisation of properties. But how are we to think theologically about property? What is the place of property in the present life of the Church? What would a theology of property look like?
Freedom from property A theology of property is forced upon us by the fact that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit gathers, builds up and sends us out in real time and concrete places. Although the work of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit is not bound to property, the Church has acquired properties as places where it gathers as the people of God. It has therefore bound itself to property. The Church is constituted, however, in the work of God and not on its ownership or non-ownership of property. It is therefore possible to imagine, theologically, a property-less Church. But it is not theologically sound to imagine a church that does not exist in time and place in the world. With or without property the Church can still be the church. Hence the Church is free to think of itself as the people of God with or without property. The Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal; here the Church does not have a continuing city but seeks one to come...Through human witness in word and action, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ reaches out to command attention and awaken faith; he calls people into the fellowship of his sufferings, to be the disciples of a crucified Lord; in his own strange way Christ constitutes, rules and renews them as his Church [Basis of Union para. 3 & 4]. 20 Insights special issue 2014
Case Study: What do we need? The Georges River Presbytery and Arncliffe Congregation held a series of conversations about future directions for the Arncliffe Congregation. They had a Minister in Placement and some reserve funds, which would have kept them going for another year or so. This small group decided to cease being a Congregation while they were able to make the decision freely, and each go to another local Congregation. At the same time, the Presbytery needed to move from their existing office space and so moved into the Arncliffe building. This gave them time to consider what might be the best longterm use of the building. Eventually, the Presbytery decided to sell the building, as it was too large a space for the office. The building sold at auction, and will become a child care centre. The Presbytery purchased a new office, with enough space for committee meetings as well as office requirements.
In what circumstance, if any, do you think that you might choose to give up your church building? If you chose to give up your church building and relocate to another centre of worship: 1. What would be the most difficult thing about doing this?
The Presbytery is now looking at options for the best use of the funds released. It wasnâ€™t only funds that have been released by a small group of people deciding to close and find a new worshiping community, the fridge has gone to refugee family, and pews, organ and other items have found new uses in other Congregations.
Case Study: With or without property, the Church can still be the church Many Churches have worshipped in schools and community halls over many years without the need for property. The North Belconnen Uniting Church Congregation, in cooperation with the Anglicans, worshipped in a school for 17 years. This is remembered as a very positive arrangement with shared activities of witness and service, regular combined worship and the Anglican and Uniting Church ministers working as a team. There was great disappointment when the Anglican Bishop made the decision to bring it to an end. During this time the Congregation owned a house next to the local shops in which the church office, meeting rooms and an op-shop were located. After the arrangement with the Anglicans came to an end, the decision was made to build a separate Uniting Church worship centre. This was controversial in the life of the Congregation with a significant minority believing it was unnecessary.
2. What would be important for you to take with you from your present church building and why? 3. What would shape your decision to join a new worshipping community? 4. How might money from property sales be best used? insights.uca.org.au
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Case Study: Needs change Leichhardt Uniting Church (in NSW) once had a mission to provide age care facilities in the community. As the demographics of the suburb changed and the Congregation dwindled, the facilities were taken over by UnitingCare. Needing a home, the University Congregation revitalised the Congregation and developed a Christian community for university students in the hostel next to the church. They are now working with UnitingCare to create an integrated Church presence in the community.
Case study: Property — not an end in itself Pittwater Uniting Church is built on a foundation of faithful witness to the gospel. It was established by the Uniting Churches of Mona Vale, Narrabeen and Elanora Heights. Out of their passion for Christ, and inspired creativity, a vision was born to create one united, new Church on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. A Church that would be home to a biblical community situated in an inspiring multi-purpose facility dedicated to leading people to maturity in Jesus Christ. And so Pittwater Uniting Church was born.
1. Discuss the property issues that you face as you live as the people of God in the world. Reflect on what it would mean for you as a Congregation or Church agency to be property-less.
How is your Church property serving the mission?
2. What possibilities emerge when we think of ourselves as the Church with or without property?
The Church as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit confesses Jesus as Lord over its own life; it also confesses that Jesus is Head over all things, the beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity.
Property is bound to mission Although the Church, as the work of God, can be separated from property, the property of the Church cannot be theologically thought of apart from the Christian community. Church property is not an end in itself, but has a purpose and function. These are to support the life of the community of Christ. The life of the church is also not an end in itself, but has a purpose and function. Put simply, the church serves God. The starting point for a theology of property therefore is the Christian understanding of the: 1. function of property in the context of mission; and 2. Church’s faith in God as the One served in all that the Church is and does. Our faith in God defines the mission of the Church, which is the context in which property is to be understood. insights.uca.org.au
Discuss the following quotation from the Basis of Union. What is the mission and nature of the Church here?
God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end: to be a fellowship of reconciliation… an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself. [para. 3 of The Basis of Union]
Property as proclamation It follows from our acceptance that Church property is bound to mission that properties serve the purpose of witness. This means how we use, manage and maintain properties are not the domain only of the finance or maintenance committees. Rather, they are part of the mission of God in the world. Property usage witnesses to the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ; to the new way of being in the reconciling work of Christ
Property is not the Church’s ‘possession’ or ‘gift from God’ that is to be used ‘wisely’ by the Church according to the world’s standards of good management. All our dealings with property should point to the Kingdom of God. The criterion for the faithful use of property is therefore its efficacy in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Property is both a place and a form of proclamation.
Case study: Proclaiming in non Church properties The Mustard Seed Uniting Church in Ultimo (NSW) decided to start a group called Soul Talk at the Pub. The aim is to offer a place where people who are unlikely to attend church could discuss spiritual matters in a familiar environment, and Church members could reflect on the presence of God in a place not usually associated with God.
Church property is not an end in itself, but has a purpose and function. Deciding in worship The Uniting Church faces many complex property issues. These include maintenance costs, heritage compliance, access for all abilities, safety, complying with new laws and the emotional connections people have to property. How are we to deal with these while witnessing to the reconciliation of the world in Jesus Christ? No single all-encompassing principle applies to all property questions. Every issue requires a specific decision. However, decisions made in the life of the Church are not made in a vacuum. Decisions are made within a theological framework of our understanding of God and the Church’s mission. If property is positioned in the context of the mission of the Church, then decisions about property become part of the worshiping life of the Christian community. The way we decide about property is Insights special issue 2014 23
first and foremost a prayerful listening and encountering of the Word of God. Speaking and hearing the Word of God takes place in the context of the Christian community. As we gather in worship we are empowered through Word and Sacrament for the commission of Jesus to be his witnesses. The starting point for making decisions about property is therefore worshipping together. The Word of God on whom salvation depends is to be heard and known from Scripture appropriated in the worshipping and witnessing life of the church. The Uniting Church lays upon its members the serious duty of reading the Scriptures, commits its ministers to preach from these and to administer the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as effective signs of the Gospel set forth in the Scriptures [para 5 of The Basis of Union].
Case study: Discerning property priorities Terrigal Uniting Church (in NSW) heard the Christmas story and chose to develop a property that was like the stable of the nativity. They set about creating an inviting space for families to enjoy themselves and created easy spaces throughout the building so large prams could easily be manoeuvred. They created special parking places for people with babies or a disability. In their ‘stable’ the poor were welcomed without hesitation, as well as any ‘kings with their gifts.’ It was to be a place where God was extravagantly worshipped and adored. They did not choose to lock any of the kitchen cupboards. They became a legend in their community, shared generously, and focused on the strengths in each
1. What difference does it make to think of property issues in the context of worship in the gathered community of Christ? 2. Is this starting point for making decisions about property helpful in your situation? 3. How can Presbyteries and Synods apply this approach? 24 Insights special issue 2014
person given to them by God. This is their reality: There is never too much (money), but there is always enough to err on the side of generosity.
Deciding in community Decisions about Church properties are not merely the concern of an individual Congregation, they are the responsibility of the whole Church. No individual part of the Church ‘owns’ property or has a ‘right’ to property. All Church property is the commonwealth of the community of Christ to serve its purpose in proclaiming the gospel. The entire Church is, therefore, responsible for using and managing property. This means decisions about property are not made in isolation, but in relation to one another as the community of Christ. The Uniting Church is governed in such a way that various
The entire Church is responsible for using and managing property councils of the Church have oversight of different property matters. At every council of the Church, however, the Word of God is to be heard and obeyed. Each council with responsibility for property is to ask the following questions: • What is the witness to the world proclaimed in our management and use of property? • Does our witness serve the gospel? • How is the commonwealth of the Church to serve the purpose of the gospel? The Uniting Church acknowledges that Christ alone is supreme in his church, and that he may speak to it through any of its councils. It is the task of every council to wait upon God’s Word, and to obey God’s will in the matters allocated to its oversight. Each council will recognise the limits of its own authority and give heed to other councils of the Church, so that the
whole body of believers may be united by mutual submission in the service of the Gospel. [The Basis of Union para 15].
Case study: Possibilities arise through being in community Kippax Uniting Church is both a modern, vibrant Uniting Church and one of the largest community service agencies in the ACT. Its Congregation has an intentional relationship with the broader community and a deliberately missional approach to building and development. This approach has led to the establishment of the Congregationallydriven community service, UnitingCare Kippax. It’s a local, community-based organisation that offers care and practical assistance to people. Everyone who engages in any way is considered equally important and belonging to the community, whether it is through worship, community services or any other activity.
Deciding in the world The Church exists in historical, social, cultural and economic contexts. It lives in the world in this ‘time between.’ The Church lives between the time of Christ’s death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things which Christ will bring; the Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal; here the Church does not have a continuing city but seeks one to come. [The Basis of Union para. 3] But it lives in the world as the people of God testifying to Christ, crucified and risen, and the world reconciled in him. This means the Church lives in an uncomfortable tension of being in and for the world, but not being of the world. In relation to property, this tension is all too obvious. The Church believes in justice and supporting the marginalised and the poor. However, we possess substantial wealth in property and other resources, while millions of people live in poverty and die of preventable diseases. Likewise, we believe that we are a ‘pilgrim people’ whose future is in God, and yet we continue to plan financially and invest for the future financial security of the Church. Whose witness insights.uca.org.au
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We take seriously our use of property in witnessing to God the Church's missionary purposes does our management of property serve? Are there issues of ‘power’ that need to be addressed? It would be easy to dismiss these tensions and contradictions as something we just have to live with. But to accept contradictions passively is to decide actively not to live with the tension. Living in tension means we cannot ignore the contradictions of the life and proclamation of the Church. Instead, when we face them we must cry out “Lord have mercy”, and with this cry turn anew to the Lord who has returned the world to himself. This does not necessarily mean the Church is to sell all its properties and give the money to the poor. Neither does it mean the Church should apply the economic ‘wisdom’ of the world. What it does mean is that we take seriously our use of property in witnessing to God and the Church’s missionary purpose. When our understanding of property is placed in the context of the life and mission of the Church, then it is placed in the context of our call to follow Jesus Christ.
•8 84 social and recreational activities. People purchased 100,636 low cost items in the cafe and over 4,774 members of the community visited Wayside to learn about the work. Overall, 82,000 instances of support were provided to people seeking assistance or just stopping by for a chat and a place where they can find company and acceptance. After an $8.3m redevelopment, Wayside Chapel was relaunched in 2012 debt-free. The money raised for the redevelopment came from government and private donors. At the heart of the redevelopment are the prayer room and a new cafe, linked by a glass wall and inspirational graffiti. The neighbourliness of the sacred and profane is deliberate - the essence of the Wayside philosophy.
Case study: In the world but not of it Each year, thousands of people visit Wayside for assistance in gaining equitable access to essential health, welfare and related services. In the past year alone, Wayside provided, amongst other services: • 9,416 community meals • 7,338 1:1 support sessions • 6,528 changes of clothing • 3,456 instances of activity-based support to people with a long-term mental health issue • 2,131 applications of first aid and health support • 1,871 referrals to services and agencies insights.uca.org.au
1. What tensions are there in your decision about property? 2. How does the tension of being the church in and for the world, but not being of the world influence your decision about property? 3. Discuss the following statement: ‘To accept the contradictions passively is to decide actively not to live with the tension.’
The conversation continues online It's your turn to tell us what you think. We would like you to give us feedback and continue the conversations started in Property for a Pilgrim People. In upcoming issues of Insights we will be printing responses and reporting on the work that Rev. Niall Reid will undertake with Presbyteries and Congregations. We value your comments on this special issue as we seek to discern God’s will for the mission of the Church. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. au to have your say about Property for a Pilgrim People. Insights special issue 2014 27
The Parable of the Sower: Understanding and resourcing mission for the Common Good
Introduction Read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 This is a familiar parable. We are used to thinking about it in terms of conversion and growth in faith. Those that hear and do the message thrive; those who fail to take the gospel seriously wither away in their faith. But this parable has the potential to teach us much more than that. We need to turn our attention to the context in which this parable was told, and as well as the contexts of soils; we need to consider the yields and how they might be interpreted. The first century was a largely agrarian economy, so the substance of this parable is extremely important. Jesus is talking literally about the bread of life. In the first century, the success of the grain harvest could literally mean the difference between life or death, food or famine. For these communities, farming was essential. If the farmers failed to produce a crop, then many faced starvation.
The Soils or Farms Jesus sets up a context for each planting — exposed paths, rocks, thorns and fertile ground. We could also add ‘fallow’ to this list, as this was a common practice. This context for planting is important, as each could be said to represent a farm and the owner or landlord’s investment. Jesus presents a clear message — don't waste seed where it will not produce a harvest. Don't pour resources in something that will not yield a good return. Instead, plant your resources where there is obvious potential, and do not waste time and money where there is little or no hope of growth. 28 Insights special issue 2014
1. In what ways do we as a church prepare the ground for doing God’s work in our communities? In what ways do we nurture our ‘farms’, ensuring not only our own Church’s growth, but the growth of the whole Uniting Church and its missions? 2. T he farming cycle in this story mirrors the cycle of living for God. In many ways, this is a model of our Church. The question we must ask, is how much do we focus on fertile ‘farms’ and how much on farms requiring a lot of work to maintain a harvest or which produce no harvest? How many ‘farms’ do we need in places where it is particularly hard to produce a harvest?
The Harvest The obvious Western Christian interpretation of the parable is that Jesus meant different yields on good soil. However, that is a reasonably flat reading, and a 21st century one at that. We need to read the parables with first-century eyes, and hear them (as most would have experienced them) with first-century ears. This parable should be interpreted through the ears of first century peasant farmers, and what they may well have understood as they listened. In first century terms, the three amounts are what you are required to have: 1. 30-fold, the smallest sack, would in all probability be used as seed for the future. Its size would no doubt depend on how prolific the crop was. During a poor crop, this amount would have been smaller, and perhaps farmers would have needed to share seed with each other in order to ensure a future crop.
2. 6 0-fold, the middle-sized sack, would in all probability be the food crop for the family farm. From this, the ‘first fruits’ offering would be made to God. The tithe would be made to the landlord. From what was left, the family would be nourished. The question the family would have faced each year is whether there would be enough grain to cover their needs. Many farmers were subsistence farmers, and often debt required them to merge their farms or sell them. 3. 1 00-fold, the largest sack, would in all probability be a communal food crop, and destined to be consumed by the community of people outside of the family and village farms. The question the community would have faced each year is whether there would be enough for all to be nourished. Would it cover all their needs? Would some go hungry whilst others were overfed? In what ways could the community share, to ensure that the common good was met for all? Jesus is not saying if you get a 100fold, good luck and keep it for yourself. In this context, 100-fold would have meant more for the community. We forget that there are givens in Jesus’ world that are not in ours. Community was a given — shepherds watched the village flock, villages shared a millstone, villages shared a well, the grain was shared to feed everyone and to have future plantings for all. The idea of individuality and personal wealth and entitlement is not a first century Jewish concept at all, except perhaps, for the king. Everything was for the common good, which is why you find this phrase a number of times in the Old Testament. Even the Romans had a grain dole to feed the poor of the city, as it was paramount to feed the community. You just didn’t let people starve. insights.uca.org.au
So it is vital to make sure this parable is understood in its first century context. This context is religion (Jewish law and God), family (which is extended family, including servants etc) and community. No family would eat and let a neighbour starve. This was considered very unhospitable, and such people are described as being fed to dogs. More grain meant more to share, not more to keep. And the three amounts, as well as being good yields, are symbolic of the three amounts that every farmer would have been mindful of. Farmers today know that you keep some for sowing, you feed the family, and you sell on the rest for the larger community. The subsistence farmers on the stony hills and well worn pathways would have done it tough, and in most cases they eventually had to sell or amalgamate their farms with neighbouring ones, and this too is a good analogy for churches today. Sometimes, it is impossible to grow miracles in barren, over worked earth. But sharing was the go, and this is why also there are provisions for gleaning and temple handouts in the law for the very poor. insights.uca.org.au
1. Think about how the harvest would have been distributed. The crop was divided into right ratios, reflecting faithful offering of first fruits, nourishment for current needs, both family and community, and the holding back of seed for planting for future harvests.
4. We need to not only make our offerings to God, but also Invest in our current and future needs. We need to also consider how our ‘harvests’ serve local, regional and wider needs. Should good harvests in some places be used to assist with ‘famines’ in other places?
2. What ‘harvest’ are we offering God today in our churches? How are we nourishing the wider community? Are we really mindful of future generations or do we get caught up in our own selfish consumption?
5. We need to recognise when our ‘farm’ has become unprofitable. Is it poor stewardship to keep trying to grow crops in poor soils? If the conditions are not right and are unlikely to improve, what are the best long-term options open to us?
3. In our analogy, the wider community was dependent on the nourishment from the farms. If the farms’ purpose was to feed not only themselves, but also the community within which they were placed, how did they effectively distribute the produce beyond the farm gates? How does the church ensure a fair and even distribution of wealth for the common good of all?
6. The parable of the sower and the first century farm can teach us a lot about the responsible stewardship of resources and assets, people and ideas, property and finances of the church. We should choose wisely to ensure a bountiful future for all.
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Principles for the use of property I
n the process of developing this publication, questions were raised about the principles upon which any discussion of property could be based. While there are regulations, by-laws and policies that determine the processes and outline the requirements for the use of property, these should serve the purpose and ethos of the Church as given expression to in the Basis of Union. Four principles were identified as reflecting the purpose and ethos of the Church:
Property resources the Church to be at God’s Mission
… the Church of God is committed to serve the world for which Christ died… [Basis of Union para. 1]
Property resources the Church to be at God’s Mission with mission being a co-operative responsibility of the whole Church 2. Common wealth Property is the common wealth of the Church 3. Stewardship Good stewardship of property resources the Church to be in mission 4. Best use The best use of property is defined by the mission Property is a resource for mission
The whole Church
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• Fulfilling the mission of Christ is the Church’s reason for being, defining who we are and what we do, • The mission shapes the property needs rather than the property shaping the mission, and • A continual assessment has to be made as to whether the property resources currently available are suitable and sufficient to sustain the mission
The Uniting Church… will order its life in response to God’s call to enter more fully into mission [Basis of Union para. 13] Mission is to have priority. If, whenever we meet, questions about the mission of Christ in the world are an integral part of the conversation, then we have ‘prioritised mission’. Where the agenda of the Church is more about serving the world and less about our internal issues, this is attractive to others seeking to be active ‘in changing the world.' As a ‘pilgrim people’ there has to be a plan and strategy for achieving the destination God calls us to, identifying what is needed to get there. A mission plan is developed by a Congregation in consultation with the Presbytery (and the Synod), and provides a context for the activities and use of resources. The plan should include an assessment of whether the Congregation’s resources are fit for the purpose (See Appendix 1, page 45). In some instances the mission plan could include the divesting or ’gifting’ of some resources for the mission of the Church more broadly. In others, the plan will require accessing resources from other sources within the Church.
Scripture uke 9:1 - 6 tells us that mission L is not to be burdened with unnecessary trappings. cts 6:1 - 7 tells us that the A apostles developed a plan to enhance the mission.
How is the Church’s calling to serve the coming reconciliation and renewal of the whole creation referred to in para 3 of the Basis of Union and 2 Cor 5:16 21 reflected in the life and witness of the Church/Congregation? How do our properties resource this calling? By what criteria should we judge a mission plan? What evidence is there that the Congregation/Church is prioritising mission?
Case study: Prioritising mission Reflecting the grace of God and choosing to prioritise their life around the mission of Christ, the Mullumbimby/ Brunswick Heads Uniting Church (in Northern NSW) decided to make some changes and take a few risks. Despite having a limited budget, they agreed to: 1. Open their buildings to groups and individuals who could pay little or no contribution toward the use of the building, 2. offer morning tea to anyone who wanted to stay a while at their op shop, 3. sponsor three refugee families from the Congo to come to Australia and live in the town (with the support of the town), insights.uca.org.au
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4. bear the light of Christ to their community groups in which they were involved, such as Hospital Auxiliary, Cancer Council, local choirs, CWA, and Lions, 5. remove the pews to create more flexible and comfortable seating, and 6. start a food bank, using the flexible worship centre as the shop.
Property is the common wealth of the Church •A ll property belongs to God. • T he church cannot be an instrument through which Christ bears witness if we hold or hoard resources that could otherwise be used for God’s mission. Determining the appropriate use of property is the co-operative responsibility of all the councils of the Church, not just the beneficial user. The Uniting Church is governed by a series of inter-related councils, each of which has its tasks and responsibilities in relation both to the Church and the world. Each council will recognise the limits of its own authority and give heed to other councils of the Church, so that the whole body of believers may be united by mutual submission in the service of the Gospel. (Basis of Union para.15). While each council of the Church has specific responsibilities, we belong to one body with one calling in Jesus Christ. The property resources we have as a Church are held in trust for the whole church by the Synod’s Property Trust. Decisions made about those resources are not governed by one part of the Church. The Church has determined for each property the body that has the benefit, for the time being, of the property to use for God’s mission. The “beneficial user” does not own the property in the way that a person may own a house. This means, for example, that the Congregation — seeking to function as the embodiment in one place of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping, witnessing and serving as a fellowship of the Spirit in Christ — will discern and make decisions about property and its use for the mission of insights.uca.org.au
the Church. It will do this in consultation and cooperation with the Presbytery and the Synod, taking into account not only its own context but the mission of the Church as a whole. The Congregation • is responsible for local worship, witness and service •p rovides facilities and resources in support of the work of the Congregation [Reg. 3.1.1(c)(vi)] The Presbytery
How does your Congregation or Presbytery understand being part of ‘the Body of Christ’and what that might mean in terms of building up the Church for the “common good”? How might we, as Congregations and Presbyteries, better care for each other and share the resources that God has blessed us with in order to build up the whole?
• is responsible for the oversight of Congregations as is “necessary to the life and mission of the Church”
Discuss how the Polity of the Church is relevant to use of property for the Mission of God
• “ stimulates and encourages the Congregations”(Constitution para 26)
Case study: Sharing for the Common Good
The Synod • is responsible for “the general oversight, direction and administration of…worship, witness and service…” • “ exercises executive, administrative, pastoral and disciplinary functions over Presbyteries…”(Constitution para 32)
Scripture 1 Corinthians 12 In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes the point that no one person or even one group can claim to be the whole body of Christ. Rather, he makes it clear that “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7).” Paul emphasises that being the ‘body of Christ’ calls each of us as individual Christians to recognise that we are part of a much greater whole. It reminds us that we are not simply disparate congregations, but together form the Uniting Church. Being members of the one body of Christ is reflected through our interdependent councils, and commits each member, congregation and council to the building up of our whole church.
The Synod of 2008 identified the need for a rural chaplain in the more remote areas of NSW. At that time there were no funds available at Synod level to implement this ministry. At a meeting in date, Sydney North Presbytery proposed that the ministry of rural Chaplain could be funded from property sales proceeds that were held for the Presbytery. Permission was sought and given for some of the property sales proceeds to be used to fund the Rural Chaplaincy.
Good stewardship of property resources the Church to be in mission •G ood stewardship involves property being properly maintained, but also ensures the best use of the asset for the mission of the Church, •B eneficial use of property brings with it a responsibility to discern the best use of it for the mission of the Church, •R elinquishing beneficial use to others may be the best stewardship option (encroaches on Best Use). Stewardship requires both imagination and sacrifice The Church’s call is…to be a fellowship of reconciliation, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an instrument through which Christ may bear witness to himself (Basis of Union para.3).
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This principle is about applying good stewardship in the local context and across the whole of the Synod to build the mission of God. Resources will be held for beneficial use by Congregations, Presbyteries, Synod and other agencies of the Church as best promotes the mission of God. Faithful stewardship may at times mean selling property so that the mission of God can be extended locally or through the wider church, or it may mean using and developing property for ongoing income generation. There may also be circumstances when investments are held for the sake of mission. Good stewardship requires strategic thinking, weighing up the merits of various possibilities and making priority decisions seeking to achieve the outcomes that will best fulfil the mission of the Church. Scripture Exodus 16: 13 - 21 The story of manna and quails reminds us of the principle of God’s provision of abundance that brings life and sustenance through resources that are enough, but cannot be held on to. Matthew 25:14 - 30 In the parable of the talents we see that we are given resources with the responsibility not just to hold onto them or protect them but to put them to work for growth.
Case study: adapting and sharing resources for mission In 1989 a Congregation in Yamba, without a property, built a manse in the belief that a church building wasn’t as important as a church minister. A succession of ministers saw the Congregation move from a Presbyterian Church to a community hall and, in 1999, to a multi-purpose church building on a large block of land. There were various ideas about what to do with the excess land and some concern that if the land was sold the Congregation would lose control of the proceeds. Eventually, after consultation with the Presbytery, a relationship with UnitingCare Ageing was fostered and a 34 Insights special issue 2014
project developed to build ten units and a community centre on the site. These days there is activity on the site seven days a week, with many people passing through the op shop, and an ongoing relationship with UnitingCare as community care programs are developed.
the mission of the Church or if there is an alternative missional use. This alternative may involve refurbishment, change of use, redevelopment or sale. How the property is best used to support the mission of the church may include: • providing a place of worship • supporting missional activities
What does the Parable of the Talents have to say to us about stewardship of property and mission? Has your own congregation exercised good stewardship in fostering the mission? If so, in what ways? How could you do things differently? In your own context can you think of an example of where good stewardship involves relinquishing property to others? What do you think has to happen for good stewardship to be exercised across the whole Church?
The best use of proptery is defined by the mission • T he resources of the church being for the promotion of the mission of God can be made available to places where their impact is most effective, •P roperty is not something that has to be saved for its own sake or for which a mission has to be found, • T he Councils of the Church have to work cooperatively to discern the best use of the property resources. It is the task of every council to wait upon God’s Word, and to obey God’s will in the matters allocated to its oversight. Each council will recognise the limits of its own authority and give heed to other councils of the Church, so that the whole body of believers may be united by mutual submission in the service of the Gospel. [Basis of Union para. 15] Congregations, Presbyteries and other entities within the Church need to be accountable for the property under their beneficial stewardship. This includes any assessment (most appropriately for Congregations at the time of a Life and Witness Consultation) of whether the current use is still the best use for
• engaging with the community •p roviding incidental income from rent or commercial letting • housing ministry agents. In considering whether the current use is appropriate, in the case of a Congregation, relevant considerations would be the: • s ize of the worshipping Congregation • income from offerings • activities being undertaken • use by the community • income received • impact and engagement of the Congregation in the local community • state of the property •p roximity to other Uniting Church properties. Assessment of the best use applies both to buildings and to money in Sales Proceeds accounts. In some instances the property may not be sufficient for the needs of the Congregation as it seeks to carry out the mission. In others it may be that the property held is far beyond what is or is likely to be required by the Congregation in fulfilling its mission. Mission plans, or strategic plans, should consider property through a number of prisms, including the above mentioned principles. Scriptures Luke 12:16 - 21 tells us of the rich fool who had plenty of resources, more than he needed, and instead of thinking about the best use in response to God’s blessing he built bigger barns for himself. Luke 19:1 - 9 tells us that Zacchaeus’ life is transformed when he offers half his possessions to the poor after Jesus invites himself into his home. insights.uca.org.au
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36 Insights special issue 2014
Sales proceeds policy I
t is the task of every council to wait upon God’s Word, and to obey God’s will in the matters allocated to its oversight. Each council will recognise the limits of its own authority and give heed to other councils of the Church, so that the whole body of believers may be united by mutual submission in the service of the Gospel. [Basis of Union para. 15] This section discusses the role of the current sales proceeds policy, as a background for discussions on how property can or could support the Church in its mission. [See Appendix 3, page 47, for the Synod Sales Proceeds Policy]. It is recognised there will be a broad range of opinions on a sales proceeds policy and that achieving consensus on the form of the final policy may prove to be difficult. We encourage feedback from readers and for members to get actively involved in discussions in their Congregations. It’s important that adequate consultation and feedback is addressed before any final decisions are reached.
Property represents the majority of the Church’s financial wealth. Who gets what is the cause of much tension in the Church. The Uniting Church Property Trust has legal ownership, but beneficial use is bestowed on Congregations and other entities subject to the regulations, decisions and policies of Presbyteries and the Synod. Tension arises when: • property is sold,
What is your response to the case studies and how do you think the Presbytery should engage with those Congregations? Thinking about the property over which your Congregation has beneficial use, list everything that is used for and over what period of time? Assess if this is the best use? Is there a better use? If you are in a place where there are a number of Uniting Church buildings nearby is the collective use of the combined resources the best use of property? Could all the activities of the Congregations using those buildings be carried out as effectively in one of those buildings or in another place more fitting for the mission of the Church? insights.uca.org.au
What about other Synods? Each Synod has a different process in terms of the sale of property, tithes, the use of funds and the processes to be followed (generally involving discernment in conjunction with Presbytery).
•a ccess, utilisation and maintenance of property is the issue, and
In Queensland a 15% contribution to the Synod’s Future Development Fund is required.
•p roperty is given to facilitate the life of new Congregations (particularly from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds) and the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC).
South Australia 33% is distributed to the wider church, principally to the Uniting Foundation and available for Uniting Foundation grants with the remaining balances available to the Congregations for approved purposes.
Seeking to balance short and longterm needs of the Church to provide capacity now and for the future. The current sales proceeds policy applies only to Congregations and outlines how funds from the sale of property can be used. In short, the policy sets out that:
responsibility of the Congregation, or beneficial user, and do not develop capacity.
Who gets what?
•W hen a property is sold, a tithe is deducted from the net proceeds to be used for mission priorities determined by the Synod with the balance held in a specific sales proceeds account with Uniting Financial Services.
Why do we have a sales proceeds policy? The Synod’s sales proceeds policy aims to: • Protect the capital of the Synod of NSW and the ACT, • provide resources, via a tithe, to support missional initiatives, • ensure resources are available to enhance mission capacity, usually in the form of capital works as defined in the policy, • prevent subsidising ongoing operational costs that are the
Victoria and Tasmania applies a progressive tithe up to 55% of the net proceeds that exceed $2 million. Funds tithed are allocated to specific purposes such as UAICC, rural Presbyteries, heritage properties, capital fund and mission support funds. You can view this policy here: http://wr.victas.uca. org.au/assets/2903/Discerning_ Mission_FINAL_lowres.pdf
Is the sales proceeds policy effective? No! It is clear that the policy as it currently stands is not serving the Church or its mission well. It exists without context, reinforces a particular model of church, entrenches inequity, legitimises ‘ownership’ and creates distrust without any real assessment of need and is not linked to any overall strategic vision for the Church. Anecdotally, the policy does not support the mission of the Church and the tithe is largely resisted. Unintended consequences of the Policy include: • property is being held to avoid the tithe, • ‘manses’ are being acquired, regardless of the likelihood of a Insights special issue 2014 37
placement, in order to access funds and rental earnings, • r equests are being made to fund operational needs, such as maintenance or to pay stipends or salaries, • large balances are being held on deposit with no likelihood of clear and missionally appropriate objectives being achieved, and •a n inability to muster resources for activities and initiatives of importance across the Synods. At the end of January 2014, sales proceeds totalled $37 million, comprising amounts ranging from $0.43 - $6.7 million. These amounts do not include proceeds of properties sold by presbyteries: there are 134 accounts in total with 34 accounts holding less than $20,000. What does this say about the Church when we lament the lack of resources and yet sales proceeds accounts have funds that are essentially lying idle? The most significant ‘failure’ is not so much with the sales proceeds policy, but the lack of a vision that provides a direction for how funds could be used and which provides meaning to the sacrifice felt when property is sold and proceeds are shared. It is recognised that there is a significant emotional link to property and a feeling that, “I can’t be a steward of property if I give it away” or that ownership is lost if funds go into a pot (or Synod). A clear actionable vision where there is a strong connection to what is given could help address these concerns. Discussions held in workshops and by working groups have asked whether a policy should exist to ration and/or redistribute wealth. This runs contrary to a shared vision yet is what happens in all Synods to varying degrees through the sales tithe. Workshop discussions about the appropriate level of the sales proceeds tithe reached no resolution, despite a number of suggestions being presented. The option of a variable tithe was raised with the tithe determined by the possible realistic opportunities to grow the Church/mission in the particular local context. But a variable tithe raises issues about who decides? Who decides is strongly associated with trust. There would appear to be a 38 Insights special issue 2014
pervasive lack of trust in the Church that funds provided will be used for the right purposes in a clear and transparent manner. People want a reason to give and assurance that funds will be used, as intended, for something good and that the pain and loss experienced is worthwhile.
Rural verses metro As will be apparent to anyone, the value of property varies significantly depending on where it is located. In large parts of the Sydney metropolitan area property values have grown rapidly and often deliver significant capital amounts to the Church when sold. In many cases, this is not the experience of the Church in rural presbyteries where property can become a liability with sales delivering minimal returns. Despite this, the same policy applies to all Congregations even though the resourcing potential and capacity are vastly different.
What is missing? Why would a Congregation ‘give up’ property, whether in terms of real property or sales proceeds? There may be many answers but three reasons given for not giving up property are noted. 1. There is no reason for the sacrifice It is difficult to ask Congregations to make a sacrifice for the ‘greater good’ at great financial and emotional cost if there's no context for their giving. Without a clear strategic vision, sales tithes and any proposed relinquishing of unused sales proceeds will continue to be regarded as more about taking than giving. 2. The Synod is not trusted to be good stewards of proceeds Many would argue that better decisions are made locally and that Synod has proved incapable of managing funds for the benefit of the Church’s mission. Of all the funds that have been made available, what is left to show for sacrifices already made? Underlying all the rhetoric, perhaps people are concerned that ultimately funds just go to support Synod overheads. 3. A misunderstanding of ownership As with buildings, ownership of sales proceeds is a defining feature of the sales proceeds policy. Yet, we are not owners in the traditional sense but beneficial users of property seeking to make the best use of property to support the
Church’s mission. Whilst people hold on to the mindset of ownership, supporting a greater good becomes more difficult.
How should funds be used? Whilst past workshops have generated many suggestions on how funds should be used, determining the structure of a sales proceeds policy has proven challenging. Concerns noted included the: • the need to balance short and longterm needs, • argument as to whether to build capacity, capital or income, • inequities in property wealth within and between Presbyteries/ Congregations, • emotional connections that Congregations have with property influencing decisions re retention and use of property and proceeds, • financial support to Congregations from property income as a strength/ weakness, • ‘burden’ of unutilised sales impacting decisions, and • Synod being seen as a ‘black hole’. Somehow the focus needs to be on funding the vision and not on the allocation of funds. It also needs to recognise that allocation on the basis of ’fairness’ is an impractical and totally nonstrategic way of dealing with this issue. ’Fair‘ is not Gospel; grace is not ‘fair’. Sometimes it is argued that a policy that treats everyone ‘equally’ is both fair and just, and yet often that perspective is based on the application of limited criteria. Ultimately, decisions need to be developed out of a discernment of the vision of God for the Uniting Church as a whole and how that can best be fulfilled in the local context.
What should a sales proceeds policy look like? A sales proceeds policy should exist to support the missional objectives of the Church. Only then does such a policy have legitimacy. In the absence of a vision for the Church, discussions become focused on ownership, and about how the financial pie is divided up and funds allocated. No definitive sales proceeds policy is proposed here, as this is a matter for discussion. However, a suggested framework would have the following elements: insights.uca.org.au
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40 Insights special issue 2014
• T he purpose of the sales proceeds policy is clearly stated, •A clear vision for the use of funds is determined by Synod Standing Committee (SSC) with funds to be used for enhancing capacity, •M ission plans for each Presbytery/Congregation are established and include plans for each property for which they are beneficial users, •M ission plans are scrutinised on a ‘one-up’ basis, i.e. Presbytery reviews Congregations and SSC reviews Presbytery, • T he use of each property is agreed by Presbytery and Congregation, • T he decision to hold, use or release a property is a deliberate and considered process requiring a period of discernment by presbyteries and Congregations as to the options available for a property, •P roperty sales only occur after other options are exhausted. These options include sharing, joint initiatives and commercialisation, •A joint decision to sell/develop is accompanied by a mission plan for the use of proceeds reflecting local and Synod wide strategic vision and missional opportunities, • If funds are not used according to the mission plan within a 3-year period, they are made available to the wider church. This element would have some flexibility but only on an exception basis, •F or existing proceeds, a caseby-case assessment should be made. It is noted that under the current sales proceeds policy, presbyteries should review unused sales proceeds, ‘at least every three years’. Existing by-laws treat sales tithes as income of the Synod Fund. It is proposed that in future, any tithe be treated as capital, and not part of an annual Synod budget to spend. Given that sales proceeds are used for capacity building, the SSC would be responsible for making insights.uca.org.au
the decisions about its use. This will require the SSC to take responsibility for determining what percentage of proceeds should be used for intentional growth initiatives and what initiatives Synod is prepared to take a stand on regardless of outcomes.
1. W hat are your experiences with the sales proceeds policy? 2. S hould there be a limit to proceeds that are retained by a Congregation on the sale of property?
SSC would budget to achieve the vision strategies and so there would be no annual allocation or set amount to be spent and no committee to determine priorities.
3. W here no mission plan exists, what level of funds, if any, should be retained? Or if there is a mission plan that identifies the Congregation as strategic, what level of funds, if any, should be levied?
SSC would review the joint Presbytery/Congregation mission plans for sales proceeds of which Congregations and presbyteries are stewards, whether at inception (i.e. sale) or on a periodic basis.
4. W here Congregations have, or will have, funds available, should a policy encourage and support Congregations in coming up with a vision and plan for the use of those funds?
In determining where funds should be used SSC will need to be strategic and in doing so, the use of funds may not be ‘equitable’ or distributed evenly. This is about having a strategic big picture perspective, which is not limited to local needs and seeks to address the common good.
An example of a progressive tithe with a $1 million cap.
Next steps: we want to hear from you We encourage you to respond to this publication, and to share your ideas with a commitment to make comments constructive and creative - not picky and plaintive. Focus on the possibilities and not the problems. Recognise that we are all in this together, believing that God wants us to grow and flourish. This will require all the imagination we can muster together with a willingness to make sacrifices that will open the door to new life. Please share your thoughts and ideas by sending them to niallr@nsw. uca.org.au. All submissions will be considered and we will endeavour to respond to them as appropriate. If you would like to arrange for Niall Reid to meet with any group, you can make arrangements to do so by contacting him at his email address. All submissions will be answered. We appreciate your patience while we consider your suggestions and prepare our response.
5. Is there value in a progressive level of tithe as in the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania?
Flat Rate $
$200,000 10% $20,000 $180,000 $500,000 20% $100,000 $400,000 $1,000,000 30% $300,000 $700,000 $1,666,667 40% $666,667 $1,000,000 Marginal Rate $ %
$200,000 10% $20,000 $180,000 $500,000 20% $80,000 $420,000 $1,000,000 30% $230,000 $770,000 $1,460,000 50% $460,000 $1,000,000 Note: The marginal rate is tithed at 10% on the first $200,000 of the sales proceeds (as in the above example),and then the next $300,000 at 20% and so forth. The cap determines the figures in the last line.
6. S hould the Synod seek to create a fund to support the capacity of the Synod to engage in mission? 7. W ho is best to determine how funds should be used? 8. S hould presbyteries be exempt from whatever policy is put in place? Why? 9. H ow do we address the strategic use of sales proceeds across the Church? If a property situated in an affluent part of Sydney recoups $10,000,000, does that mean it has to be used for mission in that particular area even though there may be other places where there are no properties (or similar properties recoup far less), but the mission potential is far greater or more strategic in nature? 10. Do you agree with the sales proceeds policy framework suggested above? If not, what would you consider to be an appropriate framework? 11. Should there be a sales proceeds policy? If not, is there an alternative?
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Community and sense of purpose
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Insights special issue 2014 43
A last thought: the need for change W
herever one goes in the Church, people speak of the need to change. One of the most significant ways in which we need to change is in our attitude to property. The Church needs to make decisions around the strategic and best use of our properties. This should not be regarded as the consequence of failure, but the call of God into a new day. One in which the way forward is uncertain but provides opportunities for creativity, imagination and ingenuity. Rather than being a time of despair this should be a time of great hope as God calls us. Stripped back to the bare essentials, sent out to be the vanguard for the whole Church as we move into uncharted spiritual territory in our ever-changing cultural context.
Prayer O Lord our God, in Jesus Christ your Son you have come to us in your grace and mercy, to bring life to the world, to bring healing to the nations, and to set our sights on your coming Kingdom. Help us to be faithful to your mission in the world. Make us grateful for what is past, and hopeful for what is to come. Liberate us from all captivity that we may serve you in humility and joy, until at last, our restless hearts find their eternal rest in you. Amen.
Property serves the Church in different ways in different historical situations. Our current cultural context presents us with a world different from that of even thirty years ago. As a consequence we need to reconsider the purpose of property for the current mission of the Church. While we recognise that God is everywhere, particular places have been understood to be important. Church places are important because of what has happened and continues to happen in them. But we are a pilgrim people moving towards a future with God. We have to hold these two realities in creative tension, recognising that at times we have to leave particular places behind; to discover and create new, and possibly different sorts of places along the way. We need to remember that Church property is bound to the mission of the church. It is a means to the end, which is the mission of the Church in witnessing to God. You have an opportunity not only to enter a discussion about property, but to participate in shaping the future mission of the Uniting Church as it seeks to respond to the call of God. Your contribution may make all the difference, so please engage in conversation with others, spend some time reflecting and praying and tell us what you come up with. May God bless our discerning and our struggles; may we hear the call of Jesus to be â€˜my witnessesâ€™; and may Godâ€™s Spirit empower us to see the vision God has for us as a Church. 44 Insights special issue 2014
Appendix 1 A Mission Plan – Presbytery and Congregations What a mission plan might look like is to be explored through the process of consultation and drawing on the experience, expertise and work of presbyteries already engaged in this process. It may be that there is not one template for developing all mission plans, but a set of outcomes that Synod Standing Committee would ask presbyteries to meet. It will be good to draw together and use the resources we already have. Examples of processes that have been developed in two presbyteries are outlined below. Macquarie Darling Presbytery Macquarie Darling Presbytery’s Mission and Assets Project (MAP) is underway. The goal of the Mission Assets Project is to enable Congregations and Presbytery to fully use our gifts and assets in the mission and service of God. In the MAP process there are a number of stages: 1. Presbytery seeks information from Congregations, including: • Who is served in mission by the Congregation? • the gifts, skills and ministries exercised by members, • the Congregation’s leadership capacity, • indicators of growth in members, such as numbers of people participating in discipleship groups and undertaking education for ministry and service, and level of participation in Church life over recent years, • basic membership information – numbers, demographics of Congregation, • financial position of the Congregation – sources of income, reserve accounts, etc. • properties in the Congregation’s care– their usage, running costs, condition and value. 2. The Church Council and/or Congregation is asked to make their own assessment of the Congregation insights.uca.org.au
in the following broad categories: • Their level of effective missional engagement in their community: low, medium, high, • Their level of effective missional use of property and financial resources: low, medium, high, • Their level of capacity to maintain property in their beneficial care: low, medium, high, • Their capacity to have a vibrant missional presence in their community beyond the next 5 - 10 years: low, medium, high. 3. A Presbytery team in light of the information received amongst other things make an assessment. 4. In conversation with the Presbytery team, the Church Council and/ or Congregation discusses the tentative assessments with a view to addressing the following questions: • Do their MAP outcomes suggest that new or different means of missional engagement in their community are required? • Do their MAP outcomes suggest how people resources and capacity of the Congregation for mission might be further developed? OR Do their MAP outcomes suggest that this Congregation needs to consider whether its best future is found either in joining with another Congregation or in celebrating a closure? • Does their MAP suggest that more effective use could or should be made of property or financial resources either locally or in the wider church? Far North Coast Presbytery The Far North Coast Presbytery followed a process of discernment whereby the 44 Congregations received assistance deciding whether to define themselves as a mission Congregation or a pastoral Congregation. Every Congregation was asked to respond by early 2012.
worship, witness and service in the world as they participate in the mission of Christ”. The Presbytery affirmed that a mission Congregation commits itself to: (a) worship God (b) help each member share the good news of Jesus Christ, including their story with God, and God’s story with them (c) disciple all the followers of Jesus in its Congregation (d) encourage and help all the followers of Jesus in the Congregation to know their spiritual gift(s), and assist its members to have a ministry or mission where their gifts can be used in the community and the world or in the church (e) pastorally care for the people who call that Congregation their spiritual home. The Presbytery affirmed that a pastoral Congregation is a valid Congregation committed to (e) and possibly some of (a), (b), (c) and( d). The Presbytery established a Presbytery Mission Team that would: (a) receive the responses from Congregations (b) explore ways of equipping mission and pastoral Congregations to encourage them to, “Strengthen one another's faith, to bear one another's burdens, and exhorting them to fulfil their high calling in Christ Jesus.” (Basis of Union para 15(c) (c) bring recommendations to the Presbytery meeting. If there are any other examples of ways in which presbyteries have developed mission plans, please share them with us. All feedback is welcomed as we seek to work together to develop resources helpful for the whole church.
They were asked to do this on the basis of Reg. 3.1.1(b)(v): “In fulfilling its purpose a Congregation shall equip the members and adherents for engagement in Insights special issue 2014 45
Sales proceeds policy
A ‘manse’ (or ‘Minister’s Residence’) by definition must have a minister.
SALES PROCEEDS POLICY – Synod of NSW & ACT (Approved by SSC on 28th August 2010)
A minister placed in a pastoral charge shall be provided by the body responsible for payment of stipend with a residence. [Synod of NSW & the ACT By-law 12.2.6(a)]. Our provision of housing is based on an acceptance of the Church's responsibility to equip and resource people to do mission and ministry. A manse is a residence where the purpose of its 'beneficial usage' is for a minister (or ministry agent) to use it. Any residential property intended for use as a manse should be cared for as an act of responsible hospitality to a suitable standard, held accountable by the oversight of Presbytery to standards set by the Synod. Sometimes a manse will be vacant for a variety of reasons. The beneficial user may decide to rent out the manse rather than leaving it empty as an act of faithful stewardship of that property. The first call on proceeds from residential income should be for the provision of ministry housing, followed by other residential missional usages. Residential properties may also be used for clearly identified missional purposes as part of a Congregation or Presbytery’s mission plan. These could include the provision of: • low-cost or emergency housing to marginalised groups with a clear ministry-link • low-cost housing to ministry or mission students • ministry-linked housing to students living away from home. Where a residential property is being let out solely to provide a commercial return, it negates its designation as a manse. If a manse has ceased to function as a ministry residence for a period of more than six months, its classification as a manse should be reviewed by the Presbytery and consideration given to how beneficial stewardship might be assessed or how any property income generated may best serve the mission of God.
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Section 1 - SCOPE The Sales Proceeds Policy (the “Policy”) will apply to all Congregations and their associated activities within the bounds of the Synod of NSW & ACT 1.2 Entities and activities specifically excluded from the Policy are as follows:1.2.1 Synod Boards, entities directly under their oversight and related activities 1.1.2. Uniting Financial Services 1.1.3. Presbyteries and related activities 1.1.4. Community Services activities of Parish Missions Section 2 – USE OF SALES PROCEEDS 2.1 All Sales Proceeds, including interest earnings on Sales Proceeds, can only be used for Capital Works 2.2 Capital Works is defined as “projects which produce, expand or refine durable resources that will better facilitate the Church’s service delivery and mission, resources, which in themselves have a lasting value” 2.2.1 This includes (but is not limited to) expenditure on land, buildings, construction and major additions or alterations, capital equipment, intellectual property, ministry and leadership, discipleship training, a new mission program developed by a Congregation according to its Presbytery approved mission plan, a Church owned business activity, a new community service, research & development 2.3 The following specific uses, in addition to 2.4 and 2.5 and subject to approval, will be permissible: 2.3.1 Repairs and maintenance where: 184.108.40.206 The repairs and maintenance work is urgent, may lead to liability or injury being incurred and may materially devalue the property if not undertaken
220.127.116.11 The Congregation is experiencing significant long term economic hardship 2.3.2 General operational expenses where: 18.104.22.168 Major events such as fire, flood or drought have occurred, and 22.214.171.124 Significant economic hardship is being experienced as a result of those events 2.3.3 Building Sinking Funds may be established for large costly or heritage listed buildings and should be subject to rigorous assessment of the quantum required and rules for use 2.4 After receiving a recommendation of the relevant Presbytery, Uniting Resources is the body to approve applications for the use of sales proceeds for purposes of expenditure on land, buildings, construction and major additions and alterations, expenditure on business activities and for specific uses listed in 2.3 2.5 After receiving a recommendation of the relevant Presbytery, Unitng Resources is the body to approve applications for the use of sales proceeds for purposes other than expenditure on land, buildings, construction and major additions and alterations, expenditure on business activities and for specific uses listed in 2.3 – application forms and details of the application process are to be obtained from Uniting Resources 2.6 Presbyteries should review any unused Sales Proceeds within their respective bounds at least every three years, and in situations where there is clearly no intended planned use, regardless of whether three years have passed: 2.6.1 A Presbytery may formulate proposals for the use of those Sales Proceeds and make recommendations to Uniting Resources. Uniting Resources will consult with the Presbytery and the Congregation concerned when assessing the recommendations. If Uniting Resources believe it is appropriate to proceed then formal approval will need to be obtained according to either Clause 2.4 or 2.5 depending on the nature of intended use 2.6.2 Presbyteries are encouraged to collectively assess and make insights.uca.org.au
recommendations for unused Sales Proceeds as described in Clause 2.6. Section 3 – TITHING ON SALES PROCEEDS 3.1 Ten percent (known as tithing) of the net Sales Proceeds arising from the sale of real estate is to be transferred to the Synod Fund and is authorised to use the tithes for mission priorities in accordance with its terms of reference. 3.2 The following sales of real estate will not be subjected to a tithe: 3.2.1 Sales Proceeds of real estate originally acquired by specific, and/ or conditional gift, or out of funds to which there are externally imposed legal restrictions on their use. Examples are real estate which is: 126.96.36.199 Donated for a specific purpose such that the Sales Proceeds must be retained for a specific purpose 188.8.131.52 Purchased from funds to which are attached specific restrictions on its use, including moneys from a Deductible Gift Fund 184.108.40.206 Financed by government subsidy or grant for which there is an obligation to repay part or all of the grant or subsidy if sold within a specific, pre-determined period. In such circumstances, a tithe would be payable on the net of the sales proceeds and the repaid grant or subsidy
Case study: Residential property no longer required as a manse funds new mission A Congregation with an inheritance of more than one manse decided to use a ‘spare’ manse to provide accommodation for students at a local university. More than offer just housing, they focused on building a student community and grew a vital and growing ministry that saw more houses rented in the area to expand the ministry. The Congregation used the funds raised through renting the manse to the students to fund a part-time student community ministry agent.
1. Does your Congregation invest its time, money and energy into maintaining a manse as a deliberate act of faithful partnership and hospitality to a ministry family? How does it do this? 2. Has your Congregation ever experienced the temptation to use a manse purely for maximised commercial return? How was this issue processed by the Congregation and the Presbytery? 3. Are there ministry agents beyond your Congregation/Presbytery who may be in need of a manse under your beneficial stewardship? What could you do to assist? 4. Should manse standards be removed? Why? 5. How should manses, which become residential investments, be viewed? Is it appropriate for the income to be used to sustain a declining Congregation?
3.2.2 Proceeds of a minister’s residence to the extent that such proceeds are used for the purchase or building of another residence to replace it within a period of three years after the sale, 3.2.3 Where special circumstances warrant the exclusion from the tithing commitment such as substantiated economic hardship 3.3 Uniting Resources is the authority to determine the exemptions from tithing.
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Publication of the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of NSW and the ACT