This is a summary of the Act2 National Forum on Promoting the mission of the Church held on 5 September 2023 featuring the following panelists:

  • Colleen Geyer (Assembly General Secretary)
  • Rev Lindsay Cullen (Assembly Associate General Secretary)
  • Rebecca Beisler (Assembly National Manager – Media and Communications) 
  • Mardi Lumsden (UnitingWorld Donor Relations Manager)
  • Rob Floyd (Frontier Services National Director and former Assembly Associate General Secretary)

The National Forums are a key engagement within Workstream 2: National Identity of the Act2 Project. The key question we are seeking to answer in this workstream is “What is most valuable about being a national church and how do we resource it?”

Reflection on Forum 5

Rev Erik Lennestål
Act2 Project & Research Officer 

The idea of “promoting the mission of the Church” is so broad as to be potentially all-encompassing. How do we best grasp the intention of this Assembly responsibility? How is it best outworked? How does it help build our national identity as a Church? Is there a tension between resourcing, promoting and fulfilling the mission of the Church?

For this national forum, we gathered a panel of key leaders from across the Assembly to consider the shape and future of the promotion of the mission of the Church. How is the Uniting Church in Australia a multicultural church today? How has this shaped our identity and self-understanding?

How does promoting the mission of the Church fit within the Assembly’s mandate?

The Basis of Union (paragraph 15) associates the “promotion of the Church’s mission” with the national council. Assembly General Secretary Colleen Geyer spoke of the centrality of this responsibility, and the unique role of the Assembly to enable and highlight the work of the Church—God’s Spirit at work in our communities.

Assembly Associate General Secretary Rev Lindsay Cullen spoke of this work as facilitation, acting as a ‘mixing house’ and ‘communications circuit’ for and on behalf of the whole Church. He reflected on particular examples where such work has flourished, including the collaborative Our vision for a just Australia and the more recent Being an intergenerational Church vision statement and resource.

Rob Floyd, drawing upon his current work directing Frontier Services, spoke of how the expansive vision of this Uniting Church agency can only be fulfilled nationally and through meaningful collaboration. To succeed we need to be invitational and intentional in breaking out of traditional boundaries and geographical divides.

What is the role of communication and engagement in promoting the mission of the Church?

Assembly National Manager for Media and Communications Rebecca Beisler spoke of this responsibility in terms of ‘holding the national story’ of the Uniting Church in Australia, telling the story of our God and our people. This includes communicating our identity to evolving audiences:

  • To ourselves: highlighting our value, our DNA and what defines us as a Church. This could include such things as the Covenant, our commitment to being multicultural, intergenerational, justice-oriented and ecumenical.
  • To our communities: telling the story of the Church through web, social media and other channels to communicate a sense of who we are.
  • To the nation: being the public face and voice of our Church nationally and elevating regional and local voices to national attention where appropriate.

UnitingWorld Donor Relations Manager Mardi Lumsden added that we also fulfil our mission through sharing hopeful stories of ordinary people making a difference. It is important that this is done in a sensitive way, especially in aid and development work. UnitingWorld has a commitment to always portray local partners and projects with dignity and consent.

Where do you see the national role of the Church in promoting the mission of the Church?  

Between them, and building on previous forums, the panellists affirmed several national roles and responsibilities:

  • Building empowering national networks
  • Supporting and encouraging the Church, “cheerleading” the Church
  • Engaging in advocacy on matters of national importance, such as our commitment to the Voice borne out of our covenant relationship with Congress
  • Leading and setting standards for theological education
  • Fostering partnerships and relationships that enrich us, locally, regionally and internationally
  • Learning from the collective wisdom of our three national agencies
  • Inviting and enabling first-hand experiences and storytelling
  • Maintaining memberships in international ecumenical bodies
  • Furthering and stimulating work related to doctrine and worship
  • Facilitating the sort of innovative governance the Church needs
  • Enabling reception of ministers from other contexts into the Uniting Church

Rob added: if we are able to do all of these things, inviting others to come and see where God is already at work and join in God’s mission, there is no end to what could happen!

What are the future opportunities and potential in this area? 

While there is much to celebrate, the panel agreed that there was a much greater need to coordinate into the future as we seek to be a more responsive Church. Collaboration happens already but is patchy. Innovation happens but is sporadic. Panellists named specific opportunities:

  • Equipping the Church to explore the fresh new things that God is doing today.
  • Delivering a national communications strategy as one cohesive national team rather than through seven disparate teams. This would free up resources, bring greater clarity and accessibility, and resource us to do more.
  • Attending to the ways our decision making is inaccessible, for example of those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
  • Attending to the ways our current structure inhibits rather than promotes mission.
  • Taking seriously the sharing of resources, people, opportunities and needs across the whole Church. This needs to be far easier and more seamless than it is today!
  • Allowing ourselves to be shaped by our relationships with others, emphasising global theological voices and decolonising our mission.