Learning to lead

Posted in Leadership

Registered nurse Elizabeth Megaw is an emerging leader in the Uniting Church. At just 25 years of age, she holds several leadership positions at her home congregation, Westbourne Park Uniting Church, and also has significant involvement in the wider Uniting Church SA.

New Times spoke to Elizabeth about the challenges and rewards of leadership in the Uniting Church as a young person.

Growing up in the Uniting Church

My parents met at a Uniting Church and have always been involved, as have my grandparents. I grew up attending Vermont Uniting Church for most of my childhood, and moved to Westbourne Park Uniting Church when I was in Year 12.

I have always enjoyed being a part of the Uniting Church, because they are welcoming to everyone, and hold the love of Jesus and the grace of God as the centre, rather that religious ceremonies. I appreciate the fact that, as a younger woman, I can be actively involved in church leadership. I also value the many ways that the Uniting Church is involved in the community, helping those who are vulnerable.

Getting involved

I cannot remember ever just being a passive attendee of a church. I think to be fully engaged within your faith, you need to make an effort to be involved in your congregation – whether it’s in a leadership role up the front, or doing something like driving an older person to church. There are many, creative ways that you can serve.

That said, I strongly believe that you should only be involved because you want to be. Church involvement should not be a burden. Our involvement in church is as a response to the love of God – we are saved through faith not works.

At Westbourne Park, I am currently the Secretary of the Church Council, an elder at our 6pm service and a Presbytery and Synod representative. I also provide support to Bourne Youth (our youth group), Winterbourne (our winter camp) and various parts of the 6pm service.

My involvement in church leadership at Westbourne Park started after the church made a particular effort to encourage people to add their name to the various church rosters. This provided an opportunity for people to sign up to new areas, refresh their commitment to a certain area or assess whether it was time to step down from a role. I signed on to a couple of rosters.

This started the ball rolling, and someone approached me about becoming an elder. While this surprised me, I agreed and have been an elder at our 6pm service since that time. I later joined the church council as I felt it was important for the 6pm service to be represented there.

Beyond my congregation

My involvement in the life of the wider Uniting Church SA started slowly. I initially made the decision to attend a Presbytery and Synod meeting as a spectator to support the youth and young adult pastor. But someone’s wires got crossed and I ended up as an official representative.

I became further involved after being approached by then-Moderator Dr Deidre Palmer, whom I had met a few times at different church events. She told me there was a need for people who were non-ordained, under 35 and/or female to join Standing Committee. I fit the bill, and Deidre asked me to consider becoming a member. I was encouraged by her faith in my abilities.

I’m now a member of Standing Committee, a member of the Business Committee, and a member of Resthaven’s Governance Committee.

I became involved because I could see areas that were in need. I figured I had three options – I could continue complaining, I could leave, or I could step up and make a difference. I decided on the third option.

Making things clear

Young people have a lot to bring to leadership in the Uniting Church, but can often face challenges in taking on new roles. One of the greatest barriers to young people’s involvement is the amount of assumed knowledge – both in congregations and in wider Uniting Church discussions.

During meetings about decision-making, there is often little explanation given about what particular terms mean, what the purpose of different committees and groups is, or who the people being talked about are. This can be difficult for younger people who do not have the same background in the Uniting Church – and I say this as someone who grew up with this stuff!

I think a conscious effort to explain terms and purposes would help younger people and anyone else who is new to participating.

Taking the next step

At a Presbytery and Synod meeting in 2016, I was one of several members who presented a proposal related to increased advocacy for aged care funding and support. This was a big step for me, as I had previously limited my participation to being a church representative and a committee member.

I was supported by Standing Committee members and other church leaders, but I still found the task of preparing the proposal quite daunting. I didn’t really know what I should write or how to get the information I needed. Without the support of others, there is no way I could have presented this proposal. But I am very glad I did.

In the Uniting Church, our ability to participate in decision-making and discussions is a true privilege. We are all called to be involved in shaping the future direction of the Church.


Participating at Presbytery & Synod

The next meeting of the Uniting Church in Australia, Presbytery and Synod of South Australia, will be held from 23-25 November at Adelaide West Uniting Church. These meetings are made up of worship, business and information sessions, and provide a time for church members and leaders from across South Australia to gather together.

The presentation and discussion of proposals and the subsequent time of deliberation and decision-making are an important part of each Presbytery and Synod meeting. The proposals that are passed help to shape the future of the Uniting Church in South Australia.

Proposals are often presented by members of the Synod or different Uniting Church SA committees and boards – but these are not the only people invited to contribute in this way.

Any member of the Presbytery and Synod may bring a proposal, as an individual or as a representative of their constituents. The Business Committee accepts proposals and arranges for their presentation at the Presbytery and Synod meetings.

All proposals, except those concerned with business arising during debate at the meeting, must be submitted no later than two weeks before a Presbytery and Synod meeting is due to take place. Those proposals arising from business discussions at the meeting must be received by the Business Committee no later than 24 hours before the final business session at the meeting (as listed in the meeting program).

Proposals must be accompanied by a report identifying the task or action to be undertaken, a rationale for the proposal, the responsible person/s or body, the time frame, the required personnel, the expected outcomes, and subsequent action. A summary of any background information to support the proposal should also be shared.

Submitting a proposal is an excellent way for members, congregations and faith communities to make a difference in the life and direction of the wider Uniting Church SA.

For more information about the Presbytery and Synod meeting or how to submit a proposal, please contact Malcolm Wilson on 8236 4206 or email mwilson@sa.uca.org.au

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