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Why establish multiple Presbyteries in SA?
Posted in Leadership
As of 1 July 2019, the Uniting Church SA will split the title Presbytery and Synod and just become ‘a’ Synod with multiple Presbyteries. After this date there will be two Presbyteries, namely Generate Presbytery and the Transitional Presbytery. These two Presbyteries will remain until the November 2019 Synod meeting when the Transitional Presbytery will be divided up into more Presbyteries – most likely two of them, split into geographical locations.
But why is this all happening? To answer this, first we have to understand what has happened in our history.
In South Australia, we have not always been a Presbytery and Synod. After inauguration of the Uniting Church in Australia back on 22 June 1977, there were seven Presbyteries within the Synod – Adelaide North-West, Eyre, Fleurieu, Frome, Mt Lofty, The Coorong and Wakefield.
This worked well for a while, but in some Presbyteries there was a need to appoint a Presbytery Minister. Office bearers were usually volunteers (not always) but as time went by it was difficult to find volunteers needed to fill all positions. The Presbyteries shared differing theological positions but when sexuality came to the fore there were contradictory positions. Establishing networks such as the Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church (EMU) supported the differing, even contradictory, views.
Assembly 2003 and the years following it
The Uniting Church in Australia meeting in 2003 brought Proposal 64. This was related to the acceptance of homosexual ministers. There was some angst in the church at this time and conversation began about moving away from several Presbyteries to ONE Presbytery. There was discussion around forming networks (initially 13, which decreased to 7) as a way of focussing on mission within the different networks but also as a response to Proposal 64 (Resolution 69) as a way of preventing a full split within the Synod.
After two years of preparation it was agreed at the 2005 South Australian Annual Meeting of the Synod that South Australia form one Presbytery within the Synod and that the Synod referred many of its powers (not all of them) to that Presbytery.
The joint Presbytery and Synod structure had continued for years but at times, congregations felt there was a need for a review. This became evident in 2017 when a gathering of Networks, under the leadership of the then General Secretary, took a serious look at potentially developing a more regional structure for the Uniting Church in SA … not necessarily several Presbyteries, but this did seem likely.
At the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly meeting in 2018, a decision was made to recognise two forms of marriage, between two people and between a man and a woman. This decision evoked the need for people who did not accept marriage as between two people to have their own gathering. This was flagged at Assembly but then brought as a specific proposal to the Annual meeting of the Presbytery and Synod in November 2018. It was resolved to form more than one Presbytery which would include a non-geographic Presbytery, now known as Generate Presbytery. Generate Presbytery was not formed solely due to the marriage decision but with a host of other mission and discipleship factors.
Since that meeting in November last year there have been two task groups hard at work forming new Presbyteries and dealing with the processes involved with separating out the Presbytery and the Synod so that new Presbyteries can be formed. Due to the complexity and length of time this takes to unravel the transitional Presbytery will exist only from 1 July to 16 November to ensure it is set up as an effective Presbytery/ies in the future.
Will the establishment of Presbyteries require more money?
Due to the Synod continuing to “exercise executive, administrative, pastoral and disciplinary functions over the Presbyteries within its bounds” (UCA Constitution Paragraph 32) the Restructuring Task Group has worked hard to ensure most administrative functions will remain within the Synod. This has been undertaken so that Presbyteries can focus on mission and not be overcome by administrative or financial burdens. A new Presbytery and Synod funding model has been agreed by Standing Committee which is based on the existing congregation contribution arrangements to the Mission and Service Fund and Mission Networks.
The Uniting Church SA 2019 calendar has a copy of the Mission and Service Fund budget which outlines the budget and the expenditure for Uniting Church SA and is a good reference point for how the Mission and Service Fund budget is spent.
Extra Information: What is a Presbytery?
A Presbytery is one of the interrelated councils of the Unitin gchurch in Australia. The other, each with its own area of responsibility or oversight, are the congregation, the church coiuncil, the Synod and the Assembly. A Presbytery consists of the ministers and lay representatives from cogregations, traditionally within the same region. Congregations who belong to the same Presbytery are linked together and accountable to each other. they are responsible for each other's pastoral care and enables congregations to connect to the life of the wider church. Among others, their duties include ordaining and commissioning ministers and deciding where and how to focus their missional efforts.
There is much more detailed information available about the workings of separating the Presbytery and Synod of South Australia on the sa.uca.org.au web page here. The Associate General Secretary, Rev Sue Page, also conducts weekly live videos every Wednesday at 11am to update people on the Presbytery Restructure. This can be accessed on the Facebook page: Uniting Church. Uniting People. She is also available to take phone calls on (08) 8236 4217.
This article also appears in a printed version in the June/July edition of New Times.
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