This is a quintessentially Uniting Church moment:
We’re meeting as a council of the church. Actually, we’re two councils – a Presbytery and a Synod. I’ve been asked to say a few words to help us get oriented to our “north” as a council of the church.
The Church has a vision. It is expressed throughout the Basis of Union, but crystallised in paragraph3. The church is gathered by God to be a foretaste, sign and instrument of God’s mission of of bringing into reality “that reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation.” That’s all. One job Brian. Don’t get distracted. Sometimes the elephant in the room is actually an elephant and has nothing to do with what we are here to do.
One of the moments when we need to remember that especially is when we meet as a council for discernment and decision making. So, let’s think about that. To begin, I refer you to paragraph 15 of the Basis of Union [assembly.uca.org.au resources, regulations and policies]:
“The Uniting Church recognises that responsibility for government in the Church belongs to the people of God by virtue of the gifts and tasks which God has laid upon them. The Uniting Church therefore so organises her life that locally, regionally and nationally government will be entrusted to representatives, men and women, bearing the gifts and graces with which God has endowed them for the building up of his Church. The Uniting Church is government by a series of inter-related councils, each of which has its tasks and responsibilities in relation to both the Church and the world.
“The Uniting Church acknowledges that Christ alone is supreme in his Church, and that he may speak to her through any of her councils. It is the task of every council to wait upon God’s Word, and to obey his 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, s that the whole body of believers may be united in mutual submission in the service of the Gospel.”
This paragraph speaks of “the gifts and graces with which God has endowed them for the building up of his Church” and that “Christ alone is supreme in his Church”. The personal pronoun is important (not for its gender but because it is personal): The church is not its own and it does not belong to its members. It is God’s church. It’s not my Church. It’s not your Church. It’s God’s Church.
Moreover, the Church is not a democracy. We are a Christocracy. “Christ alone is supreme in his Church, and …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.”
There are particular resources that we turn to when we wait upon God’s Word like this.
• Scripture – the supreme authority and the one we all have in common
• Tradition – which is pretty diverse with a movement like the UCA
• Reason – which we are learning is authoritative in all cultures, but approached in different ways
• Experience – the stories we have to tell each other about ourselves Since 1994, the UCA has used consensus decision-making as a tool to assist our discernment.
“When a council of the church makes decisions, it is aiming to discern the guidance of the Spirit in response to the Word of God…the processes we use to create community and communicate in our meetings can themselves assist in the discernment process. This will be enhanced if people come expecting to be open both to the Spirit and to each other.” [Manual For Meetings 1.1]
How else would Christian people be when they come together – open to the Spirit and open to each other and cherished members of the one body of Christ.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The love of God. And the friendship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.
It’s significant to note here the Uniting Church’s particular (but not unique) understanding of the ‘Word of God’ that Andrew mentioned above: Jesus Christ is the Word of God, not the Bible/Scripture. Of course the Bible includes many witnesses to God in Christ, and is “unique prophetic and apostolic testimony, in which [the Church] hears the Word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated” (Basis of Union Par. 5).
The version of the Basis of Union quoted above (including reference to the Church as ‘her’) is the version approved by the uniting churches in 1971/1977, rather than the ‘inclusive language’ version of 1992 commonly used by the Uniting Church: https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/stories/Regulations/2012/Basis1992.pdf.
Thanks for this reflection on discernment. It’s a word we’ve been using a great deal without much clarity in the Uniting Church in recent year. Discernment is a process. It might be about decision making but more likely it will be about relationships. To discern is to sift or sort through. As church we sift through possibilities seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit as community. Discernment, therefore, calls us to be in living relationship with God, one another and our own true self to sense the interior movements of the Spirit’s presence in each moment in each breath. Let’s foster relationship with God through prayer, with one another through play and within ourselves through pausing to pay attention.