Participation vs. Efficiency – contributed by Rodney Eivers

23rd October 2014

In the process of integrating church and community, at the base level efficiency may need to be subordinated to participation.

We can take some pride in the contribution which Uniting Church welfare agencies make to the betterment of Australian society. We can congratulate them on the professionalism and efficiency with which bodies such as Uniting Care are managed as a result of large number of smaller charitable groups were brought under the one corporate umbrella.

There has, however, been a cost to this efficiency.  There is almost a universal response, particularly in country areas. When acknowledging the commendable service of the state wide or nationwide UCA agencies people express regret that management and control have been taken away from the local boards and committees.

A second cost is now emerging. This is in relation to what is termed “contestability”.  That is church welfare agencies are going to have to compete for the supply of Government funds to continue their services.

This being the case, one could argue, (I would be among those who would make that case) that if someone else is prepared to provide these services there should be no need for the church to be involved. Its resources for proclaiming God’s kingdom are scarce enough as they are. Indeed, I might say that it is wasteful to continue this sort of commitment for the sake of maintaining government funding when those resources which we do supply might well be used elsewhere.

The complication is that the church welfare organisations have been become so big and employ so many people that there would be considerable distress for employees and facilities if they were to be closed down and left to other people to handle.

To make it worse, the Uniting Church has to some degree become dependent on the government funded welfare agencies to provide financial support for what might be said the more proper responsibilities of the church. These might be, for example, in exploring innovation and catering for those who fall through the cracks of the standard welfare provisions from Government regulation and finance. There must be a lesson for us here.

But although this broader welfare picture is relevant to our aims, Milpara is much more concerned at what goes on at the level of congregation and local community.

A congregation or faith community should have no need to worry about efficient use of material resources. All it needs is people to aggregate and get along with one another. If it is to build up a sense of common purpose and of belonging, as is our purpose here, it desirable that as many people as practicable have a role to play. Furthermore, if we are integrate church with the general community we need to provide roles which do not require any restrictive doctrinal commitment.

Thus, our regulations may require that presiding at the sacraments or taking on certain formal offices be undertaken by registered church members. If so we must accept that restriction. But where such membership is not required, e.g. for mowing the lawn,  gathering the hymn books, managing the offerings, offering morning tea or coffee, etc. every effort needs to be made to recruit people who would not otherwise participate in activity associated with the church.

So, some general guidelines regarding roles and tasks might be:

  1. Give preference to a younger person, even a child, as against an older person. By this means we are looking to the future.
  2. Give a role to a non-member rather than a member. By this means we welcome people who may have some doctrinal hesitation about membership or don’t feel any pressing need to take on membership.
  3. Break down roles into smaller units.  For example, “gardening” can be broken down to one person doing the lawn mowing, one person looking after the garden beds, one person watering the pot plants, and so on. Again (in reference to a. above) aim to break down to units within the capacity of a child.
  4. Be receptive to suggestions or needs of the general public. For example, I learned this week of a small country town which lacked activities for its teenagers. The congregation has responded by working with the general community in forming a youth group.
  5. Make special efforts to incorporate people from minority cultural groups.

There will be many other areas of church and community life where we can deliberately set out to encourage people to feel at home by giving our own personal needs as church members a lower priority.

Some of this may look like I am assuming that old people have no role. This is far from the case and volunteers from us seniors should always be welcome. But the roles in this case should be seen as mentoring, supporting younger and newer people as we look to an invigorated future.  I would hope and expect that older people would be relieved to have fresh support coming in and relieving them of such responsibilities as age and infirmity drain our energy.

Let’s build a better world by providing for everybody to have a satisfying place in our society


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