Milpara – A Suter-style Scenario No. 5?

Milpara – Suter-Style Scenario No. 5?
Rodney Eivers

3rd January 2016
I had a message from a colleague this weekend who recommended that members of Uniting Church congregations use some available 2-minute video vignettes, to learn of the writings of Dr Keith Suter. Dr Suter has published a doctoral thesis on the Future of the Uniting Church and paints pictures – he refers to them as scenarios – as to where the Uniting Church in Australia might be heading over the next one or two decades. The full thesis may be viewed at
http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/bitstream/2123/11587/1/suter_ks_thesis.pdf .

I would support the recommendation that people view the 2-minute vignettes by Keith Suter on his study of the future of the Uniting Church. He speaks very clearly and they are a good summary of his wake-up call to the Uniting Church. We have already screened the first of the video series, at one of our Acacia Ridge UC services. We may screen the others later this year.

Suter’s commentary leads me to ponder where Milpara might fit in to all this.
In thinking about these matters I wrote a little piece about where the concept (integrating congregation and local community) might fit into Suter’s scenarios. I came up with a Suter-type scenario No. 5 which is akin to his Scenario 3 – Return to the early church – but retaining, with some sort of building, a visible presence in the community. Such a physical presence could also be relevant in the event of Scenario 2 – Secular Welfare.

With the potential introduction of “contestability” for Government services (compare the current tendering of government services such as School Chaplains and employment services), the Uniting Church could lose its access to Government funding. In that case the provision of community services could be thrown back on the congregations in the way it was to some extent before centralisation took place into Uniting Care.

I post here my article describing briefly a Suter-type Scenario 5.

Scenario 5 – Milpara. A local community spiritual centre and meeting place

 

Dr Keith Suter in his work The Future of the Uniting Church in Australia has outlined four scenarios as to where the UCA might be heading in the coming decades. He does not select one scenario over another as the most desirable or the most likely to be attained. “Preferred”, is the term he uses for such a choice, if it is made.

For the purpose of using these scenarios to develop policies and move forward one needs to either select one of these scenarios, each of which has significantly different outcomes, or develop a scenario of one’s own. Milpara is moving towards this.

As a starter may I suggest that Scenario 3, is closest of Suter’s 4 scenarios to the Milpara approach. There are, however, major differences:

This is Scenario 3 – Return to the Early Church.
Suter summarises it as follows:

“Early Church”: This Uniting Church has discarded its corporate businesslike nature and is run (as was the church in the early centuries of the Christian Era) as a small group of people focused on the more explicitly “spiritual” aspects of life, with no government-funded services

The Milpara “Preferred” Scenario

Scenario 5 – Milpara. A (local geographic) community spiritual centre and meeting place.

It would comprise a slow but steady interpretation of doctrine in tune with educated social attitudes accompanied by visible interaction with the community at the local geographic level. Moving towards the incorporation of all faith positions, including the secular, as the spiritual, ethical, social heart of local communities. Clear identification in the early stages with the Uniting Church but with loose levels of governmental control maintaining the levels of church councils broadly along the lines of the present. The local community may be defined loosely as comprising those citizens within walking distance of the congregation or faith community wherever it may happen to meet.

Remember this is a possible scenario, not a prediction of what might actually happen or is likely to happen. Delineating such a scenario, (I presume this is what Keith Suter is getting at) has a very practical value because, by adopting a scenario, this will colour and guide the decisions which are made and acted upon at all levels of the church.

I don’t think such scenarios are necessarily wishful thinking or, by contrast, giving up. They provide guidance and a direction in which to channel our energies. And, of course one can have several different scenarios operating in parallel.

One of the main differences Milpara has with Suter’s number Three is the low place he gives to a visible location of the church in the community. He does talk of “house churches” and that may well be a welcome part of it. But the dependence on coffee houses, private homes and other ephemeral rented locations for religious practice and community activity is unlikely to give a sense of permanence for the church group in that community. Moreover, if there is no physical base, it makes it that much more difficult to engage in social welfare by members of the faith group (as opposed to Government agencies or the centralised denomination) Nevertheless, we would see such a presence, not being envisioned by the grandly prominent church structures of past eras, but by “meeting houses” needing to occupy no more than a standard house allotment. Of course if the functions of a particular congregation were to expand and the secular community were supportive, more substantial buildings would be warranted.

Place of denominational administration: (Assembly, Synod and Presbytery) We would see the National Assembly playing much the same role as at present, setting such policies as need to be defined and responding to questions of national and international concern.

Presbyteries, which can be seen currently by congregations to operate mainly as a controlling body (monitoring “compliance”) rather than nurturing spontaneous growth, may become less necessary with a loosening up of control and church membership.
Any necessary remaining presbytery roles might be taken over by the regional Synods.

The Synods (regional coordinating bodies – not necessarily defined by State political boundaries) would have an additional role, of providing hands-on services for the small congregations and faith communities. This could include, financial accounting, property maintenance, centralised educational and training facilities and the provision of a pool of preachers and teachers. We anticipate that the funding of these would be provided by a levy (hopefully voluntary rather than required) on the faith groups. Currently only 30 per cent of Synod income at present comes from “offerings” as against indirect Government largesse of some 70 per cent.

To summarise: Rather than a central body venturing out to plant what amounts to fully grown churches Milpara would seek to identify growth points from within the local community (perhaps from existing small home study groups) and nurture their growth. The new Highfields U.C. group may provide something of a model here.

Our vision might be: “A church in every town and every suburb”.

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