Sunday, March 20, 2011

What I would have done!!

Some of my reader/s will know that over the last year plus, our state body in the Uniting Church has been working on the latest [most urgent] attempt to reshape in the face of increasing challenges and decreasing resources. There were 'special disbursements' due to previous share market dividends, courageous decisions to spend bequests and to recognise that if some resources were 'for a rainy day' then it's friggin' pouring... the particularly galling 3 years of budget cuts to create a circuit breaker pool of funds to reorder how they were spent... and now the merger of our Boards of Mission and Education... meaning more than a dozen jobs end in December 2011 and a handful will be reshaped and advertised [sometime].

Affirmations or Givens:
- All these things are honest attempts by committed people to meet the challenges of our current context as a church shrinking and stuttering at engaging in God's mission in the world in 21st C ways
- Both Boards leadership has been telling our decisionmaking bodies for at least three years that a solution was needed and none was forthcoming from those bodies
- A Board Merger was 'almost inevitable' in the circumstances
- What's been planned offers a chance to break the mould of our incrementally changed former roles, Units and groups who all laboured hard to stay relevant and to address the real issues in our regions, congregations and how we fund our mission and discipleship
- After 11 years in my own current role it was time to look elsewhere anyhow BUT some plans had been considered and the timing was set to best allow good decisions around a hosting of our national youth event NCYC [or not] and that's been compromised
- The full positive potential for the merger has been limited by the 'non negotiables' which came into the idea once talks began. Creative ideas to value add to some of those areas were heard as something other than ideas of focusing the work so jobs that have been lost might have maintained some edge but been added to those ongoing areas.
- Some resources which could be diverted have been seen as not part of the equation as they don't 'cost' but instead the question could be 'are they a priority' or is that the best way to reflect this missional priority and could the resources be used differently on what things are a priority
-2011 is the year of the ticking clock for myself and all my colleagues and some around us are clueless, incapable or not interested in the personal cost of these journeys. Others are endlessly supportive and we all know God is at work in all the mess, creativity and possibilities.

A proposal had developed alongside merger talks for a wider strategic review and I for one believe the 'wider' is important but that this review was not necessarily the right one. I said so to whoever asked, would listen or on bodies I participate in who asked these questions. I have also been active in the merger process when we've been asked for ideas and even see some of those concepts in the current plan... SO... I feel able to reflect and comment and mean no criticism to any group who've been trying to do what's been asked of them...

We need a 'mission review' across the life of our mission field, the Synod of NSW/ACT. Not a structural review, but a discussion about who we are and why... to the point of practical resourcing...
A Steering Group could/should design consultation/s with local and regional stakeholders who come together for a facilitated discussion which doesn't ask 'what do you want to grab?' or what have you been unhappy about but draws us back to questions of 'who God is calling us to be in this place or places at this time?" OR 'where do we see God active in our communities that we are called to participate in and what wider resourcing would enhance that effort?'
Personally I would design a one day process for dealing with our annual Synod meeting business and devote the rest of the time to including that meeting as one consultation and then the following time it could work through some practical outcomes focused decision making. A Consultant and Team would drive the process towards a picture of our call, priorities, non priorities and then resourcing and institutional frameworks could be set up and reshaped accordingly...
Such a process would take seriously 'the five marks of mission,' the extent and need of our property resources and where we hold capital and property which could be sold and invested in missional activity.
This current context calls for changed institutional arrangements and we've been making small steps around funding focus, breaking open grants and special projects, regional generosity and use of the sales proceeds from property... are we up to the bigger stuff now. The one certainty is 'change' and the rest is about how we meet the adaptive challenges it presents. A 'ground up' consultation process is less about a large institution trying to reshape itself and more about individuals and groups envisaging what we need the monolith to do so what shape is needed becomes clearer. Previous Presbytery/Synod dialogues have by all reports been a blamefest and a standoff... we can no longer afford this...
The trouble is none of this is easy or orderly so people will be displaced either way. This idea is about asking who we are and whose we are, from big picture through to concerete arrangements. Others better at organisational structures than me could design central and regional resourcing to meet the plan. Maybe we could even include the voices from our 'growing edges' of: non anglo groups; young adults looking for new forms of church; and a few larger contemporary groups as we grapple with what that means across the theological spectrum.
To date the oft chanted criticism of our synod decisionmaking [that it's top heavy with employed leaders] could for this instance be true in some spheres where the problems have been examined... simply going ground up without a good process is no better.
Second lastly, we should adopt the Parramatta-Nepean approach of a fifty year plan... some find it amusing or befuddling... I think it's the only way to go.... we make the same kinds of cases for infrastructure and public transport in NSW and it doesn't have our contextual issues, mostly just funding pressures... that we have in common!!
Lastly for this post, these are the crazy thoughts that fill my sleepless and restless head... nothing more, nothing less... so perhaps more clarity will emerge in future posts... Anyhow, I'm just thinking out loud... a dangerous thing usually!!

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