Toorak Uniting Church

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A Commissioning Charge to the Elders and Church Council

Rev. Robert McUtchen
12 December 2010

Are you the Messiah, the one who is to come, or should we look for another? I find this one of the more touching pieces of the gospel. At the heart, the question is about the authenticity of Christ. Jesus replies – report back to John on what is happening.

Today we will commission seven people to leadership positions within this congregation. While time has passed since their election, formal commissioning is important, as it involves prayer, God’s blessing, and an affirmation that you are set apart by the congregation to attend to significant duties.

You are being commissioned at an important moment in the life of this church. TUC faces multiple challenges – an ageing, shrinking congregation, challenges in funding ministry, maintenance of ageing buildings, and building more vital relationships with Kindergarten, John Macrae and Uniting Arts. All magnificent ministries for which you should be grateful, but very proud. The congregation questions how it will express its faith and service to the community in the future, but is less sure what must happen. To parody a Chinese saying – "We are living in interesting times!".

The matter of authenticity arises here. Given the challenges, none of which are diminished or denied, it will be vital that TUC seeks to manifest the most authentic ministry of minister and people for the next phase of its life. Many theories and strategies are at large to respond to this challenge.

The UCA has attempted to meet the challenges of changing times with various "themes", and successive reorganisations. In 31 years of ordained ministry I have witnessed countless action "themes" arise and sink without trace. Several times the UCA has reorganised processes and fundamental structures to address changing circumstances and falling numbers – generally to no avail. The mindset persists among some leaders that if we get the mechanism adjusted correctly then problems will be solved, and the Kingdom of God will be back on track. One theory having considerable currency is that traditional congregations, traditional worship and church life are no longer relevant to modern society, and will pass away. When asked what will emerge in place of the old, one hears fuzzy talk of church in community, small groups, of the "new things" God will do. In this environment TUC Church council must interact, particularly as it discerns whom it shall call to minister.

I charge and encourage ALL Church Council and Elders to be very circumspect when it comes to popular theories of fixing the church. Above all authenticity must be the mark and measure of what you do, and how you seek to manifest Christ to the world. Remember the core business of the church in the Basis of Union:

The Church preaches Christ the risen crucified One and confesses him as Lord to the glory of God the Father. In Jesus Christ "God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19 RSV). In love for the world, God gave the Son to take away the world's sin.,

This is our primary duty as Christians. It is a message the community remains open to receive, for whom there is no peace, nor a sense of reconciliation with God, and for this they quietly yearn.

Our founding Documents declare "The Congregation is the embodiment in one place of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping, witnessing and serving as a fellowship of the Spirit in Christ. Its members meet regularly to hear God’s Word, to celebrate the sacraments, to build one another up in love, to share in the wider responsibilities of the Church, and to serve the world." I charge all Church Council members to make these things your first responsibilities: worshipping, witnessing and serving as a fellowship of the Spirit in Christ.

Regular worship, celebration of the Sacraments, building one another up in love, and service.

The authenticity of any Christian community is its prayer life, its worship of God, its fellowship and nurture of its people, the welcome it extends, and its manifestation of new life in Christ through service to the community. Community and people are not going to associate with TUC because we have a thriving art gallery, or because of the coffee and cake we dispense – the thing which will draw people to us is the authenticity of our prayers, our worship and our service. I believe with all my heart that where we attend to these responsibilities, people, with all manner of unmet needs and inner yearnings, will come. We have a gospel to proclaim, and a new life to share and celebrate.

I reject the notion that the church as we know it is dead or dying. The church may manifest itself in different ways, but this way is far from finished if we only revisit those things which define our existence. Further, there will always be a part of community for whom this ecclesiology particularly mediates engagement with God.

As leaders of TUC I commend you each to make a number of personal and collective priorities.

There is a tremendous human capital within TUC. The potential to engage that capital more actively and widely, in the service of God, remains. Much has already been achieved, and is to be celebrated, and more remains to do. Let authenticity be the mark which this church is known, and which draws people to it.

May God bless the Church Council, and its members. Amen.

© Rev. Robert McUtchen, 2010

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