Riverina Presbytery Report to Synod 2019
1. provide a reflection on the period since synod 2017 – highlights and challenges
The Riverina is one of three rural presbyteries stretching from Tumbarumba in the east to Deniliquin in the west and Lake Cargelligo in the North to Tocumwal in the south. It has benefitted from an invaluable Intentional Interim Ministry (IIM) placement and also falls under the umbrella of the Synod Saltbush initiative.
Prior to Synod 2017 all 28 congregations were visited by the IIM, whose primary focus was on gathering and analysing information then providing feedback to the congregations and also the full Presbytery.
In the second half of 2017, based on the information previously collected, a proposal to restructure the Presbytery, was put to the November 2017 Presbytery Meeting. This involved:
- the setting up of five regions (named geographically as Eastern, Southern, Central, Western and Northern), each with an ordained minister responsible for spiritual oversight of that region.
- Reducing the number of Presbytery meeting to two
- Conducting all presbytery sub-committee meetings on the one day to reduce travel and time commitments of committee members and to share responsibilities across a wider group
With one exception, the proposal was received well by all congregations of the Presbytery and follow-up discussions were held with individual congregations to help clarify any misunderstandings.
Since implementing this proposal:
- Two regional minister appointments (both Presbytery placements) have been finalized. New Ministers have been inducted in the Eastern Region, the Southern Region as has the new minister for Wagga Wagga.
- there have been a number of Regional events organised to assist with the development of regional identity. These include shared worship, day retreats, input days involving UME and other Synod expertise and leaders’ meetings. People are encouraged to attend regional events as the number of Presbytery Meetings has been reduced to the mandated minimum of two per year.
- The emphasis on regions has led to a growth in inter-congregational connections and the feedback from the two established Regions is very positive as visits, meetings and worship services all contribute towards building relationships and sharing resources.
- The challenge of attracting ministers to rural placement is not exclusive to the Riverina. We have developed profiles, identified funding sources, our congregations are supportive of calling a minister to serve the regional group of congregations but the two profiles developed have not attracted a placement.
- While funding for regional ministers is sustainable for the next five years, much of the financing has relied on access to Proceeds of Sales. There have been some difficulties in accessing these funds where congregations have not been prepared to allow their release.
- In the case of the remaining region, alternative oversight arrangements will need to be considered as there are only sufficient resources for a 50% placement.
- We are experiencing difficulty in filling Presbytery leadership positions and at present the position of Treasurer is vacant (temporarily held by a previous treasurer). The Presbytery Deputy Chairperson is also still vacant
- Distance within the Presbytery as well as to Sydney is always an issue for representatives to attend meetings
- The IIMs placement has now concluded. The role description for a Presbytery Minister, requested by Presbytery and approved by ACOMP includes reference to and association with the work of Saltbush but without a replacement there is concern that the impetus of the changes occurring in the Riverina, will not be maintained.
2. HOW WILL YOUR PRESBYTERY ENGAGE WITH THE SYNOD MISSION STRATEGY
– LIVING CHURCH IN MISSION TOGETHER?
Growing Healthy Congregations
In order to grow healthy congregations it was recognized that the Riverina Presbytery needed to be affirming congregations, linking congregations and resources for support and communicating in different ways. This is being done by:
- Building relationships with congregations through meaningful worship services and more informal conversations around the/a table,
- sharing liturgies and sermons through personal contact with those who have offered to share their resources
- Tailoring liturgies to the specific context of congregations and incorporating resources from Ecumenical relationships, Synod and Assembly on a regular basis,
- Incorporating courses and compliance requirements into worship in an informative and transformative manner e.g. preaching series on the Basis of Union, dedication of Safe Church Officers and personal sharing on why safe church matters etc.
- Modelling “ordered liberty” – particularly in very traditional worship settings,
- Listening to which aspects of the Church year are important to congregations and their communities and offering fresh ways to honour and celebrate those moments together,
- Transparent, consistent, and inspiring communication,
- Cultivating an appreciation of life-long learning.
- Implementing a regional ministry model to ensure all congregations feel supported and have access to the spiritual leadership of an ordained minister.
Developing Vital Ministry
Equipping and empowering disciples for missional leadership and ministry also necessitates the building of relationships with congregations; getting to know their individual gifts and passions as well as identifying, encouraging, and mentoring new leaders. In the Riverina we do this by:
- Commissioning services – including congregational responses that encourage mutual ministry,
- Offering affirmation,
- Sharing worship resources and providing spiritual input on a regular basis,
- Grounding all meetings in the context of worship and working towards “the promised end,”
- Encouraging lay preachers, church council members, and worship leaders to maintain their currency by reading broadly and attending seminars, conferences, courses and regional meetings.
- Advocating on behalf of the above for more drastic subsidies to those in regional and rural areas.
- Encouraging ongoing personal discipleship, retreat, spiritual direction etc.
Transformative Community Engagement
Visibility and authenticity are essential if our message of creating a world that is inclusive, just and connected is to be heard. In our Presbytery we aim to achieve this by:
- Acknowledging the many charitable activities and good works with which members are already involved in the local community and offering support as a church for larger or special events i.e. build on existing relationships,
- Encouraging congregants to share a meal regularly in the local coffee shop, bakery, cafe etc.,
- Better utilising church property to be places of sanctuary or rest through welcoming entrances, benches in gardens, community gardens etc.,
- Offering opportunities for lament, saying sorry, practising reconciliation and honouring diversity
- Emphasising the importance of “walking the walk and talking the talk”
- Focusing on people rather than programs – the transformative power of the Church is RELATIONAL.