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Identity, vision and communication key challenges for Uniting Churches

The national Standing Committee of the Uniting Churches of Aotearoa New Zealand invited the Joint Regional Committee chairpersons to share in its regular March 14-15 meeting in Wellington.

UCANZ executive officer John Jones says the aim of the meeting was to strengthen the partnership between the Standing Committee and the 17 regions. It also allowed regions to share with each other and for all present to hear and contribute to forward looking discussions.

“An audio visual presentation was made on how the national office was able to serve the Joint Regional Committees and parishes. General discussion quickly centred around the need for clear identity and contemporary vision for this unique group of churches - and the need to communicate this understanding widely.

“Some even spoke of a paradigm shift. It is clear that cooperative ventures no longer look forward to an organic union of the partner churches yet need to continue to lift up the ecumenical vision they committed themselves too.

“Through the 1990s and into the 21st century Cooperative Ventures began to establish their own sense of identity through the Forum. Now a further step - still maintaining their place within the partner churches - is called for,” John Jones says.

A task group will take this further and it will become one key element in the national Forum in November.

Other agenda items included:

· It was agreed that regions be asked to contribute an additional 3 percent to the Partner Support Fund. The level of increase may need to vary from parish to parish. The national UCANZ committee aims to keep within its present budget allowing about 90 percent of the Partner Support Fund to be forwarded to partners for their mission and ministry. (Each partner receives an agreed percentage.)

· Arising from suggestions from the regions involved, it seems that the number of regions will be reduced from 17 to 14.

· The Charities Act is on everybody's agenda! The Standing Committee strongly recommends that parishes remain patient and take no action yet. Discussion is continuing with the Commission and Partners, it is still unclear whether national or local registration will be better. A clear lead and help will come.

· Communion led by lay celebrants is not possible where Anglican partners are involved. This is a particular challenge in rural areas. A task group will look further at this issue with the awareness that it is complex.

· The effect of increased remuneration for Presbyterian ministers in cooperative ventures will be monitored and advice given as needed.

· Parishes will, during this year, be given the information that the national office is holding on their properties. Updates will be requested and where ownership ratios are not established, parishes will be urged, and given guidance on how, to establish these.

· Partners are examining changes in policies on land and buildings and UCANZ will request partners to work together on these wherever possible.

· Progress is being made on a common approach to liability insurance.

· The removal fund (with voluntary participation) is working well.

· Induction of new ministers. Although this is in the hands of the appointing church, a guideline is being prepared to ensure this is always an ecumenical occasion.