Rev Steve Francis will step down as Moderator of the Uniting Church WA on Friday 11 September. He reflects on his time in this role over the last six years.
As my time as Moderator is coming to a close, I was asked to write a reflection looking back over the past nearly six years and looking forward into the future.
When I was first elected Moderator at Synod in 2014 someone shook my hand and said “Condolences”. It was like they thought I got the booby prize in a raffle or worse. The experience of being a two term Moderator has had some dark and deep disappointments. There have been moments when I felt something of the pain and struggle of being a church that is in slow decline and in danger of reaching a tipping point when renewal seems almost out of reach.
However, for the most part it has been an enormous privilege and a great joy. I have felt loved, prayed for and supported – a big heartfelt thank you.
I have made some mistakes along the way and not pleased everyone. Such is part of the lot of leadership. I have seen the church at its glorious best and at its depressing worst. Allow me to make three parting observations. Part of our reality is that we still find it hard to get on with each other. Being the Uniting Church on paper looks terrific: an emphasis on every member ministry, a rich heritage of faith and property, lots of talented and faithful people and a Basis of Union that calls out the best in us. How could we fail? Too often we see the speck in our brother’s eye and miss the plank in our own.
Occasionally, I have encountered ungracious leadership that is brittle and opinionated. I have found that rarely do people admit their mistakes, all of which adds to friction and outbreaks of disunity. We still need to learn how to live in humble, honest and generous harmony. Thank God for the cross, where sinners like you and I can find forgiveness and reconciliation. We are also not good at being a contemporary church. So often our stiff formal liturgies, our dated hymns, our clerical attire and traditional ways of worship have little contemporary relevance. Only a few of our churches have any appeal to younger people.
We at times seem culturally in a time warp and therefore somewhat irrelevant. We are reluctant to learn from healthy churches where younger people celebrate and are nurtured in larger numbers. They are written off as being shallow or emotional or fundamentalist. Somehow the fresh life changing good news about Jesus has become stale and dull in some of our congregations. The age demographic of our church is at times alarming. We have many pensioner churches, bless them, but few truly contemporary expressions of Christian community. Revive us, O Lord.
Lastly, we have elevated the scholar and demoted the evangelist. The Basis of Union makes it very clear that we need both. Yes, we need to learn from the best scholarship around, but we also need holistic evangelists to call people to faith and discipleship. Ideally we need well-educated, humble Christlike evangelists. Rarely in our prayers for others do we pray for the conversion of our neighbours, family and friends. We do talk about mission, and that’s great, but there seems little urgency or passion for spreading the gospel and making disciples. We prefer to talk about church structures, property, finance and lesser things.
The church does need prophets and poets; it does need champions of justice and advocates for the environment and the poor. But God’s mission is seriously incomplete without the call to follow Jesus, in a life of worship, witness and service. Holy Spirit come.
History teaches us that God has a wonderful and costly way of bringing new life; we are a resurrection people. God is not finished with us yet.
May God lead us forward. The best is yet to be.
Rev Steve Francis
Moderator, Uniting Church WA
Top image: Students at Methodist Ladies’ College (MLC) farewelled Rev Steve Francis as Moderator of the Uniting Church WA during a Chapel service in June this year. MLC year 12 service prefect Clare, presented Steve with a gift from the college.