This week the BUGB Council decided to transform its Union life. A smaller Council (reduced by about a third), a smaller national staff (reduced by about a third) and a new Steering Group (made up by all the major constituencies of the Union - associations, colleges, council, trustees, specialist teams).
Both a smaller Council and the new Steering Group are decisions that can be read positively with potential to make Union life both lighter on its feet and more coherent. Council is a bloated beast when it tries discussion (too much talking at rather than talking to one another), a small body will hopefully enable conversations with more depth and more honesty. The Steering Group has the opportunity to bring part of our wider life round the table and so help avoid some of the disjunction that exists (this still requires trust from the associations). A small national staff has been forced by a shortfall in Home Mission, while there are some who may argue this is a positive move - a re-balancing of the Union away from the 'centre'. In my opinion it is neither - both because the equivalent of 14 persons are now left without employment, and, I think also those who remain, in the now three specialist teams, will be hardpressed and overworked. The response is that some things will either be stopped or be picked up by associations. While the national resource (mis-named, they do not just resource, but they enable churches and associations to relate) was in need of re-shaping and it may well be the three specialist teams will be more focused, there is no doubt that these are forced financial decisions, for all the rhetoric of them being about mission.
The future now requires a transformation of association life, we cannot stop at reforming the Union. This will be much harder, because each association is a law unto itself. Association partnerships - associations forming partnerships with each other, not as new bodies, but in the way two churches might partner together - has the potential to bring change, but there is some doubt in the air whether associations will commit themselves positively to this venture. The larger question, in my mind, is what are associations for?
The variation in the thirteen associations are wide, with different strengths and weaknesses in each - history, geography, personnel all play out in different ways. The disconnect in some (if not many) associations between the association as a body (an independent legal charity) and the churches within their area is often bigger than many will admit or recognise. In addition associations largely refer now to regional ministers - they are the association - local churches relationship is with their regional ministers, not with the association. One criticism from some towards the Union was it too was instiutional and inhibited Associations from some of what they wanted to do. We may find as Associations become more free - e.g. they have more control of how Home Mission is spent in their region - that they to are found to be too institutional and not missional enough. Alongside what are questions for, is the question, what kind of regional ministers and association council/trustees do we need?
Behind all of this is the question of finance - will we be able to financially support everything - from pioneering church projects, to rural ministry, to association staff, to the three specialist teams - at the moment the future seems very uncertain.
This may well be the last in a series of posts that have occupied the focus of this blog in the last 12 months. Below are links to four earlier reflections.
Beyond 400: Questioning Some 'Myths' (March 2012)
Whose Union? Which Future? (November 2011)
What Lies Beyond 400? (November 2011)