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OWNING ONE'S FAITH AND BELIEF
Dissertation by Dr. Bill Spencer
Web Presence sponsored by Joan Spencer
© 2002 J.S.& A. Pty Ltd.
A PARISH STUDY TO ENABLE AN APPRECIATION OF HETERONOMY, AUTONOMY AND THEONOMY
AS MODES OF REASONING THAT HAVE AN IMPACT ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF A STRATEGY
ADDRESSED TO PEOPLE WHO PREDOMINANTLY ACT AUTONOMOUSLY
In hindsight, the parish study portion of this dissertation has been
problematical because of circumstances both inside and outside of the parish
context that prevented the project from being able to be discrete from other
activities of a strategic nature. The ultimate aim of the project was to develop
a strategy that focused on the needs of people between 25 to 35 year of age. It
now appears that instead of trying to accommodate this disparity, the better
course of action would have been to abort the project, and seek another parish
situation where the project would be given free reign without external
Initially, I had been attracted to the Alphington-Fairfield parish, because
there was already a focus on the age-group mentioned above. This age-grouping
was roughly identical with the people participating in the pre-marital course in
the Ballarat South parish, out of which arose my concern regarding the
incorporation into parish life of people whose reasoning appeared to be of an
autonomous nature. The Alphington-Fairfield parish presented for me an
opportunity to test the assumptions I had developed regarding autonomous
reasoning, and the creation of a parish environment that was conducive to the
assimilation of autonomous reasoning individuals. The parish had six months
earlier appointed a Deaconess whose task was to work among this age-grouping in
the local area, and in conversation with her I was convinced that together we
would be able to support each other in achieving the above objectives. In the
event, this did not prove to be so, resulting in the Deaconess terminating her
appointment prior to its completion of the set years. This eventuality should
have alerted me to the prevalence of an attitude in the parish that viewed the
objectives I had in mind as being a specialist ministry separate to my own.
The instance however when I should have forgotten any prospect of pursuing my
objective occurred when the decision was made by the Strategy Committee of the
Yarra Valley Presbytery to appoint, without due consultation with the
Alphington- Fairfield parish, the about-to-be-appointed Presbytery Strategy
Officer to help the parish develop a strategy. The appointment of the Strategy
Officer had become possible because of the unexpected allocation of funding
that, as I understand it, was conditional on the appointment of Paul Linnossier
as Strategy Officer. The Presbytery had to move with undue haste to secure this
funding, and as a consequence the Alphington-Fairfield parish had been caught up
unwittingly in the whole process. The Presbytery had not seen fit to ascertain
if the parish had already a process in the pipeline that would lead to an
appropriate strategy, but apparently assumed that no action was being taken in
this regard. Paul and I thought we could accommodate each other's strategy and
so decided to proceed on that basis.
It should have been obvious to me at that time, that this was only possible
if the strategy I wanted to present to the parish for consideration was not tied
into the project portion of this dissertation. The Presbytery had compromised
the autonomy of the parish. In the previous chapter I have dealt with authority
within the Uniting Church, I have drawn attention to the degradation in this
respect from an initial theonomous position. Further, it is reasonable to assume
that concurrent with the appointment of a minister is the expectation that he or
she will assume as part of her or his ministry the responsibility to enable the
parish to develop appropriate strategies. This assumption was ignored by
Presbytery at this time. The actions of Presbytery in this instance is further
evidence of that fact. Although Paul appeared to accommodate my strategy, it was
clear to me that it would have been unrealistic of me to presume he would wish
to wholeheartedly embrace it, or completely understand it without studying and
accepting its theological and philosophical foundation. The strategy underlying
the project was hindered all along the line because those people who were either
charged with, or involved with implementing the strategy did not have a
whole-hearted commitment to it. Methodologically speaking, without this
commitment by the persons concerned, and the parish as a whole, the project was
doomed to failure from the start.
The project also suffered from circumstances that were largely of my own
making. I had proceeded toward candidature in this dissertation thinking that
the project portion was an optional extra. It was only at the end of the
pre-candidature process that I realised this was not so, and so had to hurriedly
construct a project. Had the project as project being distinct from the strategy
involved, been the subject of a prolonged preparatory process, it in all
likelihood would have evolved as an educational process, and I would have
acquired the necessary educational skills to have subjected it to an appropriate
educational methodology in consultation with my supervisor.
In the event, the course of seminars was hurriedly assembled without
consultation, in order that they were able to fit into the time-frame of Paul
Linnossier's appointment to the parish. As a consequence inadequate evaluation
processes were put into place, resulting in the series of seminars, worthwhile
in themselves, but producing no worthwhile results as a project. In order to
extract some value from the strategies and processes that ensued over the
following years in the parish, I am left with either considering the whole of my
ministry in the parish as contributing the working out of the strategy that was
accepted, or using the evaluation process that was put in place to evaluate the
work of the Community Worker that was eventfully appointed under funding from
the Synod of Victoria. If I choose the former, the value observations I make
will be diminished due to the fact that the project will be co-terminus with my
ministry. In choosing the latter, the lack of specific controls to do with the
implementation of strategies circumscribed by the categories of heteronomy,
autonomy and theonomy will need to be accommodated, thus reducing the
significance of the project to the overall exercise. I intend to proceed on the
assumption that the latter course will be the most beneficial as I am able to
exercise the advantages of being once-removed. Unfortunately, I will not be able
to have the methodological advantages of non-involvement that Kenneth Dempsey
had when he interviewed parishioners, and present and former ministers of the
Barool parish in the study mentioned in the first and previous chapter.
7. can be found an exhaustive account of the seminars mentioned above. In my
original methodology, as observed in the first chapter, I had stated that the
study will have been successfully completed when the (Alphington-Fairfield)
parish develops mission strategies that are:
1. clearly autonomous with regard to the authorities listed under
thedefinition of heteronomous above, i.e. conditional authorities.
2. while being autonomous can nonetheless be shown to be biblically and
3. aimed at involving autonomous reasoning people who are on the fringe
of or beyond the immediate influence of the parish.
The authorities mentioned in (1.) are Tillich, Kant, Piaget, Kohlberg, Bellah
et. al., and Riesman.
The purpose was to:
1. To create an environment within the parish that facilitates an
interaction between the 25 to 35 year old group it aims to reach, by encouraging
the movement of the parishioners, and parish generally, from an heteronomous and
autonomous moral and faith orientation to one of autonomous theonomy.
2. In consultation with the parish to develop mission strategies that
reflect a theonomous orientation.
The first objective centres about the movement of the parishioners from an
heteronomous and autonomous moral and faith orientation to one of autonomous
theonomy. A secondary consideration of the first objective was the creating of
an environment within the parish that would facilitate an interaction between
the 20 to 40 year old group its aims to reach.
The movement across the continuum of heteronomy, autonomy and theonomy is one
that is difficult to evaluate in the Alphington Fairfield parish as a whole.
This is because the parish was not noted for its heteronomy in the beginning,
and a failing in the methodology that no criteria was developed or applied to
test the percentage of people who reasoned heteronomously, autonomously or
theonomously. Consequently there was no established data from which the degree
of variance could be ascertained.
Within the parish there are individual members who appear to exhibit
heteronomous ways of reasoning, however, it would seem more accurate to suggest
that the parish reflects its leadership, all of whom appear to reason
With regard to creating an environment within the parish that would
facilitate an interaction between the 20 to 40 year old group, it now appears
that such an environment may have already existed, but was not recognised. The
reader will remember that in contrast to the Skipton Street congregation, the
Alphington-Fairfield parish appeared considerably more open. In all probability
the Alphington- Fairfield parish at the time the seminars were held, could be
classified as already being theonomous.
The strategy that developed in the Alphington-Fairfield parish after the
conclusion of the seminars drew not only on the content of the seminars
themselves, but also on the additional material that the Presbytery Strategy
Officer introduced during the strategy process. The strategy that was formulated
was put to the Elder's meeting and to the Parish council. A Congregational
meeting was called to consider the strategy. As a result of the endorsement of
the Congregational Meeting a Planning Committee was formed. The Planning
Committee was asked to give particular emphasis to the recommendation that a
submission be made to the Synod Special Mission Fund for a three year
appointment for a Family/Community Worker/Deaconess to focus on the "28-37
year old group. The recommendation for the forming of a group to, "explore
the potential to develop a neighbourhood house type program at St. Andrew's to
target the 25 to 40 age group within a cross generational approach,"
eventuated, with my departure from the parish, the purchase of a new manse, thus
releasing the old manse for whatever outreach function the parish determines.
The submission to the Synod Special Mission Fund was successfully made and
funding for the appointment of a Community Worker for three years at an overall
cost of $148,000 was made.
The incumbent was a member of the Planning Group and helped to write and did
the final editing of the Special Mission Fund Submission, with some assistance
from members of the Presbytery Strategy Committee, of which he is a member, and
of the Presbytery Strategy Officer. This latter advice concerned the quality of
presentation and the communication of the innovative nature of the appointment
that was sought.
Acknowledgment was given by the parish of the significance of the project
that is the focus of this chapter in initiating the strategy, of which the
submission was part. This was acknowledged in two sections of the submission. It
is acknowledged that the quotations below are lengthy, however they provide an
economical means of communicating the underlying rationale of the project and
provide a criteria by which the results of the appointment can be measured.
"As part of a D.Min. Program the Rev. Bill Spencer has undertaken
research and study into ways the church can respond to the predominantly
autonomous society in which we live. He has identified that the target group, 25
- 40 year age group are significantly influenced by autonomous attitudes and are
likely to express this autonomy when coming into contact with the church. This
often takes the form of reluctance of the target group to commit themselves to
groups requiring long-term and regular expectations of participants. This not
only applies to the church as a group, but also to specific groups and
fellowships within the church.
As distinct from earlier generations, other significant priorities such as
family-time, parenting responsibilities and obligations to loosely held
friendships will be evaluated alongside church attendance and involvement in
parish life. Alphington/Fairfield's recent experience with adults in the target
age-group appears to confirm that this is so. If the parish is to be successful
in reaching the target group, then it needs to come to terms with new ways of
being the church in the community.
There needs to be a recognition that meaningful relationships that affirm
values, and enable participants to know themselves as individual autonomous
persons with responsibilities to others as well as themselves, are of particular
interest to the target group. Having moved from finding their security in a
"world" - be that "world", family, a group, or a
"church",- that is circumscribed by "belonging", they seek
their security from within themselves as individuals. The responsibility of the
church is to help them " find themselves' within a Christian context.
"In the last two years a growing consensus emerged within the parish
that a more dynamic and innovative outreach was required if the Uniting Church
was to develop an effective ministry amongst those aged 25-40 years. In
recognition of this in mid 1990, the minister, the Rev. Bill Spencer, centred
his D.Min..... Program on this concern, and in 1991 the Presbytery Strategy
Officer, Mr. Paul Linossier began work with the minister and a Parish Planning
The parish recognises that the church is largely outside the experience of
the target group. Nonetheless there is also the recognition that the parish has
a responsibility to minister to them. It is imperative that new styles and forms
of ministry be devised if the church community is to fulfil its commission in
the local community.
It is also acknowledged that the target group must constitute an end in
themselves rather than being a means to maintaining the status quo. Relevant
ways of the proclamation of the gospel to this group needs to be devised in
order that it is received as liberating rather than constraining.
The strategy is to work to increase our relationship with the post war
generation in our community in the hope that we can offer a culturally relevant
and challenging faith community. The parish is seeking to be compassionately
within the centre of the lives of people themselves rather than it being itself
the centre about which people's lives revolve. The primary emphasis is on
mission and compassion rather than membership and maintenance. In seeking to
develop new initiatives in the community however, the parish acknowledges the
outreach already taking place. It is important therefore that any new
initiatives be seen to be consistent with current activities.
To this end the parish has committed itself to an outreach program that has
an emphasis on relationships, small groups, networks etc. The parish is anxious
to spend more time "being the church with the people in the world"
rather than spending too much time trying to get people to come to the church
The two extracts above could be summarised by saying that the parish affirms
that it has a responsibility to honour the autonomy of the people to whom it
seeks to minister and that this honouring ought to be part of its strategy.
Acknowledging the restraints mentioned in the first paragraph that so
successfully inhibited the original project, it nonetheless can be claimed that,
despite the inherent shortcomings of the ensuing methodology, to a remarkable
extent, the criteria and aims and purposes that were established in the original
formation of the methodology, were achieved. The above submission by the parish
does recognise that the study and research undertaken as part of this
dissertation did influence the final strategy that led up to the submission. Key
concepts have been put forward as justification for the appointment of a
community worker to work among the "target" group. These include the
perception that the 25- 40 age group are;
significantly influenced by autonomous attitudes and are likely to express
autonomous attitudes when coming into contact with the church,
the "target" groups lack of commitment to institutional forms.
the "target" group must constitute an end in themselves rather than
being a means to maintaining the status quo"
Relevant ways of the proclamation of the gospel to this group needs to be
devised in order that it is received as liberating rather than constraining,
willingness to offer a culturally relevant and challenging faith community to
seek to live at the centre of the "target" groups lives rather than
expect them to revolve around the life of the church,
the necessity for new styles of ministry, and
new ways of the church being the church in the world,
to develop new initiatives in the community however,
is all evidence that the criteria for success in the
original methodology, viz
1. clearly autonomous with regard to the authorities listed under the
definition of heteronomous above, i.e. conditional authorities.
2. while being autonomous can nonetheless be shown to be biblically
and theologically sound.
3. aimed at involving autonomous reasoning people who are on the fringe
of or beyond the immediate influence of the parish.
had been met, and that the appointment of a community worker under this
suggests that and that the purpose:
2. In consultation with the parish to develop mission strategies that
reflect a theonomous orientation:
was indeed strong. I acknowledge that my having had a hand in the formulation
of the submission, does weaken the above argument a little, however, the
submission was endorsed by the working group as a whole, the members of which
knowing full well that the Synod Committee receiving the submission would take
the sentiments to mean that they were endorsed by the parish.
Reference was made to the experience of the parish with the target group that
enabled the parish to make preliminary observations of the group. This indicates
that prior to the recommendation of the appointment of a Community Worker,
significant work was already under way in the parish. Three couples in this age
group were very regular attenders at the traditional worship service and at
least three single people were in attendance. Other couples had attended
regularly, but increasing family responsibilities, largely related to birth of
children, and the necessity for both spouses to find part time employment as a
direct result of the recession and government policies, all mitigated against
regular attendance at church. However, there were times when a casual visitor to
worship would have gained the impression that two thirds of the parish were
within the age group 24 to 45 years. Other times another casual visitor might
think, after attending worship that the parish simply comprised the elderly with
a few children attending Sunday School. Contact with the couples in the target
group had been made through requests for baptism of their children, Weddings and
the occasional transfer. By this means 50 couples had received pre-marital
and/or pre baptismal counselling (infants baptism) prior to the submission for a
Community Worker during the present incumbency. The references to worship
attendance concerned traditional worship. It remained to be seen, presuming
funding was obtained for a Community Worker whether this group would relate
better to alternative forms of worship and would become involved in other
activities that might be generated by the Community Worker.
Attrition through death and transfer had in the meantime decreased the
membership of the Alphington Congregation to a level in which it was no longer
viable. Arrangements were made for this congregation to worship with the local
Anglican congregation, and this arrangement continues. The Alphington Property
has since been sold.
The submission to the Special Mission fund was successful and the Rev, Keith
Howden was appointed to begin his ministry as a Community Worker in May 1993.
The Planning Group was made responsible for the oversight of Keith's work and
reporting on that work to Parish Council and Synod. Keith and the incumbent meet
on a regular weekly basis to review his outreach and to encourage each other as
Keith entered into the appointment with enthusiasm. He researched the
outreach of other Uniting and Anglican parishes both in Melbourne and Sydney and
has adapted his approach by the insights gained from these visits. This research
confirmed Keith in his belief in the validity of small groups as contact and
fellowship points for the target age-group. It has also indicated that the type
of work he is doing is unique in Australia in that it is not duplicated in all
its aspects in any other parish that he knows about.
Keith interpreted his task as a Community Worker to encompass:
1. work within and beyond the local community,
2. work centred within the life of the parish, even if sometimes on its
Included among Keith's concerns within and beyond the local community were;
To help at local schools, St. Andrew's Kindergarten, and junior basket ball.
To be available for referrals from Northcote Benevolent Society.
To remain a Board Member at Moreland Hall. (Drug and Alcohol Centre)
To remain a member of Synod's Resources Commission.
To continue as Police Chaplain in Northcote and Fairfield.
To research in New South Wales on what churches there are doing with regard
to the target group.
Included in Keith's concerns within and on the fringes of the parish
Monthly "Up-Tempo" services.
Co-ordinate existing small groups and periodic social events for young
Take quarterly Sunday Service and continue as Presbytery Liaison Person for
the Preston Parish.
Assist the Sunday school and attend Elders and Parish Council Meetings.
The above tasks cannot even begin to adequately communicate the energy and
commitment of Keith. Keith has been like a breath of fresh air in the parish,
and his work is constantly being confirmed both within and without the parish.
The following comment was told me recently from a former Community Health Centre
manager, who is now in private practice contracting the running of seminars for
staff mainly in the health field.
"Keith has made an enormous impact on the community. I have not met him
personally, but I have heard much about the good work he is doing."
Keith inevitably brought his own valuable past experience to bear on the
project. He also brought his own need to do research relevant to the task in
hand, and his right to interpret the submission which formed the basis for
evaluation of his work in his own way. I would submit that sometimes Keith's
interpretation differed from my own. The agenda's of both Paul and Keith
compromised the purity of the strategy I had originally envisaged. I had
anticipated that for a strategy to be consistent with the thrust of this
dissertation would require the encouragement of parishioners, by both education
and example, to work in the community anonymously, in the sense that although
their work arose from Christian values and commitment, it could not readily be
identified as having been initiated by the church, in accord with Jesus'
command, "Let not your right hand know what your left hand is doing."
Some parishioners were already involved in that task in that they worked
voluntarily under the auspices of the Northcote Benevolent Society, a
council funded and community based organisation. Instead, Keith achieved quite a
name for himself as the community worker for the parish, in sporting activities,
police chaplaincy, extra curricular activity among the local primary schools
etc. This certainly raised the prestige of the parish in the community. While I
was on long service leave during part of this period, I was approached by a
neighbour with whom I had worked in previous years on local issues, to ascertain
if the Fairfield church could be a venue for a community meeting of concerned
citizens irate about the proposed use of a former department store in the local
shopping centre as a venue for poker machines. I referred them to the
appropriate people in the parish, and as a consequence on one evening the church
was filled beyond capacity as it augmented a meeting aimed at influencing the
local municipality against endorsing the use of the former department store for
such a purpose. In a political environment in which the State government was
seen to be inordinantly promoting the spread of poker machines, this was quite
an achievement. I believe in no small way, Keith's involvement contributed to
the success of the meeting in the church, however, it did to some extent cut
across the emphasis I was trying to encourage.
The use of the Alphington property for contemporary worship, tended to be
somewhat ambiguous, in that although in similar fashion to the Communitarian
model arising out of Latin America, guest speakers on social concerns replaced
the sermons, nonetheless the worship was Church centred. In contrast, Keith
organised a series of meetings in private homes in which matters of the faith
Keith's ministry was certainly not traditional, however it was not as radical
as I had envisaged. Consequently as an expression of my interpretation of the
submission to the Victorian Synod, although a useful and successful ministry in
its own terms, it however fell short of an example of ministry that would
encompass in any significant way a model for ministry that takes full cognisance
of the autonomous reasoning prevalent in modern Western cultures. The ambiguity
that arises from incompatible expectations of ministry is yet another instance
of the ambiguity of the church.
This page was last updated on
the 16th September 2009