Monday, 16 January 2017

UCAF Joan Stott Bursary – 2017

The UCAF National Committee is delighted to announce that two Bursaries will be awarded for study being undertaken in 2017.  The two awardees are Matthew Julius from Victoria and Brad Case from Queensland. Their faith stories follow:

Matthew Julius

Matthew JuliusI am fond of saying that I am Christian, but I am not necessarily a Christian. That is, I am undeniably formed by the Christian family, and broadly (post) Christian culture I was born and socialised into. However, I make no pretence of being a prototypical exemplar of some sort of fixed and settled understanding of Christian identity. For me, to account of a “faith journey” must be to take seriously the present and ongoing nature of such a pilgrimage. I thus find myself at home in dialogue with nomadic ideas: Christian thinkers that emphasise the dynamic task of thinking about God, and of the exciting provisional nature of what we say about God and the world. I find myself energised by open and welcoming spaces: in conversations that foster generous orthodoxy, and church contexts that take seriously a unity deeper than agreement. In these relations I find the words and practices to articulate where I happen to be in a continuous journey.

The Danish poet-thinker Søren Kierkegaard provides an articulation of one strand of my self-understanding of faith as journey,

“It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.” 1

This quote urges me resist the simple conflation of my faith journey with a history marked by significant moments. (Moments that tend to retrospectively homogenise a typically heterogeneous narrative.) Instead, my faith journey is a constant and unstable relation to story (to draw on some of the language of the Australian sociologist John Carroll). The story I tell myself about myself, and about my place in the world, is me transfixed by Christ.

In making sense of my own story, then, I must look beyond myself. Firstly, to the Other (Christ) that transfixes me; and secondly, to conversations within which I can participate and learn. I seek to read my story as if from the outside. This seeking drives my faith journey. And this seeking comes together in my attempts to think about God in ways that are accessible for those on the outside of Christian faith. Which is to say again that I aim to participate in conversations beyond myself in an academic career that traverses philosophy, sociology, and theology (the three disciplines I’ve studied formally). These disciplines, for me, help to articulate deep questions of how we should interpret ourselves in the world. Their broad integrative disposition inspire my pursuit of a conversion that is both ongoing and dependent upon community beyond myself.

All of this is to say that any possible past account of my faith journey is impossible without Kierkegaard’s insight into the mandate to live forwardly, and the shaping of understanding by ideas beyond myself. The key moments in my past, then, serve as discrete centres of gravity around which the continuous path of my conversion coalesces. And they are such because of my current and future vision however limited. So as I recall my past some moments become clearer, and others are obscured, as they refract my present state of transition. In these moments I begin to understand my story.

In conversations with my father, where probing questions were met with further stimulating questions, and a generous ear. In reading the work of the Australian sociologist John Carroll, and finding a view of Christ from the outside, that yet engaged the story deeply. In beginning to study the Bible formally, with Sean Winter, that I realised that there are Christians, like myself, prone to stubborn inquiry. And it has, in recent times, been in faith community curated by Sandy Brodine that I have come to appreciate the full depth and diversity of Christian belief and practice. In these encounters I am coming to see my faith journey now shift from feelings of a youthful, alienated outsider, towards those of a nomadic stranger: from Christian (without article) to maybe, perhaps one sort of Christian.

This poetic articulation of my faith journey, as that of a nomad and stranger, is perhaps insufficiently clear. But it seems the only safeguard against setting up as homogeneous and settled that which is ongoing and indeterminate. It is the only way of articulating an honest summary of my faith journey. Any such summary must, like much of our talk about God and the world, be provisional. The hope too, then, is that this précis is at least partially outdated by the time it meets you.

1 S øren Kierkegaard, Journals IV A 164 (1843)

Brad Case Brad Case

Current Ministry Context

I am currently 30 years old and work full time for Scripture Union Queensland as their youth and children’s ministry development officer. With SUQLD’s major focus being on school chaplaincy, this role consists of resourcing and training chaplains by writing programs for lunch time groups for primary and secondary schools and generally supporting them to run other effective programs. I also contribute to the writing and delivering of professional development modules for chaplains which have included Good Group Work Practices, Working Effectively with LGBTQI Students and Responding to Domestic and Family Violence. This year I have been facilitating training all across Queensland for the ‘A2B Life Changing Groups’ where over 100 people have been able to engage in better processes for group work that helps open their students and participants to the good work of God that is already happening in their life that leads to a better holistic sense of spiritual, social and emotional wellbeing.

As well as supporting chaplains I am involved in the QLD Youth Ministry Network with the heads of youth ministry across the denominations and parachurch organisations. Here we meet together and explore what Bible Engagement, discipleship, leadership, longevity of faith and many other issues to try and find solutions and ways forward for youth and young adults to deepen their faith and relationships with God and the church. I also work with others from this network and from SUQLD to put on ministry training events across Queensland. Our latest training weekend in Longreach saw clergy from each denomination in town and the surrounding areas tackle the challenge of keeping our young people engaged in church.

My greatest passion is camping; having been involved in almost 40 camps as both a participant and a leader/director (I have directed over 20 of these). Training week is a camp that I currently direct and is for Christian students in grades 10, 11 and 12 to explore what their faith looks like lived out in their schools and churches. Each year we hear stories of young people who’ve returned home to their youth groups and to their schools and started up new ministries or have returned equipped to passionately serve their youth pastors and chaplains as student leaders. This work is very exciting and I am very passionate about seeing it grow.

Current Church Participation

As I’ve previously mentioned, I had volunteered at Glebe Road Uniting church for 10 years as the youth ministry coordinator; a role which I loved and cherished. It helped inform my practice and theology of youth ministry and how to run meaningful, impacting ministry focused on discipleship. From here I felt called to move on and Sherwood Uniting called me to serve part time with them as their Youth and Children’s pastor. I loved working in this church role and while it wasn’t necessarily a challenge for me, it was indeed a sweet spot where I felt I could meaningfully contribute to a local expression of the Kingdom of God.

At both Glebe Road Uniting and Sherwood Uniting I would participate in the life of the church by being on the music team and worship leading, service leading, preaching, welcome and Bible reading as well as leading youth ministry every Friday night of the school term. At both churches I also ran a leadership course for young leaders who would help run the youth group as student leaders. While at Glebe Road I would facilitate and lead the service and preach on a roster each Sunday night which was a service specifically for our young people. At Sherwood I would also run one of these services once a month as well as teach Religious Instruction each Friday. I also participated in wider Uniting Church events such as leading worship and parts of the program for Summer Madness as well as participating in the NYALC (National Young Adult Leaders Conference). All throughout this time I enjoyed singing and playing saxophone in worship times.

Having been put on full time with Scripture Union, I have returned to Glebe Road and am currently not serving in any of the old areas I used to as I am discerning what is the main thing that I feel God is calling me to volunteer for with my specific gifts, talents and personal vision statement. This is an exciting time for me and I am enjoying some more time in which to focus on my current vocation with SUQLD as well as my studies.

Current Study with Arrow and ACOM

In 2007 and 2008 I attended Bible College at Brisbane City Institute of Training and completed my Diploma of Christian Ministry. That has helped my understanding of both practical ministry and theology in the youth ministry contexts and in wider church participation. At the beginning of 2015, I was invited to attend the Arrow Leadership course. This course runs over 2 years and has four units of study with exceptional reading for each unit. Each of the units covers…

  1. Leading Myself: Integrity, Character, Leading from your strengths, spiritual disciplines, personal and time management, personal leadership strategy/improvement.
  2. Leading Others: Team leadership, coaching skills, developing leaders, personal vision statement, integrated mission strategy.
  3. Leading Organisations: Conflict management, strategic staffing, performance management and change management.
  4. Leading in the World: (we have yet to get the schedule for this residential intensive week).

In addition to the Arrow Leadership course I’m involved in, I am currently completing one subject a trimester with ACOM (Australian College of Ministries). Combined with my already completed Diploma, these studies are helping me to complete my Bachelor of Ministry. Even though I am accruing a HECS debt, the Joan Stott UCAF bursary that I am applying for will help cover the costs of some of this study.

Future Opportunities

My completed study will likely conclude in 2019 and from there I hope to have a break from study. As a lifelong learner, this Bachelor of Ministry will simply enhance the work that I am already currently doing with SUQLD and whatever context I find myself at Glebe Road Uniting and beyond.

In the past, I have participated in the Period of Discernment in the Uniting Church and discerned that a call to ordained ministry was not what God was calling me into. However I pray I will keep my ears and heart open to this call should it arise again? If it does so within the life of the Uniting Church, I would aim to complete my Graduate Diploma in Theology and continue the process toward being ordained as a Minster of the Word.