Wednesday, 28 February 2018

God’s Mission through Social Service

Written by Rev Dr Ji Zhang 张骥

“We have many international churches visiting China. The Chinese Church has many partners around the world, and the Uniting Church in Australia is our strategic partner. We are strategic partners because we are uniting churches.” These were the words of welcome from Rev Kan Baoping, General Secretary of China Christian Council (CCC), to our UCA delegation.

The oval table at CCC headquarters in Shanghai is now a familiar place for the UCA delegation. In 2011, Rev Alistair Macrae took the first UCA delegation to visit the CCC, 60 years after the missionaries left China. In 2013, Rev Prof Andrew Dutney led a 20-person delegation to attend the first joint conference on the “Theology of Unity”. In 2016, Mr Stuart McMillian led a Social Service delegation and joined UnitingCare training workshops.

In 2018 our General Secretary Colleen Geyer led another team to share theology and practices of social service. Our one day consultation with the CCC focused on churches’ roles in social services. The purpose was to share our two churches’ post-denominational identity and our commitment to service in the communities where we seek to be part of the mission of God.

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Colleen began the UCA presentations with the affirmation that social service is in the DNA of our church’s formation and ongoing identity. From the UCA’s Preamble, Colleen identified God’s calling to seek a renewal of its life as the First and Second Peoples, going on to explain how our calling to unity derives from a theological discernment that unity is both Christ’s gift and calling.

Social service is the collective expression of this unity and our responsibilities as part of the society in which we live and serve. When the Uniting Church celebrated its 40-year anniversary last year, we affirmed our embrace of many people and cultures as a multicultural church. Our Assembly model of mutual collaboration across diverse groups is a further embodiment of  the uniting spirit; and our partnerships with overseas churches builds on this unity. We define and live out our oneness through relationships.

In his reflection Rev Kan recalled three stages of social service in China: A) The 1980s when the Chinese church “was influenced by fundamentalist theologies”, particularly some evangelical traditions which regarded social service as secular work. Their main task was to ‘save souls’. B) The Chinese church went into the phase of building churches to cope with the growing membership. China has a very large government, but a relatively small civil society and service has been an historical vacuum in China. This is a challenge both for the community and the government. Now the Church faces the same challenge too. C) While China rushed into capitalist economic development, church leaders in China realised that all existing theologies would not benefit the society [if salvation was otherworldly]; the task of reconstructing theology becomes inevitable. To understand Church’s social obligation becomes a strategic priority. The CCC acknowledges that congregations have adopted social service projects nationwide, but their works are primarily still driven by the motivation of personal salvation.

“We need to establish a theology of social service”. The Church is encouraged by the state to do social service; the state cannot take care of everything. The CCC wants to shape a right understanding of its public role in the society, particularly the kind of witness that the church should have among the people. Currently there are only five people in the national social service department. Their job is to run projects in different provinces and to educate local church leaders to engage in social service.

Ms Claerwen Little, UnitingCare National Director, presented the overall history of UnitingCare Network and the 25-year development of community services now reaching one in 12 people nationwide. Like the CCC, our social service started from the church, and continues to be an integral part of Uniting Church in Australia. Unlike the CCC’s struggle with evangelical theology, a valuable lesson from UnitingCare is the development of Faith Foundations – a theological guide to our social provisions. Now UnitingCare uses our collective expertise to offer policy solutions and examples to government, and designs local solutions with national application. Social service, therefore, is a part of the very presence of the UCA in the society.

Mrs Jin Wei is the Chairperson of the Commission for Social Service, the governing council of the CCC Social Service Department. She is also a Vice President of CCC. The Commission has 13 members including lay members in social work, leaders of local churches and the CCC leadership from the national office. Their mission is to bring together Christian values with social services, and promote service and justice in grassroots churches.

The CCC recently conducted a strategic planning process. Their new strategy is to create a brand owned by the Chinese church, and to provide training to personnel in church-run facilities. The work of the national office is to provide advice, conduct training and support an accreditation process. Externally the national office will study some common issues within the communities and advocate to the government on policies.

A week before this One-Day Consultation, the Commission had its first working meeting. It reviewed the work of the Commission and reported to the Standing Committee. This report is based on a comprehensive survey conducted last September in various parts of China. The report encouraged the church to seek understanding of social transitions and community needs, pay attention to hot issues within the society and establish key working areas. It also proposed the careful study of government policies, focus on a five-year National Development Plan and defining social work within the Chinese church. Ms Jin Wei also encouraged church-based service providers to increase exchanges with government departments and other service providers.

China has seen 70% of its population move out of poverty through its 30-year economic development. The scale of change is everywhere. However, China still has a significant number of people live in poverty, particularly in the west and southwest of the country, where people have been left out of the economic system. “Supporting the poor” is a national priority.

China Trip 7 webDr Sureka Goringe presented UnitingWorld program areas, particularly in poverty alleviation. UnitingWorld’s approach is to look beyond social symptoms of poverty, but work with partners to name the root causes. Our focus is on structural poverty, supporting people to overcome the systems that keep them from improving their lives. Long term sustainability, participation by the poor, inclusion of minorities, solutions within context, these are all characterises of good development. Among various methods, education and health remain as the most effective ways to end poverty.

Paul Wang, Secretary of the Social Service Department, spoke of various challenges in China. He presented an outline of how they plan to improve their work. The key is to build a national network, like UnitingCare in Australia, to bring 350 facilities together. The network is called “alliance”. It lists standards for facility establishment and provides support for accreditation. Another function of the national office is education. It will continue the existing certificate level training, and expand the training to online education, onsite training, and run seminars and workshops. The national office will also increase the quality of daily service in the network, including organising domestic and international exchange programs.

It was also a rare opportunity to have an expert from the government to take part in the consultation. Mr Chen Yaofu is the Director of Elderly Care at Shanghai Civil Affairs Department. Shanghai is the city most rapidly experiencing an ageing society. Currently there are 5 million elderly people representing 31.6% of the total population; this number will increase to 6 million by 2025. Although having one of the best resources in the country, the government can only aim for a “90-7-3 target”: 90% self-care, 7% community care, 3% residential care. The strategy is to shift this government- centred responsibility towards a community-ownership care model. Mr Chen explained the policy was carried out by a 5-in-1 system: a) service provision, b) regulation and accreditation, c) assessment and evaluation, d) policy support, and e) service payment insurance.

In the conversation with the UCA experts, Mr Chen also revealed four challenges. A) Who is paying for aged care? The government provides a safety net and pays for the poor, but the majority of people and their varied needs cannot be covered by government funding. B) How to enable health care and aged care working together to meet special needs? For example, palliative care is a special need to which faith-based services could make a natural contribution. C) Who is going to do the service? Aged care requires a large number of qualified caretakers. Australia has developed comprehensive education systems; Shanghai wants to work with Australia in training. D) How could information technology (IT) be involved in social service? Currently a system of care assessment is in the process of being developed in Shanghai. Another information system of National Standards is also in development. IT based service will have great potential and impact.

When it was asked whether the government would pay for the church-based service, the question was not directly answered. But it was clearly identified that social and community based care included faith-based aged care services. Therefore the funding door was not closed.

Two UnitingCare experts each took turns to present how to achieve quality care in UnitingCare, and what sustains an NGO business model in the aged care sector. Mr Geoff Batkin presented the experience of Wesley Mission Queensland. Quality of service is at the heart of long-term success of UnitingCare. Quality comes from five factors: vision and leadership of governance, strategic planning of senior managers, a well-developed culture within the organisation, human and material resources, and then systems in place. Wesley Mission sustains its vision, value and culture through Christian heritage and public theology of the Wesley tradition.

Mr Chris Grover, the CFO of Uniting, spoke of the NGO business model for UnitingCare. Social service is placed within the whole service sector within the national economy, representing 11% employment and 4% of GDP. Social service is an important part of the service-based economy; China is also shifting its economy from manufacturing to service. The challenges of ageing society in Australia and China are different in size, but similar in kind. This is because by 2050, both countries will have an almost the identical population profile. The role of government and the responsibility of community care will shift accordingly – away from the government towards families and communities. In this process, funding provision and stewardship will be governed by economic principles. To thrive, organisations will increasingly have to measure, manage and report the difference they make with every dollar invested in their services. The result is quality improvement and financial sustainability.

In China, the church is growing. How could this potential be channelled into social service? This is a theological shift from Personal Salvation to Social Service. Prof Lin Manhong, Associate General Secretary, proposed to teach social service in theological education across China. This would require a new theology of service. On the one hand, it is based on God’s love towards humanity, and on the other hand, it directs church’s mission outlook towards society. Echoing John Wesley’s teaching, she argued worship, witness and service were three pillars of the church; without service the church would not be complete. To help future generations of church leaders and evangelists to understand the importance of social service, theological education would need to develop new courses in the areas of social ethics, social service skills and professional knowledge, and government regulations.

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Rev Dr Ji Zhang spoke as Assembly Theologian-in-Residence on a Theology of Social Service. The church’s focus on salvation certainly needs to be shifted from personal enlightenment toward God’s incarnation. But the mission of God is unchanged. God so loved the world and gave us his only son. This love is the very foundation of social service. The church is a big family in China; it is a natural place to recreate the function of family through community care. Instead of saving souls, the church is called to rediscover God’s mission through active service to, and care for, people in the margins. This is because God is in the margins. Therefore, service is not just an addition to the church, but service is the church. Being a service church is about expanding our notion of the People of God who respond to God’s love with loving neighbours. It is the Creation of the Spirit that new life is to be shared with all people. Ultimately it is within the very nature of the Body of Christ – Christ first served us.

During the visit to China, the UCA delegation also visited various facilities. At YMCA, we saw a holistic service, combining aged care services with a child care and a holiday school program. Through Shanghai Civil Affairs, for the first time, we gained access to visit three government run services: residential care, community care, and day-care/family care. Each of them uses a people-centred service model, and demonstrates a well-developed capacity in quality care and service management.

“瑞雪兆丰年 Thicker snow points to a harvest year”. Chinese Spring Festival takes place in a time of agricultural rest. When snow covers wheat fields, the land is given a chance to rest.

As we left Shanghai, we realised people had begun travelling, our flight was full. During the 40-day period, there will be 300 million trips made, and bring people to their homes where families gather annually. We also wanted to bless the people who had hosted us – many of them would go home to their families. Happy Chinese New Year – the Year of Dog. When they return to work, our partnership will also turn a chapter into its 9th year.

When we arrived home, we saw the CCC had published a 3-page report (unusually long) on the national website. It has highlighted all aspects of the One-Day consultation under the title “Discovering God’s Mission through Social Service”. This report will be shared through the network of provincial Christian Councils as a “recommended news item”. It appeared before the news about British Prime Minister’s attendance at a Sunday worship in Wuhan.

Partnership is like relationship; it is not just based on doing, but also being.