Two years ago I was asked to write a description of Uniting Communities for a conference where I was hosting a small group. Here is my version of who we are…
Uniting Communities began as a Wesleyan Methodist mission over 100 years ago and is a Uniting Church agency. We have changed and improved the way we work with disadvantaged people over that time. Where once we focussed on the ‘deserving poor’ now we are focussed on intrinsic value of people regardless of religious and social attitudes. We are focussed on recovery rather than deficits and diagnosis. We take a systems view to the social issues so we believe there is a positive role of communities play in recovery. And we arguable have the highest media profile for any not for profit organisation in South Australia with anywhere between 3 to 5 media topics per week picked across all media platforms (radio, print, tv, social media etc).
Uniting Communities has over 800 staff and is spread through South Australia. Approximately 70% of our funding is from State and Federal Government. The remaining 30% funds our Advocacy unit and Lifeline and other projects. This provides us with a solid level of independence as most Uniting Church agencies split would be closer to 90/10%.
We are interested in celebrating diversity of work place and community. So each year we support Pride March, the White Ribbon Day March we have a Reconciliation Action Plan and a Disability Action Plan.
We use to be in a close collaboration between UnitingCare Wesley Port Adelaide, UnitingCare Wesley Bowden, UnitingCare Country SA but have more recently chartered a separate course with our name change to Uniting Communities. This reflects a renewed focus on community work and advocacy as well as our specialist professional counselling work.
We are an important member of the UnitingCare Australia network and participate and lead some of the policy projects which have national implications such as Energy Pricing and Homelessness. We always participate in the annual Mission Ministers gatherings of lay and clergy who have some responsibility around the Uniting Church culture of our respective organisations.
We are not interested in using welfare to get people to go to church on Sunday. We are part of the movement that has seen this as a part of an entitlement / deserving poor model which we set aside some years ago.
Interestingly, we also have a small group of staff who are disaffected with their institutional religion but are committed to their faith through their work with us (and not all of these folk are Christian, might I add).
To use the categories – we are a socially and theologically progressive church agency which is concerned for justice for disadvantaged isolated people. Good service provision is not enough to create a respectful and just community in which all participate and flourish. We must also work at the systems level, with the whole community and its attitude toward isolated people by challenging stigma and social isolation.
Each agency and denomination has a story to tell which can offer learning and insight into your ministry setting. I’d encourage you to join our tours as we visits sites to learn from one another.