Education Religious differences - Church may quit school religion class

Benjamin Preiss

The Uniting Church will withdraw from religious instruction in state schools unless the group responsible for the controversial program improves instructor training and abandons compulsory volunteer payments.

Uniting Church moderator Dan Wootton said church members held “deep concerns” about Access Ministries’ policies and practices.

The Uniting Church also wants Access Ministries to give member churches more say in the policy and direction of the group.

Access Ministries runs Christian Special Religious Instruction (SRI) on behalf of 12 denominations, including the Uniting Church.

The Uniting Church has issued a series of requests to Access Ministries and will withdraw as a supporting church from July 2015 unless it is satisfied with “evidence of a positive response”. It has given Access Ministries eight months to provide “positive formal responses” to the requests.

The resolution on religious instruction was adopted at a Uniting Church Synod meeting at La Trobe University [metropolitan Melbourne] this week.

“It was a careful and considered debate,” Mr Wootton said.

“I’m hopeful this is an opportunity to refresh the relationship that we have with Access Ministries.”

The Uniting Church has also taken issue with volunteers being asked to contribute financially to the religious instruction program in addition to donating their time as instructors.

Access Ministries’ acting chief executive Dawn Penney said the group was committed to working with all its supporting churches.

“We hold regular meetings with the heads of all supporting churches and have scheduled further discussions with the members nominated by them to our council,” she said.

Ms Penney said meetings between the Uniting Church, its review group and Access Ministries had been positive and she was confident there was a “clear way forward”.

“Improving the training of and support for our SRI instructors is a key priority for Access Ministries and the input of theologians from all supporting churches should and does form a background for all our training.”

She said Access Ministries’ leadership would continue to “engage with all members” about training, curriculum development and ensuring the financial sustainability of the religious instruction program.

The Uniting Church wants more “transparent communications” with Access Ministries. It also called for more consultation on religious instruction materials, which should be “theologically broad”.

The Uniting Church has confirmed it contributed about $40,000 a year in funding for the religious instruction program.

The resolution came after a three-year investigation by a Uniting Church task group that examined governance, religious instruction program materials and communication by Access Ministries.

Last year, the Uniting Church called for the Christian instruction curriculum to be “urgently updated”.

It said there was a “definite slant” towards biblical literalism in the material and complaints were often raised by denominational partners who were offended by the material’s content.

The Uniting Church also resolved to “actively work” for the inclusion of general religious education in schools.

From: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/uniting-church-threatens-withdrawal-fr...