12th Assembly 2009

Uniting Church goes digital

On July 16 the Assembly received the report from the Task Group on the Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice. The revised Code of Ethics includes changes that address the emerging issue of pastoral relationships formed or maintained on the internet or other electronic media.

Digital technologies are a feature of the 12th Assembly. News, decisions and resolutions from Assembly are being posted to the dedicated 12th Assembly website as they unfold.

The social networking tool, Twitter, is also being utilised to provide up-to-the-minute accounts of events and proceedings.

Assembly communications manager, Ms Penelope Monger, said Twitter was proving a terrific way for the church to communicate. “It’s fast and immediate,” she said.

“Other organisations in the community are making good use of this technology and, although the focus of a Christian community is often quite different, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be utilising 21st century technology. In fact, you could argue that in order for the church to be relevant in today’s society, we should be embracing such technology.

“Plus we hope that, by using Twitter and other social networking tools, we might attract people to the Church’s business that might otherwise not be reached.”

It is in this context of increasing use of social media that consideration of the place and importance of digital technologies is finding its way into Church protocol.

Code of Ethics task group representative, Lynette Burden, from the Synod of Queensland, said the Code, as an ethical framework, is vital for ministers in thinking about their conduct. However, she also said it was not possible for the Code to particularise every situation that may be encountered.

Adding that technology and its use has advanced significantly since the first draft of the Code, Ms Burden said it must now be seen as part of ministry practice.

The proposal to adopt the revised Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice was put forth by Andrew Johnson, also from the Synod of Queensland. Following lengthy discussion the proposal was adjourned for further consideration.

Andrew remained hopeful, however, that meaningful progress will be made by the end of Assembly.

“I think the discussion was helpful — it drew out some issues and different perspectives. I got the impression that overall people were quite happy with the work but that there are particular issues to work on,” he said. “There continue to be questions around interpretation and that was reflected in the task group’s work."

He also commented on the surprising number of points raised about pre-existing material rather than amendments.

“It’s interesting because we didn’t get a lot of feedback. There will be some hard work to make sure we get clarity of language and not just draft on the run.”

One thing is clear: discussion on the ethics and appropriate management of relations that involve technology are timely as more and more people, including ministers and members of the church, make substantial use of technology and electronic media.

To view the 12th Assembly website go to: www.assembly2009.uca.org.au.

Follow the Assembly on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/12thAssembly.