Rev. Gregor Henderson gave the reflection at Assembly General Secretary Rev. Terence Corkin’s Closure of Ministry service on Sunday 15 November 2015.
Thank you President and thank you Terence, for this opportunity to reflect briefly on today’s Scripture readings as we mark the closure of Terence’s 15 years of ministry as General Secretary of the Assembly.
It’s hard to see any relevance in the Mark 13 reading to today’s occasion. Unless you take the predictions of destruction, disaster, warfare, chaos and birthpangs as somehow resonating with the challenges and difficulties the Assembly and its General Secretary have had to deal with in the past decade and a half. Yet not even Royal Commissions, the failure of Frontier Services, ongoing tumultuous controversies over homosexuality and the drastic reductions in the finances of the Assembly compare with what Jesus says about the birth pangs of the end of time.
Hebrews is far more fruitful. It refers to the endtimes also, but with this advice: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together… but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching”. Well, a General Secretary does not neglect to meet together. A quick estimate, a rough guess of say, five meetings per week average, which may in fact be rather low, would have Terence attending a minimum of 3600 meetings during his tenure as General Secretary. Over 3600 meetings – that’s a fabulous commitment to serving God’s church.
There are several statements in our Hebrews reading which apply to the role of general secretary:
- “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering”;
- “since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith”;
- “provoke one another to love and good deeds”.
And all motivated by, all driven by, “for he who has promised is faithful”.
Terence’s faith and hope has always been at the centre of his ministry. That’s what enables Terence to be unfazed by whatever crisis that emerges, an essential gift in a General Secretary. That’s what has fed his constant optimism about God and God’s church and the place of the Assembly in serving God’s mission. That’s what lies behind Terence’s many contributions to the life of the Uniting Church and empowered him to contribute a huge amount ecumenically in Australia and internationally, not least through the Christian Conference of Asia and the World Communion of Reformed Churches. It’s Terence’s faith and hope in God which has enabled him to keep going in this huge role for 15 years, significantly longer than his three predecessors who served for periods of only two, eight and 12 years. (Not sure what that arithmetical progression means for the next General Secretary!!)
Psalm 16 very nicely complements the Hebrews reading in its relevance for today. “You are my Lord, I have no good apart from you”. It speaks of God’s delight in “the holy ones in the land”, and of the assurance that God is with us throughout “the path of life”. Its beautiful ending of “in your presence is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures forevermore” could well be taken today as a reference to the south coast of New South Wales, to the new home on the outskirts of Moruya, and the new ministries that will draw the service of Terence.
I could refer to the Basis of Union in conclusion – but that’s more the realm of Presidents, of Doctrine and Church Polity. Today we’re on about the Assembly General Secretary, so let me refer instead to the Regulations. Reg 188.8.131.52 reads:
“The responsibilities of the General Secretary, as executive officer of the Assembly, shall be to give general leadership to the Church, to ensure execution of Assembly policy, to coordinate Assembly activities, to oversee the management of Assembly staff, and to do such other things as the Assembly may require. The General Secretary shall be a member ex-officio of all Assembly bodies.”
That’s a big job. It’s a ministry which has not reduced in its challenges and difficulties, its demands and its stress over the past 15 years. But as with all ministries its underlying foundational purpose is to “provoke one another to love and to good deeds” in God’s service. Today we thank God for 15 years of faithful service given generously by Terence Corkin, and we thank God for God’s love and faithfulness which underpins and enables all our ministries. May we all know God’s fullness of joy and the pleasures forevermore which God holds in his right hand. Amen.
Rev. Gregor Henderson was the 3rd Assembly General Secretary (1989-2000) and the 11th President of the Uniting Church in Australia (2006-9).