7 Questions with Colleen Geyer

Name: Colleen Geyer

Current title: General Secretary

Current organisation: National Assembly, Uniting Church in Australia

Colleen serves as General Secretary of the Uniting Church in Australia offering leadership and vision to the life of the Assembly.

Colleen's work for the Uniting Church and its agencies since 1995 has deepened her sense of call to the role of General Secretary, while embracing the uniqueness of the Uniting Church as an authentic movement of God.

She has held a range of significant positions at a state and national level of the Uniting Church, including Director of Mission at UnitingCare Queensland, Director of Mission at BlueCare, Associate Director at UnitingCare Australia, Registrar of Coolamon College and National Consultant for the Assembly Gospel and Gender Unit.

Colleen believes we have a collective responsibility to look to the future with the hope that is from God, and the realism that calls us to think about the new.

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1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?

Making time to think! My current role can be intense from a time and an issue perspective, as well as from a meeting perspective. (I attend a lot of meetings). So making time to reflect on what is happening, what is coming and where is God in all of it is important, and at times hard won.

2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I volunteered with the Uniting Church, serving as a Youth Group leader in my local congregation and then as an Elder. This grounded me in my local faith community and helped me see the grounded work that God does transforming lives in local communities. When you have national leadership in a church, it’s key to focus on how the national work supports and resources the local congregational work.

Following some part time work with the Church, I moved into state and national roles. I then spent 10 years working with the community services of the Church, nationally and at a state level before moving to my current role with the Assembly. Along the way, I studied for a theology degree, and was mentored by other leaders who informed me as a person of faith and as a leader. I also studied an executive leadership qualification at the University of Qld. When I reflect on it, I believe God was preparing me for the role I have now. In moments of doubt, God’s call on my life and the strength that comes from it is a comfort.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

This is an interesting question in a COVID-normal world. One of my learnings has been how easy it was to move away from my established routines to focus on the pandemic updates and news. My work spans a huge variety of things – from staff worship to social justice campaigns to spreadsheets, which I love. However every day begins with prayer and reading the Bible. This starts and grounds my day. I also connect with my family usually through various online platforms and begin to think about what the day will be bringing. Then it’s down to business - meetings, reading reports, writing reports and papers, catching up with colleagues, preparing for the next meetings. I try hard to include time regularly for reading and pondering about what’s coming and new ideas. I try to finish the work day at a reasonable time and to have a quiet transition from work to home.

4. What one book had the most profound impact on your church leadership? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

The Bible, of course! I don’t say this lightly. I remember the biblical studies of the Gospels in my theology degree and constantly being amazed at the stories of Jesus, even though they had been a part of my life since I was a child. I loved having the time to delve deeply into them, what was happening in society at the time, and how Jesus’ ministry was so radical and really shook things up. He was a boundary-crossing prophet who called out injustices and institutional thinking that was corrupt, while being with people just where they needed him to be. What was so amazing was that he was also the Son of God, bringing God’s transformational love to the world.

Also Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s In Memory of Her which introduced me to the expansiveness of God, Gustavo Gutierrez’ A Theology of Liberation which anchored my sense of justice, Catherine LaCugna’s God For Us which took me deep into the wonder of the Trinity, to Rowan Williams’ Being Disciples essential reminders for a Christian life, Andrew Dutney’s Food, Sex and Death when the personal journey meets pain and grief, and John O’Donohue’s Benedictus because O’Donohue’s blessings always meet me where I am.

5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

A leader is always a learner. A Christian leader is always open to listening to and learning from God as they try to live their faith where they have been called to be. For me, this is sometimes easy but also often challenging.

The lesson I’ve learned during this pandemic is to keep my connection to God strong through prayer and reading the Bible. I know many people will say I shouldn’t have disconnected in the first place. I agree. However, life is powerful and at times, overwhelming. That constant connection, even if we’re a long way down our faith journey, continues to require our attention.

As a leader, this connection grounds me, puts my decisions and interactions into a faith context and often opens me up to what could be, what is possible and all the lovely joy that is out there in God’s world.

6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?

Create opportunities for emerging leaders to experience leadership, e.g. through internships, various forms of service. Offering mentoring which works with individual leaders to develop their leadership and discern where future opportunities exist

As current leaders, we need to be careful not to hold on too tightly to our positions, so that as years go by, potential leaders who would have been great in the roles aren’t available anymore.

7. If you had to pick just one story, what would be the most meaningful story from your time as a church leader so far?

I was sitting in a meeting with others about a digital strategy to help with a future strategy. We were talking about the purpose of the part of the Church we work for, and one of the people in the group began to talk about how important faith was, and an experience of being saved. We stopped for a coffee and the person across the table leaned over to me and said, ‘what is this ‘being saved’?’ We went on to have a wonderful conversation about what it meant to be in a relationship with Jesus and how faith in God can grow from there. I left that meeting feeling blessed. I remember it often. Leadership in the church can be about big decisions, structural change, large vibrant congregations; but it is the quiet questioning and conversations that lead to faith where leadership is at the heart of things, where we are vulnerable together and my faith meets your faith.