By Andrew Humphries
As the National Assembly considers the Uniting Church’s long-term future through the Act2 Project, Victorian and Tasmanian members will meet next month with a complementary item of importance on the agenda.
The Faithful Futures Project will be a key discussion area when Synod 2023 takes place at Box Hill Town Hall from November 18-21.
As well as Faithful Futures, Synod 2023 will consider a response to the Act2 Project, explore future directions for ministry and mission, and discuss a range of other issues of importance to members.
Moderator, Rev David Fotheringham, says the Faithful Futures Project will play a pivotal role in informing directions and missional emphases for the Church across Victoria and Tasmania for the next 10 to 15 years.
“Faithful Futures aims to produce a statement of the vision and goals for the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania that is simple and straightforward, with some clear goals that can help to direct the allocation of resources for the sake of the Church’s worship, witness and service into the future,” David says.
Key Synod 2023 elements include, for the first time, a welcome dinner on the opening night, as well as opening and closing worship, daily devotions, Bible studies to be led by Rev Robyn Whitaker from Pilgrim Theological College, and a Tributes Service on Sunday, November 19 recognising important milestones in ministry.
Guest preacher for the opening service will be First Peoples Christian leader, international speaker, writer, educator and poet Brooke Prentis, who will also provide theological reflection for the Synod towards the close of each day
This Synod meeting will also include discernment and a ballot for the Moderator-elect, who will be installed as Moderator at the 2025 Synod meeting.
General Secretary Rev Dr Mark Lawrence says Synod Meetings, held every about every 18 months, play a vital role in keeping Victorian and Tasmanian members abreast of issues of importance, and the opportunity to provide input into those.
“Synod Meetings are important for a number of reasons,” Mark says.
“It’s a good way to hear reports about Synod units and committees, not just for the sake of reporting, but to also hear how the Synod has been engaging in ministry and mission, and stewardship of resources for the wider Church.
“It’s also important because the Church’s worship, witness, and service is undertaken in community, and this is the community of the Synod coming together.
“It’s good to share with other Christians in occasions such as a Synod meeting opportunities and challenges regarding faith, life and mission.
“It can also be a really uplifting experience for members to hear what is going on around the Synod, to be part of the Bible studies and worship, and be encouraged in their church leadership and personal discipleship.”
Ballots will take place during Synod 2023 to elect members to the Synod Standing Committee and membership of next year’s 17th Assembly, in which decisions around Act2 will begin shaping the Church for the future.
“Synod members are encouraged to consider being nominated for the Standing Committee because it does the ongoing work of the Synod between Synod Meetings,” Mark says.
“We will also be electing Synod members to attend the 17th Assembly next year, and that’s where some significant Act2-related decisions will be made, so I want to encourage people to reflect seriously about being nominated for that important meeting.”
For the first time during a Synod Meeting, a number of elective sessions will be held, with those confirmed so far including a discussion led by Brooke Prentis on the Church and reconciliation beyond the referendum, Andy Calder on disability inclusion, and Uniting World’s Mardi Lumsden on real-life challenges for people living in a remote village.
It will also be the first Synod Meeting planned largely by the Synod Meeting Planning Committee, which was formed following last year’s Synod meeting.
“The committee will have been in place for about 12 months by the time we hold Synod 2023 and it has been building on what the Business Committee and the Creative Design Team have previously brought to Synod Meetings,” Mark says.
“Members will see a couple of changes in the program that we hope will build community and further contribute to people having a positive experience of the event.
“For example, the dinner on the Saturday night will help people to meet each other, socialise and get a sense of being part of the whole meeting.”
Mark hopes members will depart Synod 2023 much richer for the experience.
“I hope they leave with a sense of feeling encouraged and hopeful about participating in, and contributing to, the life of the Church, and that what they have heard and learnt will resource them in their daily engagement with it,” he says.
“I hope members have a rewarding time, including being challenged during those four days, and leave Synod 2023 ready to share our story and encourage others to be enthusiastic about the work of the Uniting Church.
“We are a particularly distinctive denomination and we have expressed a commitment to inclusion and diversity, while grappling with some of the more complex issues relating to society.
“That’s a particular kind of Church to be part of, so I hope that Synod members will be able to share that kind of story with their congregations, presbyteries, or other institutions of the Church.”
Synod 2023, including the opening worship, will be streamed online, with the link available here closer to the date.
Worship in good hands
Two of the worship highlights at Synod 2023 will be Bible Studies, led by Pilgrim Theological College Rev Associate Professor Robyn Whitaker, and the appearance of guest preacher Brooke Prentis, who will preach at the opening service and also provide theological reflections each day.
Robyn’s Bible Studies will focus on the Synod 2023 theme of “We Belong to the Day”.
“‘We Belong to the Day’ is a phrase from 1 Thessalonians, the earliest letter of Paul and the most ancient Christian text on record,” Robyn says.
“Paul evokes biblical themes with this simple phrase. In the Bible we hear about the day of the Lord, the day of Judgment, Sabbath day, day of atonement, and the day of wrath to name a few.
“Some of these days are festivals or regular events and some are future hypothetical days associated with the return of the Messiah or inbreaking of God.
“So when Paul writes ‘we belong to the day’, which day might he have had in mind?
“The Bible Studies will explore what it means for Christians to live in a way that honours the present day (the current cultural moment) but also live as people shaped by the future day God has promised.”
Brooke is a Christian leader, writer, speaker and poet, a descendant of the Wakka Wakka peoples, and has a strong commitment to reconciliation.
“I have loved building relationships with Aboriginal people through the Grasstree Gathering, a growing network of over 200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders throughout Australia,” Brooke says.
“I share a message of reconciliation as friendship and speak on issues of justice affecting Australia.
“I dream and work towards inviting people to work together ‘to build an Australia built on truth, justice, love and hope’.”