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Lessons in Assembly

I’m sure this month’s Crosslight has comprehensive coverage of Assembly and the key decisions made there.

I want to focus on some of the aspects of Assembly not directly related to the decisions we made that I hope might encourage every council and committee to think about their life.

I loved seeing Assembly members walking around with beautiful hand-knitted scarves and beanies. These beanies and scarves came from all over the Uniting Church in Tasmania and Victoria.

The knitting began at the last Vic/Tas Synod meeting and continued right up until Assembly began. The beanies and scarves did so much more than ward off the cold of a Melbourne winter. They were an act of hospitality. They were a sign of the way the whole Uniting Church holds the Assembly meeting in prayer, constantly surrounding us in prayer as we met. Knitted into the beanies and scarves were the hopes and prayers of the church. I loved seeing the reminder of these hopes and prayers every day.

Thank you to everyone who offered this gift of welcome; not one scarf or beanie remained at Assembly. And thank you to everyone who prayed for us over the week we met.

The beanies reminded me that welcome and hospitality are an important part of any community of discernment and decision in the life of the church.

What do we do in our meetings that makes all feel welcome?

How do we signal that we need the presence and ideas of all who are appointed to any council or committee of the church?

How do we encourage the whole church to pray for those in the congregation/presbytery/Synod/Assembly who exercise the ministry of governance?

Every Assembly I’ve been to I’ve enjoyed the presence of the overseas visitors. They remind us that we are part of the worldwide church and that the voice of our regional neighbours is important.

Our partner churches are doing excellent work in combating domestic violence, campaigning for action on climate change and sharing the message of Jesus in countries where the Christian faith is a tiny minority.

One overseas delegate told me about the issues they contend with when they hold a meeting such as Assembly. Will the power work? Will the water be running? Will it be safe for  delegates to come to the meeting hall? No doubt meeting in this environment would shape the business in ways I can barely begin to understand.

This conversation reminded me of the privilege of travelling safely to a well-heated hall. We need the voices of our neighbours to remind us of the call to justice and to pray for our partner churches.

How do councils and committee of the church listen to the voices of our neighbours and partners, particularly when they are challenging or uncomfortable? How do we sit with our neighbours and partners and explain our decisions when they don’t always understand or agree?

I was impressed by the contribution of the young adult members of the Assembly. They led worship and community groups. They contributed to the debate and helped redraft proposals.

The young adults at Assembly challenge us to listen to experience they bring from their culture, that is utterly post-Christian, with peers who have no contact or memory of the church.

Some bring the distinctive voices of being born in Australia while belonging to the migrant culture of their parents and grandparents. They spoke of straddling diverse cultures and finding their faith in these in-between spaces.

The young adults share a strong bond. Even when the discernment was difficult and painful, even when they didn’t agree with each other, they supported each other. They sang together, they prayed together and they looked out for each other. They modelled Christian community as a place of love, nurture, welcome and growth in faith, even in the face of diverse opinions.

How will councils and committees of the church listen to the voice of children, youth and young adults? How will we value their unique voice and contribution? How will we mentor and equip them to grow in faith? How will we support them so they don’t burn out?

Each aspect of Assembly I’ve chosen to focus on was important for the meeting itself but also serves as an invitation for every council and committee of the church to consider how it might be welcoming, listen to neighbours and partners as well as value the voice of young people.

I hope your council will take some time to discuss the questions I’ve posed and that the conversation enriches your life together.

Sharon Hollis

Sharon Hollis is Synod moderator. She is deeply committed to social justice, reconciliation with Australia’s First Peoples and the elimination of domestic violence.

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