By Stephen Acott
The Synod of Victoria and Tasmania’s new Moderator, Rev Denise Liersch, used her installation address to call on the Church to open itself to new ways of worship and not “cling to the status quo” or “yearn for the way things used to be”.
Speaking at a packed St Michael’s church in Collins St, Melbourne, Denise said she had been asked many times in the past few months what hopes she had for the Church in her three-year term.
Rather than answer that question, she instead posed one of her own to the 300-strong gathering: “What do you hope for?”
“What do you hope for yourself personally, in your family life, friendships or other significant relationships, in your work life, for our church, for our world?” she asked.
“What do you long for? Really long for. Yearn for, ache for?
She referenced poet WH Auden, who spoke of “the wild prayer of longing”.
“Auden talks about the element of yearning which can be there in anyone’s life, the refusing to settle for what is simply so at the moment.
“In what ways do you hope for things to go back to an earlier time when things seemed to be better – to the way things used to be before?
“As a church, don’t we want that at times? If you’re over, say, 60, you’ll remember when every second person belonged to a church, when the Sunday Schools were full of kids, when people’s social lives revolved around the church.
“You’ll remember when politicians and general society looked to the church for guidance on important social issues and listened to what the church had to say.
“You’ll remember when the church was important in the lives of ordinary people and a church in every postcode was full.
“If we’ve known these times, do we work hard at trying to retrieve those times because it would be good to feel successful again?”
Denise reminded the audience that in the gospel stories, God kept doing new things in unexpected ways.
“Yes he did things in the temple and the synagogue, but also at weddings and dinner parties, in small villages,” she said.
“In the poor and lowly, in women and children, amongst slaves, foreigners and enemies, in the diseased and those cursed by evil, amongst those suffering, sick and dying.
“We may want to return to times and ways where things feel more familiar and we feel more successful, but Jesus keeps inviting us into new things, into God’s work, often in small ways, often at the margins.
“This is an invitation to us, to open up our imaginations, to see that God is all around us, among us, with us.
“This is an invitation to see where new things are springing up, where God is at work and inviting us to join in.”
Denise then listed a number of examples she had witnessed of people coming together in different ways and “being part of something bigger”.
Some of those examples included:
- The Boroondara Community Outreach choir and lunches, “where people living with mental illness find community and many would say, this is church for me”.
- Eighty five prisoners walking the stations of the cross on Good Friday around the prison recreation yard.
- Rural ministers going out to regional farms to lead worship for Pacific Islander seasonal workers.
- Congregations hosting playgroups for vulnerable children and parents, “creating communities of non-judgmental care, support and friendship”.
“None of these look quite like the familiar congregation, but there’s no doubt that God is at work here,” Denise said.
“So my hope for the next three years, my wild prayer of longing, is for us as a church to attend to our wild prayer of longing, to not settle for the status quo.
“Instead, look for where the Spirit of God is at work, yes in the familiar, but also in unexpected places and ways and open ourselves to join in.”
The installation service on 5 July was opening of the four-day Synod meeting, which began the following morning at Box Hill Town Hall.
Held every 18 months, Synod members meet to worship, enjoy fellowship, receive reports and make decisions regarding the general oversight, direction and administration of the Church’s worship, witness and service.
The 90-minute service began with a Welcome to Country by Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Georgina Nicholson.
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities were acknowledged with readings in languages ranging from Dinka (South Sudanese) to Tongan and Korean.
Denise succeeded Rev Sharon Hollis, who had been Moderator since 2016.