The first in-person Synod Meeting since 2019 got under way at Box Hill Town Hall today, with those present relishing a return to face-to-face engagement.
Day one opened with a welcome from new Moderator David Fotheringham, who was installed at last night’s Opening Worship at Wesley Place.
The day’s devotions were led by Rev Jinseon Park and Rev Samisi Tauali’l, before National Assembly President Rev Sharon Hollis offered a theological orientation on what was, by coincidence, her birthday.
The first report tabled was from the Synod Business Committee’s chairperson, Rev Sue Clarkson, who said the committee had worked hard to ensure a face-to-face Synod Meeting could be held, after COVID-19 had forced last year’s event to move to an online format.
The report also detailed how the safety of members was the main priority discussed by the committee ahead of Synod 2022 as it considered delivery of the meeting, its timing and length, key decisions and the needs of members.
The Standing Committee report was also tabled before Rev Dr Mark Lawrence presented his General Secretary report, in which he gave thanks for the efforts of Synod staff who continued to work well while dealing with “the many and varied impacts of COVID-19”.
Mark reported that important work had been done in two areas since Synod 2021, with the Senior Leadership Team working to develop a revised set of values and characteristics, based around trust, collaboration, growth and sustainability, “to guide our work and engagement with the wider Church”, while the issue of financial sustainability had been addressed in the wake of the impact caused by the pandemic.
“The negative impacts of COVID-19 were a catalyst for re-focusing the Church’s attention on these matters, along with various reports to the Synod over past years,” Mark said.
Looking ahead, Mark said it was important “to explore more intentionally (engaging) with other councils of the Church to enhance the informal ways, and developing formal ways, in which we share resources across the Church”.
“I consider that we are at a time when, as an expression of being a pilgrim people, we need to more purposely consider our resources for being a community of people who worship, witness, and serve.
“We need to continue to modify how we organise ourselves and share resources to build up the whole, to be an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself.”
Following Mark’s report, Denise Liersch presented her final report as Moderator.
While COVID-19 had had a dramatic impact on the wider Church, Denise said she continued to be heartened by the resilience of members in the face of adversity.
“In some ways we are not the same communities we were before the pandemic, yet through so many challenges we have seen the spirit at work in so many ways,” she said.
Denise’s report was followed by a minute of appreciation for her service as Moderator, led by Rev Ikani Vaitohi and Judy Causon.
Day one also allowed members to hear from Uniting Vic.Tas, Uniting AgeWell and U Ethical representatives, and included a minute of appreciation for previous U Ethical board chairperson David Cousins, as well as the reappointment of Mark Lawrence as General Secretary.
Session five involved discussion on a proposal relating to Tasmanian End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) legislation, and feedback on the issue from working groups will be considered during tomorrow’s second day of Synod 2022.
The opening day ended with reflection from Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Interim Chair Rev Mark Kickett, as well as an evening program, Arising, Journeying, Moving Forward, involving Sandy Brodine, Sylvia Akau’ola Tongotongo, Mat Harry, Sarah Tomlinson, Chris Barnett and Mike You, and a closing prayer from Moderator David Fotheringham.