Day one of Synod kicked off with a welcome by new Moderator Rev Denise Liersch. What followed was a mix of reports, proposals, Bible study, reflections and other activities, such as Choose Your Own Adventure.
Reports tabled were from the following committees:
- Synod Business
- Synod Standing
- Ministry & Mission
- Property & Operations
In between the reports Synod members enjoyed a morning tea repast of homemade goodies courtesy of the PWMU Cookbook Committee.
The greatest amount of time during the day was allocated to working groups discussing the Synod’s report into Voluntary Assisted Dying. This document explored and explained the proposed responses by the UCA in Victoria to the legalisation of Voluntary Assisted Dying.
The report was introduced at by its chief author Dr Jessica Hateley-Browne at 3pm and received by the Synod. After a break for afternoon tea, two hours were set aside to allow members to discuss in detail their response to the theological aspects of the Voluntary Assisted Dying proposals.
Another highlight of the afternoon session was the launch of the Synod’s Disability Action Plan.
Synod Disability Inclusion Advocate Rev (Deacon) Andy Calder introduced the proposal, which was followed by Meredith Allan, who gave a personal perspective.
Meredith, who has a communication disability and uses a computer to give voice to the words she types, said “communication access” was her passion.
“I want to be able to go into a shop or request a service and not have my intelligence questioned,” she said.
“If we live long enough, disability is the one identity we have in common. The changes we make now to our physical property and our own awareness of many other strategies to help people with disabilities feel included, will help many more people than we think.”
Victoria’s Public Advocate, Dr Colleen Pearce, then officially launched the plan.
Earlier in the day, the gathering heard from General Secretary Mark Lawrence and ex-Moderator Sharon Hollis.
Mark noted that in the past decade there had been a “marked shift” in all churches’ “social licence’” to engage positively with the wider community.
“This shift has impacted the Uniting Church (and) has appropriately produced expectations within the wider community for all institutions to enhance policies and processes, including safety, compliance (and) governance … that demonstrate personal and organisational integrity,” he said.
“These are also expectations we should have within the Church community as we undertake ministry and mission in safe and responsible environments. It is within this context that today’s and tomorrow’s Church is called to be at mission.
“Part of our call to worship, witness, and serve as an Australian Church, seeking to positively and credibly engage with the world around us, is to embrace wider community expectations and understand these as part of our mission context.”
Sharon said the church needed to think “carefully and critically” about how it engaged in the “public square and political debate” in the next few years.
“Recent meetings with politicians from all sides of politics leads me to think there is a real danger that more than ever politicians are looking to use faith and people of faith to serve their own ends,” she said.
“There is an increased risk that we will be used for ends that do not serve the gospel and find ourself in difficult relationships with other Christians because of this.
“If we continue to be committed to advocacy for and with the poorest, the marginalised and creation and to stand with people of many faiths then there is a real risk that we will find ourselves out of step with much of contemporary society and unwelcome in the corridors of government.
“I believe we must remain true to our calling to be a church who learns from contemporary society, and who speaks and acts for social justice, even if it affects our capacity to grow numerically.
“We should also continue to want to engage in the public square even when it is complex, difficult and risky.”
Sharon also echoed the sentiments expressed the previous night by new Moderator Denise Liersch, imploring congregations to “have the courage to rethink” the way they conduct worship so “more people might feel drawn to worship and experience the presence of God in the company of other Christians and people seeking meaning, belonging and belief”.
“Investing in the renewal of our communities of faith, including worship and seeking to birth new communities is a key priority of the Synod,” she said.
“Being willing to rethink how some of us worship, and committing to equip people for this, is important, not primarily for the sake of those of us already in the church, but for the sake of those who might be seeking God and who are struggling to find a community to belong to in ways that nourish them in hope, build them up in love and enable them to encounter the living God.
“New and renewed communities need new and renewed worship, to be sustained for renewed witness and service.”
Sharon called on the church to listen to its young members and make space for them.
“They are in the church because they are convicted by the gospel. They are gifted for ministry, are already engaged in ministry and many would like to the opportunity to serve in new ways,” she said.
“Will we let them serve, teach and lead even if they do it differently to how we would, trusting that just as God gifted us, God has gifted them and is calling them to use their gifts?
“Will we make space for new leaders and new ways, all the while trusting that God’s Spirit guides and leads?”
After dinner, which members were invited to share with the Hanbit Korean Church in Box Hill, the evening session opened with a theological reflection prepared by five young adults.
The reflection was delivered by Kelly Skilton, Cameron Shields and Sione Hehepoto.
After recapping what had happened during the day the group focused on questions of property that had been raised.
Sione said the Church should heed the words of Isiah and forget things in the past if it was to move into what God wanted, which was not to rely on stones.
“We don’t want to inherit a church whose public presence and systems are defined by property,” he said.
With this challenge ringing in their ears members were invited to participate in Choose Your Own Adventure, where they could attend information and discussion sessions on various topics hosted by different Synod and UCA agencies.
The eLM unit ran sessions on family/domestic violence and digital media ethics while there were also sessions run by Bethel, Culture of Safety, Congregational Business Services, the Ethics Committee, OH&S, Property Services, the Placements Committee and Uniting.
For more detail on all of today’s activities log on to the Synod app at https://event.crowdcompass.com/victassynod2019
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