By Andrew Humphries
How a future Uniting Church will look at both a national and state level, the announcement of our next Moderator-elect, and the resolution of some thought-provoking proposals were all part of Synod 2023 in Melbourne last month.
Box Hill Town Hall was the venue in November for four days of deep discernment and discussion around important issues facing the Church in Victoria and Tasmania, while also providing an opportunity for members to connect and reconnect with each other in a social sense.
An important item of business was concluded on day two, with Rev Salesi Faupula confirmed as the next Moderator-elect, and the Canterbury Balwyn Road Minister will take over as Moderator from Rev David Fotheringham at the next Synod meeting in mid-2025.
How our Church might look in 10 to 15 years was an important topic of discussion during Synod 2023, with members exploring both the Act2 and Faithful Futures projects.
The National Assembly’s Act2 Project will inform the shape of the Uniting Church well into the future, with a final document to be considered at next year’s Assembly meeting in Sydney.
President Rev Sharon Hollis and Act2 Project Lead Andrew Johnson briefed Synod members on the opening day, before working groups explored the project in more detail.
The Faithful Futures Project involves Victorian and Tasmanian Presbyteries and Synod working together on priorities for the Church over the next 10-15 years.
In his report for Synod 2023, Moderator David Fotheringham said the Faithful Futures Project offered an opportunity “to engage in deep discernment about how we can best respond to the vision of following Christ, walking together as First and Second Peoples, seeking community, compassion and justice for all creation into the next 10 to 15 years”.
“(This) means looking beyond some of our current worship, witness and service arrangements ahead to where we discern God’s invitation for particular effort into the future, as well as affirming the value and significance of particular current expressions in worship, witness and service which will continue to be important to prioritise.”
Members at Synod 2023 also considered, and reached consensus on a number of proposals, including those around promoting ethical procurement and investment, adopting a health-based approach towards reducing the harm of prohibited drugs, promoting the concept of secure work, and aiming for zero emissions in the fight against climate change.
As part of the discussion around ethical procurement and investment, Synod members had the opportunity to hear Australian-based President of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association, Ramila Chanisheff, outline the human rights abuses that are occurring against the ethnic Uyghur population in East Turkistan.
A brutal crackdown by Chinese authorities has seen many Uyghurs killed, imprisoned and forced into labour camps to create the goods that China exports to the world.
For the first time at a Synod Meeting, members were able to take part in a number of informative and thought-provoking electives on a range of topics, from reducing the influence of corporations selling harmful products, to a discussion on the Church and Reconciliation beyond the Referendum.
The sessions also included a discussion on tackling disability discrimination, and what meets the definition of a ‘real’ church.
Synod 2023 included a Tributes Service, honouring Ministers who have been ordained, received from other denominations, or retired or since last year’s Synod Meeting, as well as those who have celebrated 50, 60, 65, 70, 75 and, in the case of 108 year old Rev William Morgan, 80 years since ordination or commissioning.
The service also honoured those Ministers who had died since last year’s Synod Meeting, including former Moderators Rev Ian Smith (Moderator of Victoria 1980) and Don Hall (Moderator of Tasmania 1995-1997).
Minutes of appreciation were also offered for Rev Jay Robinson, Rev Ikani Vaitohi, and Associate General Secretary Isabel Thomas Dobson, for their service as Placements Committee chairperson and deputy chairperson, Ministry and Mission Committee chairperson, and Associate General Secretary respectively.
As with past Synod Meetings, November’s event also offered members an opportunity to reflect deeply in a theological sense, and to forge strong social connections.
Guest preacher at opening worship on day one, and theological reflections presenter, was indigenous Christian leader, writer, educator and poet Brooke Prentis, while Rev Assoc Prof Robyn Whitaker from Pilgrim Theological College offered engaging daily Bible studies.
A popular event, held for the first time at Synod 2023, was a welcome dinner on the opening night, allowing members to gather in an informal and social setting.
During Synod 2023, the Synod paused in recognition of International Trans Day of Remembrance and prayed for all gender-diverse people who had ever suffered discrimination and rejection.
This was followed by an invitation for Synod members to volunteer to march behind a Uniting Church banner in next year’s Midsummer Festival.
Daily coverage of all four days of Synod 2023 is available on the Crosslight website