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Vines grow with God’s care

At a recent meeting of the Synod Standing Committee I invited the members to imagine the Uniting Church as a vineyard, following the prophetic words of Isaiah.

In small groups we spent a few minutes drawing images of the church as a “vineyard”, to help us to focus our minds on the situations of the church across the Synod. We saw varieties of grapes, places of growth, parts of the vine in need of tending, and soil where fresh vines could be fruitfully planted.

One of the sub-committees subsequently did further work to follow up on the discussions at the July Synod meeting. The Synod theme, “Arise, come with me”, drew from the words of Song of Songs in which the lover calls their beloved to arise because “the winter is over, the rain is over and gone”.

The Synod was listening for God’s call to the church in this. “Signs of spring” and “things to leave behind from winter” were key discussion points for working groups.

Working through the feedback from those groups, several things emerged. One of the first was that a number of people found the discussion about emerging from winter to be premature. Some saw no hard binary between winter and spring, and wondered if we had really finished with winter.

In a vineyard, winter is a time when the leaves are stripped back from the vines and it’s important to focus on what is foundational to the vine. Winter provides an opportunity for clarity about purpose, and ensuring that the vine/church is prepared for future seasons and pruned to what is most important.

Others noted new life and growth that was emerging in the midst of winter, in particular in the midst of COVID lockdowns. Many have had experiences of ministry and care through technology and in new ways; winter has its creative edge too.

The sharing of “signs of spring” was also appreciated amongst the groups. The stories shared varied from a yarning circle in Wonthaggi and growing connections with First Peoples; to Brekkie Clubs and vigils in support of refugees; to congregations welcoming Seasonal Workers and starting Alpha and confirmation groups; to “Friendly Doors” social activities in Mildura in the North, and partnership between Kingston Uniting and Laprena in the South. Many are thinking about new partnerships to engage with in ministry with the community.

Experiences of winter and spring are clearly varied and the local contexts are important. Vine-growers know that well.

Jesus picks up on the imagery of the vineyard. In John 15, he talks about God as the vine-grower, and directly references the work of pruning that is a part of winter. The pruning of that season has its purpose, in order for the whole vine to bear fruit in its season.

The working groups at Synod recognised that pruning could include questions of property or traditions (like service times) which don’t necessarily serve the primary purpose of sharing God’s love in Christ in community.

While different local contexts are at different points, we are all part of the one vine: Following Christ, walking together as First and Second Peoples, seeking community, compassion and justice for all creation.

At the time that I’m writing this, the weather is showing signs of both winter and spring happening virtually all at once – one reason why First People’s knowledge doesn’t divide the seasons this way!

Throughout the Synod, local experiences are varied but God is the ultimate vine-grower. We can make the most of winter and continue to look for and nurture the signs of spring. As we do, may God lead us with wisdom, purpose and grace.

Peace and grace,

Rev David Fotheringham

Moderator

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