Creating space to deal with the issues – Rev. Simon Hansford
At Synod 2016, Moderator Elect, Rev. Simon Hansford reflected on the role he will be taking up in September next year. Ordained in 1990 by Ku-ring-gai Presbytery, Sydney, he discusses his leadership style and some of the issues and changes which may lie ahead.
Over the next 18 months, Simon will be busy preparing for the transition from his role as Minister for Tamworth Southside Uniting Church to Moderator. He will be meeting with church elders, colleagues, leaders and staff in the Synod to begin to identify and distill what the priorities are so he can hit the ground running next year. He will be taking over from Rev. Myung Hwa Park as Moderator on completion of her three year term in September 2017.
Simon explains how he “works on the model in Congregations of being present in places and conversations and attending to what’s being said, so that when I lead worship and preach or write articles, they reflect the conversations I’ve had.”
“I am a gregarious listener, and I am often conscious of the things that aren’t said. I’m also not afraid to say we need to go in a particular direction.”
Aware of his somewhat loud and dominating presence in a room, and as someone who is often the “go-to” person with a voice that will inevitably be heard, Simon works hard to take the focus from himself. He listens to people who aren’t necessarily going to get their voices heard. “It’s the voices on the margins that need to be attended to,” he says.
Sharing the gospel in what we do
One significant issue Simon says he hopes to be tackling in his role as Moderator from next year is the articulation of the gospel in what the Uniting Church already does.
“The Uniting Church is known for things like justice work, community advocacy issues like coal seam gas mining and asylum seekers, and is well known for serving in these aspects which are really important,” he explains. “Being able to articulate the gospel is the thing that drives and flavours all that we do; we aren’t always good at that.
“I want to talk about Jesus being about justice in these spaces.”
Another issue that is important is the way our Synod Meeting talks about money.
“We tend to draw the line with money and say we don’t have enough, or this is what we can afford. If we are talking about mission, we have an open book. I want the conversation to shift if we can.”
In terms of influencing a change in the focus of the conversations at Synod, Simon explained, “We would, for example, ask questions about the theology of mission: Why are we doing this? How is God calling us in this space? What is God calling us to do?”
Theology asks questions like, “Where is the gospel most needed to be heard and engaged with? How do we serve those with the least?”
Faithfully following in tough terrain
Simon anticipates that there will be issues coming up such as marriage equality and the environment and there is a need to create space to deal with those things.
Discussing the complexity of issues facing regional areas such as coal seam gas, Simon gives an example: “I have two Christian friends, one who was driving the bulldozer and one who was lying in front if it trying to stop it. It’s about articulating how to speak to both of these people with different viewpoints.”
“It will be about getting people prepared and ready for these discussions as people of faith. How do we faithfully follow Jesus Christ in these issues? Equipping people with language and how to have dialogue is important.
“How you have conversations is almost as important as the conversation itself. It’s a question of ethics,” he explains. “How do you have conversations, for example, in a rural community about drought and mental health issues and prepare our faith community theologically for the appropriate conversation?”
Simon is inspired by the Moderator: “Rev. Park works quietly and carefully and it seems like she is working in the background but she’s just laying groundwork all the time. When she says something, you know it’s been considered. You can see her influence at the Synod Meeting.”
Speaking up about Good News
Reflecting on his vision for the Church he says, “It is critical that the Church is both engaged and active in the community. The temptation is to withdraw into an enclave of safety and comfort, and that is not the gospel.”
“There are issues in the community and lives in the community in which the Church has something to offer, whether they are issues of justice or issues of the environment or issues that are confronting us socially. It is important that the Church has a voice to offer into that space.
“The Uniting Church especially has a continuing history of being involved in those conversations, but we need to be able to talk about that in ways that makes sense in the community.
“If the gospel is the Good News, then people will respond to that, not necessarily with discipleship, but in hope, with a desire for more.”
(Pictured) Moderator Elect, Rev. Simon Hansford, Moderator, Rev. Myung Hwa Park and Ex-Moderator, Rev. Dr Brian Brown.
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