Creativity and wisdom
From 1993 to 2013, Marjorie Lewis-Jones was the Communications Manager for the NSW and ACT Synod. Insights caught up with her to talk about her long tenure in the role and what she has worked on since.
1) Tell me a little about how you came to work for the Synod and when this was.
I’d been working as the Communications Officer for the Uniting Church Assembly for several years when I met Stephen Webb while reporting at the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) Assembly in Manila in 1990. Together with some excellent journalists from the region we formed the Asian Ecumenical News Service, which blazed a trail for two years then got quashed for reporting on issues (often related to justice) that were a bit too close to the bone for some church leaders. It was early days of the internet and email and I used to file my stories in that crazy ‘new’ way from the Assembly office in Australia to Stephen at CCA in Hong Kong and then our editor in the Philippines.
In 1993, I saw advertised that the Synod of New South Wales needed a manager/editor. But with our complementary skills, and with Stephen back in Australia, he and I knew we could do so much more. We made a pitch to the Synod that ended up with me being appointed as the Manager of the Synod Communications Unit and Editor of Insights and him appointed as Media Officer and Deputy Editor – and we quickly set to work to build a strong communications team.
2) What were some of the highlights that stick out to you from this time?
We came to our roles with ecumenical, national and international perspectives and tried to keep this emphasis alive while also championing state, regional and local people and initiatives. The Synod Communications team (later Uniting Creative) was great – as was the National Communications Group (founded by the Rev. Rex Hunt), which saw skilled journalists and editors from each Synod sharing stories for our papers, wisdom, and other support.
A highlight of this time was definitely the groundbreaking, good hearted, and intelligent people in the Uniting Church we got to work with when reporting for Insights. The stars in the firmament were many!
The Rev. Dr John Brown and the Rev. Dr Djiniyini Gondarra in their foundational work on Covenanting and Reconciliation.
Sir Ronald Wilson who jointly led the National Inquiry into the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families and communities and co-authored the 1997 Bringing Them Home report into the Stolen Generations, which led to the creation of a National Sorry Day and a walk for reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2000. and a walk for reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2000.
The Rev. Dr Dorothy McRae McMahon, who has won many awards for her activism and also showed tremendous courage and grace coming out at the National Assembly meeting in 1997 – a pivot point to having homosexual ministers formally accepted within the Uniting Church.
Frances Milne with her foundational work with Balmain for Refugees and Bridge for Asylum Seekers, the Rev. Dr John Jegasothy for his tireless advocacy for people seeking asylum and internally displaced, Maz and Neil Smith working with disadvantaged people in Western Sydney and Deb Carstens, who established Asian Women at Work to help ensure fair treatment of women of migrant backgrounds, particularly in the textile, clothing and footwear industries.
I count myself fortunate to have travelled to North East India with Joy Balazo, the 2012 winner of the World Methodist Council Peace Award for her work with the Uniting Church and Young Ambassadors for Peace program (which I reported on).
I also went to Yirrkala to report on the ordination of the Rev. Liyapidiny Marika, who was the first Yolŋu woman (Aboriginal woman from the North East Arnhem region of the Northern Territory) to be ordained as a Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church.
And the list could go on …
3) What is your new role like, with the South Sydney Herald?
My role as the Managing Editor for the South Sydney Herald (SSH) is a great fit for my skills and shows me the best of the Uniting Church as it is lived out in a local community. We published our 200th issue in February and the testimonials from community leaders were humbling.
Tanya Plibersek, MP for Sydney, said, “The SSH consistently delivers on their commitment to provide independent, high-quality journalism with a focus on local issues, politics and social justice. They amplify the voices of our community, telling stories, celebrating success and sharing concerns of people mainstream publications often overlook. It’s not just a newspaper; it is an essential service for our community. I’d like to thank all the writers, photographers, editors, illustrators, the delivery workers and everyone who makes this paper happen.”
I have many stars in the firmament around me now too. Rev. Andrew Collis is our assistant managing editor (and a true saint as the Uniting Church minister in the area), Dr Miriam Pepper is our environment editor, Dorothy McRae McMahon is our faith editor, Lyn Turnbull is our news editor … and I could go on about the many other gifted people in our (mostly) volunteer team, but I’ll run out of space!
4) Anything else you would like to add?
In 2012-13, when the Synod restructured and the Uniting Creative team was disbanded I wondered how my unique (and some might say quirky) skills – honed by two decades of steering Insights – would be put to good use. I soon started freelancing and established You Need a Writer consultancy with Stephen. The Rev. Nicole Fleming and Balmain Uniting Church (and more recently Rev. James Aaron) generously offered us space, friendship and community, which we’ve cherished.
In 2021, the South Sydney Herald has covered stories about halting the destruction of public housing in Glebe and Waterloo, faith communities calling for climate justice, safeguarding Rainbow elders from abuse, helping jobless people to rebuild after the end of JobKeeper, a young opera company that’s broadening opera’s accessibility through pay-as-you-feel entry, a new supper series that supports refugees, and much more …
So, I think you could say I’ve found my niche.