Enagaging in space for grace

Enagaging in space for grace

Assembly General Secretary Colleen Geyer addressed the Synod on day two and tasked members with taking part in an evolving discussion of marriage that will inform the Assembly as it meets to discuss marriage equality in July 2018. What follows is the transcript of Ms. Geyer’s message. 

Good afternoon Moderator and General Secretary, members of Synod.

My name is Colleen Geyer, from the Assembly, Sydney Presbytery and I live on the land of the Gadigal People. I acknowledge the custodians of the land we meet on today, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

I’ve been the Assembly General Secretary since January 2016.

In July next year, all things going to plan, I will be sitting at the top table in Box Hill Town Hall in Melbourne – assisting our next Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer as she guides Assembly members to consensus on many important issues in the life of our Church.

For those who’ve never been to one, Assembly meetings are joyful occasions when the sum of our diverse parts come together to celebrate our love of God and our fellowship in Christ.

We build community, worship together, share meals and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we prayerfully discern the future directions of our Church.

It’s a wonderful affirmation of all the good work done across our Church and agencies, and I look forward to some of you being with us next year.

Today at your Synod meeting we are asking you to talk about marriage.

As we enter that discussion it’s important to know what work has been done already.

In 2012 the 13th Assembly tasked the Doctrine Working Group with preparing a discussion paper on marriage and exploring the implications for public covenants for same-gender relationships.

That work took place, and the 14th Assembly in 2015 received the Working Group’s report on the theology of marriage.

The 14th Assembly resolved that further work be done including engaging with the continuing work of the Doctrine Working Group, engagement with members of the LGBTIQ community and the wider Church and ecumenical partners.

Since then the President at the request of the Assembly Standing Committee – our national governance body – has initiated the exploration of how the UCA can engage in further discussions about marriage and same-gender relationships in culturally appropriate ways.

These discussions have started from the broad question of what constitutes a healthy relationship and have been facilitated using what we call the Space for Grace process.

Space for Grace has arisen out of a proposal developed by the Assembly’s Multicultural and Cross Cultural Ministry group for the 14th Assembly. I’ll talk more about it in a minute

So far this year, two national dialogues on marriage have taken place. One in Brisbane and one in Sydney, with Synods each nominating four participants for each dialogue.

The President and members of the Doctrine Working Group have also been attending conferences around the Uniting Church and having conversations about marriage.

This will all inform the Doctrine Working Group’s report that is being prepared for the November 2017 ASC meeting.

The report and the feedback from the national discussions will inform the ASC as it frames the proposals to go to the 15th Assembly in July 2018.

Here’s the part that you come in.

In anticipation of that discussion at next year’s Assembly, the Assembly Standing Committee has requested Synods to set aside time in your meetings to discuss marriage. We’ve asked each Synod to address three questions, and you’ll discuss these in your discernment groups today.

It goes without saying that there is a diversity of opinion on the issue of marriage and same-gender marriage.

In the Uniting Church we have always tried to maintain respectful conversations and to work constructively across our membership on this issue. Our current understanding of marriage is ‘the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of a man and a woman to live together for life’.

It’s important to say that the Uniting Church has committed to being an inclusive Church that embraces LGBTIQ people as full members.

These members of our church have been telling us for a long time that they want to be able to honour their loving relationships in the same way that many other Australians do by getting married.

Not being able to have their love recognised in the same way as others is a cause of sadness, hurt and frustration and I would like to acknowledge that hurt.

Another commitment is to culturally appropriate discussion about relationships and marriage for people whose cultural background means they have their own norms for relating to sexual orientation and gender identity that differ enormously from western Anglo-Celtic thinking.

Some can only have these kind of conversations in separate male and female groups. Included in the 14th Assembly resolution on marriage was the request for the Assembly Standing Committee in consultation with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and our Multicultural and Cross Cultural Ministry groups, to explore how the Church can engage in further discussions about marriage and same-gender relationships in culturally appropriate ways.

These discussions are often testing for Church members. So I ask you all, please listen with love and respect and open your hearts to those who are sharing with you today – and please choose your words carefully.

The person next to you is also made in the image of God, and has the same rights as you to religious liberty and personal dignity. In our current conversations on marriage we are seeking to hold what we call a ‘space for grace’.

Space for Grace is a process of compassionate listening and community building.

Groups following the Space for Grace process seek to make space for a grace margin in which people can share and listen to others’ stories in a mutually supportive environment.

No matter how difficult the conversation or how wide the differences are, there is nothing that cannot be resolved if we are prepared to hear one another and leave the space for God’s grace.

So we will continue to advance the discussion on marriage in our Church through respectful conversations.

These decisions are ours to make, and ours alone – led of course by the Holy Spirit.

Today the Assembly Standing Committee has posed the following three questions for discussion:

  • Share your hopes and concerns about our conversation around marriage
  • In what mutually respectful ways could we move together as a Church that reflects the breadth of who we are as the UCA?
  • What matters would you like the Assembly Standing Committee to consider as it prepares for a discussion on this matter at the 15th Assembly?

Your Synod General Secretary will provide a response to the Assembly for consideration at the March 2018 meeting of the Standing Committee.

That meeting will assist in framing the way forward for the whole Church proposals brought to the 15th Assembly for the consideration of our Church.

I look forward to the outcome of your discernment today.

Assembly General Secretary Colleen Geyer

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