It’s amazing and, in my experience, quite unusual but the enthusiasm that was evident during the recent Synod meeting, is not only continuing but appears to be building. People are offering to get involved, volunteering time and experience to Synod initiatives that have captured their attention and generally keen to keep the ball rolling. This is fantastic!
There’s an awful lot of work going on to translate that enthusiasm and the sense of hope and direction from Synod 2019 into collective action that leads to transformation. By ‘collective action’ I’m acknowledging that the Synod meeting is the closest thing we have to a ‘whole of church’ decision with implications for everyone.
There is no shortage of opportunities for the church to engage with the community in transformative ways (as per the Synod Mission framework):
- think of the faithful witness of small congregations all over western NSW offering ministry in very difficult circumstances – drought, water shortages (who can forget the river of dead fish?), a contracting rural economy and communities in transition;
- think of the church’s ongoing collaborative partnerships like Sydney Alliance (affordable housing campaign) and the Fair Treatment campaign;
- think of the significant work of the Parish Missions among increasing numbers of socially and economically disadvantaged people;
- think of significant community connections made by small and large congregations all over the Synod
This is my off-the-top of the head list – you’ll probably have your own – and I understand why some people sometimes say that the Uniting church ‘punches above its weight’ given the extent of its public witness and service. This witness is significant and it frequently attracts attention and approval from the community at large. (By the way, the most annoying sentence in the world is along the lines of ‘if I was going to join a church, I’d join the Uniting Church’.
I hear it frequently and it makes me want to grind my teeth!). The Synod meeting strongly affirmed an intention to continue to engage with the community in transformative ways (for example, in the commitment to developing a whole-of-church climate action strategy). This inspiring public witness and service is offered by disciples and congregations who have been formed and nourished by the Word – the Word heard in scripture, the Word encountered in Jesus Christ, the Word proclaimed in word and deed in the church.
Communities of disciples – congregations and faith communities – are at the heart of equipping the church to respond to the world’s need and this intention is at the heart of the Synod’s ‘Focus on Growth’ initiative. The Synod responded to the presbytery-led proposal with a whole-of-church commitment to growth in discipleship, in relationship, in number and in impact within and through congregations. At the very least, it will require the councils of the church to work together in completely new ways.
When the Moderator began his ministry at Synod 2017, he flagged a commitment to provoking a conversation about formation across the Synod (similar conversations are also occurring in other Synods.) This resulted in a decision to re-shape the current formation process in response to a changed and changing mission and ministry landscape. The formation and equipping of lay leaders is a priority even in a church that was once heavily dependent on ordained ministry.
The enthusiasm and energy that was palpable at the Synod 2019 is a characteristic of a people on the way, a fellowship of people whose own encounter with the risen Christ has been transformative, that continues to be transformative, who have a life-giving story to show and tell and are committed to getting on with it.
Synod 2019 – the Living Church Synod – set significant directions for the next three years and there’s an invitation for all of us in the decisions that were made. Here’s an idea – find a Synod member and chat to them about their experience or, if you are a Synod member, find someone who wasn’t and share your enthusiasm and hope.
The General Secretary, Rev. Jane Fry