Five weeks before the actual event of Synod 2017, I’m writing this column for the post-Synod edition of Insights magazine (out on 22 October). At this moment, I don’t know what decisions were made, what the ‘mood’ was, whether the event lived up to expectations and, importantly, whether the meeting fulfilled its purpose of ‘supporting and encouraging the mission of the church’. I’m immersed in reading reports and proposals that will be considered at Synod and I am quite excited at the prospect but I don’t know what actually happened.
One of the things that’s struck me as I’ve read the documents is how cautious we all are. When it comes to putting forward new ideas, or developing proposals we reach for language like ‘consider’, ‘affirm’, ‘encourage’, ‘note’ – none of which cost anyone anything at all and I find myself misquoting Yoda: Do. Or do not. There is no… consider, affirm, encourage, note or any number of other worthy waffle words.
Anyone with any responsibility for implementing decisions could conceivably end up with nothing much to do. I wonder when we became so tentative, so inclined to hedge our bets and inoculate ourselves against any risk of change?
With that in mind and anticipating looking back on Synod 2017:
- I hope that we’ve stopped looking for a grand, universal plan for everything and realised that the faith and witness of ordinary disciples in large and small communities in various contexts, is how God has chosen to work with us. For all of us, this is an extraordinary commission and we all need to be attentive and responsive in the world that’s changing around us. We are all in this together.
- I hope that we’ve remembered the courage of Jesus’ early disciples who walked away from centuries of biblical tradition to embrace the core of the Gospel and tell a new story. It must have seemed as though they were rejecting God and the ways that God had always been known. Where did their courage come from? It was recognised by their enemies and it came from Jesus – “…when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realised that they were… ordinary…, they were amazed and recognised them as companions of Jesus…” (Acts 4:13). Life with Jesus set them and all disciples on a path of change and transformation.
- I hope that we’ve remembered that on this journey as Church, we’re nourished by Word and Sacrament and that the Spirit is with us to make sure that we don’t lose the way.
- I hope that we’ve remembered that new ideas are actually gifts of the Spirit given to keep us on track and that they need space to take root and grow. I hope we’ve learnt that it’s fine to experiment, that failure is simply new information to help shape emerging possibilities, and that the church is always God’s ‘work in progress’.
- I hope we’ve learnt that ‘inter-conciliar’ depends on cooperative relationships and effective communication, especially when change is on the agenda and I hope that there is a renewed commitment to working together across all the councils of the Church.
- I hope that everyone with any responsibility recognises that leadership needs to be collaborative to tackle the complex challenges that we face – leaders in the church need to pray together, learn together, imagine together beyond the comfortable enclaves and outside the normal channels – recognising that none of us is fully formed, fully equipped or in any way omni-competent for the responsibilities that we collectively have.
If all of those hopes ‘come true’, in whole or in part, I reckon we’ll have made a few courageous commitments to being the Uniting Church in Australia for the future, and we will have decided to move beyond considering, affirming, encouraging and noting to actually ‘do’ stuff to help God change the world.
Do. Or do not… for God’s sake, let’s get on with it.
Rev. Jane Fry