Meet the Moderator Elect candidates
During the next Synod meeting, members will vote for the next Moderator Elect, who will serve as Moderator from 2023 to 2026.
The Synod’s Moderator Elect Joint Nominating Committee has shortlisted three candidates for Moderator-Elect: Rev. Viniana (Vinnie) Ravetali, Rev. Faaimata (Mata) Havea Hiliau, and Rev. Simon Lee.
Insights spoke to the candidates to find out more about them, their hopes for the church, and how they would lead.
Rev. Viniana (Vinnie) Ravetali is the senior chaplain of MLC school in Burwood, a role she has served in for six years. She has also served on several councils and committees at Assembly, Synod, Presbytery, and Congregation levels.
“I realise that my ministry formation took place when I joined Parramatta mission in the mid-1980s, not long after I arrived in Australia,” she said.
“Over the years and in conjunction with my former profession of administration, marketing and management in the secular world, all voluntary roles I took up in the church, whether administration, governance or leadership were for me, part of my ministry formation.”
Rev. Faaimata (Mata) Havea Hiliau is the Minister at Northern Beaches Uniting Church for the congregations of Balgowlah, Manly, Freshwater, and Cromer.
“I’m in team ministry, and also part of my focus is on family ministry, so ministering to family within and beyond the Church.
“In the last three years of placement, I have baptised and journeyed with 30 families in baptism. I think that might be a record for the Uniting Church,” she said.
“I know I shared that with somebody and they went, “What? Is that for real?” Yeah, in all of those journeys, from the beginning of formation to this very moment, I feel that they have equipped me to be a more informed leader and Minister in our Church.”
Rev. Simon Lee is the Minister at New Beginnings Uniting Church in Cronulla.
“One of the things that New Beginnings is really clear about is to reach people for Jesus Christ in the world that we currently live in,” Rev. Lee said.
“And so that’s why I’ve been in ministry here for the last 14 years, working at helping the Church to change, helping the Church to move into a new location and a new space of being Church in a world that is vastly different to where they found themselves, but a Church that is striving to lead people to become fully devoted disciples of our Lord.”
The role of the Moderator
The successful candidate will transition from their current ministry into the role of Moderator in early 2023, speaking on behalf of the Synod in the public sphere and providing the Church with pastoral leadership. The Moderator serves on the Synod Standing Committee, visits church congregations, and oversees the Synod meeting every 18 months.
The candidates all shared their understandings of what they would bring to this complex, busy role.
Rev. Vinana (Vinne) Ravetali said that her experience serving on a wide range of church councils and committees was a benefit.
“It allows me to view the church for what it is,” she said.
“It gives me a wider lens, how it is structured and governed and the responsibilities that is involved in the different parts of the church that contributes to the whole.”
Rev. Ravetali added that the role’s leadership and responsibility were the areas that appealed to her most.
“I believe other key responsibilities such as preparing, participating and articulating will fall under these two key responsibilities,” she said.
“Holding the witness and vision of the Synod in one’s heart and prayer as moderator are privileged responsibilities as are the calls to offer pastoral and prophetic leadership.”
Rev. Faaimata (Mata) Havea Hiliau highlighted how her life journey had positioned her well to be a spokesperson for the Uniting Church, “whether it’s having grown up in rural New South Wales or being a sibling of so many, having so many brothers and sisters, or whether it’s being born in a different country.”
Rev. Havea Hilau said that all of her placements equipped her to speak on behalf of the Uniting Church.
“I’ve had the privilege to be on various councils of the Church, whether it be on Assembly Standing Committee, to being members of Synod and a part of my Presbytery.”
“I am a people person,” she said.
“I thrive in conversation and interaction with people in my local Church, in the community, within my family or wherever I am.”
“I’m a storyteller and I’m a preacher, and I love to share my life, but I also love to listen to others. As a spokesperson of the Church, I’m not only called to lead and to speak, but most importantly, to listen.”
Rev. Havea Hilau said that she had been encouraged, “as a woman from a culturally, linguistically, and diverse background to find myself in a position of leadership within the Uniting Church.”
“As an ordained woman, as a woman of colour. I think our diversity as a Church is one to be embraced,” she said.
Rev. Simon Lee said that he believed he was well positioned to lead the church during a time when modes of communication had changed.
“I don’t speak just for myself, but it’s about all of us coming together as a Church to speak into that space,” he said.
“It’s about having those who have gifts and skills come into that space and speak into that area. It’s about listening and drawing on the skills and the gifts of all of the Church to speak into the issues and concerns that are important for the Church.”
“And so coming into this space with some gifts and skills of doing online ministry, of doing video blogs, of working in a different communication era will help me in this situation, but it doesn’t mean that I have it all, and I understand it all, but I’m willing to learn and be taught what to do and how to speak into this space.”
“But it’s not about me as an individual having the best gifts and skills, it’s about God speaking through myself and the Church into the community to bring the good news of Jesus Christ into all of the world.”
In a similar vein, he added that he would like to “flip the question” about why he wanted to be Moderator, as he viewed the role as being a calling.
“It’s a calling of God upon your life and it’s a calling of the Church discerning whether you were the right person for this position,” he said.
“It’s not something that you look to try and strive and do, it’s not something that I’m looking to strive and be, it’s actually a responding about God’s call in my life, about God’s call where my ministry might be at the moment and about listening to where the Church is calling as well.”
What does the Uniting Church need to do?
Each of the candidates answered questions about what issues they think the Uniting Church needs to address-but isn’t.
Rev. Viniana (Vinnie) Ravetali nominated a number of issues that she believed the church needed to address.
“Firstly, the national economy raises concerns around job security, housing, and cost of living and the impact of these concerns on the well-being and future of our children and the next generations.”
She also raised mental health as something of a taboo issue that the church needed to address.
“We have concerns, especially exposed by the global pandemic around substance addiction and suicide rates in our rural and indigenous communities, including the ongoing stigma around the whole issue,” Rev. Ravetali said.
“Mental health, like domestic violence, has struggled with the social stigma associated with it. And it is only recently that it became publicly acceptable as a topic of conversation.”
“In my own experience, mental health had been identified as a significant contributing factor to domestic violence. I believe the church can respond by continuing to vigorously build strategies, innovations, advocacy, and resources to assist different parts and arms of the church, its agencies and partner churches nationally and internationally in addressing these issues.”
Rev. Faaimata (Mata) Havea Hiliau named the pandemic-era’s rise in domestic violence and suicide as an under addressed issue that has impacted her local community on the Northern Beaches.
“From a community perspective, the issue of domestic violence has been a growing statistic during the pandemic,” she said.
“We’ve been in partnership with our local Northern Beaches Women’s Refuge, and being a hand of God in that space, being supportive of what is it that we can do as a Church. How can we speak, how can I speak and be in action in that space?”
“Another issue that is really close to my heart is climate change. As a woman from the Pacific, I’m well aware on the impact of climate change, and the rising sea levels, and what it has on the coral reefs of the islands of the Pacific, to places like Kiribati, a people that might find themselves as environmental refugees in the very near future.”
“How can I, as a spokesperson for the Church, act locally, speak boldly, and be a spokesperson in those places?”
Rev. Simon Lee nominated discipleship as an under-utilised area of the Uniting Church’s life.
“We need to grapple with and grasp as the Uniting Church how we make disciples of Jesus Christ,” Rev. Lee said.
“That is probably our biggest issue, and then everything else flows from that as we start to grapple with that issue.”
“How do we speak into climate change? How do we speak into drug law reform? How do we speak into voluntary assisted dying? How do we speak into violence against women and women fleeing from domestic violence? How do we speak into affordable housing and how do we speak into the homelessness issues that are within our cities and within our regional areas?”
“These are such important issues, all of these things, but we do it from the framework of the love of Jesus Christ. So they’re probably the issues for me at the moment about where the Uniting Church needs to be, working and living its life as disciple-makers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The candidate that ends up elected to the role of Moderator will have big shoes to fill. The first Moderator of NSW and ACT Synod was Lillian Wells, who was in the role from 1977 to 1978. Some people who have held the role since include Freda Whitlam, Rev. Niall Reid, and Rev. Myung Hwa Park.
Rev. Simon Hansford’s term as Moderator began in 2017. During this time, he has publicly represented the Synod in campaigns such as the Fair Treatment campaign for drug law reform and the Moderator’s drought appeal.
Moderator Elect ballots open for Synod members on Wednesday 4 August. They close Thursday 5 August at 5pm.
The result will be announced during the final 2021 Synod meeting, online on Sunday 7 August.