President calls Synod: Lay down your baggage, pilgrims!
Just as European backpackers had once torn relevant pages from their guidebooks, used them in the city they were exploring and then discarded them, the President of the Uniting Church in Australia, the Rev. Professor Andrew Dutney, has urged the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT to dump any extra baggage for the next challenging phase of its journey.
Quoting the church’s foundational document, The Basis of Union, Professor Dutney said the dominant image of life in the Uniting Church had always been “pilgrimage” with its members “on the way to the promised end”.
Backpacker principles applied, he said, in that travellers picked up things as they needed them and got rid of them as soon as they became unnecessary.
“As we discern together where the Spirit would lead us next in this pilgrimage to the promised end we need to check our baggage and work out what we’ll need and lay down the rest by the roadside — with a prayer of thanksgiving for what it has meant to us and how it has served us in the past, and a heart full of joy at the privilege of being invited and resourced afresh to share in God’s mission today.”
Professor Dutney said hard decisions were currently being made in every Synod, the national Assembly and in every presbytery and congregation of the Uniting Church about what practices and institutions had served their purpose and so were now extra baggage — slowing the church down and holding it back.
Discernment was the first thing needed in such decision making about the church’s mission, he said.
It was also true, he said, that a key characteristic of being a Christian in Australia today was about “discovering that our inherited ways of being church are largely untenable”.
Speaking on the first day of the Synod meeting at Knox Grammar in Wahroonga from April 13 to 16, Professor Dutney told Synod members that the church’s core business as the body of Christ was to discern what God would have us be and do in mission “by [looking to each other and] discerning what gifts the Spirit is giving to the members of our fellowship”.
He also said that Nehemiah, in rebuilding Jerusalem, had given up his place at the centre of things and gone to the edges to be returning exiles who were defenceless, poor, at odds with each other and sliding into a new period of slavery.
“Little by little, relying on the grace and blessing of God, he drew out the best in the people who were there, in and around the ruined Jerusalem — their skills, their sense of fair play, their memory of being the people of God. Together they rebuilt Jerusalem and their society.”
Nehemiah’s story could help move the church out of its own “Babylonian captivity” towards what God promises, Professor Dutney said.
Synod members could also be inspired by old-style backpackers’ approach to weighty reading material: “Once a chapter finished, it was torn out and left behind … Worse than redundant it was heavy … Allow the book to do what it was always meant to do … Love it for that. But don’t let sentimentality and misplaced principle turn it into a pointless burden.”
As church members reflected on the end of old church institutions and the emergence of new ones, Professor Dutney said they would need to be nurtured by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
He also said the central organising theme in The Basis of Union’s vision of the church is that it is a fellowship of reconciliation; a community that practices love and recognises that the ekklesia is the body of Christ with every member having particular gifts and playing their part in the health of the whole.
“Every member present, valued, contributing the gift they’ve been given by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the body. Even if I don’t like them or don’t get them or they irritate me or frighten me, my job is to discern their gift with them and help them share it with us all — and allow myself to be loved by them in the same way.”
Professor Dutney said that the Rev. Dr Andrew Williams had told that him he was amazed at the depth of spiritual resources required to do his job as General Secretary of the Synod.
“I hear you brother Andrew,” Professor Dutney said. “And I pray that you, and all of us gathered for this Synod, will be just as amazed at the depth of that well of spiritual resources God has given — for just that reason, for just this season.”
Images from Synod can be found on Insights’ Facebook page.
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