The Living Church – Synod 2019 started, quietly and powerfully, with a moving prayer gathering.
Just over 100 people braved a wintery Sydney morning to gather at beautiful William Mcllrath War Memorial Chapel at Knox Grammar school, the venue for this year’s Synod.
The service included prayers and a ‘blessing song’ for the Moderator, Simon Hansford, during which people laid their hands on Rev. Hansford.
Following a prayer gathering, new Synod members were also welcomed with a BBQ breakfast with the Moderator, General Secretary Rev. Jane Fry and the Associate Secretary Rev. Bronwyn Murphy. Of the 350 Synod meeting members, 105 members are attending Synod for the first time.
Moderator Simon Hansford welcomed the more than 360 members to The Living Church – Synod 2019 in an opening worship service this morning.
Rev. Hansford reminded members that despite the demands, the issues, the tensions that swirled around this meeting – the campaign for Fair Treatment on drugs, debate regarding ‘religious freedom’ and the attacks on the LGTBIQ+ community – we needed to rely on God.
“It is by God’s mercy that we are in this game at all. We begin with God and all these things, these important, these necessary things come second,” Rev. Hansford said.
“It is God who holds us and will continue to do so, the whole story is found in Christ.”
Rev Hansford said we experience mercy and we offer it to others.
“It is not ours to give but God’s,” he said.
— UnitingChurch NSWACT (@UCA_NSWACT) July 5, 2019
Living Church – Opportunity for Change
The General Secretary, Rev. Jane Fry, gave the opening presentation calling Synod 2019 an opportunity for the church to grow and make real change in the world we live in.
“In the past we have never been able to have a productive debate about growth. I believe growth is a deliberate decision. We need to choose to grow,” said Rev. Fry.
UTC Principal, Rev. Peter Walker’s first Bible Study of Synod 2019 was titled ‘The Purpose of the Living Church – Matthew 28:1-20’.
“Whenever the church’s focus becomes self-concern, how can we make ourselves a living church? We have lost the way. Whenever the church’s focus becomes the living God, and bearing witness to gospel of Jesus Christ, we become the living church once more,” said Rev. Walker.
Rediscovering our missional voice
Guest speaker Pastor and CEO of Wayside Chapel, Jon Owen, addressed Synod members on how we can tackle social inequality head on.
“Our former CEO used to say we are not an ICU we are an ‘I see you’ organisation, we don’t try to rescue people we love people and see their value and call their value out,” he said.
“About 15% of our staff at Wayside used to live on the streets, we loved them, we saw their gifts and we called them out on their gifting.”
Pastor Owen says churches spent too much time building fences to keep people out rather than digging deep wells to attract those from around the community.
Priority Advocacy Issues
Uniting presented the Advocacy Report and Priority Issues Discussion proposal to Synod requesting delegates to consider what social justice issues the Church should prioritize and provide their views on how Uniting can engage the wider church in advocacy.
The proposal and report were presented by Uniting senior executive, Doug Taylor, Senior Social Justice Specialist, Jon O’Brien, Uniting Social Justice Advocate Alex Hogan, Uniting’s Church Engagement Leader, Mel Pouvalu.
Mr Taylor and the team gave an overview on the current advocacy priorities that include the Fair Treatment campaign which focuses on drug law reform and increasing the number of treatment centres in rural and regional areas. Updates were also given on the Give Hope: Uniting for Asylum Seekers campaign and the Affordable Housing campaign and the environment and climate change advocacy.
He also flagged other issues of concern including domestic and family violence.
Synod heard about the Growth Strategy proposal.
“I’ve been in this church for a long time,” Rev. Fry told the Synod meeting. “We struggle to talk about growth.”
The wide ranging proposal aims to facilitate the Uniting
Church to grow in a number of ways, “to prioritise, promote, and enable growth
in discipleship, in relationship, in number, and in impact.”
It “would seek ways to focus on growing the impact being made by our hundreds of congregations in NSW/ACT in their local communities.