Walk closer with thee
A jazz gospel style of worship kicked off the fourth and last day of a Synod bringing members closer together, celebrating in God’s presence. As the Moderator, Rev. Simon Hansford scattered water members were reminded of their baptism and call to Christ, “May we worship God who calls us in our baptism, may we maintain a life of witness, of worship of teaching.
There was toe tapping, singing, even shoulder swinging as members were accompanied by a five-piece jazz orchestra, including a playful trumpet and a sublime saxophone.
There was a call to hear God’s voice for our future. “As Church we want to walk closer to you. Our praise brings you delight we come to you for in you there is comfort, there is life,” said Rev. Hansford.
Emma Parr from Uniting Mission and Education then spoke the story of Great Commission from Matthew 28 and moved members toward the faith we have that God is with us always.
Rev. Thresi Mauboy, Moderator of the Uniting Church in Australia Northern Synod led the prayer: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. We pray asking that we are always united by your spirit, so that we can heal and understand well. Guide us to live in your will as an act of gratitude for You.”
In her sermon Rev. Mauboy said that in the Northern Synod, Aboriginal students are enrolled in Nungalinya Theological college, “Sometimes we see our brothers and sisters are afraid of talking, to come out in the community to talk to others. She spoke of Eli’s children, about hearing God and respecting God and knowing.
“Listening and responding is vital in a relationship with God. To receive His message, we must be ready to listen and act,” said Rev. Mauboy.
“Sometimes there is conflict because we are imperfect. Don’t lose your head and leave the Church because people are not listening. There is nothing on earth that is more precious to God than His Church. Jesus taught us to become one in unity to serve this Synod. Everyone has their own talent and gifts. We must live to the attitude of respect and learn to except each other in humility.”
“The question for us here today is to put God between our self and God, and God will solve the problem. When God called the servant to serve him he said I will be with you always. We forget to pray to ask God to hear our prayer. I challenge you use what Jesus has already showed us, protect them in the name of you who sent us to serve you,” said Rev. Mauboy.
She finished with a blessing for the new Moderator, Rev. Simon Hansford and new General Secretary, Rev. Jane Fry and all those called to serve God.
Induction of a new General Secretary, Rev. Jane Fry.
Rev. Simon Hansford led the induction asking Rev. Fry to pledge her leadership to the Synod of NSW and the ACT. It was a poignant moment when Rev. Fry’s ministry friends, staff of the Synod and family, handed her the symbols to carry as General Secretary of the Synod.
“We welcome you and offer you our friendship and support,” said Peter Andrews.
Rev. Hansford prayed for Rev. Fry: “Almighty God in every age you have chosen servants to lead your people, we thank you for Jane who has been called to serve You, may she be a faithful disciple.”
The blessing was sung by all, “May the feet of God walk with you and His hand hold you tight. May the eye of God rest on you, and his ear hear you cry.”
Rev. Fry responded to the official declaration of her induction, acknowledging the individuals from the span of her ministry life that have brought her to this place today. She thanked them for their encouragement and she thanked her family.
“My family understand the cost of ministry,” Rev. Fry reflected on her appointment.
Rev Fry then shared a poem she had written inspired by Joel McKerrow for her “grand baby” who is “the best reason for us to find a way to live hopefully to work together to heal the hearts and so grow together in Shalom, to be in peace in this world for all grand babies.”
Rev. Hansford closed the induction with prayer: “These gifts are beyond us Lord we ask, strengthen us, refresh us that we might life your story in Christ.”
The band swung the Synod into action fittingly to the tune of “When the saints go marching in.”
The Synod members then shared communion together.
Discernment Group feedback – The Marriage Conversation
All the feedback that has been provided by Discernment Groups will be gathered to help the general Secretary to compose a response from the Synod to the Assembly.
Four themes and several questions emerged from the feedback provided.
Unity of the Church:
- There is concern for our unity and fear of fracture or division. It is important that we have options for how we move forward no matter what decision is made in civil law or by the Assembly in July.
- Some expressed the need to bring the conversation away from the Yes or No, away from the extremes and towards the middle ground.
- There is a need for a decision to be made for the wellbeing of our people. The question is what decisions needs to be made? How/what about? We need wise and careful discernment about how we will care for one another regardless of which decision is made.
- There is a strong sense that a decision needs to be made by the Assembly. Silence is a costly option because of the hurt caused to the very being of our LGBTIQ brothers and sisters. This is more than a doctrinal argument.
- There was a suggestion that an apology be made to our own LGBTIQ community for our failure to be supportive of them.
- We could fulfil our pastoral role more effectively if we informed ourselves of alternative views and sought to understand them more deeply.
- This is about love and being the body of Christ and living kindly with each other despite our differences.
Education and Support:
- There is a need for communication and education – throughout the Synod, in Presbyteries and Congregations, and also within schools and into the wider community. Personal stories are important in the communication.
- Support, resources, supplies, materials and facilitation are all required throughout the deliberations – before, during and after the Assembly meeting.
- We need to understand the history and the development of our understanding of marriage.
- We need to communicate to all congregations and presbyteries so that they are able to have resourced and facilitated conversations; to be able to respond adequately to any decisions and the conversations that happen at Assembly. There are already resources available but they need to be publicised and shared.
- There was support for the Uniting Church to make a public statement.
Other questions that arose from the discernment were:
- Should we consider separating civil and religious celebration of marriage, as is the case in some countries.
- What guidance can we provide to Ministers as they face the possibility of changes to changes to the law and confusion about how to respond and remain within the doctrinal requirements of the Uniting Church.
- Younger members of our church are tired of explaining to their non-church friends why the UCA has not made a statement affirming their support for same-gender marriage.
Overall the question is about how we live together with our differences. It is not about who is right or wrong about the understanding of marriage. We are one Body of Christ regardless and we are called to reconciliation.
The following is an excerpt from the Sovereignty and Treaty, a brief discussion guide for Uniting Church members, Rev. Dr Chris Budden, The Hunter Presbytery and Interim National Coordinator of UAICC, and also his presentation to prepare members for a conversation members at Synod.
“The Uniting Church Assembly meeting in July 2015 determined: That a significant priority for its life during the next triennium is to explore with Congress what it would mean for the practices of the Church to recognise and affirm that First Peoples are sovereign Peoples. (Minute 15.08 a)
“Sovereignty is about honoring those who were here first, and starting to negotiate a new way for us to occupy this land together. It raises many issues and questions, challenging assumptions and beliefs. Maybe if we can name what the issues are for us – what we are curious about, what we fear, what we want to know – we can have a more open conversation.
“National identity is forged out of a number of things – occupation of a particular piece of land, significantly shared values, institutions and ways of conceiving of the law, the shape of relationships, religious institutions, and the stories and history we tell about ourselves.
“I think human beings have a need to be moral. The stories we tell explain and justify our life, occupation of land, treatment of people, exercise of power and sharing of wealth. They tell us why we are good people.
“We are being challenged to truth telling, and truth living. We are challenged to restore the stories and memories of others. We are challenged to own our sharing in a destructive story, and to change. We are challenged to make genuine reparation for stolen land, destroyed lives, and ongoing trauma.
Two theological issues arise:
- How does being a follower of Jesus draw us into engagement with this issues? That is, what has sovereignty got to do with discipleship?
- If God is sovereign, and humans exercise something of God’s life, how is the sovereignty of humans related to what God does? That is, what are the theological foundations for claims to human sovereignty.
It seems to me that in the face of that challenge we can:
- react with anger, moral outrage and self-defensiveness – as many have done around the statues or Australia Day debates, or
- we can sit down and ask if there is any truth in the challenge, and what we need to do if we are to be a moral people.
As followers of Jesus we are challenged to think and express how we feel about this issue.