Synod Meeting 2014: Highlights from Day 2

Synod Meeting 2014: Highlights from Day 2

Acknowledgement of Country Opening Worship and Gathering for Holy Communion

The Synod Meeting began the day with Opening Worship and tables shared Holy Communion. Each table gave an interpretation of the elements and then served each other in communion.

You can’t change the borders that God has given

The first session of the day was the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. The Rev. Neville Naden led the session with some reflections on the story of Joseph and the colonisation of Australia.

“Land was owned by God and no-one has the right to sell it to someone else,” Rev. Naden said. “We are not at liberty to sit back and do nothing after what happened 225 years ago. You can’t change the borders of land that God has given.”

The Rev. Dorothy Harris-Gordon, “Aunty Dorrie” shared part of her life story including the years married to Congress founder, the Rev. Charles Harris.

Good News for the Day

Once again, the day was full of inspiring stories of hope and Congregations working for change in their communities.

  • Katalina Tahaafe-Williams reported on the success of the Multicultural Festival in June which will now be an annual event in the life of the Church.
  • Steve Teulan from UnitingCare Ageing presented a video about a program keeping centenarians healthy at home.
  • Dubbo Uniting Church are undertaking some exciting community-based projects like 120 Countdown.  Kerry and Don Needham, in partnership with UnitingCare are offering 120 Countdown to disadvantaged young people in their community. It is an amazing project which has church members taking the ‘driver mentor’ course and then helping learner drivers get their hours up. There has been amazing missional opportunities from this initiative. Don Needham said, “I’m really excited about this project. It’s filling a need in the community. The exciting thing is that it can be a missional activity. It can expand if we take the initiative”. ‘Cheeky Chewsday’s is another community involvement program offered at Dubbo – a group set up for single parents to have support they need.

Social Justice Forum

The Social Justice Forum is focussed on three areas: The ‘Give Hope’ campaign, housing and homelessness and the furthering of the capacity of our church to engage with social justice issues.

The Forum has been an effective way of bringing together the Common Good across the Synod. It acts as a hub for the social justice activities across the church. It was reported that one in three congregations are displaying the banners produced by the Forum, “Refugees welcome here.”

Gabe Kavanagh from UnitingCare presented the many activities of the Forum which includes the Give Hope campaign.  A video was shown about UnitingCare’s diverse social justice work including advocacy for asylum seekers and their plight. The Rev. Dr Brian Brown’s advocacy and ambassadorship for the work of UnitingCare’s Give Hope was recognised as an inspirational to the campaign. Rev Dr Brown said on the video, “I am just so proud of the people and the way they are getting involved in the work of the social justice forum.”

This year specially designed Christmas Cards will be sent to the Prime Minister which feature the artwork produced by Uniting Churches from the Give Hope quilt campaign.

Uncommon Boundaries – Numbers 20:14-21

Team Uncommon Tokens once again encourages Synod to consider what is Uncommon and how we may reshape our thinking about the Common Good in the Bible Study segment. They looked at the story of Israel and asked us to consider how this relates to uncommon voices.

  • In groups people were asked to consider:
  • What in this story draws your attention? Why?
  • How might you read this story if you were seeking refuge?
  • How might you read this story as Indigenous Australian?

Associated Events

Along with the UAICC lunch and other events, the Coal and Coal Seam Gas session was both informative and confronting.  The presenters – Jason John, John Brentnall , Pablo Brait and Dr Miriam Pepper — outlined the many issues that both suburban and outlying agricultural areas face with the mining for coal and drilling for coal seam gas in their areas. Uniting Earth Web encouraged attendees to sign petitions and become more educated about the effects this activity will have in their communities. They urged congregations to get involved, whether in support, mediation or lobbying for cessation of the activities. Major concern was expressed as the future environmental impact caused by coal seam gas will not be fully known for some time.

UnitingCare Board Report

Peter Worland, UnitingCare Executive Director, introduced the members of the Board  and directors of UnitingCare to the Moderator and the chair of UAICC. He spoke of the work achieved since the last Synod 18 months ago.

“18 months ago I stood before you when you were the interim Moderator. We promised a more collaborative way forward to reverse the disrespectful relations that had occurred between shrinking congregations and with UnitingCare with ‘more sites than MacDonald’s’,” said Mr Worland. “Good governance was difficult. Relations were often adversarial between Synod and members. There was angst and grieving that had not been acknowledged.”

He spoke of the work being done assisting communities to revalue a devalued community and to provide hope for those older people particularly those on the aged pension.

“Implicit in our call is to assist as many as we can as well as we can. Growth doesn’t daunt us,” said Mr Worland. “We have been working on our Brand identity with a focus to inspire people, to enliven communities,  confronting justice, working to create an inclusive and a just world. The issue of asylum seekers has brought us together around that forum table to tackle this issue head on. We seek your wisdom on what to do next with this.”

Soccer for Asylum Seekers

Table talk discussion after the UnitingCare report was about asylum seekers and the next steps that need to be taken.

A story of hope and courage was shared on video about a group of young men from Afghanistan who were in detention and experienced degradation, humiliation and exploitation. They are now part of a UnitingCare program.

Soccer is an important part of the healing process for families and individuals who are presently in detention. UnitingCare is Donating 400 balls on behalf of Congregations to people living in detention at Villawood, Christmas Island and centres in WA where there are programs using intergenerational support to help rebuild their trust.

Pledges were made by writing messages of hope on soccer balls to act as a stimulus for discussion by Congregations to raise concern about children in detention.

The session ended with everyone holding the soccer balls high to pledge to do more for children, families and people in detention.

Rural Ministry Unit

The Rev. Julie Grieg, Rural Chaplain presented a Mental Health Awareness document that has been produced in consultation with UnitingCare. A mental health toolkit for Rural Congregations has been launched which provides valuable information about mental health issues.

Uniting Resources Report

Chairperson of the Board of Uniting Resources – Geoff Naylor – delivered the Uniting Resources report on all the services across the Synod. Mr Naylor led with the achievements of the Communications and Marketing team and the recent awards won at Australasian Religious Press Awards by Insights magazine.

Synod Budget

John Kitchener, Executive Director of Uniting Resources, presented the Synod budget for 2014–15.

“We’ve been living beyond our means for many, many years. Fundamentally, we have a revenue problem. We also have a reduction in income from Living is Giving. This revenue is very valuable but is declining”, said Mr Kitchener.

He discussed the levels of debt and that at the current trajectory, the Synod has two and half years of operational budget. “We don’t have a vast amount of time to resolve our issues. There are certain things we need to do, but if they don’t protect the Church or grow the Church, we should question why we are doing them,” explains Mr Kitchener.

He discussed the level of debt sustained by the Synod as the responsibility of us all to make decisions about how to move forward. “The first step is about sharing resources. We must be looking at this on a Synod-wide basis, in a geographical sense.”

A number of specialist task groups will be established to deliver specific outcomes in a specified time. These task groups will explore governance, Synod priorities, debt and revenue, Presbyteries and property.

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