Synod Meeting 2014: Highlights from day 3

Synod Meeting 2014: Highlights from day 3

I don’t believe the Church is dying

The Rev. Kath Merrifield began the Uniting Mission and Education (UME) report by explaining that there is a wide range of engagement and opportunities for collaboration across the Synod.

“The margins have been constrained,” Rev. Merrifield explained.  “UME has been working to benchmark operations.”

She congratulated the Yurora volunteers for a fantastically run event and thanked them for creating a memorable experience for everyone who attended.

Questions from the floor asked about how UME will be addressing the way young people worship and experience church and what they were doing about the shift in culture to prepare for this.

“I believe we are in the middle of a culture change and we are still trying to find out what that means. It is part of an ongoing conversation that I would love to continue to have,” Rev. Merrifield responded.

Other questions from the floor included how UME would equip older people. Rev. Merrifield’s response was: “Please, I ask that you keep hold us accountable on that, we are working on that.”

“Our plan on leadership development is with a whole team.  We have a range of education opportunities for young people and people of all ages,” said Rev. Merrifield. “What we lack are good mentors and I want to encourage everyone in this room to consider the way we are mentoring. I encourage you to get alongside our young people and use your gifts to assist our young people to get into leadership positions.”

“The Uniting Church has a strong commitment to academic integrity. We are constrained around the kind of investments it takes from the Synod for that kind of engagement.”

“The biggest driver to offer broader, further and deeper  theological knowledge is to have more people enrolling in academic exploration. We need more people to enrol in Biblical and theology courses. I wonder where that thirst  for knowledge has gone? I encourage that thirst within Congregations.” Said Rev. Merrifield.

“I don’t believe the Church is dying and I think we have believed our own press for far too long. Yes the numbers are going in the wrong direction. We have some great challenges. Katalina Tahaafe-Williams has been working with multicultural congregations about how the groups worship. I would encourage people to do more study, do more reading, have those conversations.

“God has not finished with us yet and there is space for everyone who comes,” concluded Rev. Merrifield.

An Informed Faith – William Emilsen

The Rev. Geoff Smith spoke of the wisdom, writing and profound contribution of William Emilsen in the areas of education and church history. Mr Emilsen also spoke about his recent book “An Informed Faith”: “We need to develop another narrative for the Uniting Church, An Informed Faith offers that narrative of a resilient Church.”

Good News of the day

  • Murray Darling Basin Tour: Past Moderator Brian Brown spoke of the trip to the Murray Darling Basin which was convened in Albury. Moderator Rev.
    Myung Hwa Park reflected on the experience: “My trip to the Murray Darling Basin has taught me a lot. I learned what time immemorial means to be connected with the earth, what rebirth is, and that we are part of that water and what it means to be late comers.” Pray for the people not only MDB but all the rural areas. Join me for the Murray Darling Basin conference in May next year.
  • School BBQ’s – Hayden talked about his school Endeavour High and a special BBQ breakfast program conducted by the Church. The BBQ creates trust and dialogue leading to Bible studies.
  • Members of Uniting Church St Margaret’s in Hackett Canberra work closely with UnitingCare. Parents talked on a video about concern for their daughter Joanne’s care who has a disability and has been living with her family for 40 years. The time came to think about her care after they get older and once they have gone. Ross Walker Lodge is a place for independent and supported living for people with disabilities particularly intellectual disability.
  • Aboriginal Child and Family Centre – Yenu Allowah Elders and Children. The childcare centre helps with early intervention for families. “Strength of community leads to sustainability.” The centre offers a whole range of services to all age groups. The centre is led by Aboriginal women who want something ‘good for their kids’, to close the gap in health and education, offer parenting skills, baby welcome with the elders, strength of community, which in turn leads to sustainability. ‘Strong proud and deadly’ (proud to be Aboriginal) program prepares children for school and includes things about their community and strengthening community. The centre is looking forward to sustainability, to keep the things that we ‘need and want to happen’.
  • Griffith CareVan – They have been serving people, young people. UnitingCare NSW.ACT’s Neil Barber is a Community Development Worker working with Griffith Uniting Church. Griffith Uniting Church assisted in keeping CareVan going and saw it as a way of reaching out to the poor and marginalised in the community. The van meets people at their moment of need.

Assembly Report

The Rev. Terence Corkin delivered the Assembly Report:

  • Royal Commission

“Assembly has been supporting the work of The National Task force for the Royal Commission for Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse,” noted Rev. Corkin. “We have appointed a full time policy officer to work with the issues that the Royal Commission have identified.

He went on to mention that the whole framework is about continuous improvement, challenging people to recognise where the work needs to be done and to confront the groups where you could be doing this better.

The Royal Commission will be ‘knocking on the doors’ of Churches to establish what you are doing to make it safe for children and what have you learned from the Royal Commission.

“I urge you to think about where you are and what you are doing in the space of a safe place and a culture of continuous improvement,” said Corkin. “I  commend the work of the Royal Commission to you all making working with children about a safer place.”

  • Assembly national disaster fund

Assembly wants to support ministries that require funds for renewal and other important work associated with disaster relief and response.

  • Songs That Unite

A new initiative from Assembly is ‘Songs that Unite’ where Congregations can buy a subscription to songs for worship and contemporary Christian music. Congregations can upload music to stream from the Assembly website.  Rev. Corkin encouraged members to use this resource, being a great way to drive traffic to your website and is a helpful ministry tool.

Congregations can buy the songs, access music to use in churches, stream free and download a wider range of Christian music. Artists are from all over the world and include our Uniting Church members with their gifts and talents in music to share.

If there are any members who are artists that would like to publish on the site we would love to hear from them! For more information email

  • International Violence

The Rev. Terence Corkin responded to questions which included: Are we making a public statement in response to international violence?

“Assembly is going to make a public statement about what is happening overseas,” replied Rev. Corkin. “At this time we are actively engaging through our relationships with other faiths and with the Muslim Community.”

Bible Study – Uncommon Locations Psalm 137

Uncommon Locations: The Rev. Jione Havea and Hanuatauna Onzem presented a reflection on the Psalm 137, beginning with looking at the song “By The Rivers of Babylon”.

  • How do we encourage people to sing their troubling songs around us?
  • How do we enter (sing along with, sit in) the troubling songs of others?

Ministry Recognition Service

The Ministry Recognition Lunch was followed by a service to acknowledge the many years of service and dedication of Ministers to their communities.

Ruth Dicker, the wife of Rev. Gordon Dicker said, “Gordon was open to whatever people had to share whatever their beliefs. We have been truly blessed by meeting such a wonderful variety of people. The Church has recognised that just as Ministers have different gifts and talents, so do their wives. I want to pay tribute to those who would have been with us but have passed on. Their lives have been a God-given blessing.”

Rev. John Barker, Balgowlah – “We are confronted with change. We need to discern who we are as the people of Christ.”

Moderator Rev. Myung Hwa Park concluded in prayer.

Speaking for a peaceful future

Arda Aghazarian began her informative session by saying: “Everything we do or don’t do ends up being political one way or another. Today the word Palestinian means different things. “

Ms Aghazarian presented Synod with the current state of Palestine and Israel.  Arda talked passionately about her life story and the conflict in Israel and Palestine, all the while admitting that politics really wasn’t her strong suit.

“There is a lot of responsibility for me to speak about this. The truth is it goes back to the narrative. A lot of us think if we were to question our narrative we would become disloyal. But we must tell our own narrative.”

Arda was born and lives in occupied Jerusalem. Her message of message of hope and love in the heart of occupation was inspiring.

Moderater, Rev. Myung Hwa Park noted after Arda’s keynote that, “We are not here on our own…you are helping us to hear the call of God. We need to make some steps to end this kind of experience. To pray for those persecuted and for their pain.”

“We pray to continue not just with word but actions,” Rev. Park concluded.

Uniting Earth Ministry

Jason John: “Uniting Earth Ministry helps the Church explore what does it mean to link faith and life given our changing awareness of human beings in the creation? How do we confess the Lord in the midst of this crisis we find ourselves in.”

Miriam Pepper: “Since Uniting Earth Ministry started last December people across our Synod have been on a journey together. Jason and I invite you to join that journey too.”

Uniting Earth Ministry will shortly release the resource for congregations called Coal and Gas in Your Community (the resource will be available will give congregations materials to discuss the impacts of mining and coal seam gas exploration in their communities. Synod members looked at the moving reflections of those who went on the Murray Darling Basin Tour.

Miriam Pepper introduced members to the Our Land, Our Water Our Future campaign which is about raising awareness of Coal and Coal Seam Gas exploration, particularly in relation to suburban areas of Sydney. It is a grass roots community organising campaign that congregations can be a part of in their communities.

Uniting Financial Services was thanked for their work on the divestment in stocks and shares in fossil fuels. It has been successful to influence other campaigns across Australia.

Synod Mission Plan

Members were asked to note the top three things that will drive the mission plan. Synod members were then also invited to give comments back so the Mission Plan can be further shaped to meet the needs and vision of the Synod.

Community Organising

Community Organising is a positive way for congregations to engage their communities. Members heard from Rev. Robert McFarlane from St Ives Uniting who has completed Sydney Alliance training and has engaged his congregation actively, the Rev. Garry Derkenne, Chaplain with UnitingCare Young People and Families, and the Rev. Kath Merrifield also spoke about their experience with Community Organising.

Rev Robert McFarlane, St Ives Uniting Church shared that his congregation was “challenging the narrative” about how his congregation engaged in the local community.

“We listened deeply to members about what we are called to be and what we are called to do. Community organising keeps me engaged. We build leadership. We listen and we act,” said Rev. McFarlane of the positive experiences around Community Organising.

“There is no one way to become involved in Community organising. The Congregations become stronger. Sharing stories builds deep trust that encourages action. Each member finds expression for their gifts and skills in Community Organising,” said Garry Derkenne.

“We need to build on foundations that we have laid. We’ve seen the uniting Church acclaimed for their involvement in Sydney Alliance, ” concluded Rev. Merrifield.

Pilgrim Property – next steps

  • UAICC proposal 16C

Synod instructed Standing Committee to enter into a conversation around the suggestions of the UAICC regional committee outlining the following proposals:

  1. As a symbolic acknowledgement that our churches are built on stolen land, and as a ‘jubilee-like’ action, the suggestion is that all congregations and agencies of the church (including schools) be required to pay rent. Congress members believe that the fairest way for this to happen is not with a set amount but a set percentage – 1% – of the annual income of all bodies in the church. This money would go into a special trust account or capital fund for ministry and not for administration costs (i.e. synod could not simply stop its support because other funds had become available for ministry expansion. [NB: It was suggested that consideration be given to alternative language to ‘pay rent’.]
  2. That the Synod suggest to all presbyteries that they implement a policy similar to that of Macquarie-Darling Presbytery, viz: that if there is a property which is surplus to the needs of the congregations in the presbytery that the property be first of all offered to Congress for ministry (not simply to have and sell). If Congress does not want the property for its ministry that the property can be sold, and the proceeds subject to the tithe mentioned below.
  3. That Synod explore the most appropriate way in which a tithe can be made to Congress from property sales, maybe something like 5% of all sales.
  4. That there be an exploration of the possibility of Congress having its own property trust.

There was a resolution to bring proposals to the 2016 Synod Meeting.

Living together in both easy and hard unity

Ben Myers concluded a very full day with a reflection of the priestly anointing of Aaron’s head. Ben said it’s a promise that God gives – “It is like oil poured out on the priest. In our worship we have such a strong sense of unity when we are together, and there are moments when it is almost tangible. In our oneness God is near.”

“When I look in the faces around my table, I think the Church is a miracle, gathered with one heart, longing to do God’s Will together,” Mr Myers continued. “There is another kind of unity – the hard unity — when we don’t see eye-to-eye. This is the unity where the way we see things comes into conflict. It can be difficult and hard, but when we decide we will be with one another in God’s presence He does not give up on our unity. Consensus decision making doesn’t depend on our cards, but it depends on debate, courage, patience to locate the source of our difficulties so we can struggle together to find some common vision.

“In the first couple of days we were eager to skirt around the hard parts of unity,” said Mr Myers. “We all like the easy unity. We can be too hasty to find the easy spots. When Zac Hatfield-Dodds stood up and said we should discuss the harder things. Zac said ‘Why are we bypassing the harder unity and why don’t we take the good stuff as read’.

Mr Myers recounted a story where God reveals what is best to the youngest.” I thought Zac reminded us to take responsibility as a council of the Church. The Church lives under the Lordship of Christ. We discern what He is saying through the councils of the Church.”

The unity of the body of the Christ is seen in hard unity. Founders refused to call the Church United, rather it is Uniting. As a Uniting Church the oil is poured out — for there where brothers and sisters live together in unity, the Lord blesses us.


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