Telling Our Story – Highlights from Day One
Gathering to pray
The Synod Gathered in Prayer for the four days of Synod at the Knox Chapel in support of both the Moderator and the members of the Synod as they considered the many ways in which the Church needs to advance its work and mission over the coming years.
The Moderator greeted those gathered and acknowledged the support of the Church as Synod gathers.
Rev. Andrew Cunningham opened in prayer and then those gathered were asked to pray for the guidance of the Spirit by Rev. Cherie Strudwick, for the Synod and its members by Rev. John Thornton, for unity by Rev. David Reichardt.
Former Moderator Rev. Myung Hwa Park prayed for the Rev. Simon Hansford and his calling over the next three years.
Prayers continued for rural and remote ministry by Shirley Colless, for Indigenous leaders by Lena Logan, for Cultural and Linguistic Diverse Congregations by Rev. Punam Bent, for intergenerational Church (youth to aged) by Rev. Tammy Hollands, for disaster recovery by Rev. Robert Griffith and for social justice and mission outreach by Rev. Robert Buchan.
God is present and engaging
Moderator Rev Simon Hansford opened the Synod 2017 meeting with worship. Elder Uncle Harry Walker had travelled from his country in Tubulum. He acknowledged traditional owners of the land.
We heard the story of Jacob’s dream told by Mark Hillis and then the Moderator preached on the passage Genesis 28:10-17 and the message that we are blessed by the story of God.
“It is a reminder of a God who is present and engaging what He and we are a part. God had his way with Jacob and his descendants to say ‘I am with you’. God is with us. God is present with us in the journey in which we walk. We bless others through God’s blessing of us. We are in this place and our God is with us, not by anything we do on our own. We are blessed by the presence of God to be a blessing. And God will bring us safe home,” said Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford in his message to the members of Synod gathered in front of the Great Hall at Knox Grammar School.
Rev. Jane Fry – “I’m very excited about this agenda”
“I am very excited about this agenda,” announced the Rev. Jane Fry to the members of Synod. “This is a real opportunity for the Synod to make decisions to promote and encourage the Synod into the future.
“Since the last Synod 18 months ago, much has happened in the world.”
Rev. Fry went on to note that in preparing for the Synod agenda that she did a Google search and discovered that 2016 is referred to as the year of ‘shocking surprises’. Political upheavals that included the election of Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte, and closer to home the rise of the right, Holland, France, Turkey and the decline of the establishment. The struggle of the left and Brexit which was reported around the globe.
There were terrorist attacks in Brussels, France, Bangladesh, Berlin and London, nuclear threats being made by North Korea and the ongoing plight of asylum seekers and refugees.
“I did a similar search for the year of 2017 which is regarded as the ‘year of intrigue’ when we see the rise and rise of post truth polities,” Rev. Fry continued. “One Guardian commentator said, ‘this is the biggest year for political risk since the end of WW2′. For me 2017 is the story of Don Dale juvenile detention centre revelations, the treatment of residents in aged care facilities (not Uniting facilities), a story of the Royal Commission climate and environment, water use and security, times of disruption and change.
“These are times of disruption and change times of times of fear and uncertainty in which we’re called into the mission of God as the Uniting Church pilgrim people. We are called to be a fellowship of reconciliation, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself. 40 years ago that was a vision, it is still is a challenging vision.
“In my lifetime there has never been a greater need for this work and witness to be visible and vital in the world. Never there been a time when the work of creating community across diversity has been more acute. Never has there been a time when witnessing and telling a transformative story of creation, humanity and hope has been more important.
“I remember the 70’s but how innocent were we then? Now it is a time to come of age.
“In the Synod Synod 2017 Agenda there will be Bible study and creative engagement with our ‘story’ led by Joel McKerrow and creative engagement with ‘our’ story offered by Hannah
Boland. This will be an opportunity for us to reground to look at the story we have reclaimed as our own. There will be reports of what has been achieved, what has happened, successes and challenges.
It was Rev. Fry’s hope that this Synod didn’t spend time looking back.
“I hope that this Synod spends most of its time looking forward. There will be a marriage conversation and a conversation about commitment to safe respectful communication. These are conversations that will shape our understanding of what our fellowship of reconciliation might be.
There will be discernment for our mission priorities for the next 40 years. We will think about how we will resource ourselves. We have a video that will help us in our process. It brings a message of joy and hope. It is time to map a clear path for our future.
Church is a relational activity
John Thornton – Acting Associate General Secretary, encouraged the church to work together and be relational together in his report to the floor having been appointed to the role in an acting capacity nine months ago.
“I’ve tried to be disruptive and positive and encouraging and upon reflection I haven’t been disruptive enough. I hope I have help people to think a little differently. Disconnection is a common disease across the Church,” explained Rev. Thornton. “Email is useless for personal relationships. The church is relational and interconcilliar body. Have a coffee, relate to one another. Our work is incarnational. I invite you to become flesh more often. Give the younger cohort power to lead. If you are not encouraging people and discipling you are failing.”
Tackling the issues – Rev. Dr Andrew Williams
Board Chair of Uniting Financial Service’s Michael Anderson gave the following minute of appreciation for Rev. Dr Andrew Williams, former General Secretary:
Andrew was inducted to the role of General Secretary on 27 August 2010.
From the very beginning of his placement he faced a Church and Synod in the midst of change with many and often opposing forces advocating the need for immediate action on multiple fronts. Andrew’s natural inclination was to consult widely.
He persistently displayed a willingness to seek advice from a broad spectrum of people with what he perceived to be the right skills and relevant experiences. Similarly, it was Andrew’s nature to address the big picture and not just the issue before him at the time; to reflect and discern on all that had been suggested and then and only then to proceed.
This reflective and yet deliberate approach did not suit everyone – some anxious for more rapid and decisive change; others concerned about the implications of change that would confront tradition and established patterns of behaviour.
It is the mark of a leader that they can find a way through the various competing influences and guide the organisation towards a new position and with renewed focus and hope Many of the changes faced by church in its own life and in the increasing compliance and safety demands from the community find a focus in the office of the Synod General Secretary.
It is a demanding job, made more difficult by the need to negotiate the ever-changing balance between the work of Secretary to the Synod as a Council, and CEO to the synod as institution. It is a role that challenges and stretches the incumbent’s capacity as team leader, administrator, manager, canon lawyer (or at least Regulations expert) and theologian.
Andrew came to the role with organisational and administrative skills, global mission practice experience, highly respected pastoral expertise, a deep knowledge of the church, depth and breadth of biblical and theological reflection and knowledge and also imagination and humour. His passion for serving God shaped and influenced his approach to the role and his relationships with others.
There was little time to settle in and help the synod forge a vision for the way forward (although he did help that happen). Andrew started in the role when the Synod was going through a significant transitional phase that was coupled to an increasing necessity for a professional approach to leadership. There was also a growing demand from Regulators for good governance and a robust code of conduct for (all) churches.
He often found himself facing strong challenges – having inherited a number of extremely difficult: a financial crisis and the need to cut staff and programs, constant restructuring processes, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and profoundly irresolvable pastoral matters.
He also had to face appeals and challenges and the demands of lawyers as people challenged the decisions of the church, and as an attempt was made to heal some old wounds. In partial response to these forces he championed the formation of the Synod Risk Oversight Committee as well as the Governance Nominations and Remunerations Committee.
Andrew did a great job tackling these issues, often working way outside his comfort zone. Naturally an optimist and a person with passion, a person tough enough to ride his bicycle to work on most days and to complete an ironman triathlon, he found the institutional demands difficult to deal with when they dragged him away from the church he believed was the body of Christ.
Andrew carefully considered the people implications of all decisions and had a deep yearning that the Church could and would flourish in changing and challenging times. His commitment to cross cultural engagement was always evident while always pragmatically acknowledging the challenges of different cultures within a diverse Church.
Few will forget he became a converted Tongan; wearing Tongan costumes and traditional attires, writing and leading Tongan liturgies, singing Tongan hymns and preaching in Tongan and yet he still prefered palangi (non-Tongan) food! He was deeply committed to ecumenisim!
Andrew was a champion of the importance of holding together the theological principles of worship, witness and service. Andrew was courageous in raising issues of concern being experienced in parts of the church and consequently this sometimes came at personal cost to him and his family. Andrew was humble and acknowledged his limitations.
He represented the Church with grace and humility. He provided servant leadership to the Church at a most challenging time. He was happy to make fun of himself and his family and a willing participant in laughing with others at his own misfortunes.
His personable approach and his openness in sharing his vulnerability made it easier for people to connect with him, respect him and share similar experiences. He displayed gentleness and a pastoral heart and his passion for serving God shaped and influenced his approach to the role and his relationships with others.
There were joys and struggles, frustrations and successes and yet Andrew maintained his professionalism, integrity, energy and optimism. He exercised and maintained a calming influence in stabilizing and effecting the mission for the common good in his service for the synod. He was sustained by the sheer grace of God and always discern prayerfully in his decision making. A lover of rugby – the game they play in heaven – the mild mannered General Secretary frequently morphed into an enthusiastic and loud spectator and commentator.
When Katalina accepted an appointment in Geneva (with his support and blessing), the work became even harder. A committed husband to Katalina and a loving father to daughter Lilliana the distance between the family was a burden.
While it was a very hard decision to leave his friends at the synod and UCA behind he truly appreciated the synod’s gracious understanding in allowing him go to be with his family in Switzerland. Andrew helped the church transition through a difficult time in its life, and the Synod is grateful for his commitment and skill during his time as the General Secretary.