Telling Our Story – Highlights from Day Two
Lunch with laughs
Day two of Synod began with an outdoor BBQ and entertainment. Hannah Boland (pictured above) entertained members with her unique brand of humour while people ate on the forecourt at Knox. It was a time for conversations and some down time while members processed the previous days decisions and proposals.
Congregations called to be the light for social justice supported by a renewed team
Rev. Rick Morrell, Director of Mission, Uniting and Chair of the Social Justice Forum, Chair of Social Justice Forum, introduced the report and explained that the Social Justice Forum has been re- formed as part of Uniting, sitting alongside the broad chaplaincy and pastoral practitioner team the church engagement team the Uniting Councils the innovative community grants fund to name a few.
“The renewal of the Social Justice Forum has brought greater professionalism, activism and humility for the team. They have established themselves as a well-coordinated team ready to go the extra mile for the world they care for,” said Mr Morell.
Jon O’Brien Head of Social Justice Forum said, “God calls us not to shelter us from the world but to embrace its sorrows and embrace its suffering.” He encouraged congregations to get involved.
Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” Mr O’Brien said, “We want to help and encourage congregations with candle lighting in the area of social justice.”
“We do this as part of our mission and an expression of hope, despite the darkness we experience in our world, our church and within ourselves” said Mr O’Brien.
Robyn Harvey from Boronia Park and member of the Social Justice Forum gave a local perspective on social justice activity.
One of the areas includes hosting seminars by “Creators of Peace” that empowers women to be radical peacemakers.” Another area is supporting “Grandmothers against children in detention.”
Ms Harvey said that there are still refugee children in unsafe situations and that, “We can do so much to make our views known as individuals and as a church we can write to local MP’s and talk to families.”
Overall the situation for people seeking asylum both in Australia and in offshore detention remains deeply uncertain.
Many groups, including the Uniting Church in Australia and the Synod of NSW and the ACT, have continued to call for changes in policy and practice.
Rev. Dr Raymond Joso, Sydney Presbytery and UME mission consultant said, “Working for social justice peace and the environment is part of our response to the gospel of Jesus Christ and path to Christian discipleship.”
“We have been encouraging action on community issues as an expression of faith,” said Rev. Dr Joso.
Initiatives include lending its strong voice to a commitment from the NSW Government to support 8,000 asylum seekers in NSW to access TAFE free.
Some of the campaigns the Social Justice Forum are working on, aiming to transform society include;
- Give Hope: Uniting for Asylum Seekers The Give Hope campaign began in 2013. Its purpose is to advocate for more compassionate and just responses to people seeking asylum.
- We Can Do Better: This initiative sought to engage members and congregations in action calling for an increase in Australia’s humanitarian intake of refugees and work towards a stronger regional framework on refugees. Around 80 members sent campaign emails to their local MP’s.
- Table Talks: aim to contribute to changing the community conversation around people seeking asylum to one that is more positive and receptive. The Social Justice Forum team has supported table talks at Boronia Park UC, Baulkham Hills UC, Yurora, Independent Education Union and a multi-faith discussion at the Sikh Temple at Glenwood.
- Affordable Housing campaign aims to address the housing crisis by seeking policy changes that will increase provision of decent, secure and affordable housing, especially for the most vulnerable. Most of this effort has been through the Social Justice Forum partnership with Sydney Alliance and the call for inclusionary zoning.
- Drug reform: The 2016 Synod meeting supported two resolutions relating to drug law reform. They were to increase funding for drug treatment and harm reduction initiatives and to advocate for the decriminalisation of personal possession and use of illicit drugs. The Synod asked Uniting to lead the campaign on its behalf. A campaign leadership group was formed with three streams of activity: strategy (including social and political engagement), church engagement and alliance building.
Making Space for Grace
An important part of Synod this year was feedback to Assembly in July 2018 around the conversation about marriage equality.
Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford prefaced Assembly General Secretary Colleen Geyer’s report on the marriage conversation by setting some parameters around respectful conversation.
“This is a critically important conversation not simply for the Church, but for the world in which we witness, worship and service. If we enter this conversation with no desire to listen, but only to speak then what you have to say is better left unsaid,” explained Rev. Hansford. “This is a conversation about how we as a Church seek to be the Church and for many people this is an incredibly difficult conversation. In my congregation at Tamworth Southside we have had in the last 18 months we have had conversations about marriage and many have been fruitful, but many have been challenging. But I want to say that for many of them, listening was a gift to them.
“If my role is to be both pastoral and prophetic and that’s what you’ve invited me to be I want you to remember that our role as the Church is to be the people of God. The people of Jesus Christ.
“The people inspired by the wind of the Holy Spirit to discern how God is calling us not just to tie neat bows or to fix the problem or have three word slogans for everything, but how we as the Church bare witness to the presence of the living God in the world around us. And baring witness is about caring and listening and forgiving, encouraging, supporting and blessing, offering healing and offering hope. And that’s who we are called to be.”
The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress brought a proposal to become a presbytery which was then transferred to discernment groups. Groups will further discuss how the proposed structure would work if located within the Secretariat.
Q & A with Mr John Cleary
On Sunday evening Synod gathered for a Q&A-style panel discussion, moderated by broadcaster and former ABC journalist John Cleary.
Mr Cleary asked his panel, comprised of the Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford, Michael Anderson (Board Chair for Uniting Financial Services), Meredith Yabsley (Board Chair for Uniting Resources), Rev. Graham Perry (Deputy Chair Uniting Mission and Education), Mrs Heather Watson (Chair of Uniting), with some questions about how the Uniting Church Boards are making space for the future.
The conversation moved from how the Uniting Church is dealing with rapid change in society right down, how the Church might deal with climate change, social justice and financial responsibilities through to the responsibilities of Boards in relation the Church’s structure and viability.