Assembly President, Stuart McMillan and General Secretary Rev Colleen Geyer, were two of nearly 300 people in attendance at Synod 2016 at the Box Hill Town Hall last month. Crosslight spoke to them on the last day of the meeting:
Crosslight: How have you found your first VicTas Synod meeting?
Colleen: Interesting is the word, because not only do I get to meet a lot of people, but I get to hear what the issues are at Synod. That has been really beneficial across the three Synods I’ve attended this year. To see the big things across the synods gives you a big picture when you’re in the national position and you’re talking to people across the Church.
Stuart: Just continuing on from what Colleen has been talking about, the things that have been good here have been those moments when Pádraig [Ó Tuama] has done a theological reflection and blessed us with a poem, and taken us somewhere else. There have been times when we’ve gathered together in a different way, and our motivations have been touched in a way that allows us to let that emotion out.
Colleen: I was talking to someone yesterday about how ‘those moments’ had kind of ‘grabbed’ the Synod. Theological reflection is a creative space – even the worship on Friday night – they’ve wrapped the other serious considerations with respect, and that’s been very helpful.
Crosslight: Stuart you’ve sat at the top table, so you understand what it’s like. I’m a bit in awe of the moderator, and the general secretary, managing the meeting. You’ve got to be there in body, soul and mind for the whole of the time, for 12 hrs a day. What’s your reflection on that demand on a person?
Stuart: As I was reflecting with Colleen this morning, the role is to try and sense the gathering’s coming together and to help them to come to consensus. The tricky thing is when you’re discussing proposals like we were last night (Major Strategic Review), to know when to say to people ‘look, we’ve got consensus’ or whether we need to tweak it, or what might help us to move to a common place where we can move forward. I was really feeling for Sharon [Hollis] last night, because I think it’s a difficult judgement to make.
Ultimately the moderator had to make a call to go to formal voting. What would achieve a consensus by agreement or a resolution by agreement? – that’s a difficult space to be in as a moderator, or as a president, to fall back to formal procedures feels like failure. It’s not.
Crosslight: It’s quite fascinating when the moderator then has to go to the book and follow it very closely, because clearly the words are important. Do you think that we have a greater emphasis on words in the Uniting Church?
Colleen: Oh I think meetings bring words together; how we get the stories is through words. I like here that the moderator has also held us in silence a few times. That allows us to reflect on the words and to think about what they might mean to us or to our situations. So even that has been used really effectively, but yes we all have a lot of words.
Crosslight: Colleen, when you were appointed general secretary – you knew who the president was going to be before you were appointed –as an observer, it seems almost like a marriage. How do you both work with the ebbs and flows of what needs to be discussed, who says what?
Colleen: One of the blessings is that we’ve both been new, so we don’t have any understanding of how it might have worked before, really. For me the significance of having a journeying companion in a leadership role at the Assembly is absolutely key. We have different responsibilities and different things we need to take notice of, and we have conversations about, ‘this is yours to decide’. But to have another person to discuss the important things is so valuable. It really does make things bearable and easier.
Stuart: Valuing and respecting one another, and affirming one another’s giftedness and, as Colleen was saying, respecting those areas of responsibility that fall within the role of the general secretary or fall within the role of the president – and continuing to communicate about that. You referred to it like a marriage. Communication can be the biggest problem or the biggest attribute in any relationship, so what we’ve worked at is communicating with one another so that there are no surprises.
Crosslight: One last question for the president. Stuart, do you have any particular words you’d like to give to the Vic/Tas Synod?
Stuart: Some words from the Basis of Union – “Christ rules and renews the Church”. So let’s not be concerned about the rule of individuals, because our church is being renewed and it’s being renewed by Christ through the Holy Spirit. And it’s Christ that rules. Sometimes I think we get preoccupied with the power of individuals. The heart of much of what is being spoken about at this Synod is about reconciliation and renewal. If we focus on reconciliation and renewal, and not upon whether ‘this happens this way’ or ‘this happens that way’ we’ll be at the heart of the gospel.