Getting to know your Moderator-elect nominees

Moderator-elect nominees

Left to right: Rev Sani Vaeluaga, Rev Denise Liersch and Rev Stan Clarke

The next Moderator of the VicTas synod will be elected at the Synod 2017 meeting in September.  Synod members will choose between three moderator-elect nominees: Rev Sani Vaeluaga, Rev Denise Liersch and Rev Stan Clarke.

Find out a bit more about the three nominees with this Q&A.

sani vaeluagaREV SANI VAELUAGA

Tell us a little about your family/significant other?

I’m married to Temukisa Amituana’i-Vaeluaga, a UCA Minister currently ministering with and among the Bellarine congregations in the Greater Geelong area (Drysdale, Portarlington and St Leonards). We have five children and one grandchild. I’m the middle child out of nine children and have many adopted siblings from both my father and mother’s families.

How long have you been in the UCA?

I have been in the Uniting Church for 20 years including six-and-a-half years in Sydney in the mid ’80s. My training for the ordained ministry was through the University of Auckland and Trinity Methodist Theological College in Auckland. I was ordained in 1998 and served in the Methodist Church of Aotearoa-New Zealand for five years from 1997 to 2002 before joining the UCA, Synod of Vic/Tas in 2003.

How did you become a Christian?

I was born into a Samoan Christian family and nurtured in the faith in my childhood to mid-teens in the Methodist Church in Samoa. My mother came from a Congregational church family background and my father was from Wesleyan Methodist tradition. I left home as a teenager to continue my education in New Zealand in the mid seventies and joined the Methodist Church in NZ where I lived, studied. Later I worked as a public servant at the Electricity Department in Wellington and Social Welfare Department in Auckland, from the late ’70s to mid ’80s. Following our marriage in 1984, Temukisa and I migrated to Sydney in 1985 and joined the UCA at Narrabeen and Mona Vale in Sydney’s North Shore and later at Quakers Hill in Sydney’s North West.

What do you think differentiates the UCA from other denominations?

Here’s a church that planted and nurtures a new shoot out of three major denominations (Congregationalist, Methodist and Presbyterian) to form one church, The Uniting Church in Australia. Its name speaks of Christ’s hope and vision reflected in his prayer in John 17, for his followers to be one (diversity in unity) as He and the Father are one.

What differentiates the UCA from other denominations is:

  • its active hope to be faithful to the call of God to love God and love our neighbours.
  • its commitment to seek justice and reconciliation with the First Peoples
  • the openness and welcoming the diversity of people to join the church and serve as members or leaders.
  • its desire to be part of the community that speaks and offers deeds and words of hope for all people especially those who are suffering, the poor and marginalised, LGBTIQ, refugees and asylum seekers in Australia and the world.
  • its heart for ecumenical partnership and working together with other faiths and denominations in the mission of God for peace and justice for all people.
  • the courage to reform its life and being in terms of structures and regulations to enhance and strengthen its participation in God’s mission through, worship, witness and service in the name of Christ.

What most inspires you?

The good news and hope for all (creation) in Jesus Christ.

The faith and gifts of the First Peoples and the struggle for justice, healing and unity for their peoples and for all Australians.

The wisdom of the elderly, the strength and curiosity of the young, the power and capacity of the land, sea and sky to support life and humanity.

Capacity of the people in diaspora (migrants) to sing the lords song in a strange land that is now their home.

How would you describe your leadership style?

The biblical model of Jesus ‘the good shepherd and pastor’ is the leadership model that I seek to follow. A servant-leader, who loves and cares for the people, who is prayerful and depends on God’s power and grace to create, heal, change and renew our life as community and creation.

My leadership style is more consultative and invitational with a consensus approach which encourages people to share their views and perspectives. I have the capacity and freedom to challenge and express a point of view when the need arises as part of the discernment process.

As a leader I’m keen to inspire and empower others in ways that affirm, encourage and develop their gifts for building up the Body of Christ in worship, witness and service.

What was your most memorable holiday?

In 2012 I was part of the President’s Minister’s Conference in Alice Springs. Temukisa joined me for the weekend after the Conference. It was our first time in Alice Springs.

One of the things we wanted to do was to visit Uluru (Ayers Rock) and some of the historical sites and landmarks in Alice Springs. We said to ourselves “we won’t be going home without touching the rock at Uluru”. But that almost did not happen when we asked some of the local folks about visiting the rock and they said it takes 5-6 hours drive to get there.

Anyway, we hired a car and left about 4:30am the following morning and arrived at Uluru about 10am. What a sight! The sheer size, colour and smell of the rock were absolutely awesome, humbling and overwhelming.

We spent about six hours walking, viewing and enjoying the rock. We were fascinated by its history and the Aboriginal story of its formation and relationship to the local peoples and land.

In Alice Springs’ town centre, we noticed a vivid contrast between art galleries, the souvenir shops that mass produce and sell Aboriginal art, and the Aboriginal artist and his/her family sitting on the ground near the footpaths selling two or three paintings of their own.

We stopped and talked with one of the artists who said, we sell two or three paintings at a time and then go back home and paint another two or three to sell next time we come.

Do you have a favourite TV show?  

My favourite TV shows are The Vicar of Dibley and Home and Away!

Tell us something that might surprise people.

You might be surprised that I have experienced the following:

  • Deep-water line fishing in NZ with a retired minister and friend using a two seater kayak with a small outboard motor.
  • Participated in a three weeks outward bound course in Anakiwa, NZ in the middle of winter.
  • Arrested by police as part of a stunt for the show: You got to be joking hosted by Don Lane during my time with Grundy Entertainment & Television in Sydney.
  • Hot air ballooning over the Yarra Valley
  • I have a licence (tickets) to operate an excavator and skid steer.

denise lierschREV DENISE LIERSCH

Tell us a little about your family/significant other?

I live in an ‘extended family’ situation with my husband, daughter and father. My sister is very close as well, while my son lives in Canberra. My husband, Carl, is an engineering manager in the automotive industry. We’ve been married for over 30 years … and he is still my best friend.

How long have you been in the UCA?

I grew up Catholic. It was at university that I had ‘first contact’ with non-Catholic Christians. In 1984 I was house-sharing with a friend who was part of a young adults Christian community in a network of houses linked to a Uniting Church. My friend’s father was the minister, and through him and that Christian community, I found a new heart language of ‘the grace of God’ … and a home in the Uniting Church.

How did you become a Christian?

I have always been Christian – through my family and the faith communities I grew up in. As a young child I prayed each night and often during the day. It was a running conversation with God about people and happenings over the day, where God was in each of the significant things that went on that day. I saw God in the intricacies of nature and in the way people interacted with each other and what was going on in the world including in social, political and ethical issues. There have been turning points at various stages of my life where I’ve changed quite significantly, including at the time I joined the UCA, but I couldn’t say there was a time when I became a Christian.

What do you think differentiates the UCA from other denominations?

It was in the UCA that I first heard the language of ‘grace’ and ‘gifts’: the grace of God who loves each one of us without us needing to earn that love; this God who gifts each one of us uniquely, calling us to use those gifts for the good of the community of faith and the world. Many people would point to public theology or a passion for justice. The Uniting Church is strongly shaped by a faith that God is actively at work in the world to bring creation to fulfilment in Christ. Faith is not personal and private, nor just ‘up-in-heaven’, but involves God’s transformation and renewal of this world: “your kingdom come”.

What most inspires you?

‘Breakthroughs’ inspire me. When a person or community is bound by ideas or habits that have become limiting or destructive, it is inspiring to see a breakthrough enabling them to open up to new life-giving ways. When communities or nations are bound by fear or self-interest, it is inspiring to see the Spirit of God breaking through to bring about radical changes of heart, attitude and will. When a ‘spirit of change’ sweeps through like this, it makes me think of the biblical images of the desert blooming, water flowing from the rock and Jesus proclaiming good news for the poor and liberation of the oppressed. Damaged environments can flourish, resources shared and injustice corrected with a shift in community attitudes and political will, where the Spirit of the God of life is at work!

How would you describe your leadership style?

Collaborative and multidisciplinary are good ways of describing how I work. This goes back to my 20 years as a physiotherapist in hospitals and community-based public health. Each person in the team brings their own particular skills to work with the client, identifying together the goals that matter in their context and working towards their fullest potential. Working together brings out creativity and sparks new energy and ways of seeing things. When we pray together as a community to discern the movement of the Spirit of God, this Spirit can work in and through us to make us into the one body of Christ following Jesus.

What was your most memorable holiday?

A few years back, my husband and I met up with our daughter who had three weeks’ break between two archaeological digs in Egypt and Israel. We stayed in a local village in Egypt, in a suburb of Jerusalem, and in Jordan. I loved being amidst local life, the heat of summer, the colours of the rocks, sand, sea and sky, the beauty of the desert and wadis, the crystal water of the Red Sea and the salty Dead Sea, climbing Mt Sinai in the night and seeing the sunrise from the mountain top. Being in the ancient and modern city of Jerusalem for over a week was far too short a time. The experience of getting through checkpoints at border crossings, going through blockades guarded by mounted machine guns, and the divisions and contrasts between peoples was stark. The day we travelled home from Tel Aviv via Cairo was THE day when Egyptian President Morsi was deposed with mass riots in Cairo and the city in lockdown. Our flight was diverted and we got stuck in Amman. I pray for peace-making differently since then.

Do you have a favourite TV show?

I’m not really a TV show sort of person, but I love watching movies on TV at home curled up on the couch. Some of my favourite movies over the years have been The English Patient, Amour, Pan’s Labyrinth, Life of Pi, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Kandahar, Good Bye Lenin!, The Hundred-Foot Journey and The Intouchables. I love movies that touch into the complexities of the human heart in a world that defies simple categories … maybe with a bit of whimsy or humour added in.

Tell us something that might surprise people.

I have an eclectic taste in music. That’s not surprising in itself, but I find some are surprised at what my loves include: Arvo Pärt and The Smashing Pumpkins, Bach and The Howling Bells, Stravinsky and Placebo. I’ve seen Placebo in concert twice – once in Melbourne and once in Germany – and was really hoping to see them again for their 20 years of Placebo concert tour this year. It was a hard decision to choose between buying tickets for their only Melbourne concert or going to the opening of Synod. I haven’t bought tickets for the concert (yet).

 

stan clarkeREV STAN CLARKE

Tell us a little about your family/significant other?

My wife, Sue, is part of the Aged Care Assessment Service (ACAS). We met and married at Bible College 34 years ago where she completed a Dip Min then sundry subjects at the United Faculty of Theology. Jennifer and Paul joined the family during my placement at Murtoa-Minyip. Jennifer is now a primary school teacher in Melbourne, a children’s ministry leader at Ringwood UC, and engaged. Paul is part of the Air Force, married with three fabulous children, and lives in Brisbane. Sue subsequently qualified as a social worker, being awarded a University Medal. Significant illness ended a PhD program but she has since completed a Master’s Degree. Prior to joining the ACAS team she worked at Launceston Base Hospital and The Alfred. She is a creative worship leader, a lay preacher and has written a number of special children’s services. Her hobby is sewing clothes for the grandchildren.

How long have you been in the UCA?

I was raised in a devoted Christian family in one of the uniting churches. My father was a lay preacher for 60 years. I transitioned into the Uniting Church at Union and have been here ever since. At that time I was a member of the Kennington Church (Bendigo). Since being ordained in December 1986 I have been engaged in full-time ministry in rural Victoria, in Tasmania for 13 years, and in metropolitan Melbourne these past 13 years.

How did you become a Christian?

I haven’t known life in which church was not central. I have a clear memory of my parents kneeling beside their bed each night knowing I was a subject of those prayers. The little church at Nullawil had a strong program for discipling children through Sunday School, Christian education and after-school mission programs. But it was a camping program run by the ESA organisation that established a life of discipleship, regular study and clarity of commitment to Jesus Christ.

What do you think differentiates the UCA from other denominations?

People have asked me about the doctrinal stance of our church. They are bemused that we don’t have a document to which potential members must sign off. Instead the creeds of the church, the Basis of Union, as well as the Scriptures, together with sundry sources of wisdom enlighten us. We also inherited a rich heritage from the uniting churches. What makes the UCA such a wonderful church to be part of is the invitation to bring our questioning, learning and humanity into a fellowship in the Spirit of God. We are committed not so much to right-thinking as right-practice, giving rise to energised concern for big-picture issues of justice and environment, and practically working with those doing life tough to achieve self-empowered lives. Our church is strongly represented in community groups making our local communities better places. These are wonderful qualities to bring to the discussions and debates of our secular society. The UAICC (Congress) is essential to our learning what it means to be a truly post-colonial Australian church living in covenant with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. And we are an exciting diversity of many languages, cultures, ages and histories.

What most inspires you?

I am inspired by three things – people, faith and wilderness. People – of all ages – who courageously engage in fresh ventures of mission and service inspire me. Often it is seemingly ordinary, un-celebrated members of my churches – an older woman who befriended odd bods on the train because they were distressed; children who pooled their funds, organised a morning tea, and multiplied their starting fund manyfold and sent it off to Hope Builders in Uganda. Then there are wonderfully faithful people who keep doing what is needed to keep the church ticking, freeing other people for creative ministries. The wisdom and insight of my Facebook friends’ reflections on their lived experience regularly provides food for thought. The weekly discipline of preparing worship to share with a faith community constantly renews my spirit. Times of bushwalking in iconic wilderness areas of Tasmania, and exploring the awesome outback areas of our beautiful land, have always proved renewing for my spirit.

How would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership arises out of living among the people of God and being deeply involved in their lives. I talk of flying kites and throwing balls in the air as metaphors of testing ideas and possibilities to see which ones catch the wind of God’s Spirit, and which ideas people want to play with. Then, as a leader, I do everything in my power to encourage, resource and protect such dreamers to give those heart-bursts opportunity to flourish. Leadership often involves a deal of interpreting the church to the world, and the world to the church, in ways that create faithful connection.

What was your most memorable holiday?

Not one but two. Earlier this year we spent 11 weeks touring in Italy, France, Spain and Morocco. It was an amazing time, enjoying the scenery, being part of other cultures but also confronting the history and roots of our own faith. It helped us better understand many of our cultural assumptions. And the times I visited with Hosana Church (Dili, Timor L’Este), the partner church of the Ringwood UC, while not exactly a holiday, were fantastic times of building life-long friendships and faith partnerships across divides of history, language, culture and theology, yet celebrating being one family of God. That partnership is transforming lives in both churches.

Do you have a favourite TV show?

I indulge the cultural experience of watching the Bombers play their magnificent brand of football! Nightly news bulletins are a fixture. And I am a fan of programs like Big Bang Theory and Have You Been Paying Attention?, and programs that explore history and environment. I particularly enjoyed the recent series on the Medici family and another that utilised high tech scanning equipment to unearth secrets of ancient cities and monuments in Italy.

Tell us something that might surprise people.

I went to tech school to become a carpenter and emerged an industrial chemist. Maybe that explains my enjoyment of working with wood. I have commenced a second doll’s house for my younger granddaughter. I previously built a rather large one for her older sister. If people have seen me play golf (I haven’t played for ages) they would be surprised that my name is on the honour board of the Murtoa Golf Club as winner of the Four Ball/Best Ball Championship in 1991.

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