Four Synod inspirations

david withers

I was inspired by the recent Synod meeting at Box Hill Town Hall – all five days of it!

By the end, I was tired. Very tired! But I felt honoured to have been part of it all.

Here are four particularly inspiring themes that came to mind:

I was inspired by the rich diversity of leadership. Leadership came from young people as well as the more ‘seasoned’ campaigners. Leadership was also offered by a rich diversity of cultures. We are blessed as a Church by such diversity. As the Synod unfolded, opportunity was given for new and emerging leaders to bring their gifts and graces to bear, and we were all blessed as a result. I was particularly inspired by the leadership of younger members of Synod. Their ability to articulate clearly and speak with confidence, and their willingness to be vulnerable in sharing heartfelt stories of faith impressed me. They have so much to teach us oldies. God has gifted them to lead. We were also blessed by the leadership of our moderator Sharon Hollis and our general secretary Mark Lawrence. Together they helped move us through the complexity of questions. They kept a clear and resolute focus on process while never forgetting the importance of discerning the Spirit’s movement among us. With deep compassion and respect, they ensured we addressed and honoured the diversity of views in the room.

Together, we were living the Statements of Intent, particularly to ‘grow leadership capacity’ and ‘act together across cultures and generations’.

I was inspired about difficult discussions conducted with respect and openness. The Synod engaged with some challenging themes, but the spirit of respectful listening and openness to hear divergent opinions was evident.

Some key discussions involved breaking up into working groups that allowed everyone to have a say and to listen to others. There were proposals on: family violence, youth justice, medically supervised injecting centres, assisted dying/suicide legislation. All these issues were raised on the floor of Synod and were considered respectfully and compassionately. Consensus decision-making processes, so ably managed by our moderator, allow the minority voice to be heard and the Synod to be challenged as a community of spiritual discernment. I was inspired that we were seeking to live out the mission principles: nurturing a life-giving community of reconciliation, respond in compassion to human need, and listening to each generation and culture.

I was inspired by the Synod’s focus on our Vision. The Synod’s theme ‘Following Christ …’ was embraced in so many ways: not as an imposition, but as a focus to our reflections. The Synod seemed to be mindful that its briefly worded theme pointed to the fuller Vision statement (notice the three dots after Follow Christ in the logo) and beyond that to the other strategic framework components. Daily opening worship and Bible studies systematically focused upon various parts of the Vision. Time and again speakers referred to the Synod’s Vision, the Mission Principles, and the Statements of Intent.

A clear favourite Statement was ‘Be lighter and simpler’. We were constantly reminded what matters. In pointing to these things, the Synod was reminded of its central task – to be a discerning council of the Church that seeks ‘to wait upon God’s Word and to obey God’s will in the matters allocated to its oversight’ (Basis of Union, para 15).

As Allan Thompson remarked in his address at the Tribute Service: “Keeping a future focus is vital. Nostalgia should have no part among a pilgrim people. Our task is to discern the renewal to which God is calling us… and to participate in that renewal”.

I was inspired! That’s a Church I’m excited to be part of.

I was also inspired by a sense of deepening and respectful partnerships between various parts of the church. Whether in table groups, working groups, shared conversation or whole-of-Synod debates, respectful partnerships were being nurtured between congregation, presbytery, synod, institutions, faith communities, and more. I felt a growing trust emerging from the truth that we are following Christ together. We heard of the struggles faced by rural presbyteries in some key debates. With far richer property resources in urban centres, these struggles also challenge our understanding of how we share our resources. I believe these concerns were respectfully considered and entrusted to various bodies. We entrusted our discussions on sovereignty and marriage to the Assembly, including our hopes and concerns for these matters. There is no doubt that our relationships across the Church can be strengthened. Nonetheless, I was inspired by the growing spirit of trust that might release our people to go forward with renewed confidence.

This is confidence that is critically underpinned by our trust in the Christ who calls us to follow. The Synod was living out the mission principle to pursue God’s mission in partnership and the Statement of Intent that seeks to deepen partnerships and trust.

As way of sensing the spirit of the Synod meeting, I would encourage you to watch the vox pops videos on the Synod website (www.synod.org.au/2017).

I conclude with a thought shared by the moderator-elect Rev Denise Liersch in her acceptance address to the Synod. She said: “I love the Synod’s Vision statement as it is not so much about strategic growth as an approach to life where we are always following Jesus. It is about being attentive and responsive to God, the one we are following, and attentive and responsive to those we were walking with”.

I was inspired that this past Synod meeting had attempted faithfully to do just that – ‘Following Christ …’.

God’s blessing be with you and your gathered community as you seek to do the same.

David Withers

Strategic Framework Minister

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