By the time you read this column I’ll probably have already installed Dan Wootton as moderator. It’s been an incredible gift to have been moderator for the last three years and eight months. I have learnt so much about God, the Church and myself.
I have discovered time and again how generous, patient and loving God is. Often something I have prepared was appropriate for a situation that I couldn’t have anticipated. The only explanation is the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
I have discovered time and again how generous and patient are most people in our congregations, and how much you care for your communities. I wish that you could find ways to let others know that the reason you are involved is because you are responding to God’s love.
Thanks for all your encouragement and prayers, and for your hospitality as I have joined you in worship or at special events. Thanks too for tough questions, suggestions of how we could do things differently and emails and letters. They’ve all been read and considered, even if I haven’t managed to respond to them all.
It’s a tough time to be a Christian community. We have to negotiate how to speak about and live out our faith amid people who do not see belief in God as necessary or reasonable. The culture of individualism affects us all whether we are alert to it or not. Unacceptable behaviour by a tiny minority in the church has damaged not only the lives of those they abused but also the perceptions and trust of the wider community. There’s a long and difficult task of rebuilding ahead of us.
The Synod’s priorities of discipleship, leadership, partnership and risk taking remain appropriate and challenging. If we are to continue to be salt and light in the community we will have to decide that our faith matters, that we will give priority to prayer and worship and to developing communities where we can share our questions and struggles. Does your faith community provide small groups and places where faith can be explored and nurtured?
I am concerned that often we aren’t passionate about deepening our relationship with God, and we don’t ensure younger people and those just beginning to attend are supported and encouraged to develop a personal relationship with God. Our discipleship must impact our whole life, and so questions of social justice, economic sustainability and peacemaking are central. I’ve had direct contact with a quarter of the congregations, many of our agencies, and all of our schools.
Our cultural diversity is a gift and enriches us. I’ve represented the Uniting Church at occasions acknowledging natural disasters, civic events, significant events in other churches and in partnerships supporting improved conditions for workers and political freedoms.
I’ve preached on many anniversaries as people return to places of significance to them, dedicated several new church buildings, as well as preaching as buildings were closed. I remain concerned that we put far too much emphasis on buildings and spend too much energy and money on maintenance. Perhaps one of the discoveries we may make as we need to sell property to pay debts is that we do not depend on bricks and mortar to be God’s people.
As I said at my Installation, as we live God’s transforming story may we be people of love, joy, compassion, integrity and hope.
Grace and peace be with you.
Isabel Thomas Dobson
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