As the voices in the public square become more strident, our media reflects growing hate and intolerance and our parliamentary Question Time is polarising and self-serving. It was therefore a welcome change to be immersed for five days in a consensus model system.
More than 300 members, numerous Uniting Church staff and volunteers converged on La Trobe University’s Union Hall for more than 45 hours over the course of five days and nights late last month to participate in the consensus-driven process of the 2014 Synod.
This system does not stop people making difficult, angry or painful statements. However, it certainly will not tolerate personal attacks nor does it welcome clapping individual speeches from the floor, booing, diatribes or venting of spleens.
As one member suggested the Uniting our future process was ‘emotional and psychological abuse’ another gently reminded members that trying to apportion blame was not helpful. Another talked of broken trust which would take years to restore, whilst another spoke of the beginning of healing. Each was heard in equal measure.
The card system utilised by the Synod means that a blue (cool to the idea/statement/proposal) card in a sea of orange (warm, supportive) will be heard. And the holder of that blue card will not be steam rolled into a consensus decision. Over the course of the Synod, the moderator went to formal procedures at least once, and recorded an agreement on several occasions.
The Synod experience is an immersion. Business extended into the night (9.30pm) on three of the five meeting days, and opened with an evening service. It is as though participants enter a Church bubble for those days, and the rest of the world was shut out. Even the focus of most of the discussion was inward looking, as members reflected on grief relating to property loss; concerns and hope for the future of the Church; the relationship with ACCESS ministries and financial and insurance issues.
A letter to Crosslight this month reminds the Church that it still has the ability to influence society. Political journalists speaking at the ARPA conference suggested the same.
As the whole of Church navigates the turbulent future and engages in the MSR, are we asking ourselves how the Church might participate in God’s mission in the world? Would our responses change the nature and content of our Synod meetings?
By Penny Mulvey