In September, 500 women from all around Australia gathered for a weekend in Sydney to “Share the Deeper Story” at the UnitingWomen conference.
Reflecting the beautiful diversity of our Church, delegates included women of all ages, many cultural backgrounds and of enormously varied life experience. Several generously shared their personal stories with us.
We heard from witty and brave Marda, a young indigenous traditional owner from Mapoon in Cape York, who is about to move to Brisbane to follow a call to ministry; inspirational Katie, who had nursed her mother through cancer, cycled through America and is now following God’s call to work in Zambia and pioneering Debora, a doctor who works with the poor in Bali, and fights for the voices of women, including her own, to be heard in her community.
Each storyteller moved us deeply with courage and willingness to follow God on their journey.
The key speaker, Nadia Bolz-Weber, founding pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver in the United States, challenged us to practise truth-telling and openness in our communities, to name the values that underpin our practices, and to ensure that barriers are not placed, even inadvertently, to the participation of all. Her church is now famous and visited by hundreds each year.
However, despite the church’s well-known, seemingly gimmicky events (Blessing of the Bicycles, Beer and Hymns…!), the point is not gimmicks or publicity. The point is making the gospel of grace available to all in the local community, underpinned by honesty, intentionality and accessibility. Perhaps it really is that simple.
We were reminded of the ongoing struggles of women in many places and communities to be heard and to have a role in decision-making.
We experienced the great joy of gathering women together, hearing their stories, sharing honestly and fearlessly, giving those voices which may not always be heard time and space to speak. It became clear that our denomination actively upholds the value of women, providing a community where women from many backgrounds find themselves supported and empowered to fully use their gifts.
Some delegates had journeyed from other denominations or from the fringe of faith, finding the UCA to be a safe place. I have never been more proud to be part of this Church.
Throughout the weekend we were surrounded by beautiful music, smiling volunteers, small gifts appearing on our seats, stunning platters and cups made by Men’s Sheds around Australia just for the event. All of these details added to the sense of being cared for and experiencing something rich and multi-textured.
It was a joyful, thought-provoking, inspiring experience.
Mary Gibbs is a member of the Hobart North Uniting Church