Towards the beginning of the five-day Synod meeting we were invited to consider our hopes for the meeting and the Church. I had many, many hopes and this was probably partly as I was rather daunted by the whole ‘Synod thing’.
I was concerned that things discussed might feel irrelevant; that it would be too ‘business-focussed’.
Synod wasn’t perfect, but it actually exceeded my expectations. Consensus voting is amazing – more than 300 delegates in one room, each given equal opportunity to have their say and their point of view acknowledged. It was ‘people power’ at its finest.
While the moderator, general secretary and a chaplain graced the stage to conduct the business, all the proposals, opinions, discussion and resolutions came from the people. It was an environment I felt proud to be part of – even if I held my blue card up at times to a sea of orange cards.
Some issues were easy and unanimous; some issues showed more diverse views among the Synod.
Property was a key theme throughout – this was to be expected following the recent property divestment process. Emotions ran strong with this topic and for some this was due to a sense of betrayal by the Church – through the felt absence of consultation before announcing which properties were up for sale.
For others it was clear that a sense of ‘us and them’ mentality had developed.
Through morning bible study Rev Dr Sunny Chen talked to the idea of ‘temple worship’. We as a church are so obsessed with our temples; our houses for God.
But as we see from the countless encounters with God from the scriptures: in the wilderness, the garden, on the road or the mountaintop – God has moved on.
We were invited to think about where God was moving to and how we are to contribute to the future of the Church.
Not the future that we can see – the future that we leave as a legacy for those who come after us.
There was an acknowledgement from the delegates that times were changing. That the Church looks different to what it did at and before union. Further to this, that it needs to look different to how it looks now. No great detail of discussion was formally given to this, although in my own working group of a dozen or so people it was clear that many congregations shared the same considerations around Church – that attendance and money are decreasing and property costs are increasing.
The number of ministers who retired in the 18 months preceding Synod was nine times the rate of ministers who were ordained.
It seemed to me the strongest expressions of God and the living out of the Gospel were taking place outside of church buildings. In the stories from agencies like UnitingCare and Uniting AgeWell; in the stories of those who chaplain in schools, universities and the army.
There was hope and joy expressed in the opening of Pilgrim Theological College and there was joy expressed in acknowledging the increasing diversity in the Church and the hope for this to grow in the future. God is certainly moving.
There were many good news stories at Synod.
Like many of the delegates, I hope and pray that, despite our differences of opinion, we remain a uniting, pilgrim people living together for the making of God’s kingdom. As it reads in the Basis of Union: “The Uniting Church prays that, through the gift of the Spirit, God will constantly correct that which is erroneous in its life, will bring it into deeper unity with other Churches, and will use its worship, witness and service to God’s eternal glory through Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.”
Michelle Jackson is a member of Mountview Uniting Church.