By Nigel Tapp
It may have been a dreary, cold and wet night in Melbourne, but that did not deter the faithful from gathering to warmly embrace the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania’s new Moderator, Rev Sharon Hollis, at her installation on Friday (3 June).
The service was held at the Wesley Church, Lonsdale St, Melbourne before about 450 people, many of whom will attend the five-day Synod meeting beginning on Saturday morning and continuing until Wednesday 8 June.
Held every 18 months, Synod members meet to worship, enjoy fellowship, receive reports and make decisions regarding the general oversight, direction and administration of the Church’s worship, witness and service.
Two Wurundjeri men representing the traditional owners of the land on which the service was held led the procession of past Moderators – as well as the President of the Uniting Church, Stuart MacMillan, the General Secretary, Rev Dr Mark Lawrence, and representatives from other churches behind. The soon to be installed Moderator and her predecessor Mr Dan Wootton finished the procession as the organ and band led the congregation in a stirring hymn, Come, O God of all the earth.
The service paid recognition to the First Peoples with the Victorian director of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Rev Ken Sumner speaking about “the importance of really recognising” the First Peoples as part of the Acknowledgement to Country, rather than just mouthing the words.
Culturally and Linguistically diverse (CALD) communities within the Synod were also represented in the service with a Bible reading in Indonesian and prayers of the people led in Tongan as well as English. Bibles from different language groups within the Uniting Church family were also presented.
In her sermon, Ms Hollis encouraged attendees to allow themselves to be living letters of recommendation to the power of God to change lives.
“When God writes in our hearts we are called to be in the world bearing witness to all that God has done in the world,’’ she said.
“When God writes in our hearts God gives us all that we need to be God’s living letters.’’
Ms Hollis spoke of the living letters that breathed into her life when she felt her “most weak and foolish and broken”.
“Through the witness of the church I was reminded to trust not in my own competency but in Christ’s capacity to equip and heal.”
She referred to the unnamed Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-42) as an example of a person who became a letter of recommendation.
The Moderator said the woman simply went to the well to draw water but was, instead, drawn into an encounter with Jesus.
“Through this encounter her heart is written with the story of living water, enfleshed before in Jesus of Nazareth, and her life is changed,’’ Ms Hollis said.
“She becomes a living letter ready to bear witness to Jesus. She trusts that the change in her heart resulting from her encounter with Jesus has brought in her new life and hope and she is compelled to go and to bear witness to what has been written on her heart.
“That which was written on her heart as she talked with Jesus now becomes a public document, she becomes a letter bearing witness to her friends and neighbours.’’
The Moderator said it was important to notice how the woman bore witness. She told her village what had happened and what it meant to her and invited them to come and to see for themselves.
“She does not compel them to come, she does not threaten them with dire consequences if they do not come, she does not require them to have the exact same experience as she has had.
“She simply tells them of all that has happened to her, overflowing with the joy of her encounter with the living water and invites them to a similar encounter.’’
Ms Hollis asked what would happen to the life of the Church if we trusted, that when we are washed in the living waters, God makes each of us becomes a living letter “a bearer of the gospel, a witness of grace, a letter that recommends not ourselves but Christ and all that is accomplished in his living, dying and rising.’’
“How might it be if our worship was shaped to nurture encounters with the living God and equip us to be witnesses in the world?
“What might our discipleship formation look like if we sought to form people to be living letters, listening to each other’s story of faith and empowering each other to share that story with the people we live and work amongst?’’
Video from the installation service is now live