There were a lot of elephants at Synod 2016 but thankfully the stately main meeting room at Box Hill Town Hall was large enough to accommodate them, as well as the 300 people attending in some style and comfort.
Sessions in the main hall were largely dominated by Synod’s consideration of the Major Strategic Review and its associated proposals.
During discussion a number of speakers from the floor identified various “elephants in the room”; issues they said the MSR was not fully addressing. These included the state of church finances, placement insecurity and Church culture.
This theme was so evident that poet in residence Pádraig Ó Tuama was moved to compose a piece about an elephant and during the last day’s one-minute speeches on any topic a member kindly volunteered to give the whole herd of packed-in pachyderms a good home to go to.
Mr Ó Tuama’s nightly theological reflections, generally accompanied by two or three poems composed from his observations of the day, were a highlight of the Synod.
He often left the audience in a hushed moment of communal contemplation.
Such quiet was unusual in the five days at Box Hill. The meeting days (and evenings) were filled with reports and proposals accompanied by discussion either on the general floor or in working groups, ballots for Synod Standing Committee, tributes, videos and other presentations plus a bit of socialising over cups of tea and biscuits.
A feature of this year’s Synod was that every speaker introduced themselves at the microphone by naming the Indigenous custodians of the land they live on.
Each morning opened with devotions and general housekeeping.
Rev Dr Sally Douglas then led the well-received daily Bible studies that explored the imaging and celebration of Jesus as the female divine – Woman Wisdom.
Away from the main hall the breadth and depth of the Church’s life and activities were on display with various units and agencies exhibiting tables of information.
During some breaks Synod members were invited to take part in demonstrations.
Uniting AgeWell’s virtual reality glasses transported wearers to prehistoric times or deep sea diving. For those who wanted something a little more tactile there were masseurs on hand to relieve tired shoulders.
Books and other initiatives were launched during lunchtimes and the knitting needles relentlessly clicked and clacked to produce winter warmer items such as scarves, mittens and jumpers, which were collated for donation at Synod’s end.
Synod did not always stop with the last main hall session.
Sunday night’s ‘Letters from Elsewhere’ proved a hit, as four storytellers related how letters and music had shaped their understanding of faith and the world.
On the last day a memorable tribute was paid to the retiring Synod Business Committee chair Geoffrey Grinton, whose deep voice and grey-bearded authority had calmly and methodically pointed and prodded Synod through its agenda.
Rev Sue Withers noted that like a certain British secret agent, Grinton, Geoffrey Grinton’s name had achieved a uniquely recognisable quality during his 30 years of administrative service to Synod.
Tributes, most reports and the bulk of proposals concluded with a forest of orange cards being held aloft, showing the members were warm to what had been presented and the meeting was adopting them by consensus.
There were, however, some proposals that needed greater discussion, chiefly the MSR and associated proposals such as the amalgamation of UnitingCare agencies under one board.
Another proposal that attracted considerable discussion was on the future of Synod meetings and some proposed changes.
MSR discussions were conducted each day with working groups considering proposals and a facilitation team providing feedback and suggesting to rework some proposals.
It wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that moderator Sharon Hollis was finally able to declare there was consensus on the last of the MSR proposals, to some quiet cheers from among the tables half buried under the paperwork, mugs, devices and other essentials of Synod deliberation.
Final thanks for Synod were delivered amid an atmosphere of some relief and satisfaction.
The concluding worship began and members stood at their tables with the hymn singing reverberating loud and proud around the grand main hall.
Poem by Pádraig Ó Tuama
Augustine of Hippo said:
Hope has two lovely daughters. Anger and courage. Anger at the way things are and courage to make a change.
So here is a poem thinking about some other friends that we have:
Among us today
and every day
are some friends
death and the future.
And death is a friend
when death is the friend
but death’s there whether
we’re ready or care.
and the future
is there already.
Among us now.
in the moment of courage
in the moment of truth.
in the wrinkles of ageing
and the smoothness of youth
Among us now
in the moment of risk
in the moment of pain
the future’s among us
hidden and plain.
Some friends to guide us
in death and in life
some friends to mind us
in trouble and strife
Some friends to help us
lay down our arms
Some friends to help us
Continue with calm.