Community and consensus

five moderators
Often when I talk with people outside the Uniting Church about consensus decision-making, they are intrigued.

They find it hard to imagine a group of people who meet to look for common ground, who are willing to listen to each other and consider how they might hear God in each other.

If they know anything about consensus, it’s the cards – ‘Oh that’s where you wave the coloured cards about.’ I have to explain that the cards are only the small, visible tip of the consensus iceberg.

It is what’s below the tip of the iceberg of consensus that I really value and makes me look forward to and enjoy a range of church meetings, including Synod.

Consensus decision-making begins a long time before the actual meeting. It begins with an openness to the purpose of the meeting and to where the Spirit might be leading. Consensus is grounded in a prayerful approach to the meeting, whether it’s a meeting of church council, presbytery, Synod or Assembly.

A posture of prayerful attention, that begins well before the actual meeting, opens us to God and God’s voice in ourselves, in others, in the conversation and the deciding.

I know many of you prayed for the Synod meeting both before it started and throughout the time we were meeting. Those of us who gathered felt sustained by your prayer. I’m sure many of you also do the same for your church council, your congregational committee, the presbytery and assembly. In this way, we all play a part in discernment, through prayer.

Consensus is about seeking to discern the way of God through responsible governance. Worship, Bible study and community building are important for the consensus journey.

At this most recent Synod meeting we were blessed by four diverse Bible studies that led us to a deeper understanding of the Synod vision. They opened scripture and showed us new horizons of God’s calling.

Bible study is an important component of consensus because it reminds us that it is not our voice, our way, our bright idea that we listen for first. Before we decide, we listen for the living Word in Scripture.

Our Synod theological reflector Margaret Campbell grounded us in the big story of God’s nature as divine community and how we might know this God in the world and in our work as a Synod meeting.

She reminded us that God walks with us, that God seeks us, that God was working through us.

Most church councils won’t have a dedicated theological reflector, but any council can take time to ask ‘Where do we see God at work?’ ‘When did you last have an encounter with God?’ ‘What does your faith mean to you and how does it shape how you think about the work of church council (or whatever meeting you are at)?’

Synod community was built around tables, in working groups and over meals. It was built through our hard work together. Consensus is supported when we are willing to share something of ourselves and our faith with those we meet with and decide with.

This doesn’t mean that decisions are always easy, or that we all fully agree with the decision made or with each other. What consensus does mean is that we have listened carefully to each other and trusted that each person is open to God and longing to be part of helping decide the best way forward in whatever is being discussed.

Consensus means that when we have been heard by others and they still wish to proceed in a way we don’t agree with, we allow them to do so, trusting that God’s Spirit is with us. It means that even when we are in the majority we listen openly to those who have a minority voice, testing if we can hear the call of God in this voice.

Consensus isn’t perfect. Sometimes it is hard work. Sometimes it is frustrating. But it is worthwhile. By seeking to listen to each other and, most importantly, to listen for the leading of the Spirit, we are enabled to serve God’s mission in the world.

On a side note, one of the unexpected blessings of this Synod was being able to do a photo with three female moderators of Victoria and/or Tasmania synod, plus the new moderator-elect. I feel honoured to be numbered among these amazing women that God has called to leadership within our church.

Sharon Hollis


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