Rev Sharon Hollis has stepped into the role of UCA president-elect, with a passionate plea for the church community to be the conduit of God’s grace, as it has been for her in the darkest times of her life.
Ms Hollis, the moderator of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, was announced as the president-elect of the Uniting Church at last month’s 15th Assembly.
She is the third woman elected UCA National Assembly President and the first ordained woman.
In an emotional address, Ms Hollis spoke of how God, the church and her family had been her source of strength after she lost her husband in 2004.
“The Spirit of God is the one that brings us through death’s dark valley, that puts flesh on dead bones, that renews life and hope,” she said.
Ms Hollis thanked the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania “who called me to be moderator when my life was so broken, I didn’t know if I could be put back together”.
“They saw in me the movement of the spirit and they trusted that spirit would bind me up and would equip me for what lay before me,” she said.
“People had seen that life and hope – even before I could see it myself.”
This was an example of the church’s calling to be “bearers of God’s fullness of life” Ms Hollis said.
Ms Hollis read out the blessing Beloved Is Where We Begin by US devotional writer Jan Richardson. She said it contained a message she hoped to impart to the church.
“I think we are in a hard place,” she said.
“We need to find ways to see the giftedness and belovedness of each other and this blessing speaks to that and my hopes for all of us.
“To see in each other the belovedness of God and in that we will find fullness of life.”
Ms Hollis expressed special gratitude to Rev Nicole Fleming, who first suggested she be nominated for president.
“Never underestimate the power of calling out in someone else the gifts you see in them, you never know where it might lead them or you,” Ms Hollis said.
Ms Hollis thanked a number of other people, including synod Congress leaders who “had kept teaching her what it means to be in Covenant relations”.
She also thanked former Assembly president Rev Alistair Macrae, who is minister at Wesley Church Melbourne.
“I’m not going to say if I took any advice he gave me or not but we are still friends,” Ms Hollis said.
Ms Hollis gave special thanks to her “brave and loving” daughters who encouraged her to put her name forward despite knowing it would be at a cost to their family life.
“Some days in the last five years the only things that have got me out of bed are the knowledge that the God of suffering and love and life journeys with me, and the love of these two beautiful girls,” Ms Hollis said.
President Dr Deidre Palmer hugged Ms Hollis and gave a prayer of thanks for her.
Ms Hollis will begin her three-year term as president at the 16th Assembly in Queensland in 2021.