With more than 300 women from across Australia in attendance, UnitingWomen 2018 was an opportunity to weave stories of wisdom and wonder.
From the opening words of welcome to the closing communion service, the theme of sharing stories about the interweaving of faith and life ran through the third UnitingWomen conference in Brisbane at the end of September.
In tune with the spectacular Saturday night Riverfire fireworks marking the end of the Brisbane Festival, there was plenty of excitement and inspiration.
Over the four days of structured and casual conversations, keynote speakers, workshops and forums, more than 350 women of all ages and ethnicities shared their wisdom and formed new connections at the Somerville House Girls School venue.
The event, hosted by the Queensland Synod and supported by Somerville House, opened with a Welcome to Country and an address from Di Farmer, Queensland Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence.
After the initial formalities, UCA President-elect Rev Sharon Hollis took to the stage.
Sharon summarised UnitingWomen as letting women see the humanity in each other “in our vulnerability, our strength, our laughter, our tears and our joy” and the image of God in that humanity.
“And if we encounter each other like that we will weave such a tapestry of faith, such a tapestry of wisdom, such a tapestry of wonder that we will enrich each other, and we will enrich the lives of the Uniting Church,” Sharon said.
On the second day keynote speakers Olympian Eloise Wellings and artist Lyn Diefenbach inspired listeners with their stories of faith in times of adversity.
Lyn spoke of the devastation caused by the tragic death of her granddaughter. While she spoke, she created an artwork on stage, underlining the link between art and spirituality.
Lyn invited her listeners to explore the joyful and painful memories which make up our lives and recognise that God can weave our brokenness into wholeness.
“God is good. God comes alongside of us in our hurts and he carries us on the wings of the prayers of others, their presence, their actions, so we can become stretcher bearers for others who have walked a similar path,” she said.
“We can pick up the broken because we have been broken ourselves.”
The first of two panel sessions on Saturday highlighted how UnitingWorld was making a difference in the Pacific region through programs like Partnering Women for Change.
This initiative raised awareness of domestic violence within the predominantly Christian Pacific culture, responding to alarming statistics which indicated that 68 per cent of women and girls experienced violence in their homes and community.
The second panel focused on women in leadership, with senior Uniting Church figures taking the stage for a session moderated by Queensland Synod general secretary, Rev Heather den Houting.
Sharon, who was one of the panellists, said the church in Australia must come to terms with the fact that it was no longer the centre of the universe.
“I say that’s fantastic, because we can be true to our call which is to be salt and light and mustard seed and yeast, all of those fabulous images of God taking the small things and doing something with them,” she said.
Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer delivered the sermon at the closing service, focusing on two key women in the Bible – Joanna and Mary Magdalene.
“These wise wonderful women in the scriptures are our sisters of faith,” she said.
“Our lives are woven together with theirs, as we hear again the good news declared in the Gospel.”
In her parting message, Deidre encouraged women to find their voices to share the story of Christ and the wisdom of God.