Synod 2021, the first online meeting in Synod’s history, kicked off at 1.45pm with a welcome from Moderator Denise Liersch, acknowledging our First Peoples.
“We are many peoples from many lands, gathering together in this meeting from many places, on the lands of many First Peoples,” she said.
“To acknowledge country, is to speak words of respect; it is to acknowledge the graciousness and generosity of Sovereign First Peoples who welcome us to their land, and of the deep gift we receive in being welcomed in this way.”
The first report to be tabled was from the Synod Business Committee. It was delivered by chairperson Rev Sue Clarkson and outlined, among other things, why significant changes were needed to the planned Synod 2021 meeting.
After a short break, Rev Liersch delivered her address, which spoke of the disruption caused by COVID-19 and the many and varied effects it has had on us all. But, as always, Denise found reason for hope.
“One of the characteristic features of Christian faith, is that it is not bound to a particular point in time, not bound to a particular set of circumstances of history, not bound to a particular cultural expression,” she said.
“Christian faith is a way of life, a way of being, that finds its way in adapting to whatever circumstances prevail – living within the unlimited possibilities of life in God. Christian faith has adapted and changed over the centuries, and finds expression in an amazing variety of cultures, times and places.
“This last year has been a time of disruption. It could have stopped us in our tracks, but did it? The pandemic, and restrictions, and the ripple effects of all of this, have not affected us all in the same way. It depends on our circumstances, our context.
“In our bible studies, Rev Dr Kylie Crabbe opens us up to seeing how this creates a “window of opportunity” in this moment. By disrupting our old patterns, we have the opportunity to see things differently, to become more aware of our assumptions, to explore what it is that really matters as Christians, what sort of communities we want to be, what sort of communities Christ might be calling us to be.
“This has been a period where we have come face-to-face with ourselves, our faith and our God.
Might we come to welcome disruption to our expectations and assumptions of how things work, of where, and how, and with whom, and in whom: God might bring new possibilities for life. For it is the Spirit of God who rises amongst us.
“May we have eyes to see and ears to hear, the gospel of life in Christ.”
Following afternoon tea, the three Moderator-elect nominees – David Fotheringham, Rachel Kronberger and Cameron McAdam – introduced themselves ahead of tomorrow’s vote. There was a brief Q&A and a short video of each candidate was played.
One of the questions each candidate was asked was: “What do you think the UC in this Synod will need from its Moderator in the next five years?”
Rachel replied: “To hold the Church in faith, lead us in hope, remind us of joy and encourage us in grace”. “There will be changes in our Synod in the next five years to which we will need to adapt,” she said. “In 2020, we found ourselves more adaptable to change than we could have ever imagined. We know now that we can adapt to change when we are held in faith, led in hope, reminded of joy and encouraged in grace. The Moderator’s steadfastness can nourish our capacity to adapt to change.”
David said the next five years “will involve a certain amount of reorienting post-pandemic”. “The Moderator will need to bring confidence in the Gospel – the confidence that the God we proclaim has entered our world in Christ, knows our suffering and joy and charts a way of grace; and who by the Spirit moves and inspires us for the sake of the world God loves,” he said.
“The Moderator will need to offer calm and clear leadership as we navigate where God leads … so we can engage with our communities to the best of our calling.”
Cameron said it would be an “understatement” to say the Church was in a time of significant change. “We are a church that is under a lot of pressure at present – we have some very significant challenges,” he said.
“Our Synod will need a leadership that is able to navigate this increasingly complex space, to work through the challenges we face, and a Moderator that can be pastorally present to the Church to build relationships and connections and share with people in some of the more difficult pastoral moments.”
The ballot to elect the next Moderator will be held at 10.35am tomorrow.
The Synod Standing Committee’s 34-page report was introduced by General Secretary Mark Lawrence. It covered all relevant financial matters, including the forecasted 2020 Budget deficit of $2.97m. However, it noted that fell within the financial parameters as set by the Standing Committee in June 2019 which specified a 2020 Budget deficit of no greater than $3.01m.
The report also noted a reduction in the annual grant payment to the National Assembly from $1.025m to $700k from July 1, 2020 (total of $863k included in 2020 Budget).
This prompted a question from Rev Dr Craig Thompson, who asked: “How has the Standing Committee weighed up the needs of the Synod against those of the Assembly in making a 30 per cent cut to Assembly funding – a cut it could not make to Synod’s own funding?”
Mark replied: “As we are addressing financial sustainability challenges in the life of the Synod (parts of the church) will undergo cuts. They will be cuts at different times, but the Synod is addressing its financial sustainability.
“The reason the Assembly reduction was the size that it is was to give certainty to planning for both the Synod and Asembly. The Assembly General Secretary was informed of the reduction in ample time for Assembly planning and our intention is to not to reduce our contribution any more in the forseeable future.
“The Synod Standing Committee has resolved to move into a balanced budget by the 2023 (Synod) Budget. We are looking at a range of cost reductions across the board to achieve that as well as looking at revenue streams that will assist the Church to continue in its ministry and mission and hopefully increase that.”
The Justice & International Mission Cluster introduced four proposals from Rev Graeme Harrison. The four proposals were in regard to:
- Online gambling advertising reform
- Protecting people on temporary visas from family violence
- Climate justice action
- Online safety and curbing online child sexual exploitation.
Senior social justice advocate Dr Mark Zirnzak spoke to each proposal.
Attendees were then divided into working groups to discuss two of the JIM proposals: Climate justice action and protecting people on temporary visas from family violence.
The evening session was devoted to Synod Worship, which was pre-recorded at Glen Waverley UC and conducted by Rev Liersch. It was a culturally diverse service that featured songs sung in English, Samoan, Tongan and Dinka, and prayers and Bible readings spoken in Mandarin and Bahasa (Indonesia). It concluded with a song sung by members of Horsham UC.
Assembly Standing Committee gave special permission for the Worship Service not to be the official opening of Synod 2021.