Rev David Fotheringham was today elected as the Synod’s next Moderator.
After three ballots – a technical glitch rendered the first ballot null and void – David’s appointment was eventually announced at 4.20pm on Day Two of Synod 2021.
David, who is Minister at High St UC, Frankston, said he was “overwhelmed, humbled and grateful for this expression of confidence from the Church”.
“This is a great Church and I am very thankful to God for all we are able to do together,” he said.
“I have shared a significant journey over the past few months with two colleagues (Rachel Kronberger and Cameron McAdam) whom I value and respect very much.
“We are coming out of COVID with some challenges ahead and a whole lot of challenges that are being met in this Synod very well, with good use of technology and working groups.
“Moderator, thank you for leading us well.
“By the grace of God this is a wonderful church and I am honoured to serve.”
David will take up the position of Moderator at the next Synod meeting, in 2022.
Earlier, Day Two kicked off with a brief Bible Study before General Secretary Mark Lawrence presented his report.
“The Synod members can be very proud for the wonderful service to the Church that has been provided by Synod staff in this most challenging and unusual period,” he said.
“Synod Units are resourcing the Here For Good Project to address the Synod’s financial and resourcing sustainability to provide for future ministry and mission – in whichever way this may be expressed.
“Synod staff are also working with presbyteries and institutions to address these challenges and opportunities.
“I continue to experience the call of being General Secretary as enriching and engaging. I feel honoured to be trusted to serve in this role.”
Following Mark’s report, Ken Tabart asked him what he considered to be Synod’s three most important challenges in the next five years, to which Mark replied: “There are practical operational challenges and we all know what those are with regard to financial sustainability.
“But our challenges now are the same for the Church throughout the ages: how do we remain faithful, how do we seek to be thoughtful in the community of which we are a part.
“Ken’s question is a really big one and one we need to keep asking ourselves.”
Mission Resourcing Unit Executive Officer Sam Nicholas tabled the Annual Financial Report for the year ending December 2019.
“The overall net asset position of the Synod increased from approximately $275m to $332m,” the Report said. “Most of the Synod’s assets are held in investments in U Ethical Enhanced Cash Portfolio, U Ethical Growth Portfolio and U Ethical Australian Equities Portfolio.
“Investments have increased primarily due to a boost in financial markets towards the end of 2019, which is reflected by higher investment values.”
After morning tea, there was a minute of appreciation for Ministry & Mission chairperson Rev Graeme Harrison.
In response, Graeme said he was “overwhelmed” by the gesture. “The minute of appreciation is not just for me, it’s that I’m in amongst a wonderful group of faithful (Ministry & Mission) people,” he said.
The afternoon session saw an opportunity for members to address several major reports, which were, in order:
Ministry & Mission. Its report said major initiatives such as Money for Mission and Here for Good had emerged to enable continued resourcing for mission.The committee was also looking into the Synod’s response to climate change and it had also formed a taskforce to look at what the future of ecumenism might look like. This year there would be a focus on improving inter-faith relationships as a Synod, working to better engage children in the life of the Church and working harder to ensure we could truly say we are an inter-cultural Church.
Placements. It reported the committee, at its most recent meeting, was able to provide names for eight placements and record another four calls finalised, leaving just one full-time placement not in current conversation.
Property and Operations. Its report said it had been involved in a number of complex property, legal and insurance matters. The pandemic had had a substantial impact on the Synod’s finances, leading to the creation of the Here for Good project team reporting directly to the Standing Committee. The move towards transitioning church property into financial assets to support ministry and mission had evolved into the Money for Mission Fund and every congregation and presbytery was encouraged to consider the opportunities it presented.
Ethics Committee. Its report outlined how it tackled issues such as voluntary assisted dying. Committee members stressed that a number of issues did turn into action, involving a report to the Standing Committee or coverage in Crosslight magazine. The committee also worked closely with the Justice International Mission cluster on issues such as online gambling regulation, while climate change, vaccinations and Black Lives Matter also involved deep discussion.
Synod Ministries and Operations. Its report outlined the challenges faced during the pandemic. It offered two examples of the assistance given by SMO staff during the pandemic: regular COVID-19 FAQs in the Synod e-news bulletin and a webpage offering a range of information to help congregations during periods of lockdown. The report said the SMO also played a role in co-ordinating the response to presbyteries and institutions in Gippsland and north-east Victoria impacted heavily by bushfires only a few months before the pandemic began.
Synod Disability Royal Commission Task Group. It reported on the work being done after the announcement of the Royal Commission in April 2019 and the hope it would shine a light on the shocking and unacceptable treatment of people with disability and give a voice to those who had suffered. “The Uniting Church has zero tolerance for violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability,” it said.
General Secretary Mark Lawrence spoke to the Process Response To Potential Voluntary Assisted Dying Legislation in Tasmania.
“It’s important for the Synod to consider a response to any VAD legislation that may be in place within the Synod, to provide at least Theological and Pastoral resourcing and direction to the Church’s agencies that need to address the services they may provide,” Mark said.
“It’s important to note the Church’s discernment would be about the legislation, not to VAD itself.”
There was also a lot of discussion about three proposals by the Justice & International Mission Cluster: Climate Action Plan, Protecting People On Temporary Visas From Family Violence and Online Safety & Preventing Online Child Sexual Exploitation. These three proposals were discussed in detail during working groups yesterday and today.
The afternoon session began with reports from Uniting VicTas, Uniting AgeWell and U Ethical.
Uniting’s report highlighted a significant amount of money spent on social housing in regional areas, while in Tasmania, Uniting VicTas had strengthened its Newpin program to develop stronger bonds between mothers and their children.
Uniting had implemented its first LGBTIQ+ inclusion action plan as it continued to strive to be a safe and welcoming place for all.
Uniting AgeWell’s report highlighted the fact it was able to deal with seven COVID-related outbreaks in its facilities. It also touched on the Aged Care Royal Commission, saying it was imperative that government acted on the final report of the Aged Care Royal Commission and significantly increased funding to aged care facilities.
In its report, U Ethical spoke of the dramatic impact of COVID-19 on its clients, the community, financial markets and its own business. Volatility in financial markets due to the pandemic resulted in a drop of almost 37 per cent on the Australian Stock Exchange in February and March last year, which meant a dramatic impact on Synod. However, the market challenges also highlighted the strength of U Ethical’s investing strategies, which saw strong returns in many areas.
Day Two ended with a Theological Reflection, lead by Rev Dr Jione Havea.