The major order of business on Synod 2021’s final day today was the announcement of the result of the Standing Committee ballot.
Following the ballot, Rev John Clarke, Rev Stan Clarke, Belinda Clear, Ron Gowland, Rev Berlin Guerrero and Cameron Shields were elected to the Standing Committee until Synod 2023 and Karen Eller until Synod 2022.
During the day’s first session, eLm executive officer Rev Dr Jenny Byrnes introduced a discussion on covenanting and said members of a working group had been meeting over the past 18 months and exploring, seeking and challenging each other and the wider church to refresh the journey of how we can walk together as First and Second Peoples.
“Through a deepening conviction guided and mentored by colleagues from the First Nations, the group worked to develop and design an invitation to each of us: congregations, presbyteries, individuals and Synod to celebrate and deepen the journey of relationships with First Peoples of this nation,” Jenny said.
She said the covenant aimed to deepen the relationship and commitment to walk together as First and Second Peoples and four important movements formed the basis of that journey.
“We are called to listen deeply and let go of our preconceived ideas and assumptions, unlearning much of what we have inherited and paying attention to the voice of experience that is not our own,” Jenny said.
“We are called to develop relationships and this is the primary aspect of covenanting (as) our mentors have told us (about) the relationship between First and Second Peoples that will bring deeper understanding, increased appreciation and shared engagement.
“(We are called) to keep the covenant at the heart of the church’s everyday life and it is not a journey only for Sundays, or NAIDOC Week or January 26, it is intricately interlaced with our day-to-day identity as a church and community.
“And we are called to take responsibility for justice and truth telling, stepping into that space of responsibility, naming (and) challenging skewed views of history and seeking justice and reconciliation.
“These four movements are to become part of our identity as a church.”
Jenny said the Covenanting Guide, Walking Together as First and Second Peoples, was designed to be invitational and open and presented opportunities for congregations, communities and presbyteries to consider how they could deepen their walk with First Peoples.
Following Jenny’s introduction, further discussion was held on covenanting by way of a working group.
Day three also featured reports presented by Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress’ Victorian and Tasmanian committees.
UAICC Victoria oversight committee chairperson Rev Gregory Crowe and deputy chairperson Rev Rachel Kronberger reported that the Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre had continued to flourish and relationships with First Peoples in the Geelong area had been strengthened, while staff had formed a strong supportive community under Mel Osborne’s management and leadership.
However, Gregory and Rachel said more work was needed in developing Congress Ministries in Victoria.
Retiring oversight committee members Mary Dixon, Rev Jennie Gordon and David Curnow were thanked for their contribution.
Leprena UAICC Tasmania manager Alison Overeem said the Congress looked forward to continuing the struggle for justice and the creation of spaces and places to heal, learn, grow and immerse themselves in the story of the Creator and the Scriptures.
She said great strides had been made in the use of social media and communications to tell their Tasmanian story more widely and to engage such a large number of people in the cultural story of the state.
A report from National Assembly President Deidre Palmer and General Secretary Colleen Geyer covered a number of topics including how the Assembly responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, the launch late last year of the Act2 Project, the Assembly’s strategic plan (2020-2023), the launch of its new website in July last year and information on UnitingCare Australia, Royal Commissions into Aged Care and Disability, Frontier Services and its quarterly publication Frontier News and the work of UnitingWorld.
The report also provided details on the President’s Conference (to be held in late April), the National Young Adult Leaders Conference (which was cancelled in January but has moved to an online presence) and the President’s Roundtables, which it is hoped can recommence when COVID-19 restrictions allow.
During her address to the meeting, Deidre said the church had advocated for those in greatest need as a result of the pandemic, while it had taken up new ways of working and worshipping while continuing its pastoral care of communities.
Deidre said 2021 marked 36 years since UC declared it was a multi-cultural church and it was now enriched by 13 national conferences representing cultural groups which are part of the church.
Colleen said the National Safe Church Unit launched the Principles of a Child Safe Uniting Church last year, which provided a foundation to support the growth of a child-safe culture across the life of the church as it continued its commitment to provide a safe place for all vulnerable people.
The final day of the meeting also dealt with a proposal relating to online gambling advertising reform, with the Synod resolving to call on the Federal Government to introduce legislation to end gambling advertising and marketing “to reduce further online gambling-related harm and the exposure of children to gambling advertising”.
One of the features of Synod’s historic online meeting has been the creation of daily virtual booths, allowing members to download a wide range of material and to interact with staff through questions, information and feedback.
Those holding virtual booths were Culture of Safety, eLm’s Justice and International Mission Cluster, eLm’s Lay Leadership, Pilgrim Theological College, eLm’s Thriving Communities, UC Camping, Money for Mission steering committee, Property Services, U Ethical, The Bethel Services (counselling), Uniting AgeWell, Uniting VicTas and the presbyteries of Gippsland, Loddon Mallee, Port Phillip East and Port Phillip West.
Moderator Denise Liersch led prayer during the middle session honouring ministers who had retired, died or reached milestones since the last Synod, while Andrew Boatman conducted a minute of appreciation and general thanks.
Synod 2021, the first Synod to be conducted online, finished with Denise and Rev Sylvia Akauola-Tongotongo leading the Closing Worship and commissioning of Synod-appointed leaders.