The major item on today’s agenda was considering a response to Tasmania’s End-Of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) legislation.
Members moved into a number of working groups on Day 1 to work through the proposal and provide feedback to the Facilitation Group, which were reported on, followed by plenary discussion, and voted upon.
Feedback saw slight adjustments to language and acknowledging cultural sensitivity where appropriate.
The Synod resolution (unconfirmed minute) is:
a) To affirm relevant Christian beliefs and UCA theology, including:
i) that life is a gift from God, and that all human life is precious to, and has dignity before, God;
ii) that neither death nor life, neither suffering nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:38-39);
iii) that it is a deep and abiding mystery that, as followers of Christ and through God’s accompanying grace, peace, wisdom and growth can be birthed in the midst of suffering, though suffering is not to be idolised;
iv) that as followers of Christ, we are called to spiritual discernment throughout our life and death journey, and to be a loving and supportive community to people in need of care.
b) To affirm:
i) that high-quality palliative care be the primary, preferred means through which end-of-life care is provided;
ii) the importance of equitable and timely access to culturally responsive palliative care in hospitals and community-settings.
c) To recognise and respect that, within the bounds of the Synod, and including within our First Peoples communities, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities, there is a range of faithful Christian responses to the Tasmanian End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Act and these include exploring, accessing, and conscientiously objecting to voluntary assisted dying.
d) To give permission within Tasmania to UCA institutions to make voluntary assisted dying allowable within the context of their facilities and services, according to the Tasmanian End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Act 2021.
e) To recognise that UCA institutions have already developed and adopted clear and robust policies and procedures that protect and uphold the right of staff to conscientiously object to participating in, or supporting, a resident/client who is exploring or accessing Voluntary Assisted Dying in accordance with the provisions outlined in the legislation.
f) To request UCA institutions to review their voluntary assisted dying policies and procedures and, if necessary, revise them for the Tasmanian context to reflect the requirements and provisions in the Tasmanian legislation.
g) To commit to the provision of a compassionate and culturally sensitive pastoral response to all people associated with the Church and UCA institutions, including those people (and their loved ones) who choose to explore or access Voluntary Assisted Dying in a legal manner in Tasmania.
This important matter was followed by something a little more light-hearted: a cutting of the cake to mark Uniting Vic.Tas’ fifth anniversary. Holding the knife was Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike, Uniting Vic.Tas Deputy Chair Rev Alistair Macrae and Synod Moderator Rev David Fotheringham.
The rest of the morning session was mostly devoted to reports from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congresses in Victoria and Tasmania.
UAICC Victoria Oversight Committee Chairperson Rev Greg Crowe presented its report, which said, although the interim leadership was called the “Oversight Committee” there was no Congress “Ministry” for a Regional Committee to oversee. Nevertheless, Narana, as an “Enterprise” expression of Congress, was operating well.
UAICC Victoria had helped develop the new Walking Together in Covenant Committee and looked forward to it creating more opportunities for the UCA “to live out the covenant in local and regional places with local and regional communities”.
The report also said, after 12 months of deliberating, UAICC Victoria planned to sell the Minajalku site at Thornbury and put the proceeds towards UAICC mission and ministry projects in Victoria.
UAICC Tasmania manager Alison Overeem said its report wasn’t a report, rather it was a “narrative to be excited about”.
The document said it had been a “challenging but rewarding” 12 months that saw increased participation, scope and engagement.
“The scope and outreach in all areas of our strategic direction and planning have surpassed expectation – we have successfully woven both mission and ministry together,” it said.
Alison was then joined on stage by ex-Moderator, Rev Denise Liersch. Denise asked Alison for some helpful tips that congregations could consider when trying to acknowledge and engage First Peoples.
Alison said she had two tips:
Two, listen some more.
“When holding a service or gathering, ask First Peoples if they would like an Acknowledgement of Country,” she said.
“And don’t miss the opportunity to have a closing prayer that also acknowledges country.”
Alison also suggested congregations consider planting a “bush tucker garden that says First Nations People are welcome here”.
Other reports tabled today were from the Ministry & Mission Committee, the Property & Operations Committee, Synod Ministries & Operations, the Placements Committee, the Synod Ethics Committee and the Assembly. Mission Resourcing Unit Executive Officer, Sam Nicholas presented the Annual Financial Report.
The other event of note during the morning session was a Minute of Appreciation for former eLM Executive Officer Rev Dr Jenny Byrnes. The Minute was introduced by Synod General Secretary Rev Dr Mark Lawrence and Assembly President Rev Sharon Hollis, both are long-term colleagues of Jenny.
Mark said it was “entirely appropriate we acknowledge the breadth and depth of the service Jenny has given the whole Church over more than four decades since ordination”.
Sharon said Jenny’s contribution to the Church went beyond what she did “and is seen in the ministry and discipleship of the people in this Synod”.
Jenny was given a prolonged, heartfelt standing ovation before speaking.
“It has been my privilege to serve and serve with you,” she said in closing.
Following dinner, there was a Minute of Appreciation for Rev David Fotheringham, for his work as Placements Committee chair, Rev Claire Dawe, for her work as Synod Ethics Committee chair and Rev Rachel Kronberger, for her work as Committee for Counselling chair.
The afternoon session was largely devoted to working through a number of proposals.
All were passed and, in order, they were:
- Improving the lives of people with disability, which pushed for reforms that “fill in some of the cracks that exist in the safeguards systems”.
- Raising the age of criminal responsibility, which argued for raising the age from 10 to 14.
- Disability Action Plan 2022-2025, which requested a continuing plan to address, among other things, issues that will likely be raised by the findings of the Disability Royal Commission, which will be released next year.
- Synod Meeting Planning Committee, which prompted passionate debate with regard to minority voices (race and age were two examples) being invited and included.
- Improved system of income support.
- Making homelessness a thing of the past.
- Moderator Nomination Committee, which recommended Sue Withers as next chairperson.