By Andrew Humphries
Synod 2023 is officially under way, with Opening Worship at the Salvation Army Hall in Box Hill this morning marking the start of four days of discernment, discussion and connection among members.
Indigenous Christian leader, writer, educator and poet Brooke Prentis was the guest preacher during Opening Worship, while Pilgrim Theological College’s Rev Robyn Whitaker is leading Bible studies over the four days.
Today’s formal proceedings opened with a welcome from Moderator Rev David Fotheringham, and during the day members had an opportunity to hear from David, General Secretary Rev Dr Mark Lawrence, and a number of committee members.
The opening day also touched on the Act2 and Faithful Futures projects, which will guide the Church at a national, state and local level into the future and will be discussed in depth during this Synod Meeting.
In offering his Moderator’s report, David reflected on the incredible joy and privilege he felt in performing the role over the past 18 months.
“I have met and been able to work with many wonderful people and witnessed wonderful, caring and thoughtful ministry,” he said.
David also reflected on the disappointment felt by so many with the failure of the referendum on an indigenous Voice to Parliament last month.
“We must acknowledge how difficult this has been for so many of us, while acknowledging that the journey (towards walking together) is not over, and truth telling and justice will continue,” he said.
The difficult journey that the referendum entailed, and its aftermath, was also a theme taken up by Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Tasmania members Alison Overeem and Ayla Williams, and UAICC Victoria member Rev Will Pickett.
David also paid tribute to the way in which members had rallied around each other in the wake of last year’s flooding in parts of Victoria, and contributed generously to the Moderator’s Emergency Response Fund.
He acknowledged that Presbyteries and committees across the Synod faced many leadership challenges but said he was heartened to see leaders everywhere navigating complex and difficult decisions.
“It is important to acknowledge, though, that many Presbyteries face difficulties in finding enough pastoral and committee leaders to cover their needs,” he said.
“As you may be aware, aspects of that challenge are among the drivers of the Act2 Project.
“I’m certainly hopeful that the project will provide help for the Church in our understanding of ourselves and where we are at, and how we can best respond to God’s call.”
In his report tabled today, the General Secretary wrote of the significant financial sustainability issues being addressed across the Church in Victoria and Tasmania.
“Each committee works collaboratively within the Synod, and presbyteries as appropriate, striving to address financial sustainability for mission sustainability in various councils of the Church,” he said.
“Synod Ministries and Operations staff continue to work with, develop budgets, and resource Synod governance committees to continue to support and share with each other as we address financial sustainability matters together.”
Mark’s report also touched on the importance of the Faithful Futures and Act2 projects as the Synod looked forward.
“Resolutions and key directions resulting from the Synod Meeting and further work on the Faithful Futures Project will be a priority for the General Secretary and all of SMO to resource, and it is anticipated that resourcing the Synod in its responsibilities and/or changes resulting from Act2-related decisions will (also) be a priority,” Mark said.
The afternoon session included an Act2 Project briefing from National Assembly President Rev Sharon Hollis and project lead Andrew Johnson, before members broke into the first of the meeting’s working groups to discuss the project in depth.
“Today we are inviting you to consider the Act2 Project report as part of the important Collective Discernment phase,” Sharon said.
“We have heard about the hopes people have for the future of our Church, and of their fears about the burdens and complexities of our responsibilities and structures.
“As we look to the future, we do so with hearts open to where God is leading us and we want to hear your wisdom about where the Spirit leads us.”
Andrew said it was important to consider both opportunity and risk as the Act2 Project was considered.
“Now is the time for us to work together with one another about the future shape of our Church,” he said.
“Now is not the time to watch and wait, it’s a time for the whole Church to pray, participate and respond as we engage across the life of the Church.”
Members were also presented with a report from the Moderator-Elect Nomination Committee, ahead of the ballot on a Moderator-elect to serve as Moderator from 2025-28.
After a lengthy process and deep discernment, the committee, by consensus, has put forward one person for consideration, Rev Salesi Faupula, ahead of tomorrow’s ballot.
“The committee appreciates that the number of nominees is not in keeping with the process regarding the preferred number of nominees to present,” convenor Rev Sue Withers said in the report tabled today.
“Nevertheless, the committee also considers that it has faithfully undertaken its responsibilities regarding the nomination process for Moderator-Elect and is therefore comfortable with this discernment to offer one nominee for the Moderator role from 2025-28.”
Following the Moderator-elect Nomination Committee’s report, Salesi had an opportunity to present to the meeting ahead of tomorrow’s ballot.
“My passion in ministry is perhaps no different to others, to try and serve God as faithfully as I can,” he said.
“Sometimes this has led me to spaces in which I feel comfortable and confident, yet at other times they have been places foreign and far less certain, meaning I have needed to lean on God for understanding.
“The label of L plates we were given at the time of our ordination continues to sit well with me years later because it’s a humbling reminder that as Christians we remain learners on this journey, called forth to listen to one another, act together and bear witness to Christ in the world.”
During the afternoon’s proceedings, David Fotheringham led prayers for four Samoan seasonal workers who died near Mansfield recently.
In doing so, he acknowledged the pain felt by Samoan members of the Synod.
Day one has finished with a welcome dinner, with day two tomorrow to include proposals, a Tributes Service and a number of elective sessions.
Recordings of each day’s sessions, including today’s Act2 Project overview, are available on the Synod 2023 YouTube channel.
Please note that daily Bible Studies are not available after live-streaming at the request of the presenter, Rev Associate Professor Robyn Whitaker.