By Andrew Humphries
Day two of Synod 2023 featured the announcement of Rev Salesi Faupula as Moderator-elect, a diverse range of discussion topics for members and, for the first time at a Synod Meeting since 2019, a Tributes Service recognising Ministers’ milestones.
Today also marked the first time elective sessions had been held at a Synod Meeting.
Confirmation came this afternoon of the appointment of Rev Salesi Faupula as Moderator-elect, and he will fill the position of Moderator when Rev David Fotheringham’s term concludes in mid-2025.
The Moderator-elect announcement was met with great joy, and Salesi said he was humbled and grateful for the confidence shown in him by Synod members.
This afternoon’s Tributes Service recognised Ministers who have been ordained, retired or received from other denominations since last year’s Synod Meeting, and those who have celebrated 50, 60, 65, 70, 75 and, in the case of Rev William Morgan, 80 years since ordination or commissioning.
The service also honoured those Ministers who had died since the last Synod Meeting, including former Moderators Rev Ian Smith (Moderator of Victoria 1980) and Don Hall (Moderator of Tasmania 1995-1997).
Synod members had the opportunity this morning to hear Australian-based President of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association, Ramila Chanisheff, outline the human rights abuses that are occurring against the ethnic Uyghur population in East Turkistan.
A brutal crackdown by Chinese authorities has seen many Uyghurs killed, imprisoned and forced into labour camps to create the goods that China exports to the world.
Ramila’s appearance foreshadowed a proposal and discussion around the issue of ethical procurement and investment, put forward by Senior Social Justice Advocate Mark Zirnsak from the Justice and International Mission Unit.
Mark said the ethical procurement issue was particularly relevant in the case of solar panels, which were widely used in Australia as part of the move towards renewable energy, but components for which were almost certainly made in China using forced labour.
Following discussion, the Synod resolved:
a) To lament that all parts of the Synod cannot avoid business transactions where the goods and services supplied will have involved serious human rights abuses, excessive environmental damage or other severe criminal activity in their production;
b) To call on Synod Ministries & Operations, congregations, presbyteries, U Ethical, Uniting Vic.Tas, Uniting AgeWell and Uniting Church members:
i) to seek to deal with businesses that uphold ethical standards, including transparency in their ownership;
ii) to not invest in and to avoid purchases from businesses involved in ongoing serious human rights abuses, excessive environmental damage and non-trivial criminal activity where there is a viable alternative supplier;
iii) to not invest in and to avoid purchases from businesses that have been proven to have been involved in serious human rights abuses, excessive environmental damage and non-trivial criminal activity in the last five years, unless there is strong verification that the business has corrected its past practice and conducted meaningful remediation of its past wrongdoing; and
iv) to not have dealings with any business that has been established through criminal activity, or purchased with proceeds of crime, in the previous 20 years.
Another proposal put forward today related to reducing the harm of prohibited drugs as part of a move towards a health-based approach.
The proposal seeks to support and advocate for the decriminalisation of possession and personal use of small amounts of illicit drugs.
Rev Alistair Macrae put forward the proposal on behalf of Uniting Vic.Tas, which calls for the Victorian and Tasmanian governments to foster an open dialogue with the community on the most effective strategies to reduce the harm of illicit drugs, noting that “the fundamental objective of drug policy should be to keep people safe and reduce the harm of use”.
The proposal was discussed in further detail during day two’s evening session and will be explored further during tomorrow’s day three proceedings.
Today’s morning session gave members an opportunity to take part in a number of informative and thought-provoking electives on a range of topics, from reducing the influence of corporations selling harmful products, to a discussion on the Church and Reconciliation beyond the Referendum.
The sessions also included a discussion on tackling disability discrimination, and what meets the definition of a ‘real’ church.
The afternoon session today included the introduction of the meeting’s second working group process, which will tackle the Faithful Futures Project, setting out a future vision for the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania.
“It is about the vision of following Christ, walking together as First and Second Peoples, seeking community, compassion and justice for all creation,” David Fotheringham said.
“That vision still resonates across Victoria and Tasmania within the Uniting Church.”
Working group convenor Rev Linley Liersch said the Faithful Futures Project represented a vitally important and challenging discussion for Victorian and Tasmanian members about the future of the Church.
“It is about creating a big story and a meta-narrative which engages the Synod-wide vision and puts it into a language that every person in every pew and service community can then say what that vision is all about,” she said.
“It is a discussion paper that invites you into the story (and allows you) to make the story your own.
“Let me be prophetic and say the Uniting Church is facing the greatest change since Union and we need to adapt and face the transition ahead.
“So go into these working groups and talk and connect on the importance of the path ahead, as if this was the most important conversation for the Church right now.”
National Assembly President Sharon Hollis and General Secretary Colleen Geyer presented their report to Synod 2023 this evening, before members also heard facilitation feedback on the Act2 Project.
Recordings of most of today’s plenary sessions, including the National Assembly report, Tributes Service and discussion around the Faithful Futures and Act2 projects, are all available on the Synod 2023 YouTube channel.