So it’s ‘Welcome back to the real world’ following four and a half days and nights of Synod NSW/ACT 2017. As Presbytery Minister of Sydney Central Coast I had a much quieter Synod than last time, when (you will remember) we invited the Synod to recognise a new Presbytery. As Acting Chair of the UME Board, however, I found Synod to be a hive of frantic activity and needed a few days to recover.
Here are some observations, ruminations and congratulations, from my point of view.
1 Sydney Central Coast Presbytery rocks the Synod.
You may have picked up from the Presbytery newsletter that a bunch of us have been elected to various roles. Scrutineer Emeritus Ian Lawrence was elected to the new-look, cut-down, sawn-off version of Synod Standing Committee, one of 12 elected by Synod to make up a total of 21, down from the old Board of about 35. I will be on the SSC representing UME; Tara Curlewis who has been appointed as Acting Executive Director of Uniting Mission and Education from October, will also be part of the Synod team. Peter Andrews continued to guide the Synod on a range of issues.
At the right hand of new Moderator Simon Hansford (who was in fact born, bred and baptised in Ku-ring-gai Presbytery) will be our own Jane Fry, who was affirmed by the Synod as our new (non-acting) General Secretary. Jane’s leadership during the last six months or so has been creative and effective and the Synod clearly felt great confidence in her calm competence and clear sense of where God is in all this business. Congratulations and blessings, Jane.
Mata Hiliau led the reflection and prayers each evening of Synod with creative flair, summing up the day’s debates and celebrations and sending us out with a degree of peace. And apart from sitting on a Q&A panel with the Moderator and other Board Chairs, I was rung in for a Bible reading at the Moderator’s installation service, which I did quite nicely I thought, before stumbling off the high lectern at St Stephen’s and spoiling the whole effect. (I’m OK, thanks for asking.)
Other SCCP members elevated to celestial heights were our Synod nominations to the 2018 Assembly: James Aaron, Bek Allcroft, Punam Bent, Mata Hiliau, Hannah Reeve and myself. We will join our Presbytery nominees, Tara Curlewis and Richard La’Brooy in Melbourne next year.
Well done, Sydney Central Coasters, what would the Uniting Church do without us?
2 Synod possibly rocks the Sydney Central Coast
Well, in fact we play our part alongside all the other Presbyteries and agencies in working out the priorities of the whole church. Some serious strategic goals of the Synod will have an impact on the SCC in a variety of ways. As I saw it, the main issues of the Synod emerged something like this.
- PULSE is a major priority of UME and its Next Gen Consultant Bradon French. It is an attempt to refocus the synod’s work with youth, children and young adults to reposition the church for the emerging generations. The Synod agreed, by consensus, to proceed with the initial stage and develop Pulse into an effective way of connecting and developing the church’s young members.
- MOBILISING MINISTRY FOR THE BUSH While not a Synod program as such (and costing the Synod exactly $0.00) this project arose from the Open Space workshops of the last Synod. The report back revealed a growing group of SCC ministers and congregations ready to participate in the pilot next year, and a growing number of regional congregations ready to welcome some mobilised ministry sharing.
- STEWARDSHIP CONTRIBUTION I must confess to being a little surprised at how smoothly this radical change to our Living is Giving program went through both our Presbytery meeting and the Synod. Money matters are usually contentious, aren’t they? Let me spin this as hard as I can: “What mature and well-reasoned members we have, who can see the case for change and not shy away from it.” Synod endorsed the replacement of the aging and declining Living is Giving program in favour of a whole-of-church Stewardship program to roll out next year. This was canvassed at Presbytery in September and more information is being rolled out through our Presbytery Business Committee. It will impact on all our congregations but the Presbytery is able to work with treasurers to lessen the impact.
- CONVERSING ABOUT MARRIAGE EQUALITY Not technically Synod business (not yet, anyway), but the Assembly has been working to prepare for next year’s gathering where changing views on marriage are certain to be a challenge to the Uniting Church. This conversation, mostly held in smaller Discernment Groups, aimed to give Assembly some advance guidance about that coming discussion, which may in fact take place in the context of a changed Federal law. Our Presbytery’s congregations, and even members within each congregation, are not of one mind, so any decisions we make are always bound to disappoint of frustrate some of us. Be pastorally aware and mindful of the way we speak together, was the main message.
- NATIONAL ABORIGINAL AND ISLANDER CHRISTIAN CONGRESS (NAICC or Congress) sought and gained the approval of Synod to take certain further steps of self-governance. Specifically, the Synod agreed to work through which ‘roles and responsibilities’ of a Presbytery might be exercised by the Congress and how Congress might relate best to the Synod in future.
- SYNOD STANDING COMMITTEE was again reduced in number, along the lines of other Synods, to a working Board of 21 members, including ex-officio and elected. Presbyteries will no longer appoint a member of SSC; likewise, no Presbytery will have more than two elected members. The Presbytery Chairs meeting will act as a parallel structure to ensure Presbyteries are aware of and engaged with the issues that Standing Committee is dealing with.
- VALEDICTORY CELEBRATION Lastly but extremely non-leastly, a service of thanksgiving was held for the many ministers who have either recently retired, or who were ordained ‘in time beyond our Dreaming’ and are still keeping on. 50 or 60 years since ordination is no longer a rarity. Many of these ministers have served or currently reside in the Sydney Central Coast Presbytery and are well-deserving of our thanks and prayers. However, to my shame, I cannot put my hand on my copy of the valedictory booklet so will not name any lest I forget some. I will find it and write another blog real soon naming them all, with thanks for their faithful service.
Until Synod 2019,