Synod 2023 Transforming Spirit Recap

10 Oct 2023 by Aditee Vora, Synod Communications in: Latest News

The 40th Synod in Session - Transforming Spirit held for the first time at Katoomba Christian Convention Centre has been marked by rigorous discussions and deliberations on critical issues, leading to a clearer path aimed at ensuring a fair and improved future for all members of the Uniting Church in NSW and ACT.

This year over 13 percent of the membership was made up of young adults which represented one of the largest cohorts of young adults in recent years.

The Uniting Creative team took centre stage as they debuted songs from their new album, ‘Transforming Spirit,’ as a part of opening and closing worship each day.

Living out this year’s theme of Transforming Spirit, in Katoomba on Dharug and Gundungurra Land, here’s a gathered recap of what we got to see on the three days of Synod meeting.

Day 1

Day one was filled to the brim with activity, and marked a return to a live Synod meeting after four years.

Having welcomed our new Moderator, Rev. Faaimata Havea Hiliau, the night before, Synod opened with a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony with Gundungurra Elder Uncle David King.

The meeting heard from our Gen Sec Rev. Jane Fry where she recalled significant proposals from past Synod meetings and highlighted the importance of growth. She acknowledged the challenges, including COVID-19 and natural disasters, but expressed a sense of progress and the presence of a transforming spirit.

“The honour of shared community cannot be overstated. It is absolutely critical.”

“I have been humbled by many, many people, in so many ways.” said ex-Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford while addressing the members of the Church.

His leadership coincided with significant events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the adoption of the Synod’s growth agenda.

The Synod meeting expressed gratitude to outgoing Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford during his farewell address.

Synod also recognised and celebrated years of dedication of some of our longest serving ministers and members, as well as a celebration of the life of Sir Alan Walker and 60 years of Lifeline.

We had three proposals, Walking Together Action Plan 2.0, Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility, both presented by Nathan Tyson , and Gambling Reform presented by Rev. Stuart Cameron and Rev. Dr. Rick Dacey.

All three proposals were endorsed by the Synod.

The approved proposal outlines achievements such as the First Nations Resources page on the Synod website, the First Peoples Theological Study Scholarship, and cultural education sessions for Ministry Candidates, among others. The Synod’s endorsement of the proposal means it will be forwarded to the newly formed Synod Standing Committee for further action.

The proposal was approved for calling on the NSW and ACT governments to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old. The move aims to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the criminal justice system, who are incarcerated at a high rate compared to non-Indigenous children.

“Social justice is in the DNA of this church…we know it is going to affect young people who are our first nations young people far more than others, we need the change.” Tracy Buton

The Synod’s decision aligns with the national #Raisetheage campaign, joining over 100 other organizations advocating for legislative changes.

Rev. Rick Dacey and Rev. Stu Cameron emphasised the urgent need for change in dealing with the gambling industry, highlighting its destructive impact and the community’s growing demand for reform. The proposal, aimed at minimising harm, received unanimous support from the Synod membership. The church’s commitment to tackling gambling harm aligns with its efforts to address the broader issue of addiction and its consequences on individuals and families.

The Pulse team organised an evening bonfire after an inspiring closing worship wrapping up day 1.

Day 2

Synod 2023 day two was quite a busy affair with Gen Alpha and Generational Change Plenary research by Mark McCrindle, Generation Alpha Panel hosted by Steve Molkentin, discernment discussion, and clarifying proposal questions that charged the purpose of the meeting.

Rev. Dr. Seforosa Carroll and Dr. Ali Robinson, both from United Theological College, explored the Synod’s theme of “Transforming Spirit”. They emphasised the dynamic and diverse nature of the Spirit’s work, drawing inspiration from biblical references and contextual experiences.

Mark McCrindle as per his research discussed how Australia has undergone significant changes, partly driven by COVID-19, resulting in shifts in demographics and population growth. He also presented data on Generation Alpha, a quarter of the population, who he believes have not rejected Christianity because they are unfamiliar with it.

The panel discussion hosted by Mr Molkentin centred on ministry with young people and Generation Alpha. Key points include the need for inclusive conversations, shifting away from age-based approaches to ministry, and fostering cross-generational connections for a thriving church community. The panel emphasises the importance of involving young people in leadership roles and ministry.

The panel Q&A was followed by discernment discussions took place among groups of participants where they discussed and raised clarifying questions about proposals 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 that included Presbytery Project, Multicultural, and Placements for a Just Church, Blended Ecology – church plants, Resourcing Framework – Stewardship summit, and reports related to Act2.

The extended and intensive day of the synod concluded with a Theological Reflection by Peter Walker and a closing worship session.

Day 3

As we commenced the final day at the Synod meeting– Uniting Church NSW and ACT joined Yes23 campaign along with other marches that took place across Australia followed by opening worship and bible study by Rev. Dr. Sef Carroll and Dr. Ali Robinson.

The discernment feedback from day two’s discussions was considered, and members of the meeting made decisions regarding the proposals. All the proposals were endorsed by the Synod.

Presbytery Minister Rob McFarlane presented the proposal, highlighting its alignment with future directions. The project involves a year of discernment in 2024 to develop a new model for the 12 presbyteries to collaborate effectively. The proposal was unanimously passed without alterations, marking its singularity and concreteness.

The proposal reflects the church’s commitment to recognising and embracing its diverse community. A board will advise the Synod Standing Committee on multicultural matters, with membership considerations to follow.

The Synod meeting has endorsed a discussion paper addressing challenges in ministry placements, aiming to distribute resources more effectively among churches in need. The paper seeks guidance and direction from the Synod regarding necessary changes and efforts to address these challenges. The Synod has approved the proposal with amendments, with ongoing work and consultation planned.

Introduced by Dr. Damian Palmer, Rev. Christine Palmer, and Rev. Glen Spencer, the proposal emphasises that it is a framework rather than a strategic plan. It invites the Synod to focus on three core areas for collective efforts: Faith Communities, New Congregations, and Parish Missions. A blended ecology approach encourages the celebration and mutual support of different ministry and mission approaches within the church.

The proposal fronted by Rev. Graham Perry underscores the importance of Synod and Presbyteries working together to achieve the following objectives: identifying property and financial assets managed by specific entities within Synod and Presbytery, strengthening Presbyteries’ ability to allocate funds for oversight and mission both within their boundaries and throughout the Synod, enhancing transparency and the involvement of Presbyteries in decisions related to missional growth initiatives funded by the growth fund, ensuring an appropriate and effective level of financial support for each Presbytery, establishing a fund for Presbytery oversight responsibilities with a joint decision-making process for fund distribution, and creating a fund for Synod oversight responsibilities with a collaborative approach to capital realization and fund distribution decisions.

The report represents extensive consultation and offers theological reflections and potential future directions for the church. President Rev. Sharon Hollis emphasized the importance of listening to the church’s hopes and fears, acknowledging opportunities and challenges, and discerning where God is leading the church. Discernment Groups discussed the report during the Synod Meeting, with positive feedback about the Act 2 process and suggestions for focusing on mission and discipleship rather than structures. The Assembly will continue engagement on the report and its options until November 2023.

As part of the last day, the Synod Standing Committee announced its members for 2023.  The committee will be chaired by Rev. Faaimata Havea Hiliau, the Moderator and consists of representatives from various cultures and presbyteries, ensuring balanced representation. The membership adheres to certain requirements, including a minimum one-third male and one-third female composition.

As the meeting concluded, the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and ACT extended its gratitude to all committee members for their unwavering dedication, trust, support, and patience.

All reporting from Synod 2023 Transforming Spirit can be found here.