With a touch of jet lag, great hopes and a few anxieties I checked in on Sunday lunchtime at Trinity Residential College for the beginning of the Uniting Church’s 14th Triennial Assembly. This Assembly was on our home turf; Trinity, the Assembly accommodation, is a Uniting Church WA college, and just across the road from the beautiful Winthrop Hall where we had our daytime sessions.
Our collective task was the same as whenever people of the Uniting Church meet in church councils, presbyteries and synods; we gather in the presence of God to discern the will of God. For the next six days that was our core purpose. The smoking ceremony right at the beginning reminded us of the welcome of Nyungar people and our covenant with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC).
The evening installation of our new president, Stuart McMillan, was a powerful and creative celebration of the rich diversity of God’s people in the movement we call Uniting Church. Sadly, sometimes worship is bland, but the worship experience was rich and varied and honoured the one who brings sparkle and new life to us. Rev Cathie Lambert, worship coordinator for the week, and her team did an amazing job. Each morning we began with worship that was simple, reflective and celebratory; this set the tone for the rest of the day. I also believe that the faithful band of prayer warriors who prayed and fasted for 40 days and gathered each morning to pray on a 24-hour basis during Assembly, significantly contributed to the texture and spirituality of our gatherings.
We had to talk through and listen well in considering some of the difficult issues the church is facing. The presentation by Justice Peter McClellan on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was very confronting and, for some, emotionally draining. The legacy of sexual abuse has stained our nation and often has led to catastrophic consequences for survivors.
The struggles of one of the icons of the Uniting Church, Frontier Services, led to both lament and fresh determination to think deeply about our footprint in remote Australia. A report on marriage naturally led to sensitive debate and reminded us of the diversity of our church and of an ongoing commitment to continue to listen deeply to Scripture, to our sisters and brothers in the UAICC, our linguistically diverse congregations and those involved in the gay and lesbian communities. A further report will come in three years’ time.
Lots of other events stretched and encouraged us. Personally, I found the Cato lecture by Dr Lin Manhong on the struggles of the church in China fascinating and insightful. I loved the Assembly Dinner hosted by our own Multicultural Ministry Network in the beautifully decorated St Aiden’s Claremont Uniting Church hall. The extravagant hospitality of our ethnic congregations is an experience rarely forgotten. The 50 plus international guests were thrilled.
And perhaps the highlight of the week, the Uniting Church in WA and UAICC ordinations of Rev Robert Jetta and Rev Sam Dinah, who both are involved in ministry with Aboriginal people in prisons.
A week to savour, a week to remember, a week to say thank you to the team of volunteers who did so much. A week of hope and renewal for the Uniting Church. Thanks be to God.
Rev Steve Francis, moderator of the Uniting Church WA