Reaching out in the church

The Daring Conference is a biannual national gathering of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people within the Uniting Church in Australia. This year, the three-day conference will be held at the Centre for Theology and Ministry in Melbourne from Friday 10 June to Monday 13 June.

It is organised by Uniting Network Australia, a network of LGBTI people within the Uniting Church and their families, friends and supporters.

The 2016 theme is Daring to Reach Out: Honouring our Diversity. Damien Stevens, co-convenor of Uniting Network, said the theme explores the challenges and opportunities for LGBTI inclusion within the Church’s culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

“When we look at issues around LGBTI identity and inclusion and mix it with faith, we often find that spirituality and faith are very different between the privileged, white ‘out and proud’ movement and culturally and linguistically diverse people,” Damien said.

At the 14th Assembly last year, the church resolved to engage in a culturally-appropriate conversation about same-gender relationships. Many Uniting Church members come from countries where LGBTI people face extreme persecution and discrimination.

“Thirty-three per cent of Pacific countries criminalise homosexual relationships,” Damien said.

“Having many of those countries part of the UnitingWorld and Uniting Church faith community really provides many great challenges for us.”

Matthew Tyne, UnitingWorld’s associate director of relief and development, will host a workshop on the importance of cross-cultural storytelling for LGBTI Christians.

Rev Sani Vaeluaga and Ken Moala will examine the Samoan concept of Fa’afafine, a ‘third gender’ that challenges Western preconceptions of gender.

Other speakers include Victorian gender and sexuality commissioner Rowena Allen, Toni Paynter, Luke Gahan and incoming moderator Rev Sharon Hollis.

Attendees will have the opportunity to participate in bible studies and elective workshops during the conference. Rev Avril Hannah-Jones and Rev Dr Geoff Thompson will lead a doctrine working group on marriage. Rev John Clarke, director of mission at Uniting AgeWell, will host a workshop on ageing well without discrimination. American author Susan Cottrell will share her journey coming to terms with, and eventually embracing, her gay son.

Guests can also hear from interfaith speakers, including Nur Warsame, who will speak about the challenges of being gay in a Muslim community.

The conference will include the biannual Uniting Network general meeting, where delegates will discuss and formulate the 2016 Daring Statement. This statement will then be presented to the Uniting Church Assembly.

“The statement is a combination of reflections, but also a dialogue between us and the broader church of where we are as LGBTI Christians in 2016 and what we hope for the future,” Damien explained.

An important function of the conference is to nurture relationships between people from different parts of Australia. On Saturday night, attendees will share their experiences together over dinner. Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan will also address the delegates and listen to their stories.

“We are looking forward to a great conference,” Damien said.

“We welcome all people within and outside the Uniting Church and those interested in interfaith, CALD and LGBTI communities, to come along and get involved.”

Tickets are available from the Uniting Network website: http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/daring-2016/

Single day tickets are available for $75. The full three-day pass is $150 ($80 concession).

Tim Lam

This article originally appeared in Crosslight, the publication for the Uniting Church Victoria and Tasmania.

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