Every two years Uniting Network Australia (UNA) hosts a national conference, commonly known as ‘Daring’.
UNA is the national network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and transgender people, their families, friends and supporters within the Uniting Church in Australia. The theme for this year’s event in Melbourne was ‘Daring to Reach Out – Honouring Our Diversity’.
‘Daring’ may seem like a funny name for a church conference, but it comes from a time when it was not particularly safe to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersex and queer – (LGBTIQ) people in the church, or society for that matter.
The first conference ‘Daring to speak – Daring to listen’ in 1994 was an important moment, a safe space created to discuss faith and sexuality, and to network and support each other in life and ministry. Since that first Daring, people connected to UNA have continued to gather every two years for much the same purpose.
This year’s conference, held from 10–13 June in Melbourne, aimed to hear from diverse voices from a range of cultural and faith backgrounds. We learned about different understandings of family and kinship. We heard the experiences of people from multicultural and cross cultural networks in understanding and connecting with people of diverse sexualities and the importance of a theology of hospitality in understanding and working through our differences.
Other highlights included hearing from an openly gay Muslim Imam, and a speaker from UnitingCare, talking about the importance of giving LGBTIQ people dignity in aged care.
We also discussed same gender marriage many times throughout the conference. As the possibility of Civil Marriage Equality moves closer to becoming a possibility in Australian law, there is an opportunity for the church to respond. There was a great deal of concern that a possible plebiscite on marriage equality would have the potential to do a lot of harm to LGBTIQ members, and their families, and felt quite strongly that a compassionate voice from the Uniting Church would be important in this space.
Perhaps upon reflection one of the bigger impacts for me of the Daring weekend was what followed after our last evening gathered together. The news of the shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, USA, sent shockwaves through the world, and particularly in LGBTIQ communities.
As we at Daring had gathered throughout the weekend to worship, pray and be in community together in a safe space, others across the world were being attacked for gathering as LGBTIQ people in what they too would have considered a safe space. As far as we had come in society, there were still people out there targeting our community for being itself.
There will be many people who do not fully understand the sense of freedom that comes with gathering together with people for whom being of diverse sexualities is a common experience.
Many will not fully understand the safety you feel when you are in a space where holding hands with your partner is not a risk. Daring is one of those safe spaces, as is a gay club or pub for many in the wider community. The shock of someone going into one of those spaces to target the LGBTIQ community with such hate is something that will sit uncomfortably with many for a long time to come. I was very pleased to hear a strong response from Stuart MacMillan, president of the Uniting Church in Australia, following these tragic events. It is important for the church to speak out during these times of grief and hurting, particularly when it has so often been the church in the past causing hurt to many in the LGBTIQ community.
There are going to be challenges going forward for the new Uniting Network Australia Executive, not only just in facilitation of the next Daring Conference. Particular challenges will come if the Government decides to move toward a national plebiscite on Marriage Equality.
It is our hope that the Uniting Church can be a voice of leadership and compassion within church and society and promote a strategy of harm minimisation for the LGBTIQ community. It is our hope that our church shows pastoral sensitivity in conversations with congregations and the wider community and to remember that this is not just a public issue but a very personal one, where we are talking about real people’s lives and their families, within and outside of our church.
You can read the 2016 Daring Statement at http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/daring-statements
Read more on the Daring conference at http://crosslight.org.au/2016/06/18/daring-conference
Read the statement from Stuart McMillan, president of the Uniting Church in Australia, following the attack in Orlando at https://revivemagazine.org.au/2016/06/15/uca-president-speaks-out-on-orlando-hate-attacks
Wendy Hendry, co-convenor of Uniting Network Australia and a member of Margaret River Uniting Church.
Top image: The worship space of the closing worship at Daring.