The Uniting Church WA recently supported five youthful members to attend the 15th Triennial Assembly Meeting of the Uniting Church in Australia. Youthful members, aged under 30, take part in a program where they are encouraged to share with and support each other over the week. Three youthful members from the Uniting Church WA share their experiences from the meeting with Revive.
Going into the 15th Triennial Assembly Meeting I felt a great sense of anxiety. The day I set out my flight was cancelled, I was separated from my planned flight buddy and had to play the game of figuring out how to get to Box Hill, where I knew no-one and was on my own.
However, as the next day began with the Youthful Members Program, I began to feel slowly more prepared; being given insights into some of the different proposals, getting to ask questions, and most importantly building relationships with the people who became my rock for the following week as Assembly began in earnest.
This program and the people I have met through it have to be my biggest joys from Assembly. At the end of each day, we were able to go into a shared space and talk with each other, share theology, talk about our experiences and admittedly most nights ending up singing hymns to a guitar we slowly forgot the owner of till the small hours of the morning.
This community enabled me to gain a sense of hope and connectedness I often crave, to be able to talk to and connect with so many wonderful people – though the label ‘youth’ often hindered us in our connectedness with the wider assembly.
When all of the challenges of the day happened, we knew in this space we had created, in room 106, that there was an ear to listen and help, a heart to care and arms that would hold and support us.
the 15th Triennial Assembly Meeting. At first, I was nervous about attending such an important meeting, especially as the large volumes of documents were released and more discussions were happening regarding the key issues. However, I was able to attend the Youthful Members Program that runs before the assembly meeting and this gave me a great understanding of the major proposals and how the floor of Assembly would operate.
For the first time at an assembly meeting, every member who spoke to a proposal or on the floor of the Assembly, had to include the name of the Indigenous people whose land they live on. My name is Reuben Edmonds from the Presbytery of Western Australia and I live and worship on the land of the Whadjuk people of the Nyungar nation. Could this be something for WA to consider at Synod and Presbytery meetings?
I really enjoyed seeing young leaders from the Uniting Church who I had met previously, and meeting new emerging leaders. We became a strong community, ensuring we looked out for each other and provided an opportunity to debrief at the end of the night. Also, I want to express a big thank you to Rev Lorraine Stokes who also attended, as her pastoral care was really appreciated throughout the meeting.
The most challenging part of the Assembly meeting was the discussions around same-gender marriage. It took many sessions and involved many speakers passionately advocating for their understanding and view on the issue. As a member of the LGBTI community, this was especially challenging for me as I listened to members of the Assembly discuss whether I could one day marry the person I loved within the church I loved.
In the end a decision was reached to uphold two beliefs and enable ministers to marry two people if they believed it right to do so. Despite the challenging environment, I was thrilled to be able to take part in the discussions and be a part of history for the Uniting Church in Australia.
Challenged to be courageous
As a youthful member of the 15th Triennial Assembly Meeting in the midst of diverse participants, I witnessed the Spirit moving amongst us where the theme was best suited ‘Abundant Grace and Liberating Hope’.
Attending the Assembly as a second generation member was quite an experience. The Assembly was more than just discussing reports and proposals. We started and ended each day with worship; we had Talanoa sessions where a mat was rolled out and two Ministers led us in sharing God’s word; and we had ‘circles’ or groups centred on discipleship, worship, multicultural life and so on, which we were given the chance to attend during lunch to learn more and hear experiences from others to encourage and inspire others in that field.
I was given the chance to speak in the discipleship group as a second generation and it was such pleasure to have done so.
In addition, we had working groups with a facilitator to lead us in discussion. This allowed us to voice our opinions and discuss issues and concerns in smaller groups, to help us come to an understanding or a feel of where the majority of the Assembly members were for a particular proposal. It was good, but it was intense and hectic. There were people who opposed others and argued their point, but of course everything was under control by the leadership of facilitators and the presence of chaplains.
However, in the hall where reports were given and proposals were introduced to the Assembly as a whole, the atmosphere was full of mixed emotions. There were deep and intense conversations where we heard people cry and tell their stories, we were told the struggles and brokenness they have or are experiencing, but most inspirational was witnessing God’s people stand their ground and hold their deep convictions, trusting God in the process.
I was challenged to be bold and courageous, to stand firm in God’s Word, despite the direction of wind in the air. We absolutely started and ended the meeting with God’s abundant grace and liberating hope. Despite the decisions that have been made, God is still good, so let us continue to entrust ourselves and the church to God.