I want to start by saying that the mission of God lived out through the Uniting Church has much to be hopeful about. Do you know how I know this? Look around you... Look around... Do you see? Even in this church there are 400 reasons to be filled with hope.
I've been the General Secretary of the Assembly for nearly 4 months - not long at all. I love it! A wonderful President to share the leadership of the Assembly with – thanks Stuart. Amazing people, amazing mission, amazing staff, amazing partnerships with partner churches, even amazing Commitees! Here's a few reflections from me...
A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to attend the NSW.ACT Synod. Wow was it amazing! We were graciously and wonderfully led by Myung Hwa - thank you.
At the beginning of a session using open space technology, Andrew Williams the General Secretary encouraged us to be open to the possibilities that the conversations we were about to have would bring. He said that we should be prisoners of hope. I sat there, awed by that phrase, "prisoners of hope" and wondered what it would be like if we dedicated ourselves to being God's Church offering hope - in everything we did, in every action, every decision, every plan for the future, every $ we spent. (I know, that last thought is a little scary for some people! But I reckon it's time for us to be brave! Don't you??)
One of the conversations I participated in was about how we encourage and develop next gen leaders, led by an amazing woman leader in our Church, Charissa Suli. It was an encouraging conversation, where the wisdom of younger leaders shone through, challenging us to think differently about the church of the future and how next gen leaders will lead, and will need to lead. The next day when the conversations were prioritised for action, this conversation was number one. We can't afford to lose this hope.
In February I met with the General Secretaries - they're a great team. (We could probably do with a few more women in those roles in the future...) At the moment, it's Colleen and the men. I asked them this question: If all your dreams for the Uniting Church came true, what would the Uniting Church look like in 10 years time? One of the responses was that people in Australia would be saying, “isn’t it amazing how the people of the UCA turned that stuff about the refugees around. Thank goodness we don’t have offshore detention because of what they did.” Let them stay. Sanctuary. The hope we bear is often not only for ourselves is it? It is the hope of others.
Last Tuesday I spent time with the CEO and Board of UnitingCare Queensland. As with all of our aged and community services, UCQ is going through a massive transformation as it makes sense of the future. They wanted to spend time in conversation about the foundations of their identity as part of the mission of the Uniting Church. We spent time with the Basis of Union, the inaugural Statement to the Nation, the story in Luke of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We talked about the early church, a group also in the midst of a massive transformation, making sense of Jesus' life and example as they looked to be faithful to God in their practical action and everyday life. One of the Board members asked, "so what are the symbols of the Uniting Church?" The answers that were given were the Basis of Union, and our logo. What would your answer be?
Sometimes we find hope in unexpected places and conversations. I found hope yesterday in the panel on reconciliation - through my tears...
Our continued covenant and conversations with the UAICC bring hope. As we rightly lament and rightly acknowledge our sinful ways of colonisation and continuing racism and lack of attention to enough action to close the gap, our lament and remembering should inform our action, but it doesn't enough. We see hope in the First Peoples of this land as their immense wisdom and grace invites us to hope. Brooke, we want to be part of your impossible dreams. Denise and Candace, we want to hear and learn from the ancient stories of your land. Thank you for being leaders to us.
Have you ever played the game, truth or dare?? Last time I played it was on my 40th birthday - it involved champagne and some long time girlfriends. (I'm afraid the ground rules for that event prevent me from sharing anything discussed or divulged with you...) I'd like to finish with a bit of truth and dare before I offer a blessing. I want to challenge all of us to be truthful - with each other about what we're dealing with, about how we can encourage each other, be there for each other, about what we need and what God's Church needs, and what we think are the answers to these – even if they aren’t the comfortable answers, the easy answers. We've got some challenges, and there's going to be some changes. But let’s open up those doors and let God's light shine in on us. And I'd like to dare you - I'd like to dare you to be courageous bearers of hope. Let's hope the heck out of the Uniting Church! Let's let the hope of God through the example of the incarnated Christ overwhelm us and how we are the Uniting Church in Australia.
As we go home, my plea to you is don't forget this hope we have shared, don't lose the joy you have felt - let it run free, let it loose on our Uniting Church, look for the possibilities, the potential and don't forget that God is with us, and will never, ever let us go.
Last week I had time on the phone with some General Secretaries from around the world. Nora Sanders, from the United Church of Canada, also a lay woman, offered this blessing and I offer it to us today:
May we draw courage from the past
Learn from the realities of the present
And be fearless as we face the future
I am so looking forward to being a fearless bearer of hope with all of you.