Thursday, 16 February 2017

Closure of Ministry Remarks

Written by Rev. Elenie Poulos

When I started in this ministry I had no idea what it was about – just an unshakeable sense that it was where I was meant to be.

I’m very thankful for their willingness to take such an enormous risk, but I still wonder, on occasion, how it was that the interview panel decided to give me the job. 

In my first week, I found myself having to draft a media release and organise a meeting with the Immigration Minister for the President. It took me four days to draft the media release and two weeks to work up the courage to contact the Minister’s office. Mild terror was my constant companion for about five years and continued to make appearances, right up to this moment, in fact.

There were three aspects of the role that were the source of such mild terror: the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the Church in the public space; the constant feeling that I never really knew enough about the issues; and the responsibility of ensuring that the Church was not silent in the face of injustice. And if you’re thinking that those three things were the core aspects of the ministry, you’d be right.

Fortunately for me, I was never alone. There are so many people I would like to thank by name for having supported and encouraged me, prodded, poked, pushed and challenged me, held my hand and provided a shoulder to cry on, but if I did that we would miss drinks and that would not be good. But there are two people in those early days who, through their mentorship, helped me to understand this ministry and define myself in the role.

Rev. Dr Ann Wansbrough taught me about policy: how to read it and how to understand it. She taught me how to bring theology into conversation with policy; about the importance of carrying the story of the church, good and bad, into our advocacy; and how to bring a faith perspective into the public space without losing people. Ann taught me about the importance of intellectual rigour in good advocacy. 

Rosemary Hudson Miller taught me about advocacy and activism: about how solidarity was where Christians and the Church should begin and end our mission for justice. She taught me about lobbying politicians – when to go hard and when to tread lightly. Rosemary taught me that church members look to the institution of the Church to support their action through official statements and through the words and actions of bold and courageous leaders speaking truth to power.

If others judge that I have taken these lessons and lived them well in my ministry I will be satisfied.

Thank you to all those who I have worked with in the Assembly over the years, many who are here today. Past and present Presidents, General Secretaries, Associate General Secretaries, National Directors, Media Officers and communication and support staff. Thank you to all my synod colleagues, past and present. It’s been fun. I was fortunate to have been supported by amazingly gifted, knowledgeable and generous Reference Committee Chairs and members. I want to acknowledge the wonderfully kind, smart, talented and forgiving UnitingJustice staff who shared the journey with me – Tanya Richmond, Alicia Pearce, Jen Whyte, Siobhan Marren, Cynthia Coghill and Aletia Dundas. When you’re a team of two, or three as we were for a short while, the relationship stakes are high. How blessed I have been by you.

And, finally, on a personal note, to you, Nicole Mockler: your baking has endeared me to my colleagues; your wisdom has saved me from myself more times than I care to remember; your support never faltered and your love has sustained and nourished me through good times and bad. I could not have done this without you. 

It has been a deep privilege to have been called by the Church to this unique ministry, for so long. I have met so many extraordinary people, learned so much, and been in places and done things that as a teenager growing up in Katoomba, I didn't even know were possible. I have been profoundly changed by this ministry and it is my hope that I have changed something in the world, just a little, for the better.

My hope and prayer for the Church and for us all and is that we can continue to boldly speak and act for justice and peace in the world, not counting the cost. For if we, who are called by God to be a light to the world cannot see and hear those who society violates and makes invisible, if we cannot hear the groans of creation, who can?

May the God of love and life bless you all.