The first-ever online meeting for the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia took place over the weekend of 17-18 July. Rebecca Beisler reports.
In two historical and joyful moments for the church, the 16th Assembly installed Rev Sharon Hollis as its third woman President and declared Rev Charissa Suli the new President-elect, the youngest and first person from a diverse cultural background to serve in the role.
The meeting began with a welcome and Acknowledgement of Country from Interim Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) National Chair Mark Kickett inviting us to remember and hold in our hearts the First Peoples who walked on this land.
Hundreds around the country tuned into the live-streamed Opening Service of Worship and Installation of Rev Hollis as the 16th President of the Uniting Church in Australia.
In a powerful sermon reflecting on the theme for the Assembly, “Dwelling in Love”, Sharon encouraged Uniting Church members and the church to be upturned and transformed by the radically inclusive love of God.
“The love Paul talks about (in his letter to the Corinthians) is active, tough, resilient and long suffering. This love risks the fragility of human flesh in the incarnation. It crosses boundaries. It raises up those who religion and society have excluded. It endures the cross. It rises again.”
On Sunday morning Rev Charissa Suli was declared President-elect of the Uniting Church. In her response to the announcement Charissa said, “This is truly an historic moment for the church. This is ground-breaking that you call a second generation Tongan Australian, still in her thirties. Today we move forward because of you all.”
“I am conscious of people, both known and unknown, who have prayed, sacrificed and struggled for this moment. But let us celebrate it and give thanks for what God has done and continues to do through your witness to Christ’s radical hospitality.”
Retiring President Dr Deidre Palmer delivered an address reflecting on her term as President, encouraging Uniting Church members to remain strong and full of hope in the midst of the challenging global context we all face.
In her address, Deidre reminded us of the abundant grace of God and liberating hope we have in Christ – which is always more than we could ever imagine.
“These last three years have taught me that we can plan, imagine a way forward and be totally disrupted. But we are a people of resurrection—we follow a risen, crucified Lord, who is with us always and empowers us to be a people of love, reconciliation, and hope. You are witnesses to this hope as you gather here.”
Black liberation theologian and Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture Professor Anthony Reddie delivered the Cato Lecture on what it means to hold together our oneness and our diversity.
“Holding together unity and diversity, particularity and universality, the sense of being one but also respecting our particular differences … is something the church has asserted but rarely practised well.”
“I believe this is an ongoing tension in which the power of the holy spirit enables us to both celebrate those things that make us specifically who we are, but also affirms our oneness and affirms that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.”
Further the Assembly extended the appointment of Colleen Geyer as the Assembly General Secretary, elected a new Assembly Standing Committee, Advocates of Circles and Chairpersons for Assembly Agency Boards and National Committees.
Mark Kickett brought a report from Congress, and shared via video, stories about relationship, culture and faith from our First Peoples. Read the report.
President Sharon Hollis welcomed our overseas guests watching online from around the world (Read their letters of greeting) and a Minute of Appreciation was observed for those who have served faithfully in the national life of the church.
Despite being physically apart, 16th Assembly members, and others from across the church, shared in prayer and worship.
On Day 1, 16th Assembly Members finished the day in prayer with the practice of The Examen led by Richmond Uniting Church minister Rev Sally Douglas.
On Day 2, First Nations leaders from Nungalinya College in Darwin led the Bible Reflections. Speaking from their own cultural and theological perspectives, the leaders shared on the theme “Dwelling in love”.
In the closing worship, 16th Assembly members were invited to write or draw a prayer for the reconvened Assembly in 2022.
A final blessing was offered by Queensland Synod Moderator Rev Andrew Gunton from Sunshine Coast where the reconvened Assembly will meet: “Bless us in our gathering and our scattering. Bless us in our decisions and our discipleship. Bless us as we anticipate taking our leave and as we are excited for gathering together again.”