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Journey asks Heather Watson: Who inspires you?

IN 1994 I attended the Uniting Church’s National Assembly in Sydney at which Dr Jill Tabart was inducted as President. Jill’s election to President was unusual in a number of respects – she was a woman, a lay person and a Tasmanian. She remains the only woman and the second lay person in the Uniting Church’s history to have held that role.

My observations and experience of that Assembly, and particularly of Jill as she took up that role, have had signifi cant impact on me. It was at that Assembly that the Manual for Meetings, outlining the church’s consensus decision-making processes, was adopted. Jill had been one of the architects of that framework, having successfully introduced a similar framework at a World Council of Church’s meeting.

Having had some experience of “Westminster” meeting procedures I was sceptical about the capacity of a consensus model in a forum of over 300 people to be effective. However, my experience of that Assembly, and in particular the role Jill played in facilitating the processes as President, gave me some insight into the fact that our consensus decision-making as contained in the Manual for Meetings was ahead of its time and truly a gift to the Church.

It’s a gift that has the most to offer when people with the right skills and experience are exercising leadership within the framework.

What particularly resonated with me was Jill’s calm but fi rm approach, her capacity to demonstrate empathy to those who were passionate but whose views were not universally supported, and her ability to correctly identify the mood of the meeting in terms of moving on, or taking more time to work through the issues.

In various roles related to the church and in my professional life I often facilitate group discussions and sometimes chair meetings. I have implemented the consensus decision-making framework and, in other contexts, adopted the principles but modified its application in appropriate ways.

When I have received positive feedback about my own roles, I often reflect on the significance of my experience of Dr Tabart at that Assembly meeting and how that inspirational experience has continued to positively impact me.

Heather Watson is Chair of the UnitingCare Queensland Board, a partner of McCullough Robertson Lawyers, and a director of anumber of charitable and non-profit companies