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Much more than a meeting

NEXT WEEK the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia will convene in Brisbane.
An Assembly is much more than you may think, much more than a meeting, not least because people gather from across the nation and from every part of the church.

The membership of the Assembly reflects that rich and exciting diversity that helps make the Uniting Church unique.

The program of the Assembly is similarly diverse, incorporating worship, Bible study, story-telling, reporting, planning, visioning, sharing, fellowship, group-work and decision-making.

We will celebrate our international and ecumenical partnerships; affirm the nation-wide network of ministry provided by Frontier Services and UnitingCare; encourage those who stand with and speak on behalf of the poor and defenc eless; commit ourselves afresh to journey in covenant with the Aboriginal and Islander people of our land; rejoice in the growing presence and influence in our church of people from other lands; and wrestle with issues that are significant for our life together as the people of God.

The Assembly is about being a national church!

It is quite wrong, therefore, as some are prone to do, to make judgements about the quality and effectiveness of an Assembly meeting based on the way in which one particular matter is addressed and resolved, and this will be the fourth consecutive Assembly at which debate will take place on the subject of sexuality and leadership in the life of our church.

Notwithstanding the protracted and divisive nature of this debate, and the fact that some ministers and members have left our church because of it, this issue does not define the Uniting Church.

I have been encouraged over recent months by the number of people who are saying just that.

They know what they believe about this matter but are determined that neither the issue itself, nor the debate about it, will distract them from their commitment to active participation in the life of the church through its worship, witness and service.

In my address to the Synod, on the occasion of my induction as Moderator last September, I said this: “It is so easy to be distracted from our primary calling and purpose.

“I’ve seen it happen too many times over the years, in a great many different situations: God’s people so quickly and readily embroiled in conflicts that sometimes rage on for years, diverting and consuming the time and energy that ought to be devoted to the mission of the church and the ministry of Christ!

“We don’t have to surrender our convictions in order to get on with the work of the Kingdom!

“So long as we belong to the Uniting Church we must faithfully, obediently and passionately live out our call in partnership with all our brothers and sisters.

“That is what Christ expects, and we do it not to please ourselves or satisfy our own needs, but for the sake of the gospel and the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth!”

Therefore, I would ask three things of you all.

First, uphold in your prayers the President and General Secretary, those involved in the organisation and management of the agenda and associated events, those providing leadership of worship and small groups, all the representatives, and each aspect of the program.

Our prayer, as Jesus himself has taught us, should be that God’s will might prevail and not our own!
Second, actively demonstrate respectfulness and openness in all your conversations and relationships, remembering that other people hold their convictions with the same passion and sincerity as you do.

Our commitment to live and work together as brothers and sisters in Christ will help us to deal with our differences constructively and positively.

Third, resolve to remain focussed on, and committed to, those things that are central to our life in Christ and our ministry in his name.

Let us worship fervently, witness courageously and serve compassionately, and so honour Christ, the Lord of the church.

The Assembly is much more than you may think, much more than a meeting!