The 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia opened on 8 July at Box Hill Town Hall in Melbourne with worship, prayer and an invite to take home some free woollen wear.
In the Town Hall’s large central meeting room UCA President Stuart McMillan welcomed Assembly members as they took their designated chairs around circular tables, each with a centrepiece of a small wooden cross with different Indigenous motifs.
The theme of this year’s Assembly Abundant Grace Liberating Hope was prominently displayed on a large video screen behind the stage and mirrored on four smaller screens set in each room corner.
“Everything we do from right now is important to us,” Mr McMillan said.
The hall rang out with an opening hymn before Aunty Georgina Nicholson gave Assembly members, guests and visitors a welcome to country on behalf of the Wurundjeri people.
Ms Nicholson noted that Assembly coincides with NAIDOC Week, which is a celebration of Indigenous culture, history and accomplishments.
She said that her personal heritage of strong and resilient Indigenous women made this year’s Naidoc Week theme “Because of her we can” especially significant.
The first proposal brought by Assembly General Secretary Colleen Geyer was to confirm the election of Dr Deidre Palmer to President of the Uniting Church in Australia ahead of the installation service being held tonight at St Michael’s Uniting Church in the city.
A round of applause accompanied the holding up of orange cards, which indicate warmth for the proposal.
Mr McMillan, whose three-year term as President finishes tonight, noted that there was consensus on electing his successor by both card and acclamation.
A number of other proposals concerned with the procedures and logistics of running of the Assembly meeting were bundled together and approved by consensus.
Mr McMillan then invited Assembly members to acknowledge ministers who had been ordained and those who had passed away. He finished this section by leading the gathering in prayer.
Ms Geyer invited all those who were attending Assembly for the first time to stand, which led to more than half of those at the tables getting to their feet.
First-timers were encouraged to learn from the Assembly veterans still seated.
“We need to look out for one another and help one another,” Ms Geyer said.
Assembly Associate General Secretary Rob Floyd invited members to take part in the Assembly Circles of Interest.
The seven Circles of Interest represent different mission and ministry areas of Assembly, such as Walking together as First and Second Peoples or Being a Multicultural Church.
Each Assembly member has been given seven stickers representing a Circles of Interest and can display whichever ones particularly engage them on their name lanyard.
Each Circle of Interest will be canvassed during a lunchtime meeting during Assembly week.
As he closed the afternoon session, Assembly Business Manager Geoffrey Grinton invited each Assembly member who was feeling the Melbourne cold to grab a knitted scarf, wrap or glove from the well-stocked bins in the foyer.
Mr Grinton assured members the winter warmers were in plentiful supply and members could take them home as a mark of how the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania welcomed guests.