There is Hope Indeed

Rev. Vinod Victor, from one of our Partner Churches, the Church of South India (CSI), has written a reflection on the 15th Triennial Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia. He was also captured on video by UnitingWorld. 

By Rev. Vinod Victor

The 15th Triennial Assembly of the Uniting Church of Australia was held from the 8th to the 14th of July at the Box Hill Town Hall Melbourne Australia. The theme of the Assembly and the Triennium 2018-2021, “Abundant Grace, Liberating Hope” summed up the spirit in which the assembly met. Despite the various challenges the church was living with, it indeed was a celebration of the abundance of the grace of God. In a spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope the church could meet and discuss building a future with God and the peoples of God in solidarity with the entire creation.

Dr Deidre Palmer, the new President of the UCA summed up the theme thus, “it arises from our present context and captures the passionate commitment as a church to being a unified, diverse, intergenerational, multicultural, compassionate and reconciling Christian Community.” Quoting Letty Russel she reminded that God has nurtured in us a “dis-ease with business as usual” and guiding the Assembly, Palmer kept reminding that the church is called to be bearers of God’s justice, compassion, healing and hope in the world.

I had the privilege to represent the Church of South India (CSI) at the Assembly in Melbourne. There were evident affirmations that the CSI was an inspiration in the formation of the UCA and the interconnectedness still is a live wire.

The Assembly for me stood out for seven main reasons among many others.

  1. It strongly affirmed the multicultural nature of the church giving space for people of several ethnicities to officially be part of the assembly as members.
  2. It had the willingness to take on board risky business including redefining the paradigms of marriage. The church affirmed that from a space of grace we need to go further to a space of justice and integrity. The aspiration of the peoples pushed into the margins to be at the centre of the life and witness of the church need to be affirmed. It was not an easy call but a call that had to be taken.
  3. It had the humility to apologise for injustice done in the past including to the original owners of the land and to victims of violence and to commit to recompense for the damages done albeit symbolically. Yes in the name of mission and colonisation terrible damage has been done to the First Peoples of the land. The Royal Commission report brought to light several issues that were known but not part of the public discourse into the limelight of social gaze. These had to be addressed with justice ensured. An apology to the LGBTIQ communities of Australia was also initiated. All steps in the right direction towards ensuring justice.
  4. It had the foresight to discuss sovereignty of the original peoples of the land. The presence of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress affirming the right of the first peoples to self-determination was only symbolic of the larger intent of the church. Sovereignty was a much larger call rather than tokenism and the church seemed to have the intent to delve into the same.
  5. It had the courage to broaden the horizons of the safe church standards not just to cope with the requirements of the land but to genuinely ensure that the spaces of religion are safe spaces indeed. The Task Force on the Royal Commission recommendations did take the discourse into a level of utmost commitment to safety standards.
  6. It had the creativity to engage with the context in which the church is placed through the various agencies of the Church and to discuss several issues of prime importance the world is grappling with and the church is called to co-sojourn with. UnitingCare is one of the largest providers of community services in Australia. With over 1600 sites, the diverse functions of the service provider is something the global church has much to learn from. Committing to a better quality of life to the most disadvantaged, leading a strong, unified, compassionate and creative national network, UnitingCare was clear that this ministry was intrinsically linked to the worship and witness of the church.
  7. It had the warmth to receive global partners and give them a space of learning, sharing and challenging, affirming that the church is truly global. UnitingWorld, the international partnership agency of the UCA, did a brilliant job in providing hospitality to a “mini global hub” present at the assembly, talking first-hand about war, poverty, injustice, pain, the refugee movement and the like and helping the church connect with the issues in real life scenarios rather than in the abstract. The international delegates were also given tours of the meaningful and creative ministries undertaken by the church.

One of the Bible Studies at the extremely rich morning worship services looked at the Valley of Dry Bones. The Dry Bones could represent the Bones of Genocide, Bones of the Aboriginal Peoples, Bones of the Minorities emotionally and spiritually annihilated, Bones of the Seas – of those who started as boat people but were never received anywhere. The Question the Assembly asked is, “Is there Hope?” and the affirmation was “In the abundance of grace, there is liberating hope indeed.”

Sharon Hollis was elected by the Assembly as the new President-elect and will be installed at the 16th Assembly slated for Brisbane in 2021.

The reverberating prayer at the Assembly was

God of all mercy
Give Us Grace to make a fresh start
As we hope to be forgiven, teach us how to forgive
And lead us forward in a new life
Where neither grudges nor resentment has a part
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Rev. Vinod Victor with UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer at the 15th Assembly.