It was not just one of those days, but one that helps define who we are as church, and how our discipleship is shaped for the task before us.
That particular Thursday began as many Thursdays do, but middled – and ended – not with a whimper, but a bang. Sometimes in the Synod offices, we are “just getting the job done”, as we seek to serve the Church, as the Church serves the community, but fanfares are not always the order of the day.
First stop was St. Stephen’s, in the heart of the city, opposite Parliament House. I sat in the front row of one of our most beautiful, “churchiest” churches, between a doctor and a past NSW Premier and federal Foreign Minister on one side, and three recovering drug users and the Executive Director of Uniting on the other.
We celebrated two decades of hard core, high quality, care and justice, as the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre was recognised as a lifesaving, life-changing institution at the heart of Kings Cross. The testimonies – of the three men on my right giving thanks for their lives, of a Liberal and Labor politician in furious agreement, of doctors Marianne Jauncey and Ingrid Van Beek in passionate service – all bore witness to a hope in action driven by Rev. Harry Herbert and our Synod, which has changed thousands of lives, politics and a community.
We hung our banner of hearts across the facade of Parliament House and danced down Macquarie Street, returning to our other work.
As I landed in the Synod Office, we welcomed student leaders from our schools. More than twenty senior students, chosen by their peers, had come to discuss the issues which they had elected as important – consent, climate change and the environment, and mental health registered as their top three.
This was an opportunity for me and some other members of our Synod to engage with the considerable capacity of these students, as they wrestled with confronting problems which beset them and everyone else in our community.
They were not hindered by their surrounds but, rather, energised by the opportunity to have their views expressed and challenged. When they were asked what it means to be part of a Uniting Church school, even those students from other faiths were able to name their sense of being welcomed, of engaging in education, faith and issues which are important to them. Almost everyone talked of the diversity – of faith, of opinion, of experience – and they attributed that to being part of the Uniting Church.
We have children in schools of all styles across our Synod; they are not the church of the future. They are the church now, and we should celebrate them as such. The gifts offered by all teachers, by chaplains, by parents, by our children need to be treasured.
As our schools’ event drew to a close, I hustled down Pitt Street to an Iftar meal hosted by the Affinity Intercultural Foundation, convened by a man who calls every friend “cousin”.
This was a meal within our community, for Muslims and as many friends as they could fit in the room. My table had a judge, a politician, and two members of the armed services. We sat near politicians and broadcasters, journalists and sportspeople, as we considered what it means to be a diverse, creative community. We wrestled with justice for refugees and Australians trying to come home, from India and other countries. We voiced concern about labelling, even blaming, specific groups of people because of their belief and background.
Iftar is not only a meal as part of the season of Ramadan, it is often hospitality at its best, where difference and shared hopes are held together.
This story of my Thursday is a story of our Uniting Church; engaged in conversation with our community, often over a coffee, or dolmades. It is meeting with politicians and priests, or those ensnared by the challenges of life, or emerging from its injustices. We know that Jesus met with people living in all aspects of his community and, at our best, we seek to do the same.
We are called to be in the midst of things. It is here that we bear witness to our hope in Jesus, and offer that hope to others with whom we share our lives. As disciples of Jesus, we are in conversation with our community, articulating hope, embodying justice.