Wow 2017 is here already!

There have been so much happening in the last few months that 2017 seems to sneak by without much fanfare. Amongst those activities, my family and I bid farewell to our church family that has been a part of our journey for the last five years. The months of December and January are hectic months with both family and church activities at their peak.

For the majority of Tongans around the globe, the beginning of each year provides an opportunity for each community to gather and reflect on the year that has just past and to look forward with hope and anticipation to the year to come. “Malanga Faka’osi ta’u attracted its content and purpose from the ‘Watch Night’ tradition of the church. Tongan congregations everywhere observe this tradition in which 10-12 sermons are preached during a 2-3hours service that starts at 10 pm until after midnight. On the stroke of midnight, mass prayers of thanksgiving are heard out loud from all members attending to welcome the new year. Joyful and uplifting music is sung followed by members greeting and embracing each other on the first day of the new year. It is standard practice that members will then return home to greet their families and share together in their first Thanksgiving devotion of the new year. On this night and also the first week of the year, sleep is a scarce commodity.

On the first week of the year, the church observes a ‘Week of Prayer’ with two services each day from Monday to Sunday. The morning services usually start at 6.00am with evening services commencing at 6.00pm. After each service, it has been the custom that fellowship continues over a meal, I mean a ‘feast prepared by allocated families. Speeches of encouragement are shared during meal time and often cultural stories, and stuff of life are shared for the benefit of the younger generations.

I vividly remember these gatherings as very formative and influential in my upbringing. I could not remember setting a personal goal for the year nor making a promise to do certain things. But I can not forget how my uncle’s sharing of his life encounters and circumstances nudged him in a particular way that gave him hope and purpose in life.

In my experience, making promises or setting goals for the year is best done through those who were ‘there’ already – coming from the other spectrum of expertise, the previously known. Not me projecting into the unknown my hope of what it may or may not be possible for me to achieve and do.

I still very much enjoy attending the ‘Uike Lotu’ and always looking forward to hearing these ‘nuggets’ of wisdom that will help me navigate through the maze of life.

And it is so true that “It takes a village to raise a child’ in every way.











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Final Day of Synod

Day 5: Morning session
Bethel Pastoral Centre report:
Bethel Centre provides support for those who have been abused or misuse of power in the church – this including psychological , spiritual, sexual.  An independent service of the church, resourced by professional and trained staff to conduct this work. I would encourage all members of our congregations who may need support in dealing with any trauma or being subjected to any form of abuse, even from other members of the congregation, this is a great resource for all members of the church as the process is very confidential. There are also many workshops available for members to attend and be a part of, such as “Bullying & Boundaries”, “Congregational Dynamic”, The process of Forgiveness”.- a very good resource available for all. Staff are available to be invited to work directly with congregations in dealing with some of the above issues.  Resources: Online Library that books available to be borrowed Website is also a good resource and a soon to be Facebook page. Website:  Note: Particularly useful  and recommended for joined ministry placements
Culture of Safety Report
Ensure that the Synod is a safe place for everyone to be, including children, staff, congregation members, in deed everyone. Legislative requirements that congregations need to be aware of
  1. Working with Children Check and registration- ensure that both congregations through Church Council meet these legislative requirements.
  2. Minimum Child Safe Standards (Victoria) all congregations needs to be compliant by January 2017  7 standards includes, Child safety policy, A code of conduct, Strategies to deal with its core responsibilities int his area.
Presentation: “Ten myths about sexual offenders” by Dr Danny Sullivan. 
  1. Most sexual abuse committed by strangers – most by family members, people known to victim.
  2. Sexual abuse is detected and punished.
  3. Most sex offenders reoffend – not true
  4. Sex offenders have obvious traits
  5. Sexual abuse victims with obvious traits, e.g.. come from vulnerable family
  6. All sexual offenders are male – 95% offenders are male & 5% female
  7. Grooming
  8. Organisations can prevent sexual offending
  9. Treatment for offenders is ineffective – once an offender always an offender – benefit from treatment
  10. Systemic responses are effective.
Bible Study 4: Final Study from Sally on the theme of reengaging with ancient understanding of Jesus – Woman Wisdom today. I have posted up handouts from all Bible study on Leopold website for your own reflection.
Over the last few 4 days, I have heard so many of my colleagues stood up and share their thoughts with the rest of Synod. In the silence I wish I could muster the confidence to stand and share my own thoughts. Not that anyone stopped me, it just feel not right. If only I saw many of my CALD colleagues stood up and share, just maybe will push me forward. But I was happy to let others speak on my behalf. So in the silence, and after the presentation on ‘Culture of Safety’ I penned these thoughts
What does it mean to be safe
To be safe is to feel the absence of shame,
to let the little voice within speak freely
to be proud of who I am even I know that I am  different
The church, the debate, the decision, consensus?
standing in the shadow remain in my seat
for I feel not the confidence within
to be what I want to say and be
To be safe is to say that I am happy to be just me
To feel free to say and be,
to come out from the dark shadows of the many
and feel the breeze of renewal and claim my place
this is my place, my church my home FREE
for I no longer allow shame overshadow being just ME
I care no more if you do agree
for my HOLY THREE allow me to be
Just the person HE created and say be FREE
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‘Am I a dog!

I offer this gut reaction as I sit here listening to the current debate on the floor of Synod 2016. Over the last few days, much of the table group conversations and facilitated group discussions were concentrated on the implications of the MSR report and recommendations. Amendments to the original proposals have been put forward yet the common mind of the Synod on this topic still proves elusive.

The title of this reflection hijacked my thoughts momentarily and transported me to the story of that famous valley of Elah where the fledgling kingdom of Israel squared off against the Philistines. A well-told tale of a very renowned confrontation waged between 2 unlikely foes, on one side is Goliath and the other, David. A story of a battle between a giant and an underdog and how the underdog wins in the end.

I am not confident that there is a battle going on or that there are a giant and underdog status in the way the debate has been conducted. I guess what I am feeling at the moment is the failure of both sides of the discussion to give due acknowledgement to the most unlikely but specific outcome that God will continue to work through the most unlikely of circumstances, and the David like-people and yes even though the Church history of financial mismanagement to bring about God’s justice and peace to God’s people. Let us not underestimate God’s underdog status!

I suspect that the most significant mistake Goliath made was that he allowed his past experiences in war got the better of him. The voices we have heard from the Synod floor over the past few days raised legitimate concerns over matters of financial sustainability, and they caution us on the changes that need to take place to our governance arrangement. I am still unconvinced that the way that we address the challenges we are currently facing is to allow our failures in the past restraint us from embracing what God may have in store for us in the future. We need to be as prudent with our finances, but it should not prevent us from walking with the most vulnerable people we are called to be with and for. Establishing processes to deal with Presbytery resourcing should not be about saving the bottom line or jus about the financial sustainability into the future but an opportunity to explore ways to enhance and resource Presbytery and congregations for the mission we are called to exercise.



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Day 3 Afternoon Session

Day 3 Synod
Reflection on MSR
Much anticipated report of the Major Strategic Review group was tabled. As expected this report has generated a lot of passionate conversations and strong views expressed from both side of the conversation. As I have mentioned to you in our earlier conversations, this group was set up in response to a resolution of the last Synod that a review of across the Synod wide based operation, Presbyteries and congregations tasked with reviewing Synod operations in response to the Uniting our Future process. We were directly affected by this, the South Geelong congregation was closed and the congregation amalgamated with East Geelong UC. The East Geelong Uniting Tennis club was sold off and relocated to its new site in Breakwater.
Where are we? This is just a glimpse of the conversations that has been had in response to some of the recommendations made by this group. (Recommendations posted on our website under heading ‘Synod 2016’) What is clear from the group’s report consultation was far reaching, thorough and all areas of operation consulted. Recommendations made so far, though still very hotly discussed, will bring about significant changes to how Synod and Presbyteries function. I want to assure you of how much the processes of the church has assisted the Synod in discerning the sense of what God through the Holy Spirit is saying to us.
The details of this report has clear implications on the governance of all Synod based operation, Presbytery and indeed congregations. These changes will mostly have direct affect on Synod and Presbyteries but will have a secondary flow on affect on our life as a congregation. These changes are all about bringing a CULTURAL change to the life and work of the Synod. It is about recommitting the Church to what is the ‘Primary focus’ not that which is ’secondary’ as my friend Rev Brendon puts it. In my view at this stage, even though there are ongoing sticking points around issues raised by proposal 19 and 23 I am confident that the underlying spirit in which this report and subsequent recommendations seeks to articulate, are about recommitting the Church to doing what is at the core of  its calling to be the church.
In light of these proposals, I want to simply highlight what in my view are essential part of these proposals that will have the biggest impact on the life of our two congregations.
  1. Streamlining governance , Boards that used to be operating separately such as CTM and BOMAR, Commission for Mission will come under one umbrella so that it is able to communicate effectively with each other, sharing their resources and streamlining processes. All Synod based ministries will be under two main group, one is the “Ministry and Mission Committee” and the “Property and Operations Committee” They report directly to the Standing Committee.
  2. Coordinated and closer working understanding and practice between Synod and Presbyteries, funding realigned to reflect these missional priorities.
  3. Reexamining the roles of Presbytery ministers, Chairperson, Pastoral care to ensure best utilisation of resources and personnel.
What might be the impact on our congregations?
Utilisation of Synod resources towards mission and mission related activities.
pastoral care minister’s availability to support our congregations on pastoral matters as it has been the case in the past with issues known to you all.
As debate are still taking place I will report more later.
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Day 3 Vic Tas Synod 2016

Day 3 Synod: Morning Sessions:
UAICC report by Ken Sumners:
Called the church for ongoing covenanting relationship adopted by earlier council decision and reminded the Synod of that responsibility by posing the question Are we really a post colonial systems and or structures? Are we really reflect the spirit of the covenanting committed to by our church? Where are we with that conversation and should we be doing more to break down structures that not within the spirit of that covenanting.
Invited the synod to Narana, as a way of connecting with the story and life of the UIACC victoria. Challenged the synod into reimagining the covenanting relationship.
Wesley Mission, Report
Report of the proud history the Wesley mission in addressing the social issues faced by the community. Wesley invited to join newly organisation, under UnitingCare Vic for a number of reasons. The Board considered their position in light of current, and future challenges and discerned that it is in the best interest of the Wesley Mission to maintain its current mission and to ensure that this will be the case going into the future in light also of  requirements for a sustainable organisation. Joined the project in March, legacy rich and vision  that is will survive with in this newly created organisation.
 Merged with the Uniting Care
Uniting Housing Victoria.
Managing a stock of supported housing. Question of sustainability and assessing how might that be achieved attract ongoing attention of the group, committed to the ministry of providing social housing, Clear area of needs, welfare, need for secure accommodation going into the future. Relatively small stock, but still very effective in the work they are doing. Demonstrated plan for or model of housing utilising church properties, buildings to address social housing issues.
Overarching question for the Synod to consider, Should we as organisation be involved in social housing? Unfortunately no time allocated for this conversation to take place even though a question was put to that effect. Maybe Business Committee will reallocate this for further discussion later in the day.
Commission for Mission Report
Period of uncertainly due MSR and other challenges facing by the church at the present climate. Renewal of the church is not about church being the subject of the renewal but it is all about the world, addressing powerlessness of the world. Main work of the CFM is to partner and resource the church for the work of the church in the world –  “crossing borders without disregarding boundaries” The work of the commission may have some impact due the new reconfigured governance under MSR review.
Bible Study: Rev Dr Sally Douglas
Woman Wisdom Sofia from Proverbs and Intertestamental texts. Jesus is imaged as ‘woman wisdom’ Jesus is wisdom. Matt 11,
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Day 2 VicTas Synod 2016

Day 2 Synod
Uniting Care Netword Control Group
Amalgamation of all Uniting Care agencies in Victoria under one governance arrangement.  Calling for more collaboration with local congregations, developing intentional partnerships between Uniting Care and other areas of ministry of the Church.
Royal Commission Task Group
Main aim keeping children safe.Synod  Legal staff assisted with the work of this group. Takes a village to protect a child.  Call for the Church to remain vigilant, care and safety of all members. Processes of the Church scrutinised out of the Royal Commission experience,   minor aspect of historical practices were named and dealt with promptly.
General Secretary:
Highlights that church is going through challenging times. Impact of being the church today and tomorrow, some find these life giving, some disconcerting, role been full, interesting and challenging. Mark is umbled by the support from across the synod for the work that he is doing. His tasks includes pastoral care and governance leadership, ensuring of the implementation of the vision, offering pastoral care to Moderator.
Highlights that the varying responsibilities on his shoulders were achieved only due to the support of many people. MSR has taken a significant porting of his time and attention.
UCA Funds Management report
Financial Climate: Uncertain financial circumstance has created pressure on income stream through investments funds.
Moved to have UCA funds comes under supervision of ASIC, helps our investor understand that we are reputable, and finally prudent with our financial services.
$990 mil under management, 3.19mil to Synod.
Stats shows strong performance, but needs investment on people, strategic change to cope with ever changing realities.
Ethics investments model has been adopting and run by some congregations. UCA growth portfolio performing well,
Celebrated last year in operation for now 30years.
Report of Chaplaincy in State Schoos Task Groups
New possibilities unfolded, in schools, military support, prisons, ministry as a strength living practical theology in the world. Synod to become main funding for chaplains in the
Seeking for a new narrative, Old narrative is about top down education. Working Group is seeking the support of Synod to provide chaplaincy ministry to public schools. Table discussions on this issue and if to go by the mood of our table, there is a general support for the proposal with a lot of questions to be answered. Amongst are clarifying ones, around funding available, support and sustainability, model that is fair for all. Feedback were presented to Business Committee for further discussion.
At lunch time, the moderator helped launch Dr Geoff Thomson’s boo, “Disturbing Much Disturbing Many: Theology provoked by the Basis of Union.
After lunch, on the more moving program in every Synod is the service of tribute for those ministers who passed away in between Synod, and the recognition of significant ministerial milestones, ministers who celebrated 50, 60, 65. There were 26 ministers who passed away since the 2014 Synod, 32 ministers retired since 2014, 18 celebrated 50 years ordination, 6 celebrated 60 years ordination and 3 were on 65, Robin Boyd, Raymond Outhred, Reynolds Waters. Synod welcomed also 9 newly ordained ministers since 2014 and 4 ministers received from other Synods. Rev Dr Darcy Wood, provided the response.
Commission for Mission Report was received, no significant matter in my view to report.
Centre for Theology and Ministry report was tabled and received by Synod. 3 students spoke of their positive experience and encouraged other ministers to take up ongoing ministry training.
More work in the plenary discussion on MSR proposals, seems to be more questions asked which need clarification. Facilitation group provided feedback from the first small group discussion, a mixed result interns of affirming aspect of proposal 19 and 23, the amended proposal by the facilitation group attracted a very warm response which is a good sign as Synod is progressing debate to achieve a resolution. Very impressed by the process of Consensus, the discerning of the collective mind of over 3 hundred people, I would rather not do it differently.
Again a very full day of Synod concluded with execellent theological reflection by the theological reflector Irish Poet, academic and minister.
Had the opportunity to visit a colleague in ministry who is not well and spent the night with the family. Looking forward to Day 3
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Synod Day 1

Here is a brief summary of our first day here at the Victoria and Tasmania Synod 2016. I am writing this with my two congregations in mind as a way of keeping everyone informed of this very important and necessary part of our life together as a Church.
I have shared with some of you how excited I am to be here at the Synod 2016 not only as a member of the CTM Board, the Synod Business Committee, but also as your minister bringing your blessings, prayers and best wishes  to this council of the Church. Over the next 5 days I will provide a brief summary of the daily business of Synod in the hope that you will be inspired by the work of God through out the life of this Synod.
The day started with a short devotion and a very helpful reminder by the Rev Dr Geoff Thompson of why we meet the way we do and the theological underpinnings that guide and informs our meeting.
Here are very rough notes taken during presentations today. I am just too exhausted to put it in a more legible form but I present these hoping that you may be able to gleaned a nugget of thought or inspiration for your personal benefit or a seed for the way that we may do things differently as a congregation.
A few points from the reports

Placement committee report

Concerns around increasing number of part time placements.
New profile for congregations to fill out on Synod website and all congregations are encouraged to use the updated version. , updated profile for minister to fill out.
Presbyteries finding it hard to deal with congregations who only need part time ministers.
Ministers are waiting for a long time especially from the CALD background. Exit students  have been waiting for 2 or 3 years. Issue raised as she is not experienced. Limitations include appropriateness of placement, limitation placed by students on the condition of their call.
Why are not the placement profiles are not online, so that ministers are able to know what are the requirements from particular congregation. Answer, national process and guidelines dictates, discernment process is not fully utilised, ministers write their profiles to reflect the placement needs.
Board of Mission Report (BOMAR)
Mission support fund, congregation  encourage congregation to maintain giving as for this Church Mission fund depends on this. 23% total income,
Expenditure: synod support 29%, CTM %13.
2016: Budget deficit $2.363 mil, these are due to Child sex abuse commission, Major Strategic Review, current economic environment affect on investment, frontier services propped up until permanent arrangement, Solution: Increase income,
Growing expenditure: Reasons  lack of strategic advice on what to reduce from expenses, need better planning.
Therefore solution: Cost reductions. short term measures – synod based ministry and operations, target of 2 mil savings for 2017,  and income generation, measures changes recommend by MSR.
UnitingAge Well: 
20 chaplains across 20 residential sites, hawthorn and Preston major projects, open 33 bed in Manor lakes, accreditations audits passed, Age advisory community initiative, leading in this field. Age well demonstrate advocate t ageing, leader of this field, call staff to action. focus enabling older people to live meaning life. easy access to care when needed. focus on well being of people. Age well assist, provides support to enable people to stay longer at home. _NED TO EXPLORE THIS AS PARTNERSHIP WITH LOCAL GEELONG UNITING CARE, age well care, home, assisted living in nursing home,
Runs by Board answerable to standing committee. Plan Strategic: an expression of church, increasing relationship and links with congregation, empower people, 66 mil projects completed 2009 -1014, master planning – 176m project next 10 years.
Director of mission, working with congregations in the care of the aged, CTM involves in developing and run workshops and resources to assist congregations. Cash Reserves of 164m  People and culture 152 diff roles, 2500 staff over 600 volunteers, LGBTI program, how about cultural specifics service.
Dan Wotten Report ex-Moderator: Inspiring Speech
Thanks key people, Mark , Isabel, Deb penaluma, Claire Boyd macrae, chaplains 3,
Some points: To rest is to give up care and anxiety casting those care upon God, Church needs to restore rest, this means to be holy, desert provides that for us, come away to a lonely place and rest a while. Church not to fear this period of decline but see it as a profound change, in between times. time of uncertainty,
In his experience as a moderator he acknowledged that not everyone he dealt with have been behaving well, not dying as evolving. We are not to prefer anything than than to do the work of God, to be open and welcome what God is doing to us. We need to patiently bare one another’s weaknesses for these are works of the soul.
MSR should not be predicated as the logic of results. We are being called to embrace a spirit of detachment, finance absorb so much of energy. Detachment nurtures freedom from , freedom to, to live in the world, not become worldly. Everything is secondary to following Christ.
Dan points out that we need to need for us as Church to attend to the work of the soul, even in our meetings, we need to change the way we meet inorder to experience a sense of God in our meeting.
Major Strategic Review 2016 Report  Theme of Synod 2016
Letters of recommendation invites each of us to journey with God. MSR has had 2 and a half years, undertake responsibility of responding to Synod resolution on strategic review. Synod elected the group from across the Synod to undertake this work.
Offers ways to use our resources in the changing context of the church
More coordinated, integrated response to the context where Church is.
Ministry Agents
Discipleship partnership, risk taking.Invites new ways of supporting ministry agents: Team working together, sharing skills, direction and support. Placement process does not encourage this model, where one minister support one congregation. Team ministry to  be explored going forward, pastoral care, support, supervision are better offered in this team environment.
Need for more partnerships between congregation and other agencies, school, chaplains, presbytery, synod based resources. What if our story of partnerships becomes our future story. True partnership and trust, accountability is the highest desired by our church.
New stories of agencies, and congregations in partnership. Agencies is connected to the mission of the local congregation. Sharing resources. Deeper cooperation, existing congregation or new and emerging church. Concerns around the church finance, church buildings, money too much being spent on these. What if our story is an intentional support for freeing resources for missional response. Synod structure needs to enhance these stated missional goals.
Whether you believe it to be true or not rain is often seen as a blessing, On this first day of Synod, the light but constant drizzle of rain can be a welcome relief for those From the murmuring of colleagues and friends around the corridor of the Box Hill Town Hall on this first morning of Synod 2016, Synod business divine favour would
Restructuring of Synod, placement, CFM, CTM, BOMAR,
Mission resources and mission provide nurture and leadership.
Concern about finances is real. There are varying buckets of finances, was difficult to see the overall finances – A global budget will now establish for Synod. Allowing priorities of finance to missional priorities.
We are church rich in asset and good will, Leadership team have done some work, reduction of deficit by 2 million by next year. Additional revenue raising and revenue reduction. A balanced budget by 2019.
New and renewing ministry:
There are evidence of more stories of discontent, despair, we need to encourage more faith communities to experiment with messy church, sacramental ministry, care and worship in other spaces such as  pubs or schools.
Intergenerational and inter-Culture.
Decline in numbers of attendance in churches. A new reality, growing ethnic congregations, ethnic focus, multicultural voices with wisdom, despair in young ones not represented in gathered community. Our processes to reflect our hopes. How to we listen more to young voices, from groups diverse, how might we grow together in our faith.
A fresh story: How do we become the new story?
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