This week, the SA UCA Presbytery and Synod is meeting. There are many matters of concern to be discussed, including the UCA understanding of marriage, and implications of the postal vote and deliberations in the Federal parliament on same-sex marriage. It is contested space, given that 61.6% of those who participated in the postal survey voted Yes and 38.4% voted No. The statistics are clearly reflected in the disparity of yes and no voters in the church as well. The Presbytery and Synod aims to use a process called ‘Space for Grace’, and to conduct all conversations in the ‘grace margin’ process – to be respectful, empowering, and inclusive in a way that embraces the full cultural and theological diversity of the Uniting Church. I endorse this approach absolutely. It is in stark contrast to a methodology where people, no matter what their particular viewpoint, state their convictions come hell or high water and steady for a fight. My way or the highway. It is never appropriate. It provides a huge challenge to find our way through polarised views and contested space. A ‘space for grace’ promotes respectful listening, creating space for hospitality and mutuality, and learning from and with the other.
In his book Jesus and Community (1984), Gerhard Lohfink offers a tremendous insight into Christian community. Paul used the reciprocal pronoun “one another” (allēlōn) in the New Testament numerous times eg outdo one another in showing honour (Rom 12.10), live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:16), welcome one another (Rom 15:7), admonish one another (Rom 15:14), wait for one another (1 Cor 11:33), have the same care for one another (1 Cor 12:25), be servants of one another (Gal 5:13), bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2), comfort one another (1 Thess 5:11), build one another up (1 Thess 5:11), be at peace with one another (1 Thess 5:13), bear with one another lovingly (Eph 4:2), confess your sins to one another (James 5:16), pray for one another (1 Peter 4:9), meet one another with humility (1 Peter 5:5), have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). The earliest church was a collection of ‘one-anothering‘ communities, sharing God’s grace, love and mercy together in a reconciling community (ekklesia) of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women brought together by the Holy Spirit. The people of God are called to be a ‘one-anothering‘ community: growing in faith, upholding one another in prayer, encouraging each other, building one another up. It is what we are called to invest in, to extend, to build upon. (*adapted from MCM-NRC Resources: “Space for grace – living in the ‘grace margin’ in respectful, empowering, and inclusive decision-making”)
May we commit ourselves afresh to being such a community together. And please join me in praying as our Presbytery and Synod meet this week. May grace, mercy, love, compassion and reconciliation prevail. Amen.
(an extract from a sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce at Pilgrim Uniting Church 19th November 2017)
(Note: this post has been updated as correspondence related to the conversation around marriage which had previously been available on the Synod website in preparation for the Presbytery and Synod meeting is no longer online).