12th Assembly 2009

It’s an unpredictable job, but Jasmine had to do it!

My name is Jasmine Edwards and I am a 19 year old student.

I study Communications at Wollongong University part time. I attend an Assemblies Of God church in Sutherland, Sydney. My parents attend a Uniting Church congregation in Ramsgate, Sydney.

But I started working for the Uniting Church because of my grandmother, Rosaleen Edwards. Rosaleen works for the Uniting Church in Sydney and writes the publication In a State of Prayer. When she had to have an eye operation last Christmas I worked with her for a few weeks as “her eyes”.

It was from there that I heard about opportunity to do an internship in the media team during the 12th Assembly meeting.

I met with Marjorie-Lewis Jones, the Communications Unit Manager of the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT, who would be acting chief of staff of the media team reporting at the Assembly.

I remember her asking me if I had a voice recorder. The answer was no.

july18jasmineedwardsintern_kc 2I forgot about that question until months later when I arrived on July 15 at the University of New South Wales for the first day of Assembly. She asked me if I had managed to get myself a voice recorder. The answer was still no.

Great start!

Fortunately, I was allowed to borrow hers. “Guard it with your life,” she joked. But behind the laughter was a deadly seriousness. So I guarded it with my life.

The first thing I learnt is that the University of New South Wales is nearly impossible to get to and even harder to leave. The second, probably more relevant thing is that, when you are working with the communications team at the 12th Assembly, you feel as though you are working at something worthwhile.

Not being a member of the Uniting Church myself, I consequently had many questions about the Assembly meeting.

I found that, while the last Assembly was apparently somewhat controversial, the theme for this year was “Living Water, Thirsty Land”. The Assembly focused largely on social and policy issues. The ones of most interest to me were a revised preamble acknowledging Indigenous people and Economy of Life: Re-Imagining Human Progress for a Flourishing World by UnitingJustice Australia.

The first meeting began outdoors, led in prayer by Pearl Wymarra. Eulo Max from the Gadigal people of the Eora nation welcomed the members of Assembly to the land with a traditional Indigenous smoke ceremony.

I had never seen a smoke ceremony before and did not understand what it meant. I was told the next day that I “looked awkward”. I often look awkward, however, so it didn’t bother me too much. I was informed that the ceremony is traditionally used by Aborigines to welcome another tribe into their camp.

The visitors must walk through the smoke and are thus “cleansed”.

As we walked by Max, I was touched by the gesture of welcome and how each person thanked him as he thanked them in turn.

Once inside, we were led in prayer and song, following a program. It was like a normal church service except more generalised to give a strong sense of the purpose of the meeting and to reinforce the purpose of the church and its place in the world.

As I looked around I was struck by the diversity of people, particularly the diversity of nationalities. I was impressed by the number of overseas visitors and the fact that they wanted to be a part of the meeting.

Day 2 of the Assembly began with more dramas: prepaid buses are no friend of mine. Fortunately, a driver took pity on me and I managed to get a free ride.

Panicking as usual, I jumped off on the first stop possible and spent the next 15 minutes wandering around the university grounds, lost despite the abundance of “helpful” signs and weighed down by bags of groceries.

The highlight of my stroll around campus was seeing a woman set up bowls of milk and cat food for a group of what I presumed was stray cats. The cat lover in me was dying to go and join her and I stood there for a full minute before my work ethic reluctantly took over and a trudged onwards once more.

I spent the first part of the morning familiarising myself with the recent events of the Uniting Church.

One of the highlights was reading about the Triennial National Conference of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. Their new chair the Rev. Ken Sumner doesn’t want to put “band aids” over the troubling problems facing Indigenous communities. Instead, he wishes to seek the real issue beneath the symptoms. They strived to follow the example of Nehemiah from the Bible and seek God first.

The first sermon of the new President Alistair Macrae also impressed me. The standout was his statement, “water is thicker than blood”. It showed me that Jesus is the living water and transcends all boundaries. Through that powerful statement, Mr Macrae encouraged the church to come together and be inclusive.

Mr Macrae also stated that “reconciliation can only be told through truth-telling.”

Reconciliation was definitely a hot topic during the Assembly, with the revised preamble acknowledging Australia’s Indigenous people.

I watched, interested, as members of the church debated the wording and structure of the preamble. I was happy that it eventually passed.

Throughout the Assembly I was given many tasks, including doing “vox pops”, short recorded interviews with various members of Assembly. One of the people I spoke to was Aboriginal minister Rodney Macrae. He expressed his people’s joy and surprise over being listened to. I felt a strong affinity with him and could have talked to him all day.

A youthful delegate, Ame Pocklington, also told me that she felt, if the preamble did not pass, she would be very sad. I found myself feeling just as strongly.

It is my intention to become an editor of children’s and young adult fiction someday. I think it is because I have always been better at doing other people’s work than doing my own. I got to spend some time working with the editors in the Assembly communications team which was really good. Unfortunately, I had to do my own work, but I loved watching them viciously cut it down into something readable.

Throughout this experience I have learned that in the world of church media everyone must be flexible. Writers must also be editors, interviewers and photographers. Even if you are not multi-talented you still learn. It is an unpredictable job and you are always being stretched. To be a journalist you have to be assertive and chase after many different people to get your story. Assertiveness is not usually a strong quality of mine. So, needless to say, it was interesting.

But I always had the supportive team behind me who made me feel welcome and answered all my questions, no matter how stupid. I was very impressed by how well the team worked together.

I had ups and downs during my internship during the 12th Assembly. I was sick one of the days. My parents drove me to the university two of the days, giving them some serious brownie points and making me eternally grateful. I wrote my first article. I was challenged and tried new things. And I learnt a lot, not just about journalism but also about the Uniting Church.

Tomorrow is my last day and I think, as a special treat to myself, I will stop for a minute to pat those cats.