Messages of Hope

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Truth – reflecting the integrity of God’s love

Published / by Sandy

Acts 16:16-34 John 17:20-26

Luke tells us that Paul and Silas were on their way to worship in Philippi when they ran into a young girl, a slave, who made a fortune for her owners by telling other people’s fortunes.  As the apostles passed before her, the spirit of divination within the girl registered something of who they were – ‘slaves of the Most High God’ who had ‘a way of salvation’ to proclaim.  Over the next couple of days, the spirit apparently compelled the girl to loudly announce what she had learned to anyone who would listen.  Paul, having listened to the girl for several days becomes very annoyed. He finally orders this truth-telling spirit to be gone in the name of Jesus.  Sure enough, it goes.

Why did Paul cast this spirit out?  It was telling the truth. Paul and Silas were ‘slaves of the Most High God’, and they were proclaiming a ‘way of salvation’. So what’s the problem?  Wasn’t everyone on the same side here?  Paul appears not only to miss a golden opportunity to footnote his own authority with an pagan authority already recognised amongst his hearers, but he also prevents that authority from speaking its truth altogether.  One could quite reasonably conclude that Paul has not been very bright at this point!  Especially when we note that the immediate result is that he and Silas end up in prison!

We shall find some hints toward an answer by turning to John’s gospel. This passage is part of a prayer Jesus is said to have prayed at the Last Supper.  Amongst the many remarkable features of the prayer is the close association it makes between right belief, or ‘truth’, and right behaviour, or ‘sanctity’.  What counts as truth for the Christian, according to John, is conformity with the love of God as it is revealed in the relationship between Christ and his Father.  The truthful life is a capacity for relationship, for loving, which has its origins not in our own, merely human, understanding or experience, but rather in the loving relationship between the Father and the Son. John teaches that truth is not an objective ‘something’ we invent or discover out of our own resources, but a quality of relating that is given by God, given insofar as we allow ourselves to be absorbed and included within the covenantal dance that is the triune God.

Now, what that means for the problem at hand is this; that the truth ain’t always the truth, even when that ‘truth’ appears at first glance to undergird or support our deepest beliefs. Christian truth consists in the bringing together or reconciliation of all reality within the integrating love of the Father and the Son in the Spirit.  If we look at truth from that point of view, then falsity is anything that pulls things apart, that divides us into warring factions, any ‘truth’ which actually carves a fissure through the middle of all those things that God intended for each other: things like belief and holiness, theology and politics, prayer and economics.

Christian truth is about inviting everyone to the table, and recognising that which is God in them.  False truth sees the other as the enemy.  Christian truth is on about reconciliation and relationship, precisely because we are created different but equal.  False truth is uttered by lips unwilling, or unable, to transcend the barriers that divide us.  Christian truth presents a God who would love the world in and through all that is human and material and ordinary, a God who therefore desires to transform the world’s lust for ‘more’ into a holy desire to lay down what we possess for the sake of the other.  False truth, by contrast, is trying to acquire what the other has for itself.  It is a hoarder who is forever exacting a price from all who would sit at its feet to learn.

This, I contend, is the reason why Paul, like Jesus before him, refused the evangelism of the demon, even when it apparently spoke the truth.  The spirit who animated the slave-girl proclaimed a belief in the Most High God.  Yet it also exploited and enslaved the girl for the sake of capitalism, to make a great deal of money for her owners.  This, as Paul and Silas were wise enough to see, made a nonsense of its claim to the truth.  For the God of Jesus is love.  The God of Jesus is not one to use or manipulate another for the sake of personal gain. There was a fatal gap, therefore, between the truth as it was told and the truth as it was lived. 

I put it to you that Paul and Silas were thrown into prison ultimately because they privileged the God of love and liberation over the economic realities of dog-eat-dog capitalism, because they refused the right of that ‘reality’ to colonise the truth of love with its divide-and-conquer business plan. This is exactly what Paul did when he cast out that demon – liberation from the exploitative certainties of capitalism, and the gods invoked to support it, in order to create the possibility of faith in a God who loves, and nurtures, and welcomes all people.

Here there is an immediate response – Paul seizes the opportunity to lead the jailer and his family to become a believer in God and faith in Christ.

Rev Vikki Waller, 2nd June 2019
(with acknowledgement of Nathan Nettleton’s reflection)

“Sovereignty is a spiritual notion”: An unexplored frontier in the freedom of religion debate.

Published / by Greg Elsdon

The following opinion piece by Rev Dr Mark Brett was posted on the ABC Religion and Ethics web page on Thursday 30 May, 2019.

The current debate about freedom of religion in Australia has been overly narrow in its scope. Various anxieties are circulating about the ways in which the state extends its jurisdiction over religious institutions, or even deny the participation of religious agencies in public spaces. But there are more fundamental questions at stake, and these go to the very foundations of political authority.

In his 2018 Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration, Noel Pearson returned once again to the idea that:

“sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or “mother nature” and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.”

For the full text of Mark Brett’s opinion piece go to:

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/sovereignty-is-a-spiritual-notion-the-freedom-of-religion-debate/11163062

[Mark Brett is Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Divinity, Melbourne, and author of Political Trauma and Healing: Biblical Ethics for a Postcolonial World and Locations of God: Political Theology in the Hebrew Bible.]

Our shared values

Published / by Sandy

Our shared values
The victory speech began with ‘I’ve always believed in miracles’.
I don’t much care how our political leaders worship
– or even what faith, if any, they profess.
I do care that they are committed to full equality and inclusion. 
I do care that they prioritise giving opportunity to those who are vulnerable over maintaining the many advantages of the already wealthy.
I do care that the challenges of trans kids are as important to our political leaders as the struggles their own kids go through, that they don’t intentionally weaponise difference – whether race, gender, sexuality or faith – for political gain.
I do care that they have a plan to rescue our environment
from human exploitation and that they believe in science more than the status quo.
I do care that they see refugees and people seeking asylum
as human beings and don’t use cruelty as a measure of their strength or wisdom.
I do care that they see investment in public schools and hospitals as more than something you need to keep the voters happy, but rather an investment in the people that constitute our society and ensures equality of opportunity for everyone.
I do care that workers deserve a living wage, secure jobs
and safe workplaces – and the power to ensure their employer provides this.
I do care that they have a real plan to address homelessness,
fix the broken mental health system, end family and domestic violence and ensure no Australian lives in poverty.
I do care that our political leaders stand in solidarity
with the marginalised, oppressed and excluded
and that they see the economy exists to serve people
and not the other way around, and recognise that every person in our country, and beyond, is just as worthy of justice, opportunity, full inclusion in society, safety, peace and prosperity as we consider ourselves to be.
(Source: Brad Chilcott, Facebook post, Easter 2019, adapted)

Politics and Consensus

Published / by Sandy

Rev Terence Corkin, previously UCA Assembly General Secretary, has been working on a project calling ‘Making Church Decisions’, focussed on consensus decision making. In this post, he reflects on politics and consensus, and then considers the implications for the church. A good read – both in the lead up to the Federal election, and in the time of transition in the SA UCA Synod to multiple Presbyteries to be rolled out year.

Politics is full of conflict. Observers call out for greater collaboration rather than political point scoring. People understand that as a society we have too many shared problems to enjoy the luxury of opposing the ideas of others for no good reason. Most people long for our leaders to constructively engage together in a search for shared solutions.

I am often asked if consensus decision-making processes can work in a political environment. Well, it depends!! The first observation that I make is that consensus can only be built if there are shared values. That usually get a knowing laugh and the assumption that consensus processes cannot work in politics.

In Australia, it is very difficult to see shared values between our political parties. Maybe it is because we are in a national election campaign that makes the aggressive rejection of each other’s ideas more strident. The “necessity” to create a product differentiation between the policies of the different parties in order to attract votes at elections brings out the worst in our politicians.

If we understand the political process as the pursuit of power then clearly there can be no shared values. In that context, there has to be a winner and a loser. So is consensus building doomed to be relegated to the fringes of society? Or is there a chance that it could take over the central power centres of our society?

Options for Politicians and Consensus
In the United States until the last 15 to 20 years there was often the capacity for bipartisan solutions to issues. The phrase ‘working across the aisle’ was the real experience of US political life. This is in stark contrast to the Westminster system of government that arose in England and is used throughout its former colonies. In that system parties always vote as a bloc and if a member of a party votes with the other side they can be thrown out of their party.

So in the US, and probably other countries too, there have been experiences of parties working together to achieve shared goals. In countries where this is the experience then there is a history and practices to draw upon which support seeking after consensus.

Even though the Westminster system has built into it the requirement to be oppositional to the other side, not everything is so black and white. There are many things on which all the major political parties in Australia agree. Foreign policy is not a seriously disputed space, opposition to the death penalty is unquestioned, none of the major parties opposes access to free health care and to cheap prescription drugs, and the list could go on. So another ground that might encourage consensus seeking is to recognise those areas where there had once been a difference and now there is general agreement. What lessons can be learned from the past that can encourage us into the future?

In addition to these things, there is also a place for pragmatism as a driver for seeking consensus. Sometimes opponents can agree to work on a common project because it matters to them for different reasons. In the United States, an area where there is an increasing willingness to co-operate across the political divide is in reducing the size of the prison population. For one side the cost of incarcerating millions of people is a burden on the budget. For the other side, they don’t want to see people going to jail for extended periods of time for minor offences. So the shared interest is reducing the size of the prison population. By working together on this project it is possible for people to understand the perspective and concerns of the other side. From this understanding arise strategies that will meet their needs and so help to keep the prison population lower over time.

So, three things that can help
* Remember when co-operation has been possible in the past and learn from this. What made it possible? Perhaps there was a crisis (eg war or natural disaster) that meant other things became less important, or there were genuine goodwill and relationships that enhanced co-operation. Learn from positive experiences.
* Recall where over time, issues that were once contested are now agreed. How have these positions been appropriated into the values system of the “different sides”? What made it possible to move? Why are they not contested now and can we find other issues where collaboration makes more sense than contesting?
* Identify the big issues on which collaboration will be required for both sides to get what they want. What are the things that have to get done or both sides will continue to lose what is important to them?

Lessons for Churches
As you have been reading this post have you been thinking “what has this got to do with the church?” I think that in many places we are in the same situation as the political climate of our times. Many churches are split along ideological lines and in many places co-operation with those who think differently has stopped.

Can consensus work in churches where there is a lack of shared values? No! However, I do not believe that such churches exist. There are always some shared values. There are always some things on which even the most divided Christians can agree. There will always be something to work on together for the benefit of all sides. But we have to be prepared to look for it.

For conflicted churches or denominations I have the same advice as I offered above.
* Remember when co-operation has been possible in the past and learn from this. What made it possible?
* Recall where over time, issues that were once contested are now agreed. How have these positions been appropriated into the values system of the “different sides”? What made it possible to move?
* Identify the big issues on which collaboration will be required for both sides to get what they want. What are the things that have to get done or both sides will continue to lose what is important to them?

The reason that ideologically and high conflict churches cannot use consensus-building processes is because they just don’t want to co-operate. For reasons of power and control, fear, or disrespect of their brothers and sisters in Christ too many Christians will not work together.

Yes, sometimes they cannot work together because of previously unresolved hurt that has been done to them. But good consensus processes include building safe places and dealing with those experiences.

Co-operation is not optional for Christians
Christ has called all Christians into one body. We have to learn to deal with it! We are one as Jesus and the Father are one. To refuse to live out of that reality is to refuse to live out of the identity that we have been given in Jesus Christ. Not good!!

There is insufficient space here to outline the many and effective strategies for seeking consensus in conflicted churches. Feel free to browse the blog posts for where some aspects of this have been addressed in the past. For example: Uniting the Church – Is it Possible?

However, for the present, I just want to challenge you to look for the ways that consensus building can be encouraged. Please do this in even the hardest places for the sake of the witness of the church. In these times more than any other it is an evangelical imperative to seek common ground among Christians. For as Jesus observed, it is through our unity that the mission of the church will be advanced (John 17:21).

The post Politics and Consensus by Terence Corkin appeared first on Making Church Decisions.

Easter Sunday: The highs and lows

Published / by Sandy

Christ is risen. Alleluia!
Our Easter Sunday services began with a sunrise service around a fire in the courtyard, so we could appreciate the gathering light of the new day. We celebrated the risen Christ in our other three morning services – in words, and when we shared the Eucharist, and with stirring and inspiring music. We were glad to celebrate together. These 4 services were followed by the Chinese Church (CSACC) and their Easter Day service. And then Stefan and a team of volunteers prepared and served a meal for the homeless and disadvantaged in the Pilgrim hall. (Expecting 200+).
We began our service with worship, and were sent out to continue our worship with service. And so grateful for freedom to be able to worship without fear.
And then, the news from Sri Lanka on Easter Day. Multiple bombings. Many have been killed, and hundreds suffered injury. Massive destruction. Horrifying.
Ordinary people simply celebrating Easter Sunday. Culturally and linguistically diverse people who are unified together as the body of Christ. ‘There is no them and us, only us’ (Jacinda Adern). The memory of the mosque shootings in New Zealand, with people attending Friday prayers, remain vivid in our hearts and minds.
These words from Rev Radhika Sukumar-White, Minister at Leichhardt Uniting Church, and Sri Lankan by heritage:
“This afternoon, churches in my mother country were blown up by suicide bombers. Many were killed. I don’t know what to say. “Thoughts and prayers” seems so shallow and simplistic. But I pledge to teach those in my pastoral care to practise resurrection – to practise love, grace, forgiveness and compassion over and against the tombs of violence, hate, vitriol and fear”.
Amen, Rhadika. And thank you for your gracious and faith-full leadership.

Statement from Dr Deidre Palmer, President, Uniting Church in Australia

And these words from Jon Humphries (heartfelt thanks for putting into words the unformed prayers of our hearts, Jon).
When will we stop blowing each other up?
When will we stop crucifying those
who challenge our belief or authority?
When will we stop hating others
with our judgement and moralizing?
When will we stop being intentionally ignorant
and deliberately biased to avoid understanding and compassion?
When will we stop procrastinating from taking action for peace?
When will we better walk your way of cross- filled sacrifice?
When will we let you challenge our religion
and stretch our belief?
When will we sacrifice our lives for you and your will
as you sacrificed yours for us?
Christ have mercy
Christ have mercy
Christ have mercy
Christ bring peace
Christ bring grace
Christ bring love. Amen.

More prayers for Sri Lanka here.

More prayers on the Pilgrim worship resources website.

Risen indeed!

Published / by Greg Elsdon

The resurrection of Jesus has always been central for Christian faith and identity.  Belief in God’s resurrection of Jesus is not an optional extra for Christians.  Affirming the central significance of resurrection is one thing.  However, allowing the confession “Christ is Risen” to shape our life is another thing altogether.  Too often Christians have insisted upon doctrinal assent to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection without ever asking the question, ‘What does a risen Jesus mean for the way we live as Christians in the world today?’

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s shout of “YES!” to the way Jesus lived his life and to what he taught about the in-breaking Reign of God.  In other words, the resurrection is God’s approval of the life of Jesus.  At his baptism, a voice from the heavens spoke to Jesus saying “This is my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  When God raised Jesus from death God declared that truth and authentic life are to be found in the life and death of this man.  The one despised and rejected by his contemporaries found God’s ultimate approval in his life of faithfulness that ended in death by crucifixion. God’s raising of Jesus from death proclaims unambiguously that God approved of the way Jesus lived.

Christian faith in the resurrection of Jesus was, and is born, nurtured and matured in the context of discipleship and mission.  Those who believe that God is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are called to participate with the risen Jesus in the continuation of his mission to bring God’s grace and peace to all people.

All four Gospels testify in different ways to the inseparability of resurrection faith and participation in the mission of Jesus in the world.  The empty tomb did not transform the lives of Jesus’ frightened followers.  It led to confusion, fear and disbelief (see Mark 16:1-8; Matthew 28:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-13).  It was when they encountered the risen one for themselves that true resurrection faith was born.  Matthew, Luke and John all tell us that when Jesus appeared to his frightened and bewildered followers he commissioned and empowered them to continue his work in the world (Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-49 and John 20:19-23).  Even in Mark’s Gospel (which offers no account of the appearance of the risen Jesus) we read how the disciples are instructed by the young man at the empty tomb to return to Galilee.  If the disciples wanted to see the risen Jesus they must return to the place where it all began. They would ‘see’ the risen Jesus only as they joined him in his on-going mission.

Jesus invited men and women to follow him, challenging them to live lives that expressed God’s unrelenting mercy, compassion and justice – regardless of the consequences.  Today, this same Jesus, now the risen Lord of the Church, calls us to the same costly but fulfilling way of life.  He calls us to live our lives in such a way that we become people in whom others experience God’s grace and love.

Easter is a time for celebrating what God has done for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Because Jesus lived as he lived, died as he died and was raised by God as affirmation of all he stood for, we too have the opportunity to enjoy the relationship with God for which we were created.  Easter is a time for reassessing our commitment to being people in whom God’s message of love and hope, the message embodied in Jesus, lives on in a conscious and intentional fashion.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Federal budget

Published / by Sandy

Leaders from across multiple religious traditions met last week, following the handing down of the Federal Budget, to convey that the #Budget2019, as a statement of our national priorities, does not adequately address the climate emergency we are facing. 

As well as calling for stronger, more coordinated action on climate change, the leaders believe the Federal Budget also falls short in some other key areas, including provisions for the most vulnerable here in Australia, and our regional neighbours. 

Below are just some of the responses from Uniting agencies and other friends:

The resource prepared in the lead up to the election looks at 7 key areas including climate change and first peoples. Invaluable resource and a great catalyst for informed discussion. Check it out here: Uniting Church in Australia Vision Statement.

Our Vision for a Just Australia

Published / by Greg Elsdon

The Uniting Church in Australia has articulated its vision for a just, compassionate and inclusive nation in a new statement and resource.

In launching the statement, UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer said the Uniting Church’s vision for Australia was a nation where all people and all creation could flourish.

“We believe that our participation in God’s mission calls us toward the transformation that God desires for us all, marked by reconciliation, love, justice, peace, abundance and flourishing for all people and the whole earth,” said Dr Palmer.

The Uniting Church Vision Statement for a Just Australia is a collaboration of those working in justice across the church, including in Synods, Agencies and the Assembly.

The statement’s release has been timed with the lead up to the Federal election.

“Articulating our vision for Australia at this time is critical,” said Dr Palmer.

“Many of the issues identified in this document will be prominent in public debate as Australians consider the leadership they want for our country.”

She urged people to think deeply and engage in conversations about the kind of nation we want to be and to reflect on where our faith in Jesus is calling us to seek out justice for all.

The Vision Statement is expressed in seven foundational areas. It includes witness from the Bible and statements made by the Uniting Church.

There is a snapshot of the current situation in Australia across the seven foundations and key actions that are needed to move us toward the vision.

The resource is intended to assist people who want to think about the issues in small groups or host public forums with local candidates ahead of the Federal election.

Each section of the Statement includes key questions for reflection or to engage with political candidates.

“I commend this resource to congregations and Uniting Church members, as we seek to live out our Christian discipleship in every aspect of our lives,” said Dr Palmer.

“As followers of Christ, each one of us is called to be a voice for justice and hope in our communities, in Australia and in the world.”

Read and download the statement at https://uniting.church/visionstatement2019/

‘Vale’, John Smith (‘Smithy’)

Published / by Sandy

Motivational Speaker, Doctoral Researcher of Cultural Anthropology, Author, Advocate, Social Commentator, Academic, Human Rights campaigner, Biker, and Unorthodox Evangelist. He addressed the United Nations, nearly faced execution in the Philippines, founded numerous charities and spent much of his life with outlaws and the marginalised. An impressive bio.

Many people will remember John Smith’s contribution to the God Cares campaign in SA schools in the early 80’s. John died on March 6th, 2019, and a memorial services was held on Saturday 23rd March. Rev. Dr John Smith was an international speaker, author, and founder and President of God’s Squad Christian Motorcycle Club International, Concern Australia and St Martin’s Community Church in Melbourne. He was an evangelist and and a leader of great integrity and authenticity. He had a profound impact on the lives of so many, from bikers to school students, business leaders and academics, church leaders and politicians, university students, the poor and marginalised, and outlaw motorcycle club members. John lived faithfully the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. He somehow found time to complete a doctorate on the Jesus movement in Australia.

Eternity News recently published an article on John Smith which captures something of his passion for sharing the gospel. His leadership was less about self-promotion and self-importance, and more about a humility of spirit that pointed people to God and the life of Jesus. He was a straight talker and a ‘counter-cultural warrior’ – fiery, direct, enthusiastic, prophetic, passionate, and compassionate. In his presentations, he held culture in one hand and the Bible in the other, quoting poetry by Henry Lawson alongside lyrics from contemporary musicians, alongside the words of Scripture.

Rev Dr John Smith (‘Smithy’), founder of God’s Squad

An article by God’s Squad Christian Motorcycle Club: “He taught us how the Bible was not a book to pull ‘proof texts’ from, to justify personal gain. Neither should we conveniently skip over the hard to read passages, like loving your enemies and doing good to those who persecute you. He introduced us to new travelling companions in the scriptures such as Jeremiah and his laments, the counter cultural prophetic voices of Amos and Micah, which saw him at his most animated, in full flight preaching on a festival stage. He highlighted the frailty of King David, and introduced us to the blues songs in the Psalms that pointed to the hope of the gospel”.

John’s ministry with the God Squad seemingly came out of nowhere. At the time, he was an “orthodox” Baptist minister, beginning to feel drawn towards people on the fringes of society.
“While driving towards Bendigo, I passed a bunch of menacing-looking outlaw bikers parked by the side of the road. Oddly, I felt a surge of compassion for these guys who no one really wanted to know. Despite their apparent toughness, I found they were often vulnerable and lost but searching for a better life. Also the more I dug into Jesus’s life, the more I was challenged by the way he ministered to the outcasts of his day. I reckoned the bikers had to be the “lepers” of our society. So I began to pray that God would raise up someone able to get alongside such outsiders and show them something of the love of Christ. I sensed a reply, “Why don’t you answer your own prayer?”, but initially doubted the call. I was far too straight for the job. As time went on, John became increasingly convinced of God’s call to be “the answer to my own prayer”.

In the early 80’s, John spent time in Adelaide for the Godcares school campaign, riding his bike into school grounds and addressing the secondary school students. It had a huge impact on everyone. Geoff Boyce had taken a year’s leave of absence from teaching at the time to work alongside John, and to help make inroads into schools ministry. This led to the formation of United Christian Forum (UCF) which Geoff led for 5 years (leave without pay). UCF, with a team of talented youth workers and musicians, conducted Christian Option seminars in schools around the State. The work of UCF eventually led to the formation of Schools Ministry Group which continues to this day.

I remember at that time, I was involved in producing CTA (Christian Television Association) spots, and we did one with John. Miraculously, we were able to edit a 60 second CTA spot from John’s long monologue (which was brilliant, just hard to edit down to 60 seconds!).

John’s ministry had a profound impact for decades in and beyond Australia. For Smithy, the world was very much his parish. ‘Right to the end, John Smith remained a man of rugged hope, born from his radical commitment to and love for Jesus of Nazareth’. (a line from an excellent article here about John by Sheridan Voysey, including links to Youtube videos).

Well done, good and faithful servant.


#Christchurch

Published / by Sandy

Prayers for our sisters and brothers in New Zealand. #Christchurch
The President of the Uniting Church and all Moderators of our Synods are currently in New Zealand meeting with the leaders of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand. They have released the following statement.
“As Moderators and President, we are here in New Zealand with the ex-president of the Methodist Church in New Zealand and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand. We are deeply distressed to hear of the shootings at the Deans Avenue Mosque and the Linwood Masjid in Christchurch, New Zealand. We offer our prayers and support to all those affected, particularly victims and their families. As people of faith our hearts go out to our Muslim sisters and brothers. An attack on people of faith is an attack on us all, who seek to worship in safety and peace.
We invite all Uniting Church members to join members of the Methodist Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand in observing a minute’s silence on Sunday, to pray for the New Zealand community and society and for those most directly affected”.

We Pray in the Wake of the Horror of Violence
God, present with us in Christ,
Supporting and guiding us in the Spirit,
Embrace us in your compassion,
Hold us in your truth,
Infuse us with your love,
For the world can be a dark and violent place,
Where what transpires is unfair and wrong,
And where innocents suffer for the agenda of evil.
Calm our fears and worries.
Give us strength of peace.
And the power of hope.
We think of victims and their loved-ones.
Be with all who need solace and comfort in their time of distress.
Work for healing with all who need it.
When we turn our thinking to the perpetrators,
Smack down any self-righteousness within us.
Teach us how to unclench our souls as prejudice and judgement arise within our mindset.
When we start to label people or name people as enemies,
Corrupt our thinking with your grace, love and compassion,
Reminding us of the teaching of Jesus about such people.
May we not let go of our sense of horror at wrongdoing,
Not seek to excuse acts of cruelty or hate,
But transform these in your grace,
So that understanding, forgiveness,
and reconciliation become the orders of the day.
May we work with you in this world,
So that the day might come sooner than ever,
Where peace is the priority,
Injustice is resolved in good and right ways,
Where no-one dies because of the cause of others,
And that we might live together,
If not in unity, at least with respect and tolerance.
Christ, may we better learn your way,
And better live it together,
So that the horrors of humanity might end.
This we pray,
Now and always. Amen
(Source: Jon Humphries, Prayers that Unite)

Fr Rod Bower writes: From Christ Church Gosford to Christchurch New Zealand….. we join our broken heart to yours. Our thoughts and prayers are with you but they are not enough. Only a wholehearted commitment to truth and non-violence will ensure such crimes against humanity cease to occur. We should not be surprised that such an act of terrorism could emanate from Australia. We have allowed bigotry and racism to infiltrate our national discourse. We have rewarded vilification of ethnic and religious minorities with political success. We have used division to create the illusion of unity. This heinous act of terrorism is the result of the lazy, cheap and divisive political discourse that has diminished our communal soul. This must stop. We must find a better way.
Salam (peace) to the fallen.
Salam to the injured.
Salam to the grieving.
Salam for our future.

Osman Faruqi: “…We begged you to stop amplifying and normalising hatred and racism. But you told us we were ‘politically correct’ and ‘freedom of speech’ was more important. The more you gave the far-right a platform, the more powerful they got. We begged you…”

Brad Chilcott: “What can one say when the hate that has been amplified and validated by political leaders and media spills over into violence and terror? We stand with the victims, with New Zealand’s Muslim communtiy and all New Zealanders in love, sorrow and solidarity. We condemn prejudice and the politics of fear, along with all who weaponise diversity for their own gain. We commit afresh to building a society where all are welcome to belong, contribute and thrive; where leadership is measured in the ability to bring people together not drive them apart; where people of all faiths and cultures are respected and every human is afforded the same right to dignity, justice and opportunity. And again we mourn that this is not yet so – and we grieve with those who continue to suffer until it is”.

Rev. Ray Coster, World Council of Churches Central Committee member from Aotearoa New Zealand: “We share with sisters and brothers in the wider ecumenical family our pain and grief in one of New Zealand’s darkest hours and crave their prayers for the many Muslim families grieving at this time. Some of these families may be migrants or refugees. They are part of us. Many came seeking refuge and safety as Aotearoa New Zealand is perceived as a safe place. As a nation we value compassion, kindness and tolerance. What we have seen today has no place in our culture.”

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches: “This terrible crime against women, men and children at the time of their prayers is an attack on all believers and an assault on the bonds of shared humanity and peaceful coexistence which unite us all. The WCC stands in solidarity with all Muslims at this time, especially the Muslims of Aotearoa New Zealand, and expresses the strongest possible condemnation of these actions and of the hateful and dangerous ideologies that stand behind them.”
Tveit expressed his deep condolences to the Muslim community, and all the people of Aotearoa New Zealand, for this massacre is an attack on the whole nation and its values of inclusion and respect for all its citizens. He added: “We pray that all the communities of Aotearoa New Zealand will come together to support those who have suffered so dreadfully and to reaffirm the nation’s commitment to the safety and flourishing of all its people”.
Tveit concluded: “At this time the WCC reiterates its long-standing commitment to dialogue and harmony with the Muslim communities of the world. We affirm to all our Muslim friends and partners that we utterly reject such actions and call on all Christian people to follow in the way of Jesus Christ by seeking to live in peace and respect with all our neighbours, and especially committing ourselves to the protection of vulnerable minorities.”

A testing time: 40 days in the wilderness

Published / by Sandy

Rev Dr John Squires reflects on the Gospel reading for Lent 1 (originally posted on his blog).

The story of Jesus being “tempted in the wilderness” is told early on in three canonical Gospels. The shortest and most focussed version is in the earliest of these Gospels – the account of the good news of Jesus, the anointed one, the Son of God, which we attribute to the evangelist Mark.

This brief and focussed account (Mark 1:12-13) simply notes the bare minimum. The location is “the wilderness”. The duration is “forty days”. Present with Jesus throughout these days were both “wild beasts” and “angels”. What was the purpose of this challenging, difficult experience? Mark says that Jesus was there to be “tempted by Satan”. Under whose auspices did this all take place? The first line of the Markan account is, “the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness”.

So this short, succinct, concentrated version already gives us key pointers to the significance of this story. The forty days in the wilderness stand at the start of the public activity of Jesus, as a declaration of what he is on about. And these days are part of the intention that God has, for Jesus, to prepare for his role.

The story also appears in the book of the origins of Jesus, the anointed one, the son of David, the son of Abraham, which we attribute to Matthew, and place as the first Gospel in canonical order in our scriptures. But this wasn’t the first Gospel written; the author (by tradition, Matthew) quite clearly knew, and made use of, the earlier account of “the good news” which we link with Mark.

So in this later work, the details of the story are expanded and the plot line is filled out (Matt 4:1-11). The forty days in the wilderness becomes a time when Jesus fasted (Matt 4:2; something not mentioned in the earlier Markan account). Here, Jesus engages in a disputation with “the tempter” (Matt 4:3, which uses the language already found in the Markan version)

Of course, the role that is enacted by this figure – the tempter, the devil, the tester, the Satan – is the role of divine advocate, the one we know from the book of Job as the prosecuting attorney, the accuser, the one who puts the case that Job needs to answer. The whole of that book demonstrates how such a courtroom setting plays out, as the argument is investigated, the evidence is explored, the case for a verdict is painstakingly built.

The forty days in the wilderness was undoubtedly an intense experience for Jesus. The role of “the tempter” in this story is not actually to tempt Jesus to stray into immoral or unethical or unrighteous actions. On the contrary, the role of “the tempter” is actually to test Jesus, to probe and analyse his understandings, in to hypothesise and offer alternative strategies, to help Jesus to clarify and focus on what is central for him. It is a test of his character, his core qualities, and of his commitment to the mission to which he has been called.

Indeed, the devil here fills the role more of “the tester” than “the tempter” – and the Greek word used here (peirasmos) is quite capable of this alternative translation. It is most often used in Greek literature to describe the process of testing as to whether something is viable or possible, and that is the way it is intended elsewhere in the Gospels when it occurs. It only gains the secondary sense of “tempting” or soliciting something that is sinful, in relatively few instances, mostly within the letters of Paul and James.

The author of Luke’s Gospel clearly knew the earliest account (in Mark); it may well be that he also knew a version such as we have in Matthew, and he has reshaped and reinterpreted it at various points throughout his account. This may be one such instance. In the version of the story of the forty days in the wilderness which appears at Luke 4:1-14, there are words added, sentences rewritten, and the order of things is slightly varied. But there is still the same process of back-and-forth between accuser and accused, shaped by the scripture texts that are cited.

So Luke and Matthew both give us deeper insight into the testing that Jesus experienced during those forty days in the wilderness. They show that “the tester” utilised scripture as the basis for the trial that Jesus is undertaking. And this, it must be said, is thoroughly predictable – given that we are dealing with a text from the first century of the common era, emerging out of the context of faithful Judaism, telling the story of a faithful Jewish man – Jesus – and his earliest circle of followers – Jewish men and women. They all express the piety and faith of the Judaism of the time, for that was their religion and their culture.

Scripture sits at the heart of Jewish life and faith. Young Jewish boys, like Jesus, were taught to read the Hebrew text of scripture, and to memorise it. They were grounded in the Torah, the books of the Law, which set out the way of life, the way of faithful living, that they were to follow. They needed to know this, to have it deep within their hearts. That would have been the upbringing experienced by Jesus.

As they grew older, these Jewish boys were taught the next stage, the midrashim, the teachings which provided explanation and application of the laws and stories embedded in Torah. There were two types of midrashim: there was haggadah, which was telling stories (and the Jewish teachers, the rabbis, were excellent at telling stories!); and there was halakah, which was discussion and debate about how best to interpret and apply the laws found in Torah.

It is this latter form of teaching that we encounter, in the story of the forty days in the wilderness. The back and forth between the person on trial – Jesus – and the person charged with testing and probing his case – the accuser – is couched entirely in terms of sacred scripture. Each time an accusation is put before Jesus, the accuser quotes a passage of scripture. And each time the person on trial – Jesus – responds, another text from sacred scripture is quoted.

Think about that for a minute: both the accuser and the accused are citing scripture, arguing on the basis of what is found in the tradition and heritage and sacred story of the people of Israel. They are both engaged in this task, to get to the heart of the matter; to penetrate to the essence of the issue, through exploration of scripture and its relevance to Jesus and his mission.

This is typical Jewish midrashic argumentation. This is the way that, throughout the centuries, Jews have sought to encounter the truths of scripture – through discussion and debate, by one posing a proposition and then another arguing back in counter-proposition, through the adding of additional scripture passages into the argument, in a process of refining, sharpening, and clarifying the intent of the initial scripture text.

This was par for the course for ancient Jews. This is still the way that faithful Jews engage with scripture. My years as a member of the Uniting Church Dialogue with the Jewish Community immersed me into precisely this culture on a regular basis. It was quite an experience! To us polite, constrained Westerners, it seems like an unruly mess. To Jews, schooled in this process since their early years, it is natural, and results in deep and profound understandings of scripture.

So this is what was happening in the story that our Gospels recount: a time of testing, a testing which was designed to cut through to the centre of the issue, to engage deeply with the heart of the matter. It wasn’t an attempt by the devil to get Jesus to go off the rails, to misbehave badly, to succumb to unrighteous behaviour, to sin. Rather, this was the way that ancient Jews sought to crystallise the issue and define key matters of faith and life. That’s what was going on for Jesus during those forty days in the wilderness.

Most versions of the Bible, today, put a heading at the beginning of this story: “The Temptation of Jesus”. I wouldn’t label it as such. I would prefer to call it, “The Testing of Jesus”. What is his mission all about? Is he clear about how he will carry out that mission? What strategy does he have, as he enters into the public proclamation of his good news about God’s kingdom? These are the issues that are at stake in this particular story.

The Gospel writers believed that the forty days in the wilderness was a time for Jesus to face testing, and that this testing was mandated by God. The final point that underlines this way of understanding the story, comes when we look at the top-and-tail of each account.

The shortest and earliest account states that “the Spirit drove him into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). There is a violence, an aggression, in the term used here. But it is an action of the Spirit, forcing Jesus to enter this trial. It is something that he had to do, under the impulse of God’s direction.

One later account modifies this, and softens the verb to say that “Jesus was led up by the spirit into the wilderness” (Matt 4:1). We find this in Matthew; and that version ends with “the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him” (Matt 4:11). That picks up on what Mark had said, that “the angels waited on him” (Mark 1:13). So the story ends with an implicit approval, by the divine, through the vehicle of the angels, regarding what has transpired in the wilderness.

Another later account makes this quite clear and explicit. The version we attribute to Luke begins “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). That intensifies the sense of divine guidance and approval in what is about to take place. And the account ends with a similar note: “The devil departed from him … then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee” (Luke 4:13-14). Could it be any clearer?

Indeed, a still later account, which is not in the canon of New Testament books, but was revered by some in the early church, includes a section that reports on something from this story, placed onto the mouth of Jesus: “even so did my mother, the Holy Spirit, take me by one of my hairs and carry me to the great Mount Tabor”—a reflection of the section of the story that talks about Jesus being taken up to a high mountain (Matt 4:8). [That comes from the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and is quoted by Origen in his Commentary on John 2:12.] So in this version, the testing of Jesus is actually carried out, not by the devil, but by the Spirit!

My proposal is that, as we read this story, we need to banish thoughts of “temptation” and the notion that Jesus might choose a false and unrighteous pathway. What is actually taking place, is a strenuous and engaged encounter, in which Jesus is challenged to clarify his divine calling and better equipped to live out the mission that he has been given, by God, during his adult life. He is being tested.

In that sense, this story is not a remote, back-then, archaic account …. it is a living, here-and-now, immediate insight into how we, ourselves are to live out our faith in the hustle and bustle of our own lives. That is precisely the pathway that we are encouraged to enter, as we stand at the start of the season of Lent, and as we experience our own time of re-evaluation and reassessment of our own walk of faith today. What is God calling us to do? Who is God calling us to be? How can we best live that out in our lives?

International Women’s Day – Friday 8 March 2019.

Published / by Greg Elsdon

International Women’s Day – Friday 8 March 2019.

“Today is a day to celebrate women and their contribution to our global community in our governments, workplaces, communities, families and churches.” [Dr Deidre Palmer, President of the Uniting Church in Australia]

Check out Deidre’s special IWD video message: http://www.facebook.com/UnitingChurchAu/videos/308136109886268/

Australia’s IWD 2019 theme, More Powerful Together, recognises the important role we all play – as women, men, non-binary and gender diverse people. It takes all of us, working in collaboration and across that which sometimes divides us, breaking down stereotypes and gendered roles to create a world where women and girls everywhere have equal rights and opportunities.

International Women’s Day is a special focus at our 9.30am Service at Pilgrim Uniting Church on Sunday 10 March. Under the theme – ‘Better the Balance Better the World’ – the contribution of women will be celebrated with special focus on some of the amazing women who pioneered the women’s suffrage movement in South Australia in the second half of the 19th century.  Many of these women – including Mary Lee, Mary Colton, Elizabeth Nicholls, Catherine Helen Spence, Augusta Zadow, Selena Lake and Rosetta Birks – considered their commitment to the suffragist movement to be an important expression of their Christian faith.

Spotlight on ‘the church’

Published / by Sandy

The verdict that announced Cardinal George Pell was guilty of child sexual abuse sent shockwaves around the world this week. ‘The church’ in general have been cast in the spotlight once again, with society at large left with a negative view of the church as an institution where people, especially children, should be feeling safe.

Uniting Church SA Moderator, Rev Sue Ellis, “The news of the conviction of Cardinal Pell for Child Sex offences serves as a sombre reminder of the sad history of sexual abuse of vulnerable children entrusted to the care of churches and other institutions. It reinforces the importance of upholding the stories of people who endured abuse in a church institution”.

She continues: “As people of the Uniting Church, we are committed to seeking to make amends to survivors and to ensure others never suffer in this way again. The Church is called to be a safe place for all people and we are constantly scrutinising our policies and practices around children to ensure they comply with the Royal Commission’s ‘Key Elements of Child Safe Organisations’.”

In response to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Uniting Church launched their Safe Church initiative that offers procedures, training, screening and reporting avenues to help prevent abuses from happening within our churches. In June 2018 we also committed to join the National Redress Scheme, a Government support programme that assists people who have experienced institutionalised sexual abuse and holds institutions accountable for it.

This week the National Redress Scheme published a list of institutions identified by the Royal Commission who have joined the scheme. The Uniting Church does not appear on this list, but we are mentioned on their website along with other institutions whose applications are still being processed. The Uniting Church in Australia has provided the Federal Government with our application and supporting documents in December 2018.  We have been informed that we will soon be operational as a fully listed institution and ready to begin processing any claims originating from within the Uniting Church.

“We pray for all survivors of child sexual abuse and for their families and the families of those who can no longer share their pain. We pray for a safe society where the rights of children and vulnerable people will be recognised and championed. In Jesus’ ministry, the importance of such people in the Kingdom of Heaven was made abundantly clear to his disciples and followers. May it be so in the life and witness of our church today,” says Sue.

“Our thoughts and prayers are also with the Catholic Church at this time as Pope Francis leads the people into a new era of accountability in their discipleship to Christ.”

(originally published on SA Synod website)

Hymn: O God when trust is shattered
PASSION CHORALE 7.6.7.6 D (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”) – new words to a familiar tune
O God, when trust is shattered
by wolves among your sheep,
when youth and children suffer,
when those remembering weep,
when victims tell their stories,
when leaders hide abuse,
bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!

When leaders side with evil,
when people do their worst,
may we reach out to victims
and put their healing first.
If any member suffers,
we all will suffer, too.
Bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!

We pray that the abusers
will learn sin’s awful cost,
and — making no excuses —
will know that they are lost.
Then may they find redemption —
as we all need it, too.
Bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!

May all who serve in churches
be careful, watchful, wise.
May we prevent abuses
and hear your children’s cries.
We pray that institutions
will seek your way anew.
Bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!
Tune: Hans Leo Hassler, 1601; harmony by Johann Sebastian Bach, 1729 (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”)
Text: Copyright © 2018 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.
Email: carolynshymns@gmail.com New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com/
Permission given for churches to use this hymn in worship

Compassion for those who need our help

Published / by Sandy

February 2019: The Australian Churches’ Refugee Taskforce and the National Council of Churches in Australia call for an end to the demonising of refugees and asylum seekers and a humane approach to their care and support.

As people of faith we welcome recent moves to bring all children in detention off Nauru. We welcome the passing of the Medical Transfer Bill by our Australian Parliament of elected representatives. Both these measures are humane and in no way jeopardise our national security. But they do not go far enough.

As people of faith we reject any rhetoric that suggests Australia is facing a border protection crisis and that Australia needs to reopen Christmas Island as a detention facility.

As people of faith we call on people from all sides of politics, the media and society to avoid using language that seeks to demonise groups of people currently held in detention and other people wanting to come to Australia to seek a safe life.

As people of faith we call on politicians from all political parties to outline reasoned and humane policies that will end offshore detention. We want to ensure the dignity and well-being of all in our care, including those people seeking safe refuge who are in Australia and being left destitute in our communities and neighbourhoods by current policy.

We urge the kind of welcome that lifted everyone’s spirits this week, with the return of Hakeem from detention in Thailand, who we all are embracing as one of our own.

Let us be clear. We are helping sick people because they need our help. That is enough to do well, now.

“Our Churches and agencies around the nation, as ever, stand ready to help, in partnership with our Government.”

‘Just Earth’ launch

Published / by Sandy

On Thursday 14th February, the free “Just Earth” App was launched (available in Google and i-tunes) at the Effective Living Centre. The app is sponsored by the Environmental Action Group in the Synod of South Australia.

It offers 40 days of Biblical reflections, prayers and beautiful photographs and invites us to prayerfully discern ways we are called to participate in God’s healing and renewal of the whole creation. It is designed for those who care for all aspects of the created world and its beauty and wonders. This app combines wisdom from many traditions and ages, contemporary prayers and potential actions. It is designed to challenge, inspire and encourage all who love the earth and wish to express their love more effectively.

‘The way we see the world determines the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are our biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity – then we will treat each other with greater respect. That is the challenge – to look at the world from a different perspective”. (David Suzuki)

If we only see life from ‘our’ perspective, then we miss the point and the richness of life entirely. Indigenous spirituality demonstrates that creation is alive – the forest, the mountains, the fields and the thousand hills. It sings of the Creator Spirit, is owned by the Creator Spirit. All we need to do is open our inner eyes and view life from another perspective to notice.

 

 

Living with tragedy

Published / by Sandy

Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer has asked members to keep residents in disaster-affected areas in their prayers in the days and weeks ahead. After heavy monsoonal rain, Townsville and surrounding areas are experiencing major flooding. Hundreds of residents have been evacuated and thousands of homes have been inundated. It is estimated more than 300,000 cattle have died in the floods. Some churches have opened their doors for people to gather and find support. In Tasmania, homes have been destroyed in widespread bushfires, which have been burning since before Christmas.

“We pray for all those who are suffering through adversity, that they might know God’s grace and love and be restored in hope through it. In times of natural disaster, churches are pastoral first responders to people experiencing the pain and grief of loss,” said Dr Palmer. “I pray for our chaplains as they seek to comfort the distraught, and our local church leaders as they seek to support the communities around them.”

The Assembly’s National Disaster Recovery Officer Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson says support is available for presbyteries and congregations through Uniting Church disaster relief funds. “As we pray and wait to see the extent of damage and loss, we will continue to make sure that local Presbyteries are aware of the availability of peer support, monetary support through Synod and Assembly disaster relief funds and the possibility of extra ministry resources which can follow up in the recovery phase.”

Prayers

God of all comfort and compassion,
We pray for those who are being or have been devastated by flood and rain.
We know that while the rain has come as a blessing to some,
particularly those in our outback areas,
for those whose properties are inundated or lives that have been threatened,
we pray for your protection and mercy.
Strengthen those who are isolated,
Who lay sleeplessly at night concerned for their own
and their neighbour’s safety.
Keep at bay the spread of disease
And show mercy and give strength
to emergency services and SES volunteers.
Protect those who are trapped in floodwaters,
particularly visitors to the region
and have no home in which to find comfort.
May our response to the suffering of others be generous and bring you praise.
For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
(Source: Rev. Garry Hardingham, Chairperson and Presbytery Minister
Presbytery of North Queensland)

Loving God, in the midst of what nature brings us,
we thank you for the deep wells of community life;
we pray that people will be kept safe;
that property damage be minimal,
that we might support and help one another through these challenging days.
(Source: Rev David Baker, Moderator, Synod of Queensland)

Compassion in the midst of disruption

Published / by Sandy

Australian sociologist Hugh Mackay gave the 2019 Australia Day address. It’s worth reading in full, or listening online. Here’s some of what he had to say:

“We humans are not at our best when we are trying to cope with a heightened sense of disruption, uncertainty, insecurity and anxiety, especially when we lack a vision, a sense of direction, an explanatory narrative. At such times, we tend to become less compassionate, less tolerant, less forgiving, more self-absorbed, more prejudiced, more vulnerable to fear and generally harsher in our social attitudes. That’s what feeds our obsession with security; it’s what drives our unrealistic yearning for simple certainties; it’s what encourages misplaced faith in so-called ‘strong’ leaders; it’s what pushes some of us in the direction of political and religious extremism. Compassion, tempered by justice and fairness, is the only truly rational response to an understanding of what it means to be human.

Hugh Mackay says we need a radical culture-shift in the direction of more compassion – more kindness, more tolerance, more generosity, more forgiveness, greater mutual respect – in our public and private lives.  We need to abandon the relentless and fruitless quest for personal happiness and, adopt, as a way of life, a greater responsiveness to the needs of those around us. As Mahatma Gandhi put it: ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ (Jesus had a thing or two to say about that as well!)

What would a more compassionate Australia look like, according to Hugh Mackay?

* A culture of compassion would address, finally, the need for serious reconciliation between Indigenous and other Australians, perhaps via a treaty. It is never too late for a treaty. It would mean responding respectfully and generously to the Uluru Statement’s call for Indigenous Australians to be given a formal advisory voice in matters that directly affect the well-being of Indigenous people.

* A culture of compassion would address the cruel and unconscionable way we treat people who come to us, by whatever means, seeking asylum and refuge.

* It would encourage a greater concern for the educational welfare and development of children in our most disadvantaged public schools.

* It would mean that inequality – of income and opportunity – would become an urgent focus of public policy. The thought of 3 million Australians living in poverty would scandalise us.

* In a culture of compassion, we would not tolerate the present distortions in our housing market – including our level of homelessness – especially when, on Census night, one million Australian dwellings stood empty.

* In a culture of compassion, we wouldn’t allow ourselves to become too busy to spend time with the people who need our undivided attention, nor too busy to notice when our neighbours need help.

* A culture of compassion would mean paying at least as much attention – and devoting at least as much of our public discourse – to the health of our society as to the health of our economy. In such a culture, we would think of ourselves more as citizens than consumers. We would acknowledge that people thrive because their lives have meaning and a sense of purpose; they thrive when they feel as if they are being taken seriously and their voices are being heard; they thrive when they feel loved and supported; they thrive when they feel safe; they thrive when they feel they are part of a society that recognises and includes them.

He concludes: On Australia Day, we like to acknowledge and celebrate Aussie heroes. Let me suggest that, this year, we also acknowledge the unsung heroism of all those people who are already helping to create a culture of compassion; people who are quietly devoting themselves to the wellbeing of others. Do you dream as I dream of a kinder, more compassionate, more generous, more equitable Australia? If enough of us are prepared to act as if we are already living in that kind of society, that’s the kind of society it will become.

Hugh Mackay’s wisdom resonates deeply with the Jesus mandate, and our call to be people of the Jesus Way, where all find welcome and a place of belonging, healing and wholeness. The church has much to offer for the common good and human flourishing in the midst of fragmentation, division and suspicion, if it could grasp its identity as the embodiment of Christ, if it incarnated the compassion of Christ, and if it could recover its DNA as the community of Christ with a place for people from a diversity of backgrounds – without differentiation and denigration according to status, ethnicity, gender or sexuality.

May we live with the audacious hope that we can, in small or large ways, be the change we want to see in the world as part of the Jesus community, the body of Christ here and now, for the sake of the world. Amen.

Day of Mourning 2019

Published / by Sandy

This is the full text of a sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce on Sunday 20th January 2019

Sunday 20th January 2019 was set aside as a ‘Day of Mourning’ in the Uniting Church in Australia…. a time to reflect on the effect of invasion and colonisation on Australia’s First Peoples and our identity as a nation. The observance of a Day of Mourning was endorsed by the Fifteenth Assembly of the Uniting Church at the request of our sisters and brothers in the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), and allows us to stand together in remembering the truth of our history and honouring the culture of Australia’s First Peoples, their families and the next generations. The Day of Mourning will be held each year on the Sunday before Australia Day.

Our Gospel reading is The Wedding at Cana. I might have chosen another that more directly reflects the Day of Mourning theme. But one thing stood out from the gospel – there was a need, someone noticed, and did something about it. In this case, Mary noticed that the wine had run out at the wedding celebration. It was a particular pressing need with particular people in a particular place. Mary, mother of Jesus, is the one to verbalise the need once she had recognised the problem, and called on Jesus to help. Chung Hyun Kyung and other Asian women theologians suggest that Mary is more important to this story than we usually think, and we shouldn’t hurry past this “Mary factor” in the story. According to Chung, Mary’s actions express a “compassionate sensitiveness to other people’s needs” that is often found in women, perhaps because women have an acute sense of need and vulnerability that can nurture a compassionate approach to life. Jesus was raised by a woman like Mary to practice “compassionate justice”.

I wonder, as you reflect on your life, the ways you have also played this role of compassionate justice and awareness of other people’s needs, and of nurturing compassion in others. What would those stories and experiences be? How you have partnered with God in expressions of divine compassion, and point others to God as the source of divine love? Those stories and experiences of compassionate justice and service continue to provide a solid foundation for our mission and ministry together here at Pilgrim Church. 

Rev Francis Cox

Let me mention the names of a couple of people associated with our Pilgrim history. (There are many more who could be named as well).
The Rev. Francis Cox was born in London in 1817, trained as a teacher and later as a Congregational minister, and was ordained in 1852. In 1857 aged 40 he was invited to South Australia and became pastor of the Ebenezer Chapel, off Rundle Street. His congregation grew and in 1857 they built a large church in Hindmarsh Square. Following the death of Rev TQ Stow*, the first Congregational minister in South Australia, Cox came to be looked on as the local figurehead of the Congregational Church. He was associated with the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association for many years, and championed the rights of Aboriginal people.

George Taplin, Raukkan

Rev George Taplin worked with the Aboriginal people at what is now called Raukkan (The Ancient Way) near Meningie, on the shores of Lake Alexandrina. He was recruited for the ministry by Rev Thomas Quinton Stow* in 1851, and the Aborigines’ Friends Association appointed him as their first missionary-teacher. For a settlement, he chose a traditional camping ground known to Europeans as Point McLeay, on the traditional lands of the Ngarrindjeri people.

It is interesting to note that this week some of the participants at the UCA National Young Adult Leaders Conference (NYALC) participated in a ‘Walking on Country’ experience at Raukkan, led by Ngarrindjeri Elder Rev Ken Sumner and younger leader Sean Weetra, and with the UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer present. Deidre’s 2019 Survival Day message was filmed on Ngarrindjeri land, at Raukkan.

In setting aside land at Raukkan for his mission with Aboriginal people, George Taplin immediately met immediate with opposition from John Baker, a politician and wealthy property owner, briefly to be SA Premier in 1857. Baker was antagonistic towards George Taplin and the establishment of the Point McLeay Aboriginal Mission there in 1857. As the leaseholder of land adjoining Point McLeay he objected to Taplin’s choice of location there as an Aboriginal Mission there would be “prejudicial to his interests”. The government intended making a grant for Mission from the leasehold lands of his Lake Albert station. To try and prevent it from happening and as a state politician he initiated the first Royal Commission by an SA government into the conditions and welfare of Aboriginal people. He had hoped to have Taplin and the Aboriginal Friends’ Association ousted from his land. Baker also claimed that Taplin only wanted the salary and was not interested in Aboriginal welfare, that he was lazy and that he bribed the Ngarrindjeri to attend church – all patently false. Baker was clearly a mean spirited man. The Commission found no reason to relocate the Taplin Mission, and Taplin worked on with vigour – teaching, building, sharing the gospel, establishing farming, dispensing government rations and acting as a mechanic and district physician.

He was keenly interested in Ngarrindjeri culture, and learned their language, used it in preaching, and translated and published Bible tracts. He published invaluable anthropological studies which were considered to be far superior to other contemporary work of the time on South Australian Aboriginals. A chapel was built at Raukkan, and you probably carry the image of the church in your wallet or purse from time to time – it’s on the old $50 note, along with an image of David Unaipon, a preacher, author and inventor, who was born in 1872 at Raukkan, then known as the Point McLeay Mission. His father James was the mission’s first Aboriginal convert.

Even so, Taplin was a man of his time and culture, and adhered to the contemporary view that Christianity and Europeanization should be adopted and Ngarrindjeri civilization abandoned. His moral code was rigid. His attempts to erase traditional initiation and burial rites faced dogged resistance from tribal elders. His insistence on imposing western ways served to undermine the government and social structure of the Ngarrindjeri people, further weakened traditional discipline and morale, and provoked strong opposition from conservative tribal members. But, they had already been dispossessed and persecuted before his arrival. Taplin’s efforts to teach literacy and numeracy, and trades, enabled them to survive and flourish briefly in European society.

Rev Francis Cox and Rev George Taplin, along with many others, showed great compassion for the Aboriginal people here in South Australia. However, more broadly, compassionate care and respect was not always evident in the colony.

The South Australian Colonisation Act passed by the British Parliament in 1834 declared the lands of the new colony to be ” unoccupied”. The Act’s clear denial of rights for the Aboriginal people to their lands met with considerable opposition from humanitarian circles in Great Britain (including Lord Glenelg, Sir George Grey and other influential men in the Colonial Office in London). The Colonial Office subsequently enshrined the principle of Aboriginal land rights by inserting in the Letters Patent, the document issued in 1836 to formally establish the colony of South Australia, a clause which recognized the prior rights of the Aborigines to the land and guaranteed that “any lands now actually occupied or enjoyed by [the] Natives’ would not be alienated.” After protracted negotiations with the Colonial Office, it was agreed that a Protector be appointed to safeguard the Aborigines’ interests. Among his duties, he was required to ensure that any land opened up for public sale had been voluntarily ceded and fairly purchased from the Aborigines. The Commissioners agreed to set aside 20% of the proceeds from all land sales in the colony to be used for the benefit of the Aborigines and also committed the South Australia Company to protect “the natives in the unmolested exercise of their rights of property should such a right be found to exist”.

In the new colony, these commitments were soon forgotten and all the lands were declared open for public sale – thus making the Aboriginal people landless. In fact it contributed to the Aboriginal people coming to grief with the law, because if Aboriginal people could not provide a satisfactory account of their place of residence and their means of living, they were to be categorised as ‘a rogue and vagabond’, and could be jailed. (Register, 1 December 1855, p2)

One reporter at the time gave an interesting insight into the inherent lack of Christian charity within the dominant European population: “The drinking and begging of these (Aboriginal) people render their presence about Adelaide very undesirable and it is a fruitful source of evil to them. The Commissioner of Police has issued instructions that in future their camps will not be allowed at or near the city”.

So, while the Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri people and many other First Peoples were denied access to their lands, flogged, degraded, abused, socially ignored – and more, Adelaide and the suburbs and the pastoral areas grew slowly upon their old tribal land.

From colonisation in 1836, Aboriginal people’s use of the land, together with customs going back for thousands of years, was to be slowly, but surely, all but exterminated by the intrusion of the British settler and the accompanying laws and diseases of their so-called “civilisation”. The numbers of Aboriginal people would continue to decline.

Geoffrey H. Manning’s A Colonial Experience, and quoted in the Adelaide Times (24 May 1851, p2) responded: “Shame Upon Us! We take their land and drive away their food by what we call civilisation, and then deny them shelter from a storm… What comes of all the hypocrisy of our wishes to better their condition?.. What can a maddened black think of our Christianity to deny him the sod on which he was born… You grow hundreds of bushels of corn on his land but deny him the crumbs that fall from the table… They kill a sheep, but you drive his kangaroo away. You now drive him away from his own, his native land – out upon it; how can God’s all-seeing eye approve of this?”

In its preamble, the Uniting Church’s Constitution acknowledges “a community of First Peoples and of Second Peoples” and that Aboriginal people remain “the traditional owners and custodians” of the land. It goes on to address the history of colonisation, the church’s mistakes in dealing with the Aboriginal people and its responsibility for the suffering it caused, “including paternalism and racism towards the First Peoples”. Church members “were complicit in the injustice that resulted in many of the First Peoples being dispossessed from their land, their language, their culture and spirituality, becoming strangers in their own land”. It is important to address the way Aboriginal people view the role of the church as a contributor to their dispossession and disadvantage, as uncomfortable as that may be for us, the Second Peoples of this land.

Pastor Ray Minniecon wrote a prayer in 2009 which became known as the ‘Redfern Prayer’ and I would like to quote it, as sobering and challenging as it is for Second Peoples in Australia.

God of our Dreaming. Father of all our Aboriginal nations in Australia.
You have lived among us since time immemorial. We have always known You.
You gave this land to our Aboriginal nations. You have not dispossessed us nor destroyed us.
People from other lands, who do not understand our unique culture,
our unique lifestyle and our unique heritage have come and destroyed much of our way of life.
Many of these people from other lands now want to understand and reconcile with us.
But for many of us Aboriginal people, we find this reconciliation business a little difficult.
Too many of our children are still in jails.
Too many of our children are still living in sub-standard housing.
Too many of our mothers are living on the streets or in refuges.
Too many of our children are still uneducated.
Too many of our children have no land and no community to go back to.
Too many of our children have not got good opportunities for good employment.
Too many of our children are living in extremely unhealthy environments.
Too many of our children are living among violence and abuse.
Too many of our children are dying to drugs and other soul-destroying substances.
God our Dreaming and Creator of our people, we sometimes feel overwhelmed by these things.
Many of us feel like we are refugees in our own land.
Today we are coming together again on one of our battlegrounds to cry out to You
for mercy and justice for our children, for our families and for our land.
We pray that more resources will be given to our local community organisations
to help us grow healthy and strong.
We pray that the peoples from other lands will be given a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone
so that they can understand us and support us properly.
We pray that your Spirit will help and encourage us to grow good strong Aboriginal leaders.
Father we want to grow strong and healthy again in our own land.
We want to take our rightful place in our land and make our contribution to the re-building of our families, our communities and our nation.
Please hear our cries for justice. We ask these mercies in the name of Your Son. Amen.

And so the story continues of dispossession and disadvantage continues. Like Mary, we have a role in the story – to notice, to seek forgiveness, to listen and support, to participate in acts of compassion and justice. If we are convinced of God’s goodness and generosity, we can nudge God with our observation when there is need, as Mary did in our reading today. We can intervene on behalf of and alongside others. We can recognise our responsibility to embody God’s own compassion and mercy for one another; to share in bringing God’s intent for new life to birth. May it be so. Amen.

*Rev TQ Stow was the first Congregational Minister in SA, and Pilgrim Church was originally named Stow Memorial Church in his honour.

Sources
George Taplin
http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taplin-george-4687
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Taplin
https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/spirituality/redfern-prayer
G. K. Jenkin, published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976
http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taplin-george-4687
Struggle to Be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women’s Theology

Day of Mourning

Published / by Sandy

In the spirit of our Covenant relationship with the UAICC, the Uniting Church in Australia has declared the Sunday before Australia Day January 26 as a Day of Mourning.The observance of a Day of Mourning was endorsed by the Fifteenth Assembly at the request of our sisters and brothers in the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC).

All three morning services at Pilgrim Uniting Church (8am, 9.30am, 11am) will focus on the Day of Mourning on Jan 20th.

Our declaration of a Day of Mourning allows us to stand together in remembering the truth of our history and honouring the culture of Australia’s First Peoples, their families and the next generations.

This will be an annual fixture on our liturgical calendar that invites us to reflect on the effect of invasion and colonisation on Australia’s First Peoples and our identity as a nation, reminds us of the dispossession and violence against First Peoples, and laments that as a Church and as Second Peoples we were and remain complicit. We acknowledged this in our Church when we apologised to the Stolen Generations in 1997. We acknowledged this by revising the Preamble to our Constitution, which was approved by the Ninth Assembly in 2009. We acknowledged this in affirming First Peoples as the sovereign peoples of this land.

Rev Denise Champion, a Deacon in the UCA and an Adnyamathanha woman speaks of the new community toward which we are called as the Uniting Church:
“I have been challenged, in my work in facilitating reconciliation between First and Second Peoples, to create a safe community. A community where people can come together, sit and talk, and experience healing and forgiveness for the past, finding a new destiny together”.

As the Uniting Church we affirm that ours is “a destiny together” acknowledging the wrongs of the past and the present and committing ourselves to take action to bring about a more just Australia. As the Uniting Church we hear Jesus calling us into the light of reconciliation.

Dr Deidre Palmer, President, Uniting Church in Australia, reflects:
I pray that the whole nation may fully acknowledge our history and take a significant step towards healing for our nation. May we together continue on this journey of confession, forgiveness and working toward justice and healing‘.

(adapted from the introduction to the worship resources prepared for the Day of Mourning)

Prayer for the Uniting Church in Australia

Published / by Sandy

PRAYER FOR THE UNITING CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA
Written by President Dr Deidre Palmer six months after the Fifteenth Assembly (scroll down further for the President’s pastoral letter updating the decision on marriage)

Gracious and loving God,
We thank you for the Uniting Church in Australia,
for the ways your Spirit empowers us to participate in your liberating mission in the world.
You call us to be your Pilgrim People, responsive to your leading, as we witness to your reconciling love in our communities.
At this time in our life as the Uniting Church,
May your Holy Spirit weave us together as the Body of Christ, a community of grace and hope.
Renew and strengthen us as your Church –
Where there is hurt and pain, bring your comfort and healing.
Where we have caused hurt to one another, bring forgiveness and reconciliation. Where our community and unity are strained, give us patience to listen to one another, to see your presence in one another, and to love our sisters and brothers in Christ, as you have first loved us.
Where there is uncertainty and confusion, bring your guidance and light. Lead us forward in ways that are faithful to your mission in the world.
We pray for our Congregations and Faith Communities,
that they may be a source of your healing, hope, compassion and love, and welcoming and hospitable places to worship and serve.
Send your Holy Spirit upon us, fill us with passion for Christ’s mission, so that we will be courageous bearers of God’s good news of love, justice and healing in your world.
Through Christ we pray. Amen.

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

TO ALL CONGREGATIONS AND FAITH COMMUNITIES

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Greetings in this new year, that brings fresh opportunities, as we serve Christ together as the Uniting Church in Australia. I am greatly encouraged by the ways the Uniting Church is engaging in mission and exercising ministry through our local churches, Presbyteries, Synods, our Agencies, schools and the Assembly.

On this Sunday the 13th of January, six months will have passed since the members of the Fifteenth Assembly gathered in Melbourne to discern prayerfully the national priorities and directions of our Church.

Decisions of the Assembly
During this time, members of Synods, Presbyteries, Congregations and Faith Communities have heard about and discussed the decisions we made in Melbourne. In many parts of our Church, our members are living out the hopes and vision that relate to our decisions on domestic and family violence, sovereignty of First Peoples, care for creation, access for people with disabilities, and support for seasonal workers.

Our Decision on Marriage
In respect to our recognition of two statements of belief on marriage, there have been a variety of responses. Across our Church, there are many people who have embraced the decision as a wise way of moving forward as a Church, respecting the different views we hold on marriage, and giving freedom to Ministers and Congregations to hold to a view of marriage, that they believe is faithful to the Gospel of Christ. Leaders in our Church have journeyed alongside those Uniting Church members, Congregations and Presbyteries, who have difficulty in living with the decision of the Assembly.

In 2009 an additional Clause 39 (b) was approved by the Assembly, which allows Presbyteries and Synods to ask the Assembly to reconsider a decision it has made.

Clause 39 (b) of the Uniting Church Constitution states:

(i) If within six months of a decision of the Assembly, or its Standing Committee, at least half the Presbyteries within the bounds of each of at least half the Synods, or at least half the Synods, notify the President that they have determined that in their opinion

• a decision includes a matter vital to the life of the Church; and
• there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision

the President shall notify the Church that the decision is suspended until the Assembly has undertaken further consultation.

Six Presbyteries chose to exercise their right to notify me as President, that, in their opinion, the matter was “vital to the life of the Church and there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision.” There were five Presbyteries in Queensland and one Presbytery in the Northern Synod. On Saturday the 5th of January 2019, the Presbytery of South Australia met, and decided that the majority of members did not support the proposal that the Fifteenth Assembly marriage decision was a “matter vital to the life of the Church and there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision.”

This means that the threshold for the suspension of the Assembly decision has not been reached.

As a result, the Assembly decision on marriage stands, and will continue to be lived out in our Church, in various faithful expressions.

At this time, I would like to acknowledge with deep gratitude, the many Uniting Church members who have listened to one another with open hearts, and who have entered into challenging conversations, as you have responded to the Assembly decision and what it means for your particular community – and in many cases for your families and friends.

During this first six months as President, I have had many opportunities to meet with Uniting Church members, Congregations, Presbyteries and leaders of National Conferences and listen to their concerns and their hopes for our Church. Some of our conversations have focused on Assembly decisions, including our decision on marriage. Our broader focus has included the ways we can witness to God’s reconciling love, which is beyond measure and has power to transform people’s lives and the life of our society.

I know that there are Uniting Church members who have been hurt and have felt distress – either by the decision on marriage, or the possibility of the suspension of the decision. Let us remain conscious in the weeks and months ahead that this is a time for us as a Church to pastorally support one another, to act compassionately toward one another, and to hear Christ’s invitation to love each other, as Christ loves us, with grace, healing and hope. This call for us to love as Christ loves is at the heart of God’s mission.

A Prayerful and Loving Community

After the Fifteenth Assembly, I noted that I was proud of the way our Assembly members modelled a loving Christian community, by holding together and caring for each other as they exchanged strongly and faithfully held views from different theological and cultural perspectives.

In the months ahead, I pray that we will reflect the marks of the Christian community that Paul speaks of in his letter to the church in Philippi: “encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, sharing in the Spirit, compassion and sympathy.” (Philippians 2:1-3).

I invite you to pray for the Uniting Church, and for each other, that we may faithfully embody the Gospel of Christ in all we do and say. I have included a prayer for our Church, that I invite you to pray in your congregations and faith communities.

May we all know God’s abundant grace and liberating hope as we seek to journey together, shaped by God’s reconciling love.

Grace and peace.

Dr Deidre Palmer, President
Uniting Church in Australia Assembly

“Love is born with a dark and troubled face”

Published / by Sandy

“Love is born with a dark and troubled face,
when hope is dead and in the most unlikely place,
Love is born: Love is always born.” (Michael Leunig)

What if God was not the object of our knowledge but the cause of our wonder?
If God is the object of our knowledge, faith is a conclusion.
If God is the cause of our wonder, faith is an invitation into wonder.

Faith is an invitation to wonder anew about this story where Love is born in a dark, filthy cave. Faith is an invitation to wonder anew about Love being born in a manger, an animal’s feeding trough, that gleams with the saliva of the oxen that have just eaten there. That hardly seems like a likely place for the birth of love and hope and possibility. Maybe the less likely the better. We might just wonder how Love might be born in unlikely places today, places with dark and troubled faces where hope is dead. We might just wonder how we are part of that story.

My soul doesn’t need the sanitized Hallmark Christmas cards absent of the pain, mess and fear of this wondrous story. You know the ones…where Mary has an easy labor and recovers from childbirth in a heartbeat sitting serenely dressed in lovely blue silk. Joseph hovers about as if the whole ordeal went exactly as planned. The shepherds are ready to change a diaper or two.

No, my soul longs to wonder about a story of Love being born where hope is dead. My soul longs to wonder about a story of an impoverished girl whose life is lived on the margins. She is exhausted, frightened, miles from home in a dark and scary place. My soul longs to wonder about the mystery of Love entering the world in that unlikely place.

It was dirty. It smelled. My soul longs to wonder how something holy and beautiful can be born in such a dark and troubled place. My soul longs to wonder how that story is my story, our story.

Meister Eckhart said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

I wonder if I am the one with the dark and troubled face where hope is dead.

I wonder if Love is always born.

I wonder.

(Originally published by Rev Steven Koski, Bend, Oregon)

‘Welcome to the world, little one’

Published / by Sandy

At Christmas we are reminded afresh of God’s gift of Jesus to the world. We celebrate and rejoice that God has been born into this world as one of us, the mystery of the divine taking human flesh, living in our human condition, and revealed in a tiny baby. Emmanuel, God is with us. The early church fathers said that God became human in order that humanity might become divine. God and humanity exchange gifts. We share our lives with one another and in so doing discover that God and human beings are united and joined as one.

Mary and Joseph would have tenderly whispered words of love and welcome to the infant Jesus. The baby was so small, vulnerable and helpless; yet he is the Word, who in the beginning was God and was with God. The shepherds and the wise ones, the Magi, whispered words of love and welcome, and praise and wonder. They would have held such hope for this child. Even the miracle of survival, given the tremendous social, economic and political upheaval of the day. The responsibility for the care of a child at any time is formidable and frightening and even more when there is so much fragility, uncertainty, unpredictability.

Newborns embody the potential of what might be. They are the hope of what love can become. Mary and Joseph held this child in trust, as all children are held in trust. Their hope was that this child would flourish, that this child would reveal the divine in their midst, that this child would embody God’s love, grace, and mercy, and would speak with strength and compassion into the human condition. We have a wealth of stories of how this newborn’s life unfolded, source of God’s salvation for the world, the one who questioned the powers that be, who sought to bring about a reversal in the social order and liberate the oppressed. But for now let us stay with this child.

Whenever I see a newborn child, I want to say, ‘Welcome to the world, little one’. And, ‘Good Luck!’ It’s not so much luck, as a deep desire for this child, for each child, to be able to live, to flourish, to love and be loved, to live into the strength and compassion that is part of our humanity, to be all they can be. Fearless, generous, open, compassionate. I often look at the rough sleepers around this city, and wonder who whispered those words to them, ‘Welcome to the world, little one’, and ‘Good Luck’. And I wonder where things went so wrong for so many, that their life has become so constrained, so limited, so loveless, so ‘down on their luck’ as some would say. I look at the children in detention, children starving in Yemen, children at border crossings and checkpoints, and wonder who has whispered the words to them, ‘Welcome to the world, little one’, and ‘Good Luck!’ Sometimes circumstances intervene, that stop each precious child from being all they can be. I’m thinking of children in the limbo of immigration detention, children who have endured sexual abuse, children stuck in situations with toxic relationships, children living with deprivation.

But I’m also struck by the turn of events where children become the prophets of our time and place. And we have seen many of them lately. Like the high school students speaking out after yet another school shooting – with such conviction and clarity. More recently I have been so struck by 15 year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. You may know she has been staging a peaceful protest each Friday outside the parliament of her country, calling for action on climate change and seeking climate justice. Her simple sustained action has mobilised many thousands of school students to give voice to their concerns for our planet and to climate justice. Recently, Greta had an opportunity to speak to the UN climate conference in Poland, known simply as COP24 (The decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the Conference of the Parties – more simply referred to as COP). The full speech – passionate, calm, clear, prophetic, undaunted by status and power – is worth viewing (see below).

She calls for change.

“I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to. But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes. Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself. We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. Thank you”.

Speaking truth to power, fearless in the face of those who hold status. In her speech, we hear echoes of Mary’s Magnificat, and Jesus’ mandate in Luke 4. Powerful.

Meister Eckhart, a German monk and mystic, once asked a profound question in one of his sermons. “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God all those hundreds of years ago – and I do not give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture?” Might this young Swedish teenage girl be ‘giving birth’ to Jesus in our time and place? It’s an incredible concept.

How might we be giving birth in our time and place to the divine?

Christ has come, enfleshed in our humanity. Christ has come, enfleshed in refugees who seek safety and sanctuary. Christ has come, enfleshed in our indigenous sisters and brothers. Christ has come, enfleshed in our neighbours’ need. Christ has come, enfleshed in the longing of the lost and lonely ones who cross our path. Will we dare to be moved by the Christ-child so that we can see the Divinity that lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us? Dare we let the Christ child open us so that we can be the love that brings peace on earth and good will to all? This day we embrace the newborn, that Christ may be born anew in us, so that all the world may know the Love that we call God! The hope that we call God, the peace that we call God.

Let’s not just celebrate Christmas this year. Let’s also participate in Christmas. Let’s dream and consider how we will give birth to the divine in our time and in our culture, in the places we live, work and play, in caring for the poor, the sick, the homeless, in speaking and working for peace and justice, in our relationships, in our brokenness and pain, and in our joys and celebrations, in sharing compassion, and our work to bring about justice and peace in our world.

The life of Jesus is begotten in us, and grows within us, as we open ourselves to God. May this be so this Christmas. Amen.

“For unto us a child is born”

Published / by Sandy

(adapted from a reflection by Rev Steven Koski, posted 14th December 2018)


“For unto us a child is born.” The Divine entered our story in a helpless, vulnerable child to remind us to look for the divinity in every child. The child who grew to be a man would say, “Let the children come to me, and do not let anything stand in the way of children knowing their belovedness, and knowing the Love from which they can never be separated.”

In the last few days, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Caal Maquin, was taken into Border Patrol custody and died of dehydration and exhaustion. She had travelled with her father from a rural indigenous community in Guatemala’s impoverished Alta Verapaz region. US Rep. Joaquin Castro said, “This is a humanitarian crisis and we have a moral obligation to ensure these vulnerable families can safely seek asylum, which is legal under immigration and international law at our borders.” She came as a stranger, but she did not find welcome; she was hungry but she did not find food; thirsty and was given no drink.  She came as Jesus, Jesus came as her, but we did not recognize her. She was someone else’s child.

A photojournalist covering the war in Sarajevo was taking pictures when he heard a sniper’s rifle. He turned to see a child fall to the ground. A man holding the child yelled, “My child’s been shot. Please help.” The photographer helped the man and child into his car and raced to the hospital. The man screamed, “My child’s bleeding so badly. Hurry!” They arrived and the child was taken into emergency surgery. Hours later the doctor opened the door with a look on his face that said, “We did everything we could but it was too late.”
The man turned to the photographer and said, “Can you help me find this child’s father so that we can tell him?”
The photographer said, “Father? I thought you were her father. You said ‘my child.’”
The man responded with the words that can heal the world, “They are all our children.”

Today, the unfolding tragedy in Yemen sees 12 million Yemenis on the brink of famine, after two years of war. Already, 85,000 children may have died. 

Imagine seeing the child in the manger in every child you see and meet today, and images on the TV and internet. Simply observe your own feelings and responses. Contemplate what might change if we understand there is no such thing as other people’s children. They are all our children.

We pray for each one of these children, whom God knows by name and whom God loves with depths greater than we can possibly imagine. In the midst of the despair that surrounds them, they may nonetheless find glimpses of comfort, hope, and joy sufficient to nurture their wounded hearts. We pray for their parents, themselves seeking to cope with the traumas associated with war and conflict, famine, persecution, flight, and detention. They are anxious for the welfare and future of their children, rendered helpless by the situation in which they find themselves. Grant them courage to face the day, and the ability to draw deeply of the reservoirs of resilience they need to keep on being good parents. We pray for our leaders. We recognise the grave responsibilities of power, and ask for wisdom that they might use power well, the resolve to form policy and make decisions that are  just, compassionate and generous, and the humility to be repentant where errors have been made. Amen. (Prayer adapted from A Just Cause)

Hymn: A Girl Died at the Border
ST. CHRISTOPHER 7.6.8.6.8.6.8.6 (“Beneath the Cross of Jesus”)

A girl died at the border; O God, how can this be?
She came here with her father and was put in custody—
Then fever, shock and dehydration took her life away—
Or did she die from something else— from stumbling blocks we made?

Lord, she was only seven! What things should she have known?
The sounds of playing, and the joys of freedom, justice, home…
and food to spare, a place to rest, cool water close at hand…
and feeling welcomed, treasured, blessed… and folks who understand.

Lord Jesus, we remember your words that bring us pause:
There will be times of stumbling here, but woe if we’re the cause.
And woe when children, fleeing danger, stumble, thirst and die.
And woe to us, a nation, if we are the reason why.

O God of great compassion, you love each little one;
So shake us loose from our believing nothing can be done.
When any child is suffering, Lord, we pray that love will win;
God, may we now obey your word and welcome children in.

Biblical References: Matthew 17:1-2; 19:13-14
Tune: Frederick Charles Maker, 1881
Text: Copyright © 201 8 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email: bcgillette@comcast.net New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com

A very green Advent

Published / by Sandy

This year, there will be an eoc-focus in the 9.30am community Advent services – instead of Season of Creation in September we’re doing it in December.

We begin Advent with this reading from Luke’s Gospel (21:25-26b): “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world”.

We reflect on this reading in a year with so many ‘natural’ disasters, and a week of catastrophic and extensive bushfires in Queensland and torrential rain and floods in Sydney. While meteorologists and climatologists have made it clear that it is difficult to connect singular weather events to climate change, trends and patterns clearly point to a correlation between global warming and extreme weather. Rising temperatures triggered by human-caused climate change have created more intense storms with the capacity to dump incredible amounts of rain.

On the last day of November 2018, thousands of school students walked out of class to protest across Australia in a ‘Strike 4 Climate Action’. This happened despite and perhaps in defiance of the PMs warning. The students were demanding action by the Federal Government on climate change.

The “Strike 4 Climate Action” was inspired by 15-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg. Every Friday, she sits outside her parliament house, urging her leaders to take action on climate change.

She says, “Some say I should be in school. But why should any young person be made to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future? What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians? We are running out of time. Failure means disaster. The changes required are enormous and we must all contribute to the solutions, especially those of us in rich countries like Australia. The adults have failed us. And since most of them, including the press and the politicians, keep ignoring the situation, we must take action into our own hands, starting today.”

The lyrics from one of Whitney Houston’s songs comes to mind:
‘I believe the children are our are future/Teach them well and let them lead the way’…..

Photograph: Michael Campanella

PM Scott Morrison, had earlier this week urged students this week not to take part and told them that the nation needed “more learning in schools and less activism”. On Friday, the Resources Minister Matt Canavan said he would prefer students to learn about  how to build mines, do geology and how to drill for oil and gas, “which is one of the most remarkable science exploits in the world”. He told 2GB radio, “These are the type of things that excite young children and we should be great at it as a nation. The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that’s what your future life will look like, up in a line asking for a handout, not actually taking charge for your life and getting a real job.”

The Anti-Poverty Network SA responded: “If we do not act on climate change now, it will not matter if our children get a real job in the future or not. There is no point in taking charge of your life as an individual if humanity heads towards climate disaster as a collective”.

And so we enter the season of Advent…..a time for reflection, preparation, anticipation.

 

 

A timely word

Published / by Sandy

John Squires recently wrote a blog that provided some solace for the soul in a difficult time in the Presbytery and Synod of SA, Uniting Church in Australia.

He writes:

I have been thinking in recent days about modes of speaking; ways of proclaiming deeply-held beliefs, ways of engaging in constructively and fruitfully with people who hold different opinions from me. Life these days in the church – and life these days in the public arena, with political debate and social media interaction – seems always to be challenging me, in the way I think about ideas, and speak with other people about those ideas.

Years ago, when I was immersed in studying the letters of Paul, in the original Greek. I came across a fine Greek word, parrhesia, a most suitable and fitting word for Paul to use to describe his modus operandi. It is variously translated as boldness, frankness, courage, assurance, a fearless freedom in expression, an unreserved style of speaking … or, perhaps most simply, “plain speaking”. It was a quality in public speaking which had been valued, long before Paul’s time, and would continue to be valued, after his own lifetime.

I came across another verse in one of Paul’s letters … another word, another idea praised by Paul, another quality which had long been valued and honoured and promoted within the Hellenistic literature. The verse is a short one in Philippians 4, where Paul is addressing the believers in the Roman colony of Philippi in Macedonia. There had been some tensions amongst this group of believers; Paul exhorts them to express unity of purpose, to support one another, and to live in a way that honours the faith they share together. Then, he says, “let your gentleness be known to everyone” (4.5). 

That instruction is striking for two reasons. First, it is oriented towards “everyone” … perhaps a more literal translation would be, “to every human being”. Not just within the community of faith, but to everyone whom they encounter and engage with, anywhere in society.

The second, even more striking, feature, is Paul’s use of the Greek word epieikes (epi-ay-case), which the NRSV translates as “gentleness”. This is almost the polar opposite of parrhesia. Instead of boldness, frankness, and the directness of a hard-hitting public argument, Paul encourages gentleness, mildness, a sense of fairness in the way that believers are to engage with others. To be reasonable. To offer generosity in attending carefully to the other. To offer forbearance and patience.

But there is more. That word epieikes (gentleness) encourages an honest and thoughtful engagement between people, to indicate a way of engaging constructively, respectfully, openly, with other people. Indeed, the word has, at its root, the short verb eiko, which means, to yield, to give way to, to surrender.

So, Paul instructs the Philippians, at this point, to engage in respectful conversations with each other, in which one party yields to the other party – one party steps back, steps aside, pulls back from their boldness and frankness, stops and listens, ponders and reflects, allows the other party to express their view and to have it heard and registered.

John concludes: It seems to me that this is surely “a word of the Lord” for our time. For our place. For our current discussion. For our church, rent by divergent and disputing views. But especially, for the Uniting Church in Australia, for those who have spoken out long and hard, in boldness and frankness, about marriage. Let’s just demonstrate some epieikes (gentleness). Let’s yield. Let’s be gentle. Let’s live the Gospel of abundant grace and liberating hope. Indeed.

And finally, these words from the Seasons of the Spirit resource: “Everything that we plant will not grow; everything that we build will not stand; but continue to plant seeds of hope, and build communities of love. Do not be discouraged, because we do not work in vain. May the grace of God, the love of Jesus, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, continue to work with and through us.”

Time to Stand Together

Published / by Greg Elsdon

Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer has called on the nation’s politicians to show leadership that will unite rather than divide Australians following the Bourke Street attack in Melbourne.

Dr Palmer expressed her deep sympathy for the family of much-loved restaurateur Sisto Malaspina who was stabbed and killed in the attack on 9 November.

“I join with others across the country in condemning this horrific act,” said Dr Palmer.

“It is important to remember at times like this, we are stronger when we stand beside one another and remain steadfast in our commitment to work together for a peaceful and inclusive community.”

Dr Palmer expressed concern at comments made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison linking Islam to a “radical and dangerous ideology” and for his dismissal of mental health issues faced by attacker 30-year-old Hassan Khalif Shire Ali as “an excuse”.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also made comments in relation to the Bourke St incident urging Islamic community leaders not to withhold information from police.

“I share the concerns of Muslim leaders who are rightly disturbed by such comments which can be alienating for the whole Muslim community,” said Dr Palmer.

“Islam is a religion that actively promotes peace and we know that Muslim leaders in Australia work very hard to share this peaceful message of Islam and counter any misrepresentations.”

“I encourage Uniting Church members to pray for all those caught up in the tragedy and to continue to work together with all who seek peace in our communities.”

#kidsoffNauru

Published / by Sandy

In the last couple of weeks a number of children and their families have been flown from Nauru to Australia (including Adelaide) for urgent medical attention. This is only right – many children have spent their entire lives in immigration detention, creating a generation of damaged children. #fiveyearstoolong. Paediatricians note that the brain is particularly vulnerable to stress in the first three years of life. During this period of rapid growth and organisation, a rise in stress-related hormones may impact the development of emerging neural networks. There is evidence that these children on Nauru have significant medical and mental health issues, as well as patterns of behaviour such as self-harm and resignation syndrome. They live with uncertainty for the future, rather than the security they need for flourishing and well-being. The longer the children (and their families) are on Nauru, the more risk there is of long term damage. There is no case to be argued for the children to be brought to Australia only when there is a medical crisis. This is a systemic issue and needs an immediate response. A letter signed by 6000 doctors makes that point clear.

On Friday night, hundreds gathered for a prayer vigil for #kidsoffNauru campaign, with people young and old all longing to see the right thing done for these children. People shared a concern about children in immigration detention on Nauru, with the limitations and deprivations of life the children have experienced and the medical, emotional and psychological damage with which they now live. Ben Clarke was one of the speakers. He began by including a quote from MLK Jr: For many long years we have declared to the darkness that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. Remember that, though we have not seen the end of this sorry tale of destruction and brokenness, we do see that truth justice and love prevail! He went on to say: For many years we have held up the light of truth to a world willing to live in the darkness of ignorance. When we gathered to read the incident reports leaked off Nauru, when we called on our elected representatives to remind them that seeking asylum is not illegal, when we sat on the steps of parliament house, when we sat in prison cells and stood in courtrooms making statements, when we persisted in talking to our neighbours, family colleagues and anyone who would listen we were declaring the truth that all human life is sacred. Together for years we have called for justice. Not for ourselves in the self-interested way of so much political lobbying, but for our neighbour, not for our economic advantage but for their right to flourish in safety. We sought justice because the pain of another has somehow become lodged in our souls and we know that our liberation, our humanity is caught up in the freedom of all. We have called for justice not because we want to see people getting their just desserts and suffering under the law but because we know that justice has a twin sister Mercy, and Mercy teaches us that that we are all in need of shelter, protection and compassion. Compelling words for those who had gathered in the swirling, cold winds that had gathered in the city, yet who remained undaunted to stand in solidarity with children and their families detained on Nauru.

Brad Chilcott, a long time advocate for refugees last week said:

It is right to celebrate that people are being released from an environment our Government knows, and has always known, will harm people and especially children. It is true that Prime Minister Morrison is now pushing for children to be rescued from Nauru “quickly and quietly” and this is excellent news for those children and their families. This is happening because of the significant pressure put on the Prime Minister by tens of thousands of Australians, 6000 doctors, celebrities, lawyers, advocacy organisations and politicians from both the right and left side of politics.

He went on to say:

However it’s important to remember these things…

Minister Dutton spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in court to prevent sick kids getting the health care they needed, spending your money to make sure they didn’t leave Nauru and the harm being done to them

It is only because of public and political pressure that children are now being brought to safety – and so we need to keep the pressure on

The families now in Australia remain in a state of limbo with no certainty about their future and regularly reminded they will not be allowed to stay. At the same time the Government is refusing to accept New Zealand’s offer of resettlement.

There are 38 children who are still on Nauru – and hundreds of adults who will remain indefinitely on Nauru and Manus Island once all the children have been sent to Australia. Detention harms everyone and we have mourned suicide after suicide of men broken by a system designed to break them.

(Let us not forget the almost 30,000 or so currently in Australia but stuck in limbo with TPVs)

Every person who came to Australia hoping for our protection only to suffer at our hands – because of our broken politics and seared conscience – needs a pathway towards hope, healing and a home.

May we be part of the solution we seek.

Update on UCA Assembly decision on marriage

Published / by Sandy

On Friday 19th October 2018, the UCA Assembly General Secretary sent a letter to UCA marriage celebrants to inform them that the decision made by the 15th UCA Assembly in July 2018 (to honour the diversity of Christian belief by holding two equal and distinct statements of belief on marriage) may be suspended if  “at least half the Presbyteries within the bounds of each of at least half the Synods, or at least half the Synods, notify the President that they have determined that in their opinion a decision includes a matter vital to the life of the Church; and there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision.” (Uniting Church Constitution, Part D, Section 39b). The matter will be discussed at the SA Presbytery and Synod meeting in mid-November. Depending on the outcome of decisions, the threshold set out in Section 39b may be reached. The President would then notify the Church that the decision of the Assembly is suspended until further consultation is undertaken; and following this consultation the Assembly determines whether to affirm, vary or revoke the original decision and report its decision and reasons to the Church. If this does happen, from the time the President notifies the Church that the decision is suspended, no same-gender marriages will be able to be performed by Uniting Church celebrants, nor can the newly approved marriage rite or statement on marriage be used, until further consultation occurs and the Assembly meets again to determine whether to affirm, vary or revoke the original decision.
The full letter is attached below.

The Pilgrim Ministers have agreed to make the following statement:
We uphold the integrity, dignity and worth of people who identify as GLBTIQ, and acknowledge the ministry as well as the struggle of LGBTIQ people in the life of the UCA.
We affirm the validity of the decision of the 15th UCA Assembly to hold equal and distinctive statements of belief on marriage with provision for a marriage service for same gender people while at the same time affirming an unchanged (traditional) marriage service between a man and a woman. Both statements recognise marriage as a life-long union.
We lament that this ‘both/and’ decision, affirmed with a substantial majority at the 15th Assembly, is being challenged, and puts at risk the decision to hold two equal and distinctive statements of belief on marriage.
We regret that this diminishes the integrity of people who identify as LGBTIQ and removes their capacity to enter into a life-long union in the covenant of marriage in a service conducted by the church.
We welcome both the joy and the challenge of being part of a diverse and vibrant Christian fellowship in the Uniting Church in Australia where a range of strongly held theological and cultural perspectives can co-exist, each with its own integrity.
We celebrate the practices of welcome, respect and inclusion that provides a place of belonging for all people in the Uniting Church in Australia, irrespective of their sexuality, gender, or culture.
We commit ourselves to following the way of Christ, and open ourselves to the dynamic work of God’s Spirit weaving in and through the church.

Ltr to Marriage Celebrants 18 Oct 2018

National Apology Prayer

Published / by Sandy

A message from Dr Deidre Palmer, President, Uniting Church in Australia

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ in our Uniting Church,

The 22nd of October 2018 is an important day in the life of our nation and our Church.

On this day, on behalf of all Australians, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will deliver a National Apology to victims and survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse at Parliament House in Canberra.

Survivors and others personally affected will gather in Parliament House’s Great Hall to listen to the Apology. I encourage you all to listen to the Apology, which will be broadcast live.

In the lead-up to the National Apology, I have worked with the Moderators of all Uniting Church Synods to produce a prayer for this solemn occasion.

Please share it, use it in your worship, and above all, keep survivors and their families in your prayers.

As I said in my recent statement during National Child Protection Week, the work remains ahead of us as a Church and as a nation to create a consistent and robust culture of safety in all we do with children. That culture needs to be consistent with who God calls us to be as Church – a trustworthy, respectful, loving community, in which all people are safe and can flourish.

Our own apologies and pledges to make amends can only be honoured if members of our Church work faithfully and diligently in the years ahead to ensure the work of child safety is continually grounded in our life and witness to Christ.

PRAYER TO MARK THE NATIONAL APOLOGY TO SURVIVORS
OF INSTITUTIONAL CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

We pause this day to acknowledge the failure of the church to protect so many children in its care, to say how sorry we are, to pray for those who have been abused and those who support them.
Hold a time of silence
Gracious and loving God,
We confess that our congregations, agencies and schools
have not always been safe places for children
and that abuse occurred where care and nurture should have been expected.
Silence
We are sorry.
We confess that we failed to listen to the voices of children when they told us of their abuse.
Silence
We are sorry.
We confess our failure. Christ Jesus, Reform our life.
We pray for survivors of child abuse,
we pray for justice, for strength and healing.
God hear our prayer.
We pray for family and friends of child abuse survivors, and all who provide care and support.
We pray for wisdom, courage and resilience.
God hear our prayer.
We pray for those whose family member or friend has died as a result of their abuse.
We pray for comfort, kindness and peace.
God hear our prayer.
We acknowledge with gratitude those who have supported survivors of child abuse to find healing and strength.
We give thanks.
We acknowledge with gratitude the work of the Royal Commission who enabled survivors to speak of their suffering, showed us our sin and called us to mend our ways.
We give thanks.
We acknowledge with gratitude, advocates who exposed the truth about institutional child abuse and who campaigned for truth-telling and justice.
We give thanks.
We acknowledge our need to change as a Church. Strengthen us to act with justice towards survivors, to listen to our children and to implement policies which create safer communities.
Reform us God.
We commit ourselves as your Church to being places of safety, free of abuse and exploitation. We commit ourselves as your Church to be communities, where people can flourish in life-giving ways of trust and love.
Reform us God.
Through Christ we pray, Amen.

Grace and peace,

Dr Deidre Palmer
President
Uniting Church in Australia

Endurance and resilience in times of trial

Published / by Sandy

(a sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 7th October 2018)

This week the Lectionary readings leads us into the Book of Job. This story is told in fable form and revolves around how a good person responds to unexpectedly difficult circumstances and adverse conditions. God and the Adversary are depicted as characters in the heavenly realm who orchestrate or at least allow disaster to be poured out on Job. It invites us to reflect on our own theology of where suffering comes from and how we sense God’s presence and involvement at such times. ‘If God is on our side’ – well, how do we make sense of life’s disappointments and hardships? How can a God whom we believe to be good and just allow what we see and experience as evil, or allow trials and tribulations and trauma to descend upon people?

Clearly, Job is a faithful believer, confident in his relationship with God. If you look at his circumstances through the lens of prosperity theology he surely deserves to be rewarded. Prosperity theology holds the belief that financial blessing, physical well-being and happiness are the will of God for faith-filled and faithful people. On the other hand, prosperity theology views trials and tribulations as being out of sync with God, and sickness and poverty as curses which can only be broken by a return to faith.

As the story begins, the Adversary says to God that Job only has faith in God because things are going well for him. What would happen if these things were taken away from him – would Job retain faith? That is the central question around which the story revolves. Will people lose faith and confidence in God when things go badly for them? As it turns out, prosperity theology makes no sense in the Job story – because here is a good, upright and blameless man subjected to adversarial circumstances and tested through ordeals, and he still remains faith-filled but without the rewards of faithfulness one might anticipate. We are left to ponder, why do bad things happen to good people?

In countless ways, people face trials – devastation, loss, financial ruin. We witness it each day on the TV news. A house burns down. An accident happens. People’s lives are lost in disasters and tragedies and families and communities are left to grieve. We mourn the loss of a loved one. This question about holding faith in adversarial circumstances is not a hypothetical question – it’s our lived reality, and a lively question for us all. How does faith survive in times of trial, or can faith be assumed only when things are going ok? What a minefield of issues emerge if we think God choreographs bad things to happen to people, or that we expect God to shield us from all trials and tribulations – that somehow people of faith deserve not to experience adversarial circumstances, to be protected from any difficulties and have a ‘charmed life’.

Prosperity theology seems to have the bases covered – God will reward you if you have faith. And if life presents challenges, then it’s because of a lack of faith. Job’s story puts a spoke in the wheels of prosperity theology, with the drama of a person of faith unexpectedly having his world turned upside down, but still holding faith.

I wonder, what is the basis of the things that make us feel secure – and what unravels when our world is shaken? We may give many answers: success, money, friends, property, popularity, family, faith, and so on. Our societal narrative of growth and success includes the ability to purchase comfort, security and stability. We are socialised from a young age to believe that fulfilment comes through having ‘things’. It is when we have the misfortune to lose our money, our friends, our looks, our popularity that our anxiety reveals how deeply our sense of security is rooted in these things.

Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, names a contemporary issue – perfectionism. She says perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a protective shield. Perfectionism, at its core, is about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Perfectionism is other-focused – What will they think? (The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brene Brown). It leaves us vulnerable when perfectionism is dismantled.

Just doing all the ‘right’ things doesn’t equate to a trouble free life, contrary to prosperity theology. Things happen. To us. To our family and friends. To our global community. More and more people face financial insecurity, work longer hours. We live in an increasingly complex and challenging world with a fast paced, high-tech lifestyle. Disaster looms at every corner and stress is in the air we breathe.

Henri Nouwen’s classic spiritual work, Life of the Beloved, is a reminder that one of the most important lessons in the Christian tradition is that we are God’s beloved and our self-worth does not depend on what we do or have, but on our inherent human dignity. It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: “You are no good; you are worthless; you are nobody”. These negative voices are so loud and so persistent that many people find it easy to believe them. A spiritual life is a life which seeks the inner wisdom that tells us that our security is based not in any created things, good as they may be, but in God, who is everlasting love. And this knowledge sustains us even in the times of trial. It enables us to recognise the integrity and worth of what we do, and who we are, to look beyond disasters to the promise of God in spite of the external circumstances. This is foundational to what enables us to be resilient. Resilience is the ability to meet, learn from, and not be crushed by the challenges and stresses of life. 

Even failure can be viewed in a productive way, because it provides an opportunity to reassess how we’re doing and to put things in perspective. Our internal resilience and spiritual practices and rituals enable us to weather the external storms and trials that descend upon us. Resilient people tend to open up a generous space for people where they can rest their burdens, which creates space for deep communion, inter-connection, mutuality. People who are not resilient tend to occupy that space with their own needs, their needs to be liked or be seen as helpful, right or in control.

I was interested to learn about the book, The Courage to be Disliked, by Japanese authors Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. It takes the form of a dialogue between a teenage student and a philosopher/mentor. One of the major themes of the book is that one cannot be overly concerned with what others think of you. It encourages people to be themselves, that they cannot please everyone and – crucially – that seeking recognition is an egotistical trap that easily leads people into internal disarray. Sometimes that internal disarray and dis-ease creates external disorder, which in turn leads to some of the difficulties we encounter.

The apostle Paul used the word hypomone (hip-pom-en-ay) to express the way he was able to endure hardships and tremendous adversities. The very struggles he endured became opportunities to develop resilience and spared him from a decline into hopelessness. As it turns out, even hardship can be transformative rather than destructive, even to the point of being a blessing through the gift of endurance. Paul’s experience of God’s grace caused him “to know sorrow and yet always rejoice, to be poor yet make many rich, to have nothing yet possess everything”.

Job did not project blame onto God or curse God when things went wrong, or wonder where an interventionist God was when things went wrong, or throw faith to the wind in times of trial. History bears the truth that our human journey as individuals, families, communities and nations, will be punctuated by hardships and tragedies, personal and communal, local and global. The Book of Job leads us through this truth – that it’s not the amount of darkness in the world that matters or even the amount in oneself, but how you stand in the midst of that darkness. We have a close up view of Job’s faith in the midst of his experience of darkness and despair.

The Lectionary has only 4 selections from the Book of Job. I encourage you to read the whole story for the wisdom it contains for our human journey, and the questions it invites us to ponder – about God, about ourselves, about the nature of suffering, about faith, about resilience and endurance. May you find fertile ground for deep pondering. Amen.

Prayer for tsunami victims

Published / by Greg Elsdon

Rev Dr Apwee Ting has offered the following prayer in Indonesian and English following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, particularly affecting the city of Palu and the nearby town on Donggala.

 

Prayer for Palu and Donggala

Tuhan empunya kehidupan,

tatkala bumi dan air bergerak dasyat,

mengambil kehidupan dan mereka yang kami cintai.

Kami datang kepada Mu dengan air mata bercucuran.

 

God of life,

when the earth and water moved violently,

took lives and those we love

We come before you with tears streaming down

 

Tuhan sumber kekuatan dan penghiburan,

tatkala tangan, kaki dan hati kami lemah,

karena bencana tsunami dan gempa.

Kami datang kepada mu dengan bersujud.

 

God, you are the source of strength and comfort,

when our hands, feet and hearts are weak

because of the tsunami and earthquake disaster.

We prostrate before you

 

Tuhan maha kasih,

kepada Mu kami berdoa.

Berilah kekuatan buat keluarga dan sahabat

yang telah ditinggal pergi oleh orang terdekatnya,

berilah penghiburan buat mereka

yang kehilangan tanah dan tempat tinggal

 

Merciful God,

we pray to you.

Give strength

to families and friends,

to those who have lost loved one.

Give your comfort,

to those who have lost their land and houses.

 

Tuhan maha kuasa,

kami berdoa buat

Pemerintah Indonesia,

lembaga keagamaan dan kemanusiaan,

anggota masyarakat yang aktif membantu

supaya usaha mereka berhasil

dalam memberikan pertolongan

 

Kami naikan doa ini

didalam nama Tuhan yang senantiasa memberkati kita semua

amin

 

Almighty God,

we pray for

The Indonesian Government,

religious and humanitarian agencies,

other communities who are in Palu and Donggala

may their efforts succeed in providing help.

 

We offer this prayer in the name of the Lord who bless us always

Amen.

 

Click here to donate to the UnitingWorld Tsunami Appeal:

https://www.unitingworld.org.au/indonesiatsunami/

 

Vale, Rev Bruce Prewer

Published / by Sandy

Rev Bruce Prewer served as a Minister at Pilgrim Uniting Church in the 1980’s. His contribution is well remembered, and cherished. He developed an authentic Australian voice in the liturgies and prayers he wrote and shared generously through his published books and online. His work lives on in worship liturgies at Pilgrim, and in congregations across the globe. Well done, good and faithful servant!
28th April 1931 – 11th September 2018 Rev Stan Clarke, Minister, Sunbury Uniting Church (Victoria) prepared this eulogy for Bruce’s funeral. 

Following a protracted illness Bruce passed away surrounded by family in Victoria on 11 September, 2018.

Born in 1931, the youngest of four children, Bruce’s early years were spent at Dilston, in Tasmania.

He credited reading the daily paper during an extended hospital stay caused by rheumatic fever with opening his mind to the world beyond Dilston.

His experience of fire and brimstone preachers engendered in the young Bruce a hatred of religion. He made up his mind that he wanted nothing to do with their God.

He leaned towards agnosticism in his teens, continuing to attend worship with his parents, enjoying the pipe organ playing and smorgasbord of hymns in the Methodist Hymn Book. That there were pretty girls in the junior choir didn’t escape his notice, either.

Yet it was a time of deep discontent for him. In March 1949, he attended an evangelical rally and gave his life to Jesus. He described this as the big turning point in his life and “the smartest thing I ever did”.

Only a few months later, during worship service he had a mystical “auditory” experience of being called to ministry.

After a year at Otira College in 1950 the “church fathers” decided to fast-track him into the ministry.

In 1955, he was posted as probationary minister to King Island, and was given permission to marry Marie Goldsmith, which he said was the “second smartest thing I ever did”.

In March 1957, he was ordained at Wesley Church, Melbourne and posted to Wynyard, Tasmania, where he began to experiment with different styles of worship.

Having rearranged the church set-up, he introduced informal talk-back evening services, singing rock music and African-American spirituals. The often infamous Truth magazine did an article portraying him as a young rebel breaking the old traditions.

Following a posting at Glenorchy in Hobart, Bruce was granted his desire to move back to Victoria to be closer to family. He was posted to Mt Waverley, High St Road. At this time he was first diagnosed with the depression that affected him his whole adult life.

While travelling overseas Bruce encountered the art of Norwegian sculptor Gustav Viegland, particularly his celebration of ordinary people. This helped Bruce see his country and culture from an outside perspective. Viegland inspired Bruce to get on with some of his own down-to-earth Aussie poetry.

Bruce’s proficiency as a poet is well known in Australian churches. His first book, Australian Psalms, became a religious best-seller.

Among other works to follow were: Brief Prayers for Busy People, Kakadu Reflections, The Boomerang Bender, Prayers for Aussie Kids, My Best Mate, More Australian Psalms, Australian Prayers, Australians at Prayer, Prayers for the Twenty-first Century, and Beyond Words: reflections on the Gospel of Luke. His final book, Faith’s Last Hurrah!, went to press just months before his death.

For over six years Bruce served in ministry at North Essendon, which was a significant and productive period of his life.

Bruce was among those who helped pioneer “field placements” for candidates in training for the ministry, providing supervised, hands on, in-parish learning.

Commencing ministry at Adelaide’s Pilgrim Church in 1981 he withdrew from wider church involvements to focus on being a pastor, counsellor, preacher and worship enabler.

He became enamoured with the wilderness beauty of the Flinders Ranges. The abundant wild life and the prehistoric story of the Aborigines in Kakadu National Park featured in his writings.

Once more feeling the tug of family back in Victoria, Bruce moved to St Andrews, Bendigo, in 1989. This time of ministry was curtailed two years later when his chronic depression brought his general health to breaking point.

When his health improved he resumed writing, and developed his website of lectionary/worship resources. He wrote steadily until his health again declined.

Bruce described himself as a “theological mongrel”, “a wandering child of God who has been found,” not sitting comfortably in any school of theological thought.

He saw himself as a true evangelist, someone with some very Good News that he wanted others to experience.

While Bruce thought his words were “pathetically inadequate”, many have found those words enriching and inspiring in their own encounter with Jesus.

Bruce is survived by his wife, Marie Joyce, sons David and Martin and daughter Chris, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

(Article reprinted from Crosslight publications, Synod of Vic/Tas)

Super Typhoon Mangkhut – prayer for the Philippines

Published / by Sandy

In the wake of the devastation of Super Typhoon Mangkhut, Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer has called on UCA members to pray for the people of the Philippines and our partner church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). Dr Palmer has written the below prayer in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Philippines.

God of mercy and comfort,

We pray for the people of the Philippines, whose lives, homes, food and water supplies and sources of income have been devastated by the impacts of Typhoon Mangkhut.

We pray for comfort for all those who are grieving, for those who have lost families and friends and whose communities have been severely impacted.

We pray for strength and support for all those responding to this disaster.

We pray for our partner church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

Thank you for their faithful and compassionate embodiment of your Gospel as they respond to the needs of those affected by the Typhoon.

May they know your sustaining love and our solidarity with them as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Through Christ we pray, Amen.

UCCP has asked for support from their international partners. Your donation will make a huge difference, helping provide essential food and relief supplies to struggling families, many who’ve lost everything in the landslides.

Mutual Affirmation – Rev Dr Ji Zhang reflects on Marriage and Same Gender Relationships

Published / by Greg Elsdon

Mutual Affirmation: A Theological Reflection on Marriage and Same Gender Relationships

[by  Rev Dr Ji Zhang 张骥, Uniting Church Assembly theologian in residence]

In July, the Fifteenth Assembly resolved to honour the diversity of Christian belief among our members by holding two equal and distinct statements of belief on marriage. This decision will now allow Ministers and celebrants authorised by the Uniting Church the freedom to conduct, or to refuse to conduct, same-gender marriages. Church Councils also have the right to determine whether marriage services take place on their premises.

I have been listening to many different voices across the life of the UCA, both in the lead-up to the Assembly and since. For many people this is a good decision that reflects the openness of UCA and allows our diversity to exist within our communities. I have also engaged various UCA communities and leaders, including CALD leaders and Chinese communities. For many of them, the Assembly decision is pastorally difficult.

As I have listened, one question has kept emerging. How do we hold together two equal and distinct statements of belief? It is like holding a family together through difficult times – not easy.

First of all, the existing statement of belief has been retained.

“Marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of a man and a woman to live together for life”.

An additional statement of belief has also been adopted.

“Marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of two people to live together for life”.

With these two statements, the members of our Assembly have decided not to have a unity of sameness in which everyone agrees on a single statement. The decision essentially allows our diversity to coexist. At the heart of this decision is to uphold and celebrate who we are as the Uniting Church, namely unity in diversity.

For complete article go to:

https://assembly.uca.org.au/news/item/2876-mutual-affirmation-a-theological-reflection-on-marriage-and-same-gender-relationships

 

A safe place for all

Published / by Sandy

A Safe Church for All People

A statement by President Dr Deidre Palmer 
6 Sep 2018

Almost 40 weeks have now passed since the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse handed its Final Report to the Australian Government.

Commissioner McClellan, his fellow Commissioners and staff have distilled the wisdom of their landmark five-year inquiry into 17 volumes. The learnings of the Royal Commission – the most comprehensive investigation into child safety in our lifetime – are readily available to all institutions. So too are the stories of those who have experienced the trauma of child sexual abuse – the stories of survivors and their families – and of those who did not survive.

I stand with our two previous Uniting Church Presidents, who have served our Church during the time of the Royal Commission, in expressing my deep sorrow that there have been children who were abused in our Church, including our institutions. To those who have been abused, to your families and friends, who have been impacted by the ongoing effects of the abuse, I am deeply sorry that we did not protect and care for you in accordance with our Christian values and the way of Jesus, who has called us to be communities where all people can flourish in trust and safety.

We will seek to make amends and to ensure others will not suffer as you have.

For leaders of institutions which appeared before the Royal Commission, like the Uniting Church, the stories of people who endured abuse in our institutions and others must continue to be upheld in our collective memory.

As a Christian organisation, our theological understanding of ourselves as a community responding to Jesus Christ, means we need to keep asking ourselves this important question: is our Church safe?

If our Church is not a safe place for all people, by definition, we are not living out our call to follow Jesus.

Long before the Royal Commission’s Final Report was released, our Church and its Agencies were adopting the learnings from the hearings and research into our policy and practices around child safety.

Policy work in our Church is well advanced. A new National Child Safe Policy Framework is in place. At national and Synod levels Royal Commission Response Task Groups have worked closely together in resourcing the UCA’s whole of Church response.

We have created an annual national audit process against the Child Safe Framework, and we map audit and compliance responsibilities.

The National Task Group’s work has underlined a need for greater consistency across our Church. We are now considering how we might achieve better consistency, possibly in the form of a national Safe Church Unit. We will be required by the Federal Government’s new National Office of Child Safety to implement recommendations and demonstrate child safe practices in our life as a church, and to report on these things.

The Royal Commission’s ten “Key Elements of Child Safe Organisations” are expected to form the basis of a new set of National Standards to which organisations that engage with children will be required to demonstrate compliance annually. These ten elements are already replicated within the UCA’s National Child Safety Framework.

The work ahead of us all is to demonstrate compliance clearly, consistently and transparently in all we do with children. And this is not compliance for the sake of satisfying an external agency. but rather acting and being in ways that are consistent with who God calls us to be as Church – a trustworthy, respectful, loving community, in which all people are safe and can flourish.

The change that is expected of us – and that we want to see – is that this work will be carried out consistently across our Church.

This work is not only for those whose specific roles include child safety, this is part of our expression of our every member ministry. We are all called by God to take responsibility for creating and forming communities of trust, care and safety for all people, including our children.

I hope and pray that every member of our Church will work faithfully and carefully in the months and years ahead to ensure the work of child safety is continually grounded in our life and witness.

(Originally published by the SA Synod and UCA Assembly)

Season of Creation

Published / by Sandy

In the month of September, and concluding on the feast of St Francis on October 4, many people focus on the ‘season of creation’. For Christians, creation is not merely an academic discussion about evolution or not – it is now, much more, seen as an essential part of mission, in partnership with others who share concern for “our common home”.

This reflection is by Rev Steven Koski:

Caring for God’s holy and sacred earth is a spiritual practice. The environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis. We will not cherish or protect what we take for granted. We will not restore and renew what we do not revere. We will not save what we do not savor and regard as sacred.

The earth is not a commodity to be consumed by our greed and arrogance. The earth is a sacred community we share with all living things.

When people wanted to know more about God, Jesus told them to pay attention to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. We can learn as much about ourselves and God from one single wildflower as we can from a thousand books of theology on a shelf.

The essence of prayer is connection. Perhaps the best prayer for the care of creation is to step out into creation today and be reminded of our sacred connectedness with all living things. Perhaps the best way to heal and restore the earth is to be healed and restored by the earth.

John O’Donohue wrote, “When the mind is festering with trouble or the heart torn, we can find healing among the silence and mountains or fields, or listen to the simple, steadying rhythm of waves. The slowness and stillness gradually takes us over. Our breathing deepens and our hearts calm and our hungers relent. When serenity is restored, new perspectives open to us and difficulty can begin to seem like an invitation to new growth. This invitation to friendship with nature does of course entail a willingness to be alone out there. Yet this aloneness is anything but lonely. Solitude gradually clarified the heart until a true tranquility is reached. The irony is that at the heart of that aloneness you feel intimately connected with the world. Indeed, the beauty of nature is often the wisest balm for it gently relieves and releases the caged mind.”

Be present to God’s sacred and holy earth, the sacred community we share with all living things.

Hospitality in an age of migration and refugees

Published / by Sandy

The witness for 9.30am service on Migrant and Refugee Sunday
August 26th, 2018
Pilgrim Uniting Church
Geoff Boyce (published on his blog here)

Faith, Hope and Love abide, and the greatest of these is Hospitality!

I wonder whether it is time we dropped the word ‘love’ from our vocabulary, particularly when talking in the public sphere. Any check of the dictionary will show that the most common meaning of ‘love’ is reduced to a feeling!

Even among Christians the practice of agape is often twisted. ‘I love Muslims’ a Christian colleague once said to me, but I could see no evidence of it.

I think he ‘loved’ them because he was supposed to love them, perhaps in the sense that one should ‘love one’s enemies’! But equally likely, I suspect he ‘loved them’ only so he could try to convert them – a carry over from the so-called ‘love-bombing’ by Christian sects in the 70’s – a massive display of generosity in order to attract others to join them.  ‘Love’ with hidden agendas!

The word ‘love’ has accumulated so much baggage as to mean almost anything. ‘Love’ has become so ambiguous it can even justify violence if it makes you feel good.

I bet, in conservative Christian circles, George W Bush Jr could say that he loved Saddam Hussein! Saddam needed George’s ‘love’ for Saddam’s own good!

In our materialist age, agape is the casualty when translating the three Greek words, eros, filios and agape with the one English word, ‘love’.

We need a new word that embraces agape.

I am suggesting that, particularly in the public domain, that word is hospitality.

I know we have the same kind of linguistic problem, that ancient practice having been appropriated by the Hospitality Industry and reduced to being a polite, comfortable transaction – for a price.

The great pastoral theologian Henri Nouwen defines hospitality as the creating of space. 

This is such an appropriate concept for our age, when space is being squashed out of so many areas of our lives by higher and higher expectations and tighter and tighter deadlines. Time, after all, is money! And efficiency – doing more with less – is the name of the game. It’s the condition for your next pay rise!

This ‘Radical’ hospitality of Nouwen is a practice so desperately needed in the world.  At the same time I find an openness among those I meet in my public life to consider and embrace it. Whereas ‘agape’ seems to have passed its used by date.

This is what Nouwen is talking about:

Hospitality… means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.
It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.
It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit.
It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opportunity to others to find their God and their way.
The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.
Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt a life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own. 

Just like agape, it turns the whole world upside down: No longer my interest first, but together with yours.

I visited my dear friend and colleague, Raimund Blanke in Germany again this year. I first met him in 2004 at a conference when he was the Catholic Chaplain at Cologne University. But, squashed out by his Bishop who wanted a conservative influence in the university, over the last eight years he and his colleague Peter have built a wonderful parish in Bonn in which hospitality is the key feature. No wonder so many families want to belong to it!

Raimund once told me about one of his congregation, a recently retired medical professor at the University of Bonn. He is a European authority on pain management.

About eight years ago this professor, in the prime of his career, decided to become a Catholic on the strength of what he saw in the life of Pastor Peter and the life of his congregation.

Modelling on those values he has initiated his own ministry – to the poorest and most disadvantaged in the parish.

He started by taking all of twenty plus of them on a cruise up the Rhine – a fantastic party to brighten their lives. 

Visiting Raimund again this year, he told me that the professor has opened his holiday house on the coast of Spain to the parish and gives these disadvantaged people a holiday there every year – every expense paid.

Raimund showed me a photo of the Professor with a disabled lady. He was hosting an outing in the country for people with disabilities. It was time for a walk together and the lady said she could not walk. Come with me he said, taking her arm, and they went on and completed the 4 kilometre walk!

His is not a ‘church program’ as such. He just comes up with these ideas to bring life to others. And he has the resources to do it without impacting the church budget.

No wonder, when the time came to help the wave of refugees, Raimund and Peter’s parish put their names forward to care for 1,000!

Being German, they are super-organised, a team of fourteen from the parish headed by a psychiatrist and supported by lawyers, social workers and health professionals. I’ve met them. Even the elderly in the parish, at first feeling frightened by these strangers, fell in love with them after they had met some of them. Now their ministry includes knitting for them.

This year they are caring for 1,300!

Hospitality is agape-love in action. Creating unconditional, friendly space for the other to sing their own songs, dance their own dances and tell their own stories.

Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is hospitality!

Responding with love, hospitality and inclusion

Published / by Greg Elsdon

President of the Uniting Church in Australia Dr Deidre Palmer has called on Australians to respond with love, hospitality and inclusion to a surge in anti-immigration rhetoric in Australian public life.

“Jesus’ great commandment to his followers was to love God and love your neighbour. As Christians we believe all people are created in the image of God and deserving of respect and dignity. Racism is incompatible with the Christian faith,” said Dr Palmer.

In recent weeks, inflammatory opinion pieces have suggested a “foreign invasion”, a neo-Nazi has been allowed to air his views on a news channel; there has been more fearmongering about so-called “African gangs”, and a Senator has used his maiden speech to honour the White Australia Policy and call for future migration to “reflect the historic European-Christian composition of Australian society.”

“The Uniting Church is a proudly multicultural church. Our ministry in Christ continues to be powerfully transformed by the strong and flourishing intercultural community we hold across our diversity,” said Dr Palmer.

“Every day I thank God for the blessings of our gloriously multicultural Church.

“I was delighted to meet leaders of eleven of the Uniting Church’s National Conferences in Sydney recently and to hear first hand about their amazing ministry, which is transforming lives and communities around them. These Conferences include Uniting Church members from South Sudan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, the Middle East, Vietnam, Niue, Korea, and China.

“When I think of ‘Christian values’ I think about overcoming racism and discrimination in all its forms. In his ministry, Jesus challenged religious and social prejudice and sought to break down the barriers that separate us from each other socially, religiously, culturally and politically. Christian values are about inviting people to create communities, where all people can flourish.”

Outgoing Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane recently condemned politicians for race-baiting and sections of the Australian media industry of using racism as part of their business model.

Dr Palmer called on Church members to boldly bear witness to the reconciling ministry of Christ that we proclaim.

“Jesus’ call is to love in the face of hatred and to embody God’s generous hospitality. As Martin Luther King Jr famously observed – hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“So I urge Uniting Church members and all Australians to embrace the multicultural nature of our society and respond with love and compassion to those who are being made to feel unwelcome,” said Dr Palmer.

Prayers for Lombok

Published / by Sandy

Only a week after a magnitude-6.4 earthquake hit the Indonesian island of Lombok, two more earthquakes caused more devastation. Registering as a magnitude-7.0, the first of the two earthquakes struck on the night of Sunday 5 August causing widespread severe damage to the northern section of Lombok and was felt by nearby, Bali. The second hit less than 24 hours later and registered as a 5.2 on the Richter scale. The death toll has since risen to 430 people with many hundreds more seriously injured and many more still missing.

Rescue teams have found it difficult to provide aid and support due to road blockages caused by debris and power, communications being completely cut in some areas, thousands of homes and buildings destroyed, and damage from landslides. Most of the damage occurred outside the city centre in regional areas. Since the first earthquake hit, over 20,000 people have been left homeless and at least 18 remote villages in northern Lombok’s mountains have been cut off from relief teams due to damaged bridges and roads from landslides.

The Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management’s spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho has said that hospitals are overflowing and not everyone is able to be treated. According to reports from the ABC and the BBC, locals have been forced to tend to their broken limbs at home due to the overcrowded hospitals; one woman has even given birth at a temporary health station aided by the Indonesian Red Cross.

At this time of tragedy, Uniting Church SA Acting Moderator, Rev Dr Graham Vawser encourages members of the Uniting Church to pray for those affected.

“The Uniting Church members have always responded generously when alerted of the needs of people in Australia and around the world.  We are aware of people facing the drought in Australia, bushfires in Europe and the United States, and now the significant earthquake in Lombok (following on from the lesser earthquake last week). God’s gift of compassion rises in us as we see images and hear stories of destruction and struggle, particularly for our closest national neighbour.

We pray that God will show us ways to transform our compassion into action so that people who are grieving will be comforted, people who are injured will be healed, infrastructure and housing will be repaired and restored, and hope will be rekindled in each affected community. May God support and enable all those who use their skills and abilities to bring God’s blessing.”

UnitingWorld operate several aid programs in Bali, for more information on these projects or to donate visit unitingworld.org.au

(Source: New Times e-news)

Mind your language …

Published / by Greg Elsdon

2018 has seen a profoundly disturbing escalation of the language being used in the Australian press and in public discourse to talk about the problems of violence and lawlessness perpetrated by some young people of African, specifically Sudanese origin.

Headlines are warning of “marauding criminal gangs of Sudanese youths”, and some politicians are talking about “ethnic groups who will never integrate into the Australian way of life”. Now it’s clear that there is a problem, particularly in some areas of Melbourne. But racist headlines and xenophobic slogans do nothing but further inflame fear and stir up social unrest and violence.

Christian faith ought to cause us be at least uncomfortable with public displays of racism and scapegoating? And if that is so, what does our discomfort require of us; what does it motivate us to say, to do? What opportunities do we have as individuals, and together as faith communities to testify to another way of responding to fear and violence in our community.  Do we have Sudanese neighbours or contacts in the community we can talk to, encourage and befriend? Can we work within our communities providing safe places for respectful listening and building friendships which expose the lie of racism and hatred.

There are no quick or simple solutions to these challenges, but there are many simple things we can do to turn down the volume of hateful voices and increase the trust and respect for others that increases social capital and builds better communities for all. We can start by minding our language!

Remembering Hiroshima – August 6th

Published / by Sandy

This week the world remembers Hiroshima Day, August 6th, 1945 – 73 years ago. The threat of nuclear war remains ever-present. Remembering the past has the capacity to inform the present and shapes the future.

Adam Quang:Paper Crane installation

A PRAYER FOR HIROSHIMA DAY

Like most traumatic scars, the ones that are found in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are permanent:
reminders of the terrible damage human beings can inflict.

Similar scars can be found in the hearts and souls of people around the world who understand this terror: scars of grief, sadness, fear and even shame.

None of these scars promise an end to war and devastation.
Instead, they serve as a reminder of healing and renewal – of a return to life.

Gracious God, Spirit of Life and Love, help us to see our scars:
those we have created,
those we are called to witness,
and those we can soothe and heal.

We are deeply grateful for the buds and blossoms
that even the most scarred offer as a revelation to the world.

And, especially on this anniversary of Hiroshima Day,
we renew our commitment to peace individually, collectively and globally:

To “peace within” which calms our anxieties and fears,

To “peace between” which overcomes differences, animosities and conflict,

And, to “the great peace,” beyond even our understanding,
that is God’s gift and which we attempt to be stewards of for the world. Amen.

(Source of prayer: William G Sinkford)

Introducing Franklin (Peanuts character)

Published / by Sandy

The letter to the church at Ephesus which we are following for a few weeks has a central focus on Jewish Christians and Gentiles learning to be together as the early church. It would be more ‘convenient’ to have like with like, ‘people like us’, rather than the challenge of people with a history of distrust and disdain learning to live together in the unity of Christ. The character of the community of faith that follows the example of Jesus is to shape a welcoming and inclusive community for all.

The essential message speaks powerfully into our own global/glocal community, especially as people of colour and people of other cultures continue to be denigrated and used as ‘political footballs’.

I was most interested to read the story of ‘Franklin’ – a character in the Peanuts cartoon series who was introduced on July 31, 1968 (50 years ago).

The story is told this way:

On July 31, 1968, a young, black man was reading the newspaper when he saw something that he had never seen before. With tears in his eyes, he started running and screaming throughout the house, calling for his mom. He would show his mother, and, she would gasp, seeing something she thought she would never see in her lifetime. Throughout the nation, there were similar reactions. What they saw was Franklin Armstrong’s first appearance on the iconic comic strip “Peanuts.” Franklin would be 50 years old this year.

Franklin was “born” after a school teacher, Harriet Glickman, had written a letter to creator Charles M. Schulz after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death outside his Memphis hotel room.

Glickman, who had kids of her own and having worked with kids, was especially aware of the power of comics among the young. “And my feeling at the time was that I realized that black kids and white kids never saw themselves [depicted] together in the classroom”.

She wrote: “Since the death of Martin Luther King, ‘I’ve been asking myself what I can do to help change those conditions in our society which led to the assassination and which contribute to the vast sea of misunderstanding, hate, fear and violence.’”

Glickman asked Schulz if he could consider adding a black character to his popular comic strip, which she hoped would bring the country together and show people of colour that they are not excluded from American society.

She had written to others as well, but the others feared it was too soon, that it may be costly to their careers, that the syndicate would drop them if they dared do something like that.

Charles Schulz did not have to respond to her letter, he could have just completely ignored it, and everyone would have forgotten about it. But, Schulz did take the time to respond, saying he was intrigued with the idea, but wasn’t sure whether it would be right, coming from him, he didn’t want to make matters worse, he felt that it may sound condescending to people of colour.

Glickman did not give up, and continued communicating with Schulz, with Schulz surprisingly responding each time. She would even have black friends write to Schulz and explain to him what it would mean to them and gave him some suggestions on how to introduce such a character without offending anyone. This conversation would continue until one day, Schulz would tell Glickman to check her newspaper on July 31, 1968.

On that date, the cartoon, as created by Schulz, shows Charlie Brown meeting a new character, named Franklin. Other than his color, Franklin was just an ordinary kid who befriends and helps Charlie Brown. Franklin also mentions that his father was “over at Vietnam.” At the end of the series, which lasted three strips, Charlie invites Franklin to spend the night one day so they can continue their friendship.

There was no big announcement, there was no big deal, it was just a natural conversation between two kids, whose obvious differences did not matter to them. And, the fact that Franklin’s father was fighting for this country was also a very strong statement by Schulz.

Although Schulz never made a big deal over the inclusion of Franklin, there were many fans, especially in the South, who were very upset by it and that made national news. One Southern editor even said, “I don’t mind you having a black character, but please don’t show them in school together.”

It would eventually lead to a conversation between Schulz and the president of the comic’s distribution company, who was concerned about the introduction of Franklin and how it might affect Schulz’ popularity. Many newspapers during that time had threatened to cut the strip.

Schulz’ response: “I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin – he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, “Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?”

Eventually, Franklin became a regular character in the comic strips.

Glickman would explain later that her parents were “concerned about others, and the values that they instilled in us about caring for and appreciating everyone of all colours and backgrounds – this is what we knew when we were growing up, that you cared about other people . . . And so, during the years, we were very aware of the issues of racism and civil rights (in this U.S.) when black people had to sit at the back of the bus, black people couldn’t sit in the same seats in the restaurants that you could sit . . . Every day I would see, or read, about black children trying to get into school and seeing crowds of white people standing around spitting at them or yelling at them . . . and the beatings and the dogs and the hosings and the courage of so many people in that time.”

Because of Glickman, because of Schulz, people around the world were introduced to a little boy named Franklin.

Redefining community

Published / by Sandy

Week 2: Ephesians series (Ephesians 2:11-22)
The original audience for this letter was the fledgling Christian community in Ephesus, in what is modern day Turkey. This was a world where the Emperor was considered to reign supreme in a huge Empire. He alone was the source of peace – won, of course, through military domination. The proclamation that peace without war could be declared in the name of Jesus was outrageous, and was perceived as a challenge to the Emperor’s own powers. These were dangerous times when the gospel of Jesus ran counter to the systems of the Empire – which included identifying who had privilege and who did not. This ancient text has its own context, but is not unlike the systems and structures of privilege and exclusion today that need to be challenged by the gospel of Jesus.

The text begins by redefining belonging. The core issue was how to live as a Christian community that embraced both Jews and non-Jews at the same time. The Jews had always assumed special privileges as the people of God, and were bestowed with the designation of God’s chosen ones. Although they were not large in number in this part of the world, they nevertheless carried privilege with them. And into the mix of this new Jesus community were large numbers of what were named ‘Gentiles’ – in other words, non-Jews. They were defined by what they weren’t. This Jesus community was comprised of people who were by definition the antithesis of each other – Jew and non-Jew; Jew and Gentile; insiders and outsiders. It’s not an easy mix. Christ breaks down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentiles. It is not that the Gentiles have finally found the God of the Jews, but rather God has brought together both Jews and Gentiles, and they are now one people, children of God, one body in Christ.

Many may wonder how it would even be possible to have people diametrically opposed to each other forming a new community following the way of Jesus. The witness we have is that Jesus gathered all kinds of people into his new community, the excluded, the denigrated, the discounted – mirroring the reign of God where all find welcome. Jesus challenged systems and structures that allowed ‘insider distinction’ and top down privilege at the expense of ‘the other’.

We can name our own experience of inclusion and exclusion, and barriers we erect or others erect. All of us know how this dynamic works. All of us know how sweet it is to enjoy privilege and how difficult it is when we encounter exclusion. Knowing this, why would we want to exclude any from community? And yet it happens – over and over again.
I wonder how we might name some of these dynamics in our time:
Able bodied people   Differently abled people
Straight people          LGBTIQ people
‘White’                         ‘everyone else’
Citizens                       Foreigners and aliens
the achievers              those perceived as failures – mentally, economically, socially
…and so many more…

The church as a community is called to a way that offers ‘radical hospitality’ and welcome to all people. It is called to challenge top down power, and systems and structures that serve to exclude. It is called to challenge distinction and privilege, and provide a counter-point to painful exclusion, until we are ‘built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God’ (Sally Brown).

#Because of her, we can

Published / by Sandy

Aunty Rev Denise Champion


Katherine Rainger, Assistant Priest at Holy Covenant Anglican Church in Canberra, celebrates the transformative ministry and theology of Aunty Rev Denise Champion, the first Aboriginal women ordained in South Australia.

Aunty Rev Denise Champion is an Adnyamathanha woman, theologian and Uniting Church minister.

Aunty Denise was ordained in 2015. She was the first Aboriginal woman to be ordained in South Australia. She is a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and aunty.

I know Aunty Denise through her writing and speaking. As a non-Indigenous person, her writing and speaking are a gift. They are a guide to deep wisdom. Because of her, I see and hear my faith more clearly.

Aunty Denise’s book, Yarta Wandatha, contains a theological method and a collection of theological reflections that bring together her Adnyamathanha culture and Christian faith. The voices of the psalmist, the prophets and Mary the mother of Jesus are interwoven with Aunty Denise’s Adnyamathanha Muda (worldview). Rich images of Christ as precious Living Water are shared through her stories and her connection and concern for her people and her Country. Praise and lament, rejoicing and mourning, memory and history, echo through the pages of this very special book.

Yarta Wandatha affirms the deep knowledge that creation holds and speaks to us if we are ready to listen. Yarta Wandatha is a recognition of Adnyamathanha peoples’ “long memory” of the Creator God in their stories and in their land (p.29).

I always say Australia is like one gigantic storybook. There’s a story in every part of the land and sky and sea. When we, as Adnyamathanha, gather and tell our stories we always say yarta wandatha – ‘the land is speaking.’ We also say yarta wandatha ikandadnha. The people are speaking as if the land is speaking. So the land is speaking to us and through us in these stories. There’s a oneness there. We are not separated from the land our mother. We always talk about the land as our mother, which fits very closely with the story of Genesis of the Lord God forming humankind from clay” (p.19)

Aunty Denise is a theological voice that has helped me to approach my research in Australian film and theology which includes the film The Tracker (directed by Rolf de Heer, 2002). The Tracker was filmed on Adnyamathanha country. It is a story of land, conflict between First and Second peoples, lament and truth-telling. Because of Aunty Denise I can see things in this film that I would never have seen on my own. Because of her, I see God’s activity through the creation of peoples, lands, lore and stories in this country we now call Australia. Because of her, I hear lament in the Australian landscape.

I give thanks to God for Aunty Denise, for her gifts of faith, healing, storytelling, theological insight and teaching.

(Source: Common Grace)

Uniting Church Assembly 2018: Proposal on same-gender marriage

Published / by Sandy

 

Proposals on marriage were presented to the Assembly in July. After much debate, discussion and prayer, the Assembly agreed to both the traditional understanding of marriage (wording unchanged) and same gender marriage. Here’s part of the official statement from the President, Dr Deidre Palmer.

The 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia has agreed to hold two equal and distinct views on marriage to honour the diversity of Christian belief among its members.

Meeting for the first time since last year’s change to Australian marriage laws, members of the Church’s national decision-making body, the Assembly, resolved to allow its ministers the freedom to conduct or refuse to conduct same-gender marriages.

“This decision follows many years of reflection, prayer and discernment, and I want to thank Assembly members for the way they have responded with grace to what is a difficult conversation for many people of faith,” said Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer.

Dr Palmer acknowledged the ministry and struggle of LGBTIQ people in the Uniting Church over many years.

“I know that this conversation is painful and difficult for you,” said Dr Palmer, directly addressing LGBTIQ Church members.

“We also acknowledge those who for whatever reason have not been able to support this change – and your pain and difficulty in this space.”

“Please rest assured that your rights to follow your beliefs on marriage will be respected and protected.”

15th Assembly same-gender marriages statement (and reflection by Andrew Dutney)

Pastoral letter from SA Moderator, Rev Sue Ellis

 

UCA Assembly 2018: ‘For the whole of creation’ – Proposal 19

Published / by Sandy

Proposal 19: For the Whole Creation
That the Assembly resolve to adopt the following statement, “For the Whole Creation”.

1. Introduction

1.1 The Uniting Church in Australia adopts this renewed statement on climate change recognising the growing urgency for significant action on this issue and heeding the clamour of voices across the world from people living with the impacts of climate change and fearing the future.
1.2 This Statement recognises there is a diversity of theological reflection, lived experience, policy positions and actions that draw people across the life of the Uniting Church into a deeper understanding of climate change and continuing responsible care of the earth.
1.3 This statement recognises the imperative for the Uniting Church to embody its prophetic role in the public sphere, acknowledging our relationship and responsibility within and with God’s good creation. In making this statement, the Uniting Church also calls upon its members to stand with vulnerable people affected by climate change.

2. Coming to our senses
2.1 The Uniting Church’s commitment to the well-being of the environment arises out of its belief that God is the Creator of the world in which we live and move and have our being. This ‘groaning creation’ is God’s ‘good’ creation. Through its discerning of Scripture, the church acknowledges the gospel of creation: all things were made in, through and for Christ. The Church further confesses with the whole Christian church that the Holy Spirit is the giver and source of life.
2.2 The Uniting Church believes that God calls us into a particular relationship with the rest of creation, a relationship of mutuality and interdependence which seeks the reconciliation of all creation with God.

Read the full proposal here.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

UCA Assembly 2018: Recognition of Sovereignty – Proposal 29

Published / by Sandy


In his final national message, the 14th President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan urged Church members to address the “unfinished business” of sovereignty and treaty for First Peoples.

“I started my Presidency with the Yolŋu words Bala limurr roŋyirr ŋorraŋgitjlil – ‘Let us return to the white ashes of the fire’. It was a call to reflect on the way all the people of God, First and Second Peoples have been sustained by the Holy Spirit in their own way.”

He continues to invite members to consider what it would mean for the practices of the Church to honour First Peoples as sovereign and what it means to “stand with them in their pursuit of just terms treaties”.

A proposal to the 15th Assembly in July 2018 will ask the Uniting Church to affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.

“I pray that the Holy Spirit will rekindle the embers of the work done by both First and Second Peoples over the last three years so that we can together strive to achieve a more just Church and nation.”

Proposal 29: Recognition of Sovereignty

That the Assembly resolve: To affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.

Proposer: Stuart McMillan/Seconder: Colleen Geyer

Rationale

We stand with First Peoples of this land by virtue of the Covenant we hold together.

The Preamble to the Uniting Church Constitution (paragraph 2) acknowledges that:

“Through this land God has nurtured and sustained the First Peoples of this country, the Aboriginal and Islander peoples, who continue to understand themselves to be the traditional owners and custodians (meaning ‘sovereign’ in the languages of the First Peoples) of these lands and waters since time immemorial.”

In the Covenant Statement of 1994 the Uniting Church says:

“We lament our people took your land from you as if it were land belonging to nobody.”

The 14th Assembly repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, and its theological foundations as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases that have no place in the treatment of First Peoples.

At the 14th Assembly we agreed to spend the next triennium in conversation considering what it would mean for the practices of the Church to honour First Peoples as sovereign. First Peoples have never ceded their sovereignty which is of the Creator and springs from the very soil of this land.

The Covenant Statements, the Preamble to the Constitution and various apologies and statements the Uniting Church has made to the First Peoples leave one matter unsaid, the acknowledgment and affirmation that First Peoples are sovereign.

This proposal is important to us because everything that has been done over the past 41 years point to this, even in the preamble UAICC speak of themselves as sovereign. The Uniting Church has never affirmed First Peoples as sovereign. All that we do in our covenant walk together is underpinned by, and flows from, this fundamental truth. In this, in resolving that First Peoples are sovereign, the 15th Assembly gives moral leadership to our nation.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

Original proposal as outlined above. Final wording for the proposal below, and press release on the decision.

That the Assembly resolve:

In the light of:

  1. a)  the Preamble to the Constitution of UCA which defines sovereignty to be the way in which First Peoples understand themselves to be the traditional owners and custodians, and
  2. b)  the Statement from the Heart’s acknowledgment that sovereignty is aspiritual notion, reflecting the ancestral tie between the land and First Peoples,

to affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.

UCA 15th Triennial Assembly – Celebrating Global Partnerships

Published / by Sandy

In a report to the Uniting Church in Australia’s 15th Triennial Assembly meeting in July, UnitingWorld has highlighted the success of a collaborative, network-based approach to community development.

In a sweeping review of three years, the report details the impact of UnitingWorld’s programs across an estimated 250,000 people in breaking down barriers to education, health, human rights and leadership; and strengthening the institutional capacity of Australian and partner churches.

Dr Sureka Goringe, National Director, Uniting World

Dr Sureka Goringe attributes UnitingWorld’s successes to its strong identity as part of the Uniting Church, and championing a relational approach over the charity model of “handing out grants in return for timely reporting.”

“Effective programs need to be built on a foundation of strong, resilient relationships between partners,” said Dr Goringe. “For us, good collaborations start with meaningful connections between people, where all recognise our equal place as children of God, learning from each others’ strengths and caring for each others’ needs.”

In an innovation conceived three years ago, UnitingWorld started using these strong relationships with partner churches to build regional networks, fostering multilateral collaborations; an approach Dr Goringe says was led by the partners themselves.

“In 2015, during a session of the 14th Assembly in Perth, 35 leaders from our overseas partner churches took the spontaneous and unprecedented step of penning a statement which was read out on the floor of the Assembly.”

The statement committed them to:

“Break through the boundaries of our denominations, in order to partner as God’s agents of transformation in the world” and to, “commit to develop, nurture and strengthen multilateral mission relationships by making our God-given resources available to one another, sharing our needs, joys, sorrows, achievements and challenges with openness and joyfully participating in the life of partners in a fruitful and effective manner.”

Following this landmark declaration, UnitingWorld recognised its value to church partners as a facilitator of new multilateral relationships, says Dr Goringe.

“Since then, UnitingWorld’s regional strategy over the past three years has been to create opportunities to bring together our church partners in meaningful ways. We have hosted 11 regional conferences since July 2015, each one aimed at creating a community of shared learning, cultivating connections and relationships and encouraging collaboration between our partners.”

The connections formed at the regional conferences have resulted in partners sharing resources, expertise, management tools and policies on shared issues. These have ranged from the theology of community development to child protection and finance management.

The report also highlights the success of UnitingWorld’s collaborations with the Australian Government (DFAT) on the theology of gender equality, and identifies challenges to be faced over the next triennium.

UnitingWorld looks forward to continuing this journey alongside our church partners.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

UCA Assembly 2018: Proposal 12 – Voluntary Assisted Dying

Published / by Sandy

(this proposal was withdrawn)

Proposal 12: Voluntary Assisted Dying

That the Assembly resolve:

To request UnitingCare Australia to commence a twelve-month process of consultation and discussion across the life of the Church to discern the Church’s approaches to voluntary assisted dying to be presented to the Standing Committee at a meeting no later than July 2019.

To request that the scope of the consultation include theological, ethical, social, pastoral, health, cultural and service aspects of the issue.

Proposer: Bronwyn Pike/ Seconder: Mark Lawrence

Rationale
The issue of Voluntary Assisted Dying is at the forefront in Australia at present. In November 2017 the Victorian Government passed a Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill which allows people with decision-making capacity, who are experiencing unbearable pain and suffering at the end of their life, to be able to access medical intervention to end their lives in certain and limited circumstances. Governments in other Australian states and territories are also considering this issue.

A number of Uniting Church service providers deliver medical and aged care services across Australia and are therefore likely to have requests for Voluntary Assisted Dying to be undertaken in those facilities. The Uniting Church in Australia does not currently have a national position on the issue. Therefore, it is essential that the Church considers its position on this issue to guide its service providers. It is recognised that for a considered decision to be made across the Church, time is required for prayerful discernment and thorough consultation.

Read the proposal here.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

The incoming Uniting Church President

Published / by Sandy

Matt Pulford, Assembly Communications, interviewed Deidre in the lead up to her installation as President of the UCA. The full article is here.

When Deidre receives the symbols of ministry from outgoing President Stuart McMillan at St Michaels Collins St in Melbourne on 8 July, she will become the UCA’s 15th President and the second woman to take up the role. Dr. Jill Tabart was the first, serving as President from 1994 to 1997.

“Abundant Grace Liberating Hope” is the theme Deidre has chosen for her term. “This theme highlights for me Christ’s call to be a church that embodies God’s abundant grace, compassion and love – a Church that is a bearer of Christ’s hope and light in the midst of despair and darkness.”

Abundance
Deidre Palmer grew to appreciate God’s abundant grace at the Seaton Methodist Church in the western suburbs of Adelaide in the early 1970s.

Her formation took place in an era of great creative ferment. Tradition was under challenge on many fronts, from music to social justice. While Bob Dylan prophesied, “The Times they are a Changin’”, the peace, anti-nuclear, women’s and land rights movements all competed for Deidre’s attention.

“I was fortunate enough to be nurtured in a Church that gave voice to those movements. Geoff Scott encouraged people to think theologically about why they were passionate about justice – and how this came out of the radical call of Jesus to identify with the poor and to bring freedom to the oppressed.”

“Every year I used to go to the Mount Barker Easter camp and one year I heard about the Order of St Stephen which gives lay members the opportunity to give a year of voluntary service to the Church. I heard God’s call to that ministry through the encouragement of a number of Methodist leaders.”

Deidre’s offer of service coincided with a new Sunday school curriculum for the Methodist Church in South Australia. She was quickly enlisted into its rollout, working from the Methodist Conference office in Adelaide.

“I did it for one year. Then I did it for a second year and that second year was when the Uniting Church began. The Churches were coming together – not in a marriage of convenience or reasons about finances or efficiency – but because this is what the Spirit was calling us to do.”

Deidre and a group of young adults travelled to Sydney to attend the first Assembly at Sydney Town Hall on 22 June 1977. “It was a really exciting time to be part of the creation of this Australian Church. I still believe today that the Uniting Church is a movement of the Holy Spirit.”

Liberation
Back home in Adelaide, Deidre continued working in youth ministry.“We invited people to engage with Biblical stories through their own life experiences. Christian Education transitioned from a ‘schooling-instructional’ approach into a more relational experience of belonging to a Christian community.

The Holy Spirit moved again when Deidre met Lawrie Palmer on a Uniting Church Youth Committee.

They married in 1978. Life was a “wonderful adventure” with Deidre working at the SA Synod in Children, Youth and Young Adult Ministry and Lawrie as a doctor.

In 1981, the Joint Board of Christian Education invited US academic and religious educator, John Westerhoff to Australia to speak about intergenerational ministry. “I heard Westerhoff speak in Adelaide. At the time he was doing the academic work for what I thought the Uniting Church was embodying in its approach to ministry. I spoke to him, as I’d been looking at doing some further education. He suggested I do a Masters in Religious Education where he taught at Duke University.”

A few months later Deidre and Lawrie were living on campus at Duke Divinity School. While Deidre completed her Master of Religious Education, Lawrie undertook a Masters of Public Health at the University of North Carolina.

At Duke, Deidre studied systematic theology with Professor Frederick Herzog. It was through Herzog’s teaching that Deidre engaged with the work of liberation theologians, including the writings of Gustavo Gutiérrez. “Reflecting on it since, being Christian and following Jesus gave Lawrie and I the courage to do things that we wouldn’t ordinarily have done,” explains Deidre.

After two years in North Carolina she was ready for the next challenge – a PhD at Boston College with Thomas Groome. Groome’s educational approach, Shared Christian Praxis, has contributed to the shape of Christian formation in Australia and in many other countries.

Boston College is a Jesuit university and Deidre was the first Protestant accepted into the doctoral program in religious education and theology. There she took courses with feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether and Gustavo Gutierrez. She read the works of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Christian ethicist Margaret Farley.

“I studied with women who were gifted leaders, but saw how they were denied full participation in some of their local Christian communities. When you see and experience abuse of power it reinforces the importance and radical nature of the discipleship of equals, to which Jesus calls us.

Deidre’s doctoral dissertation was called “An educational approach towards a discipleship of equals in a socially prophetic church.”

By 1986 it was time to head home to Adelaide to write up her thesis. Her doctorate was conferred in 1989, and after the high intensity of US academia she settled back into teaching and editing Christian Education curriculum. Through her Ph.D. supervisor, Thomas Groome, Deidre heard of a new opportunity – a position teaching Christian Education at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Deidre applied for the position and was successful. Deidre and Lawrie, with young daughters Kate and Joanna. headed back to the US, for the foreseeable future.

Grace
“I loved my job in Dallas. I loved the teaching and the students and the community life were amazing. We also had a fantastic church that was embedded in its neighbourhood, with a great minister, Kathleen Baskin who effortlessly integrated evangelism and social justice. She and I met for coffee every week to share our faith and support one another.”

Again a deep sense of call drew Deidre back to the Uniting Church. On a trip home to Adelaide in 1997 Deidre heard there was a faculty position vacant at Parkin-Wesley College and the Adelaide College of Divinity.

“I felt that in being in ministry in the Uniting Church I was pouring my energy into a Church whose vision I was deeply committed to – to the equality of women and men, to every member ministry, to the voice we give to children and young people”.

So she applied and won the position at Parkin-Wesley coordinating lay education, teaching Christian education, feminist theology and family and children’s ministry. She still lectures in Christian Education at Adelaide’s Uniting College and Flinders University.

In 2005 a weeklong family visit to the Christian Medical College of Vellore in South India sparked another academic adventure. Deidre saw social workers implementing the community development models of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who she knew worked alongside liberation theologians.

“I thought that’s a significant intersection with my work as a Christian educator.”

Deidre enrolled in a Masters of Social Work at Flinders University with a placement at Families SA in child protection and with UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide (now Uniting Communities) in family and relationships counselling. Deidre went on to work for Uniting Communities, counselling adult survivors of child sexual abuse.

“As a social worker, I heard their stories and responded to their suffering by inviting them into narratives of hope. As a Christian, I believe that this work is a vital expression of Christ’s compassionate ministry, especially in an area where Christian organisations have failed.”

Deidre was working as a counsellor three days a week when members of the SA Synod nominated her as Moderator-elect. The confidence placed in Deidre as Moderator of the SA Synod was resoundingly shared by members of the 14th Assembly in 2015 who chose her as President-elect on the first ballot.

Hope
Deidre’s first task as President is to preside over the Assembly meeting.

Beyond the Assembly, youth and young adults will definitely be a focus. During her time as SA Moderator, Deidre actively canvassed the views of young UCA members, their issues and struggles and what they thought their Church should be doing in the public space.

“These young people are amazingly gifted and committed to shaping the Church and to live their faith in the world around them.”

“We can move courageously into the future, because we see the hope among us now.”

(written by Matt Pulford, Assembly Communications)