Messages of Hope

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‘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)

 

EOFY – taking the pulse on generosity

Published / by Sandy

Each week, churches collect an offering; it is a practical expression of one’s personal faith to support the work of the church, as well as supporting local and global community initiatives and projects.

In the community, more than 80% of adult Australians contribute to charities and non-profit organisations. The statistics from 2015-16 show that $12.5 billion was given (up from 4.7 billion a decade ago). The average donation of $764.08 was up too in real terms, by $210.16.

Interestingly, the percentage of people donating dipped from 87% to 80% over the same period. The decreasing giving participation rate is a concerning trend that needs to be monitored. Annual data on tax-deductible donations tells a similar story, underlining the concern about a flatlining future for Australian charities if fewer people donate.

Some Australians are doubly generous, giving their time and their dollars. Those who both gave and volunteered donated nearly twice as much on average as givers who did not volunteer ($1,017.11 compared to $536.69). An estimated 43.7% of Australians volunteered an average of 2.5 hours a week, and a median of 55 hours over the year. This was up from 44 hours in 2005. (We are very grateful for the many people at Pilgrim who volunteer their time so generously).

More than 60% of charitable donations are given on the spur of the moment. Others consider, plan and deliberate about their giving. Some sign up to give in a sustained way month by month. Others might sit with their children and plan what donations they will make as a family in the year ahead. On average, these “planner donors” donate six times as much in a year as the impulse donor.

Nearly three-quarters of donations are focused on social services, education and research, health, culture and recreation, and development and housing. Practical support for the welfare of others, and a contribution to human flourishing – rather than allowing disadvantage to be the defining force in a person’s life. The impact of giving is immense in more than dollar terms, both for the recipient and for the giver.
(excerpts from How Australians are giving to charity by Alyx Williams published in 2015-16)

As a nation, the issue of foreign aid can be contentious. In 2016, a survey of ordinary Aussies by the Campaign for Australian Aid found that most people believed the Australian Government was spending about 13% of our total budget on foreign aid. “Way too high!” the people shrieked. “What about those in need here in Australia? The homeless? Our elderly?”

Fair enough. 13% is quite a lot… So if it were left up them, what did most people think was a reasonable percentage to spend on foreign aid? On average? Most people thought around 10% of the Australian budget would be fair to spend on foreign aid.

There’s a massive black hole between public perception and reality in the debate about Australian aid. Average Australians regularly state we give ‘too much’ to foreign aid. Those same people think we should give ‘about 10%’.

Australia actually gives much less than 1% of its budget to foreign aid and its getting less every year.

As a nation we give only 22 cents in every hundred dollars to life-saving vaccines, providing clean water and vital medical assistance.

Yet even such a tiny amount is helping make some stunning progress toward overcoming poverty.

So how can you help create the change we need to see on this issue?

Join the Campaign For Australian Aid here and let your local politicians know that you care about supporting our neighbours to lift themselves out of poverty. It’s good for all of us.

Donate your own money to projects that are supported by the Australian Government’s aid program. This lets the Australian Government know you support well-administered, accountable aid. Right now, the Australian Government wants to know what you think of UnitingWorld, a Uniting Church agency. They’re prepared to support UnitingWorld with significant funding, but they want to know you’ll back UnitingWorld with your own money first. For every $5 they make available to UnitingWorld through Australian Aid Funding, UnitingWorld needs to match the support with a donation of at least $1. This is a big opportunity to show the Australian Government you care about Australian Aid funding and want to see it increased, and will allow UnitingWorld to make each donation go up to six times as far this end of financial year.

Time to take the pulse on generosity to see how we’re doing!

Australian Aid: way too much?

The Uniting Church turns 41 – and we turn 151

Published / by Sandy

This prayer by Jon Humphries is adapted from the UCA ‘Statement to the Nation’ presented at the time of union in 1977. The Statement still resonates deeply in our contemporary context – in local and global matters, and as the church works through its own prioritites and fundamental commitment to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone, but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere.

God Who Unites Us in the Work Towards the Common Good – A Foundational Uniting Church Prayer
God who unites us in the cause of the common good,
The path to unity can be long and at times difficult.
You call us into unity as a sign of the reconciliation you seek for the whole human race.
In Christ you commission us with a responsibility to society which will always fundamentally involve us in social and national affairs.
You give us responsibilities within and beyond this country to work to uphold basic Christian values and principles, such as the importance of every human being and the need for integrity in public life.
You give us the task of proclaiming truth and justice and the rights of each citizen to participate in decision-making in their community.
You call us to advocate for religious liberty and personal dignity.
You commission in us a concern for the welfare of the whole human race.
God who unites us in the cause of the common good,
Move us to seek the correction of injustices wherever they occur.
Push us to spend our time and effort for the eradication of poverty and racism within our society and beyond.
Fill our lungs with your Spirit that we might call for and affirm the rights of all people to equal educational opportunities, adequate health care, and freedom of speech.
Spur us forward to work so that all may find employment or dignity in unemployment if work is not available.
Fire up our passion and burn away our complacency so that we might oppose all forms of discrimination which infringe basic rights and freedoms.
Give us the desire and the want to challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others.
Separate us from selfish thoughts and values that we might stand against that which encourages a higher standard of living for the privileged in the face of the daily widening gap between the rich and poor.
God who unites us in the cause of the common good,
Concern us with the basic human rights of future generations.
Urge us to find wisdom and take action to ensure the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the earth’s resources.
God who unites us in the cause of the common good,
We owe you our first allegiance.
Under you the policies and actions of all nations must pass judgment. Steel us for when our discipleship and allegiance bring us into conflict with the rulers of our day, that we may stand your ground.
Unite us as one people so that your universal values find expression in national policies and that humanity may survive under your guidance.
God who unites us in the cause of the common good,
We pledge ourselves to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone, but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere.
We commit ourselves the family of the One God — the God made known in Jesus of Nazareth;
Who is the One;
Who gave His life for others.
In the spirit of His self-giving love may this be so. Amen
(Source: Jon Humphries)

Tell your MP: ‘We can do better’

Published / by Sandy

A Message from UCA President Stuart McMillan

As followers of Christ, our faith calls us to love our neighbour and welcome the stranger.

We have particular responsibility to challenge unjust systems and speak on behalf of those who are marginalised and in exile. Right now, it is harder than ever for refugees and people seeking asylum to find a safe place to live and to rebuild their lives. Australia’s policies are making it tougher for families living in detention or in the community to gain their right to protection.

I am thankful to many in the Uniting Church who are already doing so much to support refugees, through practical and pastoral care, prayer and advocacy.

In Refugee Week (17-23 June), I encourage Uniting Church members to think about how they can tell those in Government that we can do better for refugees.

In the lead up to the next election, all major parties will be re-assessing their policy position on this issue.

Visit your local MP and share your desire for a more compassionate and humane response to refugees and people seeking asylum. The more people in our community who speak up on this issue, the more likely we are to create a real opportunity for change.

When we advocate for others in this way, we give life to our faith in Jesus.

We are reminded in the Uniting Church’s Statement on refugees Shelter from the Storm

When advocacy and service are done with integrity, and as a proclamation of the Gospel, the Church bears witness to Christ, and enters fully into the faith and mission of the whole Christian church.

Together, as members of the body of Christ, may we seek a just society that upholds the dignity of every person where all can have hope for a decent peace-filled life for themselves and their families.

Stuart McMillan, President, Uniting Church in Australia, June 2018

The film ‘Border Politics’ has been launched in Melbourne as part of Refugee Week and screenings will take place in other cities in July (a Q&A screening on July 4th at Mitcham cinemas in Adelaide) and may be of interest to those who would like to explore more deeply the politics around border control and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. The film follows human rights barrister Julian Burnside as he traverses the globe examining the harsh treatment meted out to refugees by most Western democracies.
This contemporary story is about the threat to human rights, the loss of democratic values and our increasingly heartless treatment of ‘the other’.
Seventy years after the world constructed international conventions to ensure the horrors of World War 2 wouldn’t be repeated, Burnside finds it terrifying to see Australian and other western political leaders exploiting fears around border protection to extend political power.
Burnside defines humanity with the universally recognized Golden Rule – Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You as a benchmark. He questions whether the West has lost its moral compass by adopting ideas that reject humanity and undermine democracy. He concludes this erosion of human rights poses a threat to the very democratic values that define Western society.
(Information about screenings here)

The power of symbols

Published / by Sandy

On my travels in Ireland I’ve been fascinated to learn about symbols of the cross in Ireland.

The St Kevin cross from Glendalough is an example of how St Patrick tried to help the once pagan people of Ireland acclimatise to Christianity. This was done by combining the cross with the circle representing the sun, because the pagans worshipped the sun and moon. In time, this particular Celtic Cross was recognised as a Christian symbol. 

St.Brigid was the founder of the first Irish monastery in County Kildare, Ireland. She is credited with creating the unique cross which bears her name. The tale of its creation is somewhat confused, and there is not one definitive version. The tale as we know it is as follows….There was an old pagan Chieftain who lay delirious on his deathbed in Kildare (some believe this was her father) and his servants summoned Brigid to his beside in the hope that the saintly woman may calm his restless spirit. Brigid is said to have sat by his bed, consoling and calming him and it is here that she picked up the rushes from the floor and began weaving them into the distinctive cross pattern. Whilst she weaved, she explained the meaning of the cross to the sick Chieftain and it is thought her calming words brought peace to his soul. He was so enamoured by her words that the old Chieftain requested he be baptized as a Christian just before his passing. Since that day, and for the centuries that followed, it has been customary on the eve of her Feast Day (1st February) for the Irish people to fashion a St. Brigid’s Cross of straw or rushes and place it inside the house over the door to keep evil, fire and hunger from the homes in which it is displayed.

A few years ago, Pat Baker gave me a necklace with a cross, and on it was a female figure. The female image on the cross was thought of as nothing less than blasphemy when British sculptor Edwina Sandys wrought Christa in 1975. For the artist, it was a recognition that women had suffered and sacrificed their lives for love. Women were among the original martyrs of Christianity, brutally crucified by the Roman Empire.

And then there’s the inverted neon red crosses – four of them, each 20 m tall, that have been erected in Hobart as part of the mid-winter festival known as Dark Mofo.

Mofo’s creative director, Leigh Carmichael, said provocation was part of Mona’s* DNA and argued that while “the cross is deeply significant in our historical context … symbols don’t have an inherent meaning. The meaning comes from what we bring to them”. He said, “Dark Mofo has been exploring ancient mythology and religious themes since its inception in 2013. The cross is a powerful and deeply significant historical symbol, that has been used for thousands of years, with many cross-cultural meanings”.
(*MONA is Museum of Old and New Art)

Inevitably, predictably, there has been reaction. Outrage is the DNA of social media, and statements like Yvonne McAskill’s resonate with many: “All Christians are shuddering at this diabolical sign”. Clearly there is a lot of support for that point of view.

Interestingly, the original meaning of an upside-down cross was to recall the crucifixion of St Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. When he was crucified by the Roman Empire at a time when Christians were persecuted, he insisted he be crucified upside-down, because he felt he wasn’t good enough to be crucified the way that Jesus was. So at one point it was a sign of penitence, long before it was adopted as an ‘anti-Christian’ symbol.

Here are three other responses to the Dark Mofo crosses:

Ben Clark writes: ‘The cross itself is an upside down symbol of love over evil. If the message of the cross has been tarnished and turned upside down and used as a weapon for evil then this becomes a profound statement…

Michael Frost writes: The latest outrage-du-jour for Australian Christians is the upside crosses installation in Hobart. For a start, since when do Christians get offended by ART?!?!? We’re followers of the King who converted humiliation into grace. Art is meant to be a provocation, a discussion starter. So let’s have a conversation. Secondly, why all the knee-jerk outrage these days?!?!?

Reverend Matt Garvin of the Citywide Baptist Church, said that while the inverted cross was “commonly thought to be a Satanic symbol”, churches should “engage with the conversation that has been created (in Hobart)”.

It begs the question about what Christians get ‘outraged’ about, and what outraged Jesus – injustice, inequality, war, conflict, denigration, abuse of power and authority, cheating the poor, loss of dignity, loss of community, the way refugees and asylum seekers are treated…

How might churches and individuals engage with conversation in the public square rather than being (stereotypically) reactive?

Shaping priorities: religion in a secular age

Published / by Sandy

On May 6th, Ben Clarke from TEAR SA spoke about his recent trip to Cambodia looking at community based projects. Many in Pilgrim have a strong commitment to supporting the work of UCA partner churches. Earlier this year, a donation was made to the UnitingWorld appeal for Tonga after it was devastated by Cyclone Gita on February 12th. Pilgrim also offers support for the United Church of Christ in the Philippines through active participation in the Philippines Support Group, and community projects in the Philippines.
In an article on his website, Mike Frost poses a question for our day: Should we be helping other Christians before we help non-Christians in greater need? 
Mike writes: This question came into even sharper focus recently when the Trump administration announced that its nominee to become director general of the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) was Ken Isaacs. The IOM has an annual budget of over $1 billion and is tasked with providing secure, reliable, flexible and cost-effective services for those needing international migration assistance. Refugees, basically.
So alarm bells started sounding for some when it was revealed that Ken Isaacs, currently the head of international relief for Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, has made comments that in some cases Christians should receive preferential treatment when being resettled from hostile areas. These comments appear to have been made on social media, reflecting on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and were coupled with disparaging references to Islam as a violent religion.
Mr Isaacs has since apologized for these remarks and said, “I pledge to hold myself to the highest standards of humanity, human dignity and equality if chosen to lead IOM.” Certainly, he has demonstrated a committed to helping refugees and has a long history of assisting those who are suffering. But his remarks, though retracted, reveal an underlying belief within the Christian community that we should help Christians before helping people of another religious faith (or no faith).
I fear it is becoming an entrenched assumption by many Christians that “charity begins at home”. There are many in Australia who express similar sentiments.
Didn’t Paul say we should prioritize doing good to Christians?
Those who think we should prioritize Christians in international aid often cite Paul’s words in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
It’s the use of especially they seize on. They agree we should help others, but insist that Paul is saying that we should prioritize assisting other Christians. That makes sense, I guess, if you look at this verse in isolation (which lots of people apparently do). But if you read it in its broader context, the meaning is somewhat different.
In the preceding section, Paul had just warned his readers to avoid sin, or to use his phrase, “sowing to please their flesh” (v.8). Instead, he insists, we should “sow to please the Spirit” and “not become weary in doing good” (v.8-9). So, doing good in this context refers to avoiding sin and pursuing spiritual things. When Paul concludes his argument by saying we should “do good to all people,” he means we should be helping everyone avoid sin and pursue the Spirit. So, it makes perfect sense that he would say “especially those who belong to the family of believers” because it’s particularly applicable to other spiritual people like the church members in Galatia.
This passage isn’t about providing practical assistance at all.
Another Pauline passage often cited in this context is 1 Timothy 5:8, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  This verse is in the context of Paul’s discussion about the need for church families to care for the widows in their midst, and is most certainly referring to practical assistance. At that time, widows were extremely vulnerable members of society, particularly those without children or extended family to care for them. Paul insists that the church as a whole care for those widows with no family support, but that individual families had responsibility to “provide for their relatives” and not expect the rest of the church to carry them. It’s very practical advice, but it can’t be used to defend the idea we should only take care of fellow Christians.
Jesus said, we should care for his followers first, right?
Another passage that could be used to make the case that we should show favouritism to Christians when helping the needy is Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Mt. 25:31-46). In that story people are separated into two groups – those who did feed, clothe, house and comfort “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” and those who didn’t. The latter are sent away to eternal punishment, while the former receive eternal life.
For a long time, “the least of these” was assumed to refer to the poor in general. But this was a problematic interpretation. Was Jesus saying that our eternal salvation is earned by feeding and clothing the poor? Surely this contradicts the biblical teaching on salvation by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9).
More recent interpretations have concluded that “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” just refers to Christians in need – those spiritual brothers and sisters of Jesus. They would be in need of food and clothing and housing, and especially being attended to in prison, if they were persecuted Christians, possibly evangelists and teachers. Those who refuse to help supply their material needs are presumably also those who reject their message.
If “the least of these” are Jesus’ messengers, then it makes sense for Jesus to say your salvation is based on your response to their message – that is, the Gospel.
In other words, even if the Parable of the Sheep and Goats does refer to helping Christians, it isn’t making a case for prioritizing them over others in need. It’s a comment on the acceptance or rejection of the Gospel.
Are Christian refugees in greater need than others? 
Whether Ken Isaacs cites Galatians 6 or Matthew 25 I don’t know. His work in Syria and other parts of the Middle East has, no doubt, has put him face to face with the terrible persecution being meted out to the church there, and his comments about prioritizing Christians might reflect this.
What is more difficult to understand is the attitude of the US President, Donald Trump, and the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, neither of whom present as devout Christian men. Both Mr Trump and Mr Turnbull have publicly stated they will prioritize Christian refugees over others.
In fact, in their very first telephone conversation together, Mr Turnbull congratulated Mr Trump for such an approach,
“We are very much of the same mind. It is very interesting to know how you prioritise the minorities in your executive order. This is exactly what we have done with the program to bring in 12,000 Syrian refugees, 90% of which will be Christians. It will be quite deliberate and the position I have taken — I have been very open about it — is that it is a tragic fact of life that when the situation in the Middle East settles down — the people that are going to be most unlikely to have a continuing home are those Christian minorities”. (Malcolm Turnbull 2017)
This is based in some measure on a belief that Christians are more persecuted than other religions, particularly in the Middle East. But the data doesn’t bear that out. While Mr Turnbull wants 90% of his refugee intake to be Christians (the actual figure is closer to 80%), the UNHCR says Christians comprise only 15% of total refugees from Iraq and less than 1% from Syria. And Human Rights Watch, while not denying that the church has been persecuted in Iraq and Syria, points out that “Muslims have overwhelmingly borne the brunt of most of the atrocities by ISIS and the Assad regime.”
It’s very hard to get away from the view that it is a form of state-supported prejudice against Muslims. Mr Trump’s proposed travel ban against certain Muslim-majority countries reinforces this. As concerning as it is for secular states to engage in this kind of prejudice, my other worry is that Christians are being infected by this prejudice, believing it actually honors God for us to show favoritism toward other Christians.
Who, then, is my neighbour?
A far more helpful passage of Scripture to consider in this discussion is another of Jesus’ parables, the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  The story is well known. A man is set upon by thieves, beaten to within an inch of his life, and left dying by the side of the road. Two fellow Jews – one a priest, the other a Levite – ignore the man, while a Samaritan – despised by the Jews – not only lends some assistance, but does so at great personal cost. The moral of the story: be like the good Samaritan.
Jesus told this parable in response to a man asking whether it was true that the Law of Moses required you to love your neighbor as yourself. When Jesus agreed, the guy, looking for a loophole, asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer-in-the-form-of-a-parable is, quite simply, anyone you encounter who is in need.
It’s interesting that Ken Isaacs, the man currently in hot water about his nomination to the International Organization for Migration, currently works for Samaritan’s Purse. In Jesus’ story, the Samaritan’s purse was open to whomever was in need, not only his fellow Samaritans. As Christians we need to go back to the question of who is our neighbor, and also ask, what does it say about us if we’re only interested in saving our own kind?
Human rights lawyer with the Refugee Council of Australia, Asher Hirsch sums it up well:
“Our position is that refugees shouldn’t be selected based on religion, but that we should prioritise the most vulnerable (women and children, elderly, disabled, those at severe risk of harm where they are living, etc). This may be Christians but often won’t be”
Of course, we should want to help our sisters and brothers in Christ. But we also have a moral obligation to reject a policy that sees a secular state selecting refugees based on their religious beliefs. Today it’s Muslims who suffer from this favouritism, but a time might come when it’s Christians who are prejudiced against, and who could blame them if we looked around on that day and found our Muslim neighbors unwilling to help us.
(This article first appeared on Mike Frost’s website)

Spiritually hungry – and wanting community

Published / by Sandy

Spiritually hungry and wanting community – the priorities of churchgoers
. 

When asked what church attenders would like to see priority given to in the coming 12 months, spiritual growth and building a stronger sense of community in their church were top of the list.

These findings come from the 2016 National Church Life Survey, when adult church attenders were asked for their opinion about what should be given priority by their local church in the next year.

The survey question posed 12 options for current priorities.

‘Spiritual growth (e.g. spiritual direction, prayer groups)’ and ‘Building a strong sense of community within this local church’ were most commonly selected responses, chosen by a third of churchgoers (~32%).

The third most common response was ‘Worship services that are nurturing to people’s faith’.

These three top priorities clearly display a spiritual fervour amongst those who attend church. It could be argued that these desires reveal the primary purpose attenders hold for going to church: to be spiritually nurtured and fed as part of a worshipping community. In fact, these three priorities align with the NCLS Internal Core Qualities which focus on the inner life of churches: Faith, Worship and Belonging.

  • Do attenders have an alive and growing faith?
  • Do they experience vital and nurturing worship and do they feel a strong and growing belonging?

These ‘internal’ core qualities are regarded as foundational to church life. This is a reminder of the main qualities of church life that church attenders value, enjoy, and see as most central to their experience of church.

Believe or belong, which comes first? (It varies slightly with age and denomination)
Overall, there were differences between age groups. In general, those aged younger than 60 chose spiritual growth as their highest priority and building community as their second choice. Those aged 60 and over gave highest priority to building community, followed by nurturing worship and third, spiritual growth.
Attenders in different denominations vary in their priorities. Attenders in Uniting churches chose nurturing worship first and spiritual growth second.

Wanting to contribute and nurture
Following the top three responses, came ministry oriented choices – attenders are clear they want to be involved. ‘Encouraging people’s gifts and skills’, ministry to children and youth and ensuring new people are welcome here all align with the development and growth of ministry. Using gifts and skills in a ministry of all believers, nurturing future generations and newcomers all build a picture of strengthening the life of the church.

Lowest on the list of priorities were social action, faith sharing and new approaches, church plants or mission ventures.

This may reveal an internally focussed attendership, one that wants to develop and grow the internal life of their church, spiritually feeding people, bringing people in to the congregation and empowering them to contribute and belong.

Whether that comes at a cost of losing an outward focus into the local neighbourhood is open for question.

Sam Sterland, Ruth Powell and Kathy Jacka Kerr, NCLS Research.
Citation: Powell, R. & Kerr, K.J. (2017). Spiritually hungry and wanting community. http://ncls.org.au/news/spiritually-hungry
Data Source: Powell, R., Pepper, M., Hancock, N. and Sterland, S. (2017) 2016 NCLS Attender Survey [Data file]. Sydney: NCLS Research.

Don’t Keep History a Mystery: National Reconcilation Week

Published / by Sandy

This year’s theme for Reconciliation Week is “Don’t Keep History A Mystery: Learn. Share. Grow”. It is an opportunity for all Australians to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories, to share that knowledge and help us grow as a nation.

(There will be many events during this week, including on Sorry Day, which remind and raise awareness among politicians, policy makers and the wider public about the significance of the Stolen Generations, and the profound and damaging impact that this has had, and continues to have, on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is also a time to celebrate their survival, culture, and community).

Reading Henry Reynold’s book, ‘Why weren’t we told:a personal search for the truth about our history‘, was a revelation – and an awakening. It describes the author’s own journey from ‘innocence’ in his Tasmanian childhood, to facing the realities of race when he moved to North Queensland. He recognised the glaring reality didn’t match the two myths generally accepted in Australia at the time – that Australia was settled peacefully, and terra nullius. Reynold’s named starkly the reality of massacres of Aboriginal communities and other uncomfortable and ‘inconvenient’ truths. In 1968, WEH Stanner offered a challenge in his Boyer lectures to break the ‘Great Australian silence’ about Australia’s Aboriginal past. Speaking truth is a pre-requisite to reconciliation, past and present.

The 2018 Reconciliation Theme, Don’t Keep History a Mystery: Learn.Grow.Share’ is an opportunity to ‘break the silence’. The future of our nation depends on it.

The Australian Reconciliation Barometer (the Barometer) is one of the tools to assist us to understand how the nation is performing on its reconciliation journey. The Barometer is a biennial, national research study, conducted by Reconciliation Australia since 2008. The Barometer measures attitudes and perceptions towards reconciliation, and maps our progress towards the five dimensions of reconciliation – race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity, unity and historical acceptance. Australia can only achieve full reconciliation where there is substantive progress across all five areas.

The 2016 Barometer tells us that since 2014 an increasing number of Australians are proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and believe these cultures are important to Australia’s identity as a nation. Almost all Australians continue to view the relationship between each other as important and many believe that it is possible that all Australians can be united.

The Barometer findings reveal that the majority of Australians maintain positive attitudes towards reconciliation. However, disappointingly, there is significant evidence that these positive attitudes have yet to translate into improved behaviours across a wide range of sectors in Australian society, including the workplace, law-enforcement agencies, and the education and community sectors.

More Australians, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians, now agree that Australia is a racist country. This racism is reflected in increasing incidents of prejudice experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The Barometer also identifies continued misunderstandings between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians. Both groups believe they offer more trust to the other than is returned. Reducing the perceived “trust gap” is critical to improving confidence in relationships between First Australians and the wider Australian community. Further, there is still misunderstandings within the wider Australian community about the causes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inequality.

It is encouraging to note that in relation to settlement in Australia, more Australians now accept key facts about Australia’s past institutional prejudices against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and feel that the wrongs of the past must be rectified before all Australians can move forward.

In assessing perceptions, attitudes and behaviours within both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the general Australian community, there are some positive signs of progress. The findings also show us that there is still much to do to achieve our vision of a reconciled nation across the five dimensions.

(Read the full report of the 2016 Barometer’s findings here)

For those planning worship this Sunday for Reconciliation Day on May 27th, consider using an Acknowledgement of Land (here’s some we use at Pilgrim) and resources prepared for the day.

What a beautiful day for love to change the world

Published / by Sandy

Bishop Michael Curry preached the homily at the Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan. The text is printed below. Even without Michael’s enthusiastic delivery (you can watch it here), the text is inspiring with it’s focus on the redemptive power of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a beautiful day for love to change the world.
And now in the name of our loving liberating and life giving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
From the Song of Solomon in the Bible: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is as strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave, its flashes of flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it out
The late Dr. Martin Luther King once said, and I quote: we must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love, and when we do that we will make of this old world a new world. For love is the only way.
There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even oversentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. There’s power, power in love.
Not just in its romantic forms but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right. There’s something right about it.
And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love. And our lives were meant and are meant to be lived in that love. That’s why we are here.
Ultimately the source of love is God himself, the source of all of our lives. There’s an old medieval poem that says, “where true love is found, God himself is there.”
The New Testament says it this way, “beloved, let us love one another because love is of God and those who love are born of God and know God, those who do not love do not know God. Why? For God is love. There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live. Set me as a seal on your heart. A seal on your arm. For love it’s strong as death.
But love is not only about a young couple. Now the power of love is demonstrated by the fact that we are all here. Two young people fell in love and we all showed up. But it’s not just for and about a young couple who we rejoice with.
It’s more than that. Jesus of Nazareth on one occasion was asked by a lawyer to sum up the essence of the teachings of Moses. He went back and reached back into the Hebrew scriptures, to Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and Jesus said you shall love the lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.
This is the first and great commandment and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. And then in Matthew’s version, he added, he said, on these two Love of God and Love of Neighbor, hang all the law, all the prophets, everything that Moses wrote, everything in the holy prophets, everything in the scriptures, everything that God has been trying to tell the world. Love God, love your neighbors, and while you’re at it, love yourself.
Now someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in all of human history, a movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world. A movement mandating people to live that love. And in so doing, to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.
I’m talking about some power, real power. Power to change the world. If you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s antebellum south who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform. They explained it this way. They sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity, it’s one that says there’s a balm in Gilead. A healing balm, something that can makes things right.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. One of the stanzas actually explains why: they said, If you cannot preach like Peter and you cannot pray like Paul, you just tell the love of Jesus how he died to save us all. Oh that’s the balm in Gilead. This way of love is the way of life. They got it, he died to save us all. He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He wasn’t getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life for the good of the others, for the good of the other, for the well-being of the world. For us, that’s what love is.
Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial. And in so doing, becomes redemptive, and that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love, changes lives. And it can change this world. If you don’t believe me, just stop and think or imagine. Think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive. When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an everflowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down, down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.


And let me tell you something, old Solomon was right in the Old Testament, that’s fire. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and with this, I will sit you down. We’ve got to get you all married. French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was arguably one of the great minds, one of the great spirits of the 20th century. A Jesuit, Roman Catholic priest, scientist, a scholar, a mystic. In some of his writings, he said from his scientific background as well as his theological one. In some of his writings, he said as others have, that the discovery or invention or harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries in all of human history. Fire to a great extent made human civilization possible. Fire made it possible to cook food and to provide sanitary ways of eating which reduced the spread of disease in its time. Fire made it possible to heat warm environments and thereby made human migration around the world a possibility, even into colder climates. Fire made it possible, there was no Bronze Age without fire, no Iron Age without fire, no industrial revolution without fire. The advances of science and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good.
Anybody get here in a car today? An automobile? Nod your heads if you did, I’m guessing, I know there were some carriages. But those of us who came in cars, the controlled harnessed fire made that possible. I know that the Bible says, and I believe it, that Jesus walked on the water, but I have to tell you I didn’t walk across the Atlantic Ocean to get here. Controlled fire in that plane got me here. Fire makes it possible for us to text and tweet and email and Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other. Fire makes all of that possible and de Chardin said that fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.
Dr. King was right, we must discover love. The redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. My brother, my sister, God loves you. God bless you. And may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.

Solidarity in times of sorrow

Published / by Sandy

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan and UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe have written to churches in Indonesia to express sadness and solidarity after the tragic church bombings in Surabaya, Java on Sunday.

11 people were killed in the explosions and more than 43 were wounded in what has been called the worst terrorist attack in Indonesia in more than a decade.

A congregation of our GKI partner church in Java was one of those targeted, wounding an Elder and several young members.

A prayer has been written for the victims of the Surabaya attacks, and Uniting Church members and UnitingWorld supporters are invited to use the prayer to  join in solidarity with churches in Indonesia.

Letter to churches in Indonesia
Letter to our partner church GKI in Java

A PRAYER FOR THE VICTIMS OF CHURCH BOMBINGS IN JAVA

Almighty God, we come to you with our hearts full of thoughts.

But you are our refuge and strength, the light in the darkness,

and so with confidence we offer our prayers to you.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We stand in solidarity with all good citizens in Java

pray for the churches of Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal traditions,

and we are confronted by the attacks on Christian worshipers.

We bring to you all the deceased,

and our trust that in God’s peace their souls find rest.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for those who grieve the loss of life,

for those who are traumatized during Sunday worship,

for those who are separated from the loved ones and friends;

we ask for your healing presence in their lives

and we commend to your love all the injured.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We give to your care all those

who have been involved in the rescue operation.

Be with local churches and government forces

as they minister to the suffering communities.

Sustain them through this time of stress.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We commend to your care those who are cleaning up,

for those burdened by unimaginable losses

and who have found themselves

like refugees in their own locality.

We ask that the emotional and spiritual support

already offered by local communities and beyond

will encourage and lift their spirits.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for communities that have been devastated

– especially in East Java and West Java.

May your peace bring people together

to rebuild their lives and communities,

and bring them healing from all evil.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for families and friends in Australia

who feel far away from the loved ones in Indonesia,

and those who had been through racial and religious attacks

– still trying to make sense of the past.

Comfort them across the physical and emotional distance.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We give thanks to God for the blessing in our lives,

especially the gifts of joy we so often take for granted

until they are in danger of being taken away from us

– the gift of family, friends, a home, our possessions.

Most of all we praise God for the gift of life itself.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

God of light over darkness,

come into our hearts in the moment of now!

Come to transform our sorrow over the lost

into blessings to the living.

Come to reassure us your eternal truth

in the resurrection of Christ Jesus:

Life is always stronger than death.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer. Amen. 

(Rev Dr Ji Zhang  张骥, Assembly Theologian in Residence, for our Partner Church GKI and Indonesian Communion of Churches. The prayer is rewritten based on the prayer of 2004 Asian Tsunami by Homebush Uniting Church)

Investing in the skills of women

Published / by Sandy

According to one report, it is anticipated that Australians will have spent a whopping $733 million on Mothers Day in 2018.

It is sobering to realise that many communities in developing countries still live in extreme poverty. West Papua has a staggeringly high number of people living below the poverty line. More than 27% live on less than $2 a day.

Marcus Campbell, Uniting World, reports on a group of women who are crafting themselves out of poverty by making traditional bark paintings (malo). These have been produced by women for hundreds of years. They spend weeks together making the canvases out of the beaten bark of fig trees, and then paint designs that express their culture, highlighting the theme of ‘harmony between all living things’. Ask them how they learned the designs, and they all say, “our ancestors taught us.”

The women live on an isolated small island on a lake in West Papua, on the far limits of Papua’s most modern city, Jayapura. People here still travel between the islands using wooden canoes. Many of the women work two jobs while raising children. Most of their husbands are fishermen, but fears of local overfishing has pushed their work out to sea and into the city where they make meagre earnings.

Uniting World is investing in the women’s skills so that their business can grow. ‘Our local partners have been running business training and are helping them buy industrial sewing machines to help them expand their business to include bags and clothing with their traditional designs”.

Empowering these women has huge flow-on affects for the community. Making positive changes for women affects all of society. The women’s hard work enables them to send their children to school; many of them never had the chance themselves. “Our local partners are working on strategies that invest in critical aspects of life: food security, health, women’s incomes and the future of children. They need our support to continue to make projects like these a reality”.

Perhaps you might consider investing in these skilful women and their projects that are helping people grow a new future in West Papua. Visit www.unitingworld.org.au/papua or call 1800 998 122 to make a donation, or talk with Julie in the office if you don’t have access to a computer.

(Following the review of all of the international mission partnerships at the Annual Presbytery and Synod meeting in October 2015, it was decided to ‘maintain a Partnership relationship with Gereja Kristen Injili Di Tanah Papua (Evangelical Christian Church In The Land Of Papua (GKI) via the principal framework and projects managed by Uniting World and directly through congregationally driven activities with a major focus on supporting educational activities and building relationships. Read more about the UCA SA Synod partnership here).

The 2018 Federal budget – and overseas aid

Published / by Sandy

On Tuesday May 9th, the Federal Treasurer handed down the 2018 budget, with the hope of being ‘in the black’ from next year. There will be ongoing commentary and analysis on the details of the budget.

Every year, the budget allocates funding to overseas aid which improves the lives of millions of people around the world. It is an investment in a better future for our world and our neighbours. It also promotes Australia’s interests by contributing to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. In a globally interconnected world, less poverty and inequality is good for everybody. Social and economic stability reduces the risk of political instability, just as access to education for all plays a part in reducing the emergence of radicalisation and better equips communities to respond to it if it occurs – all of which benefits Australia in the long term.

After significant cuts to overseas aid in recent years, the overseas aid budget was frozen in 2017 for 2 years, and in the 2018 budget this freeze has been extended for a further 4 years, dropping to its lowest level in our nation’s history at just 19 cents in every $100 of Gross National Income. The people who suffer the most are the millions of people who rely on Australian aid in our region. As a consequence of the cuts, there will be a greater reliance on the contribution from churches, aid agencies and charities, which will have to work even harder to close the huge gap in overseas aid.The spirit of generosity of ordinary Australians is reflecting in the fact that 80% contribute to organisations that help vulnerable communities.

The Australian aid sector has been calling for an increase in overseas aid as a step towards returning our overseas aid budget towards levels in accord with our international obligations. Earlier this year, ACFID (Australian Council for International Development), of which the Uniting Church is a member through its agency Uniting World, had campaigned to prevent an additional $400 million in cuts to foreign aid that were being considered. These cuts were dropped, but the decision to freeze the foreign aid budget comes at a time when we see global inequality on the rise and millions of people fleeing violence and oppression.

This is not a time when overseas aid can be put ‘on hold’ for four years, especially when we see what is happening in the lives of our global neighbours.

In 2000, Australia signed on to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), joining 199 other nations aiming to halve extreme poverty by 2015. But in recent years Australia has been shrinking from its role on the world stage. While other countries have increased their aid programs, Australian aid is now at its lowest level ever, falling to 19th of the 29 countries that give overseas aid.

The hope is that a bi-partisan commitment can be made so that the overseas aid budget can reach 0.7% of GNI by 2030 commensurate with Australia’s international obligations and the commitments made as part of the MDGs.

Australian aid provides opportunities for our global neighbours to build a better future. It is work we should celebrate now, and look back on with pride in years to come. Can we champion a response to reducing poverty that is as generous as the Australian people?

Perhaps this something you feel strongly about, or you would like to know more? More information is available on the Campaign for Australian Aid website, and you can also find information on the Campaign for Australian Aid Facebook page. Campaign for Australian Aid is a joint initiative of Make Poverty History and Micah Challenge coalitions for all Australians who believe we can and should do more as a nation to end extreme poverty around the world.

Sandy would be glad to chat with you about this if you would like more information, or would like to learn about the impact on our partner churches supported through Uniting World.

Perhaps you might consider writing to or arranging a meeting with your Federal MP to share you concerns about this important matter?

(This article includes information collated from statements from ACFID, World Vision, Uniting World and Campaign for Australian Aid)Overseas aid as well as the contributions of individuals, groups and churches, is essential to supporting our partner churches in Asia, Africa and the Pacific through the UCA agency Uniting World. The diagram shows how this funding is used.

Living with diversity and difference

Published / by Sandy

The Uniting Church’s national Assembly has an important conversation about marriage coming in July. Here’s a link to the report and recommendations.

Here’s a video intro by past-President and Chair of the Doctrine Working Group Rev Alistair Macrae.

This week the Moderator of the Uniting Church SA sent a pastoral letter. Here is a (slightly) edited version:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The release of the Assembly papers on Monday has heightened the diversity of views held on same-gender marriage within the Uniting Church in South Australia.This topic has been painful for some.

I acknowledge that this has been a particularly difficult time for ministers and church leaders. It has been challenging for many to hold their congregations and faith communities together given the diversity of views and strength of conviction held by individual members of each church.

We have always been a diverse church since our inception when the leaders of the three denominations agreed to focus on Jesus’ call to unity and come together to form a new Christian movement for the Australian context. What we can often forget is how costly that was, as differences of opinion and theology were intentionally held apart for the sake of union. The Uniting Church has a history of working together, even through diversity and challenging times. In anxious times, it is easy to forget that we do have helpful policies that can guide and protect us as leaders. These policies remind us of our responsibilities in keeping our conversations around the Assembly respectful at all times, so all God’s people feel valued and safe.

The Code of Ethics for Ministers and the Code of Conduct for Volunteers and Leaders are the guidelines by which we live out our Christian life together in the Uniting Church in Australia. I commend these documents to you. The Social Media policy of the Uniting Church SA, which applies to comments posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms, is a useful guide. I would also like to remind leaders of the Media Communications Policy of the Uniting Church SA, which states:
“As specified in section 3.6.3.2 (g) of the Uniting Church Constitution and Regulations handbook, the Moderator speaks on public issues for the church. The Moderator is the only official spokesperson for the church. The Moderator can, if the circumstances are appropriate, authorise a suitable qualified person to represent the Uniting Church in South Australia to the media on his/her behalf. is also to be noted by leaders, and in particular, that the Moderator is the official spokesperson for the Uniting Church in South Australia.” Any request by media to a minister or lay leader for an interview, must be referred to the Moderator’s office first.

In the matters before the 15th Assembly, the Moderator alone will be the Uniting Church SA spokesperson to the media.

As we pray for the members of Assembly, we give thanks for those members who have offered themselves to be our people from South Australia. These members are called to be open to the Holy Spirit in the context of the Assembly and to discern together the way of Christ for the Uniting Church in Australia.

There are many important matters for discussion at the 15th Assembly in addition to marriage, including the domestic violence policy, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and the sovereignty of Aboriginal people.

I’d like to conclude this message with words from John 15:12-13:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Grace and peace,

Rev Sue Ellis (Moderator, Uniting Church SA)

And these words from Rev Apwee Ting (National Assembly)
There are common stories sustaining God’s mission in the life of Uniting Church: grace, generosity, love, friendship, worship, prayer …
There are things that people value about UCA: diversity, covenant with first people, justice, inter/cross cultural, emerging leaders and leadership open for every member.
Thank God for Uniting Church.

 

Rethinking practices of exclusion

Published / by Sandy

Reflecting on the Acts reading (the Ethiopian Eunuch, Acts 8:26-40)

So, the Ethiopian Eunuch is reading aloud (a very common practice – if you had the ability to read, then you would read aloud) from the scroll of Isaiah (Chapter 53), a passage that has come to be associated with the passion of Jesus.

What was this Ethiopian Eunuch doing reading this particular part of Isaiah?

Well, the background is that eunuchs were specifically excluded from the temple:
“If a man’s testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off,
he may not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord”
 (Deuteronomy 23:1)

But here, in the very section of Isaiah where the Ethipian Eunuch is reading, is this text:
Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the LORD says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever” (Isaiah 56:3-5)

A text of inclusion. It would have been a ‘favourite’ part of the Isaiah scroll for the Eunuch, one he would return to again and again, as it gave him a place of belonging. And, in the course of reading this text of inclusion, he would have become familiar with the surrounding text (no verses and chapter headings in those days!) including Chapter 53 that is the focus of the Acts 8 reading today (and for the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch):

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

After Philip gives witness to Jesus, the Ethiopian Eunuch is baptized (in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy), and eunuchs find a place of belonging in the reign of God. That which was excluded has now been included.

It would have been a surprising and wonderful moment for both Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Here’s a great reflection on this reading by Richard Beck:

The “eunuch story” may, at least in part, speak to the issue of social contribution or function. It seems that great emphasis was given to function in the old covenant “congregation of the Lord”. The “commission” of old covenant community focused around the growth of the Jewish nation, particularly in terms of the “be fruitful and multiply” directive. What we think of as evangelism wasn’t a primary focus – having and raising children with a particular worldview and a peculiar kind of monotheism was. Eunuchs could not contribute to this social mandate, and were therefore viewed as vestigials, as supernumeraries. There was a central religious goal, and these eunuchs were people who, having no way to further that goal, had no place in the religious community.

So, when the Spirit of the Lord went to miraculous lengths to ensure that the first known Christian non-Jewish convert was both of an alien culture and a “functionless” eunuch, the intention was to make us think about what it means to have “function” within the new covenant community of faith, and further,  about how the Christian community, like a family, must embrace a non-utilitarian society.

In the Ethiopian eunuch, I see every person that typically would be relegated to the non-contributing “others” of society: the irritants, the wastes-of-time, the hangers-on. I see friends with Aspergers and autism spectrum disorders and severe depression and body odour. I see psychopaths and addicts and narcissists. I see people with unusual humor and inconsiderate conversational habits. Communities formed on utilitarian goals or on the fulfillment of mutual self-need, would leave all these people behind, but the community of Christ continually redefines itself in order to accommodate them.

The community patterned after the heart of God intentionally includes the maladjusted, the awkward, and the outcast, even to the detriment of “the perfect social atmosphere”. Loving “non-contributors” is inconvenient, messy, unpredictable and disruptive.

This is the practice of unconditional love. The church will grow more by that practice in itself, than anything that could be done by avoiding all the “time wasters”. Whatever is gained by avoiding them of time, comfort and money, is lost to apathy, impatience and unlove. “The community that seeks to save its life will lose it, but the community that loses its life for Christ’s sake will gain it.”

Lest we forget

Published / by Sandy

A homily by Rev Dr Greg Elsdon for ANZAC Day Evensong 2018

(Micah 4:1-4 and John 15:9-17)

Together with Lest We Forget, the words ‘Greater love has no man than this’ have become deeply and powerfully lodged in the secular liturgy of Anzac Day. And as we saw last year, any attempt to use these words to draw attention to the plight of victims of war, violence or injustice in other contexts is likely to draw immediate and savage condemnation.

Many Australians have mixed feelings and emotions when Anzac Day comes around each year. On the one hand we experience a deep and solemn sense of mourning and grief as we recall the brutality and inhumanity experienced by so many. On the other hand, we feel a profound sense of gratitude to, and pride in, those men and women who served their country with indescribable courage and self-sacrifice.

But it is not unusual for us to experience feelings of disquiet, even awkwardness, at the way these legitimate and worthy responses to the events of The Great War can so easily deteriorate into an almost cultish reverence or romanticisation of war and violence. In recent years there has even been a discernible push by some to elevate Gallipoli and the ‘Anzacs’ to the status of the ‘foundational events and stories’ of our Australian identity.

Lest we forget is the call for active remembrance of war not in order to glorify war or indulge ourselves in bouts of nationalistic pride. It is rather the call to acknowledge the gravity of the events and the consequences of what happened not just in places such as Villers-Bretonneux and Gallipoli, but wherever people have been killed in conflicts between nations.

But Lest we forget is also a call to mourn and to lament the horrors of all war; to pay respect to the countless millions whose lives were brutally taken or permanently disfigured or deranged – and to commit ourselves to do all within our power, our spheres of influence, to reject the deathly ways of violence and the romanticisation of war.

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs —

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Lest we Forget

What will we do with our remembering?

What does our remembering mean for us?

What does our remembering demand of us?

Where will our remembering take us?

What value is our remembering,

– if it does not inspire us to commit ourselves to the ways of peace and reconciliation?

“In a society and world in which military metaphors and binary choices are extended increasingly to international relationships, immigration, customs, policing and welfare, Anzac Day is an occasion for dwelling compassionately on the things that bind us together, not those that separate us into allies and enemies.” [Andrew Hamilton SJ]

For those of us who encounter God in the life and teachings of Jesus, Lest we Forget is a call to eschew violence and learn the ways of peace and justice – following the one who dares us to learn what it means to love enemies and repay evil with good.

In Sydney’s Anzac War Memorial there is a bronze sculpture by artist Rayner Hoff titled Sacrifice.  It depicts the body of a dead soldier held aloft on a shield, his arms draped across a sword in a posture of crucifixion, like a sacrificial alter. Australian theologian Ben Meyer has comments, “It is a majestic image, a portrayal of worship, devotion and sacrifice. It’s hard to imagine a more vivid representation of the cult of war that lies at the heart of the modern nation-state.”

Rayner Hoff, Sacrifice

Rayner Hoff also sculptured another bronze, which wasn’t displayed. He called it The Crucifixion of Civilisation. Of this sculpture Ben Meyer writes;

“In this sculpture, the form of a young naked woman (symbolising Peace) is crucified atop a pile of corpses, limbs, weapons, and other wreckage of war. She is crucified on the weapons of Mars, the Roman god of war. The huge helmet of Mars gapes over her like some monstrous ravening mouth. From a distance, the whole hideous scene forms a traditional symbol of victory. Hoff himself described the sculpture like this: ‘Adolescent Peace is depicted crucified on the armaments of the ravisher, the war god, Mars. The Greek helmet animalistically gapes over the head of expiring Peace, the cuirass of the body armour hard and brutal in contrast to her lithe woman’s body’.”

Rayner Hoff, The Crucifixion of Civilisation

Peace, Shalom, human well-being … sacrificed on the altar of the cult of war.  It’s disturbing and deeply challenging.

We’ve been at it for a long time, this warmongering. You’d think we might have learned something by now.  But it seems not

700 years before Jesus, the Jewish prophet Micah – who lived surrounded by wars and rumours of wars – eloquently captured the human longing for peace and peacefulness: 

3 He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.  [Micah 4:3-4]

On this Anzac Day, may this graphic portrayal of human wholeness be that which calls us forward. May this vision of God’s Shalom be that which inspires and shapes our living.

And may the God of Peace be with us all.

Amen