Messages of Hope

Category: Uncategorized

A new cosmology

Published / posted by Sandy
Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1888,
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4

September is celebrated as ‘Season of Creation‘ in many churches, where creation and the Creator is celebrated, and we commit ourselves to a ministry of healing Earth, partnering with Christ for the whole of creation.
Richard Rohr reflects on a ‘new cosmology’:
When I was growing up, the common perception was that science and religion were at deep odds with one another. Now that we are coming to understand the magnificent nature of the cosmos, we’re finding that many mystics’ spiritual intuitions are paralleled by scientific theories and explanations. All disciplines, arts, and sciences are just approaching truth from different perspectives. The modern and postmodern mistake is that they only take one or no perspective seriously.

It’s easy to imagine the delight St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) found by turning skyward. His first biographer, Thomas of Celano (1185–1260), wrote: “he often overflowed with amazing, unspeakable joy as he looked at the sun, gazed at the moon, or observed the stars in the sky.” [1] Thomas Aquinas also intuited the deep connection between spirituality and science when he wrote, “Any mistake we make about creation will also be a mistake about God.” [2] Inner and outer realities must indeed mirror one another.

Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister and scientist, observes how our view of the universe and God has been evolving. [3] During the Middle Ages, a key period of development for Christian theology, the universe was thought to be centered around humans and the Earth. Scientists saw the universe as anthropocentric, unchanging, mechanistic, orderly, predictable, and hierarchical. Christians viewed God, the “Prime Mover,” in much the same way, with the same static and predictable characteristics—omnipotent and omniscient, but not really loving. God was “out there” somewhere, separate from us and the universe. The central message of Christianity – incarnation – was not really taken seriously by most Christians. In fact, our whole salvation plan was largely about getting away from this Earth!

Today, we know that the universe is old, large, dynamic, and interconnected. It is about 13.8 billion years old, and some scientists think it could still exist for 100 trillion years. The universe has been expanding since its birth. Our home planet, Earth, far from being the center of the universe, revolves around the Sun, a medium-sized star near the edge of a medium-sized galaxy, the Milky Way, which contains about 200 billion stars. The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter.

Furthermore, it is one of 100 billion galaxies in the universe. We do not appear to be the center of anything. And yet, by faith we trust that we are.
Delio writes:
We’re reaching a fork in the road; two paths are diverging on planet Earth, and the one we choose will make all the difference for the life of the planet. Shall we continue our medieval religious practices in a medieval paradigm and mechanistic culture and undergo extinction? Or shall we wake up to this dynamic, evolutionary universe and the rise of consciousness toward an integral wholeness? [4]

We are called to make the paradigm shift to an utterly new cosmology and worldview. I believe, even unbeknown to themselves, many are leaving organized Christianity now because these two cosmologies no longer coincide.

References:
[1] Thomas of Celano, The Life of Saint Francis: The First Book, chapter 29. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1 (New City Press: 1999), 250.
[2] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, II.3.1, II.3.6.
[3] See Ilia Delio, CONSPIRE 2014: A Benevolent Universe (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), MP4 video download.
[4] Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Orbis Books: 2013), xxii-xxiii.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 169.

(The Pilgrim 9.30am community worship during September is focussed on Season of Creation)

Unscrambling Jesus

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

Unscrambling Jesus 

by Sean Winter [first published in June 2015] https://crosslight.org.au/2015/06/21/unscrambling-jesus/

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the formation of the Jesus Seminar. Readers of Crosslight may have heard of this convocation of scholars who famously, over a period of several years, took a vote on each of the sayings of Jesus to establish whether or not he actually said them. Using a grading system that ranged from red-letter confidence (‘Yes, that’s Jesus!’) through to black-letter scepticism (‘There’s been some mistake’) the work of the Seminar achieved notoriety and influence.

The notoriety was understandable. Only one of Jesus’ sayings in the Gospel of Mark was judged to be authentic in the sense that ‘Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it’ (Mark 12:17 to be exact). Many of the sayings of Jesus, including large chunks of the Sermon on the Mount, were put into the category of ‘Jesus did not say this’.

Populist, conservative outrage at such audacious claims aligned with more sober scholarly challenges to the methods and results of the Seminar’s deliberations. But its key advocates had a knock down argument up their sleeve: we have found the real Jesus, based on the consensus of critical scholars, so it’s about time that the Church, and Christian faith and practice, caught up and changed.

In this way the Seminar’s influence grew and, in the words of its founder and greatest proponent, Robert Funk, people began to wonder what it might mean to ‘liberate the gospel of Jesus from the Jesus of the gospels’.

The Seminar’s careful and critical scholarly work was designed to prompt a ‘revamp’ of our understanding. Christian faith should become an ethical, not a credal, affair. Christian life should be focussed on imitating Jesus. Jesus himself must be ‘demoted’ from his place within Christian theology.

These are important claims, which, if followed to their logical extreme, would indeed require a new reformation in which the contemporary Church’s relationship to its own history and tradition undergoes a radical renegotiation.

It is only right that, in this 30th anniversary year, I declare my hand in relation to this bold, adventurous and radical move.

I believe that it is basically bunk, but not for the reasons that you might suspect.

My own view is that there is no part of the Jesus tradition for which we can draw the conclusion that ‘Jesus said it’. There are no red-letter sayings of Jesus, within or outside of the New Testament gospels. This is a conclusion borne not of a radical scepticism about the historical reliability of the gospels. It is rather the result of noticing some fairly basic facts about the gospels.

First, they were written in Greek. Although Jesus may have possessed some rudimentary knowledge of Greek, the consensus is that he taught in the common language of first century Palestine, Aramaic. With the exception of a word here or there (the most significant being Jesus’ cry from the cross in Mark 15:34) the gospels preserve translations of the sayings of Jesus. And then, as now, translation always involves a level of interpretation.

Second, recent New Testament scholarship has shown us that it is about as difficult to separate out ‘authentic’ words of Jesus from ‘inauthentic’ words as it is to unscramble an omelette.

Scholars used to think that they had a set of especially sharp tools that would enable them to cut away the dying flesh of the Church’s tradition, thus saving the life of the real Jesus for the benefit of his followers. They called these tools ‘criteria for authenticity’. I used to use them myself. I now realise that they were about as useful for finding Jesus as a scalpel is for eating eggs and bacon: you can try, but you are really missing the point.

The reason we know this is because we now better understand the way that human memory works. Memory is also the work of interpretation from the outset. If you don’t interpret it, you won’t remember it. And so it becomes entirely possible that in the gospels, we find words that Jesus didn’t actually say that preserve some kind of accurate historical memory, and vice-versa. The gospels provide us with translated memories of the sayings of Jesus.

Third, the gospels are not documents that are at all interested in telling us ‘what Jesus actually said’. They cannot lead us to the past because they were never intended to. What the gospels provide for us is an indication of the impact that Jesus made upon the memories of his earliest followers, and of the impact of those memories on subsequent communities of Christian disciples.

If we take these aspects of the gospels seriously we find ourselves having to say that the only Jesus we have is the remembered Jesus. We can continue to call that Jesus ‘historical’, I suppose, but ‘historical’ here can mean little more than ‘Jesus as he was remembered and understood by those who believed that God had raised him from the dead’.

We get closest to this Jesus not by trying to get behind or beyond the witness of the gospels and not by stripping away the theological convictions the first generations held about his relationship to God and saving work.

In the words of one recent scholar ‘the historical Jesus is not veiled by the interpretations of him. He is most available for analysis when these interpretations are most pronounced.’

All of which is to suggest that we can best celebrate the anniversary of the Jesus Seminar by returning to the gospels and exploring what kind of person, with what kind of message and, crucially, what kind of relationship to God, might generate these memories and these interpretations.

To answer that question might be to see more clearly the ways that the memory of Jesus can be preserved in the Church today.

Rev Dr Sean Winter is currently the Academic Dean, Co-ordinator of Studies in New Testament, and Associate Professor within the University of Divinity. He teaches across a range of New Testament subjects, is involved in the formation of candidates for ordained ministries within the UCA and speaks regularly at conferences, churches, and other events within and beyond the Uniting Church.

Climate Justice

Published / posted by Sandy
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg meets with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Photograph: Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA

Jeremiah 1:4-8 The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young”. But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Sixteen-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg has been cast as a modern day Jeremiah, lecturing leaders about the imminent catastrophe of climate change in gatherings large and small, and in countries around the world. 

She caught the attention of the world when she boldly shamed climate change negotiators at the UN Climate Summit in Poland, by saying, ‘you are not mature enough’. In her speech, she said, ‘you say you love your children, but you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes… until you start focussing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis withouth treating it as a crisis’. 

At the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, she told delegates, “Our house is on fire”, due to greenhouse gas emissions and rising global temperatures. “Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” She said, people like to tell success stories, but financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag on climate change. We have failed”. 

School students around the world have joined her “strike” each Friday to protest against their governments’ failure to do enough to combat “Climate Change”. They wield such placards as “You’re never too small to make a difference” and “Climate Justice Now”. 

Inevitably, this modern day prophet has been castigated by some in the media including social media. Here is an example in an online post: The idea that some 16 year old kid has insight that is worthy of ‘panic’ is absurd on its face. Like all 16 year olds she ‘knows’ nothing. She has zero life experience, has no idea what money is, has no idea how economics works, has no idea where her own wealth and lifestyle comes from, has never met real adversity, has never accomplished anything at all”. (Yessir Imafat) Others like Andew Bolt have weighed into this space, denigrating her with a statement calling her the ‘”deeply disturbed messiah of the global warming movement”. There will be more pushback, because the stakes are high.

Greta keeps reminding the world the stakes are even greater for her generation. Her passion, courage and plain speaking on climate justice resonates with the prophets like Jeremiah in the Old Testament, chosen by God as a young boy to speak truth to power. God anointed him as a prophet, not to sing the praises to the powers or to uphold the status quo of the politics of his day, but ‘to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’. 

The nations of the world have put profits ahead of the Prophets, who remind us that the Earth is our home, our mother, and our only life support. Greta is a prophet herself, young like Jeremiah, trying to wake her elders to the consequences of their decisions and reckoning that lies ahead if they fail to see the signs of the times.

Greta invites us to be serious about our planet, and act, as the general consensus is that there are only 12 years left to turn things around. After that, it becomes impossible to achieve the global climate targets. She is standing at the door and knocking, trying to wake up the leaders of the world, inviting us to conversion of heart and lifestyle, and reminding us that every other ethical issue is moot if the earth becomes uninhabitable. May we have ears to hear, hearts to open, and hands to fulfill God’s call for us to be God’s companions in healing the Earth.

The UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer has issued a Call to Climate to the whole church, and encouraged people to join in the Climate Strike activities planned for September 20th.  

The NSW/ACT Synods of the UCA which runs a number of high profile schools, passed a resolution in July to endorse its 10,000 students and their teachers to ‘skip class’ for the September 20th climate change rally, as part of a broader push to respond to the “crisis confronting the planet”. Moderator Rev Simon Hansford said, “It’s their future that is at stake and their protests are genuine and informed and should not be ignored. And as a church this reflects the theological truth of God’s calling for us to be carers of the creation.” The church and its advocacy arm, Uniting, is also allowing its 8000 staff to take time off to attend the rallies, and is encouraging its 50,000 members across NSW and the ACT to support the strikes.

(this article has incorporated material from a number of media sources, and Christian Aid UK, and Bruce Epperly)

A Spirituality of Hospitality

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

A Spirituality of Hospitality

by Arlene Scott OP

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” [Matthew 25:35]

I was raised in a home where there was always room for one more. When I was young, my brothers, my sister and I thought that our mother must be a magnet for lonely, elderly people. Our mother would invite people who were alone to come to holiday meals. She would run errands for them and take them to the doctor. She’d see to it that they were cared for and remember them with gifts at Christmas and birthdays. She even invited some of them to stay at our home during hurricanes. She was drawn into their lives in ways she probably never imagined. Helping someone in need is, for our mother, the most natural thing in the world. Our mother has a spirituality of hospitality.

To serve God by serving others, to love God by loving others, that is the heart of a spirituality of hospitality. Joan Chittister, in Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, asserts that, “The biblical value of hospitality has been domesticated and is now seen more as one of the social graces than as a spiritual act and a holy event.” For much of our society today hospitality has become something reserved for those we want to impress. Hospitality is a business endeavour for those who want to please their customers so to increase their revenue. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if hospitality was, rather, a way of showing respect and care for all God’s people with no return required or expected. A spirituality of hospitality is lived out of an attitude of care and respect for all creation and a belief in the dignity of the human person. It is why we do something that is often more important than what we do.

In order to offer hospitality in a spiritual context we have to take a look around. Who is in need and what do they need? Who isn’t included and how can they be welcomed? Who doesn’t seem to have a voice and what will help them to be heard? Most of us prefer to live in our comfort zones. We don’t notice the student always eating alone, the homeless man selling newspapers, the woman counting her pennies to buy groceries. Some people seem so different from us that we don’t recognize them as our brother or sister.

A spirituality of hospitality calls us to generosity and service. Hospitality requires that we consider how our words and actions affect others and our environment. It requires that we reflect on how our spending or use of materials effect people on the other side of our world. A spirituality of hospitality invites us to reflect on how life might be made better for those who are in need. It calls us to take that reflection to discussion and then to action.

A preferential option for guests in our home means that they have clean sheets and towels, that coffee will be ready in the morning. They are kind acts that help people to feel comfortable when they are away from home. Hospitality, in its broader meaning, is a way of living that goes beyond a thoughtful gesture. How does a preferential option for the poor invite us to be hospitable? We can give some of our time and resources to soup kitchens, food pantries or homeless shelters. We can insist with our voices and votes that policies do not punish people for being por. Those, too, are acts of hospitality. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” [Matthew 25:35]

To be hospitable is to be open and receptive to the ideas of another. Do we allow people their opinions? Are we always on the look out for ulterior motives, suspicious that there is a hidden agenda? Do we believe that we have been truly heard only if our own ideas prevail? Are we open to the possibility that others have a piece of the truth? Hospitality is about listening with an open heart to the perspective of another.

Hospitality is about promoting right relationships. Often, hospitality is a reflection of forgiveness. It isn’t easy to extend ourselves when there is a tension between us and the other person. The smallest inclusion or generous action can create space for reconciliation. The openness and invitation to reconciliation can be a most hospitable act.

A spirituality of hospitality is about relating to God through others. Jesus makes it clear, “whatever you did for one of these least of mine, you did for me.” [Matthew 25:40]

 [Arlene Scott OP [1953-2009] was a Dominican Sister. This article was originally published in the Adrian Dominican Sisters Newsletter, Voices in Mission.]

Look for the campfires (of kind and gentle Christian people)

Published / posted by Sandy

Recently, Mike Frost, author and missiologist, wrote this article for Common Grace. It resonated deeply with me, especially as a different lens for thinking about what’s happening in the world. Yes, troubles and strife have always been part of human history. I can understand why people don’t want to dwell on the difficult issues and to focus instead on the positives, to find what is life affirming and not what is life denying.

And yet, Christian faith takes seriously ‘Love God, love your neighbour as yourself’, for those in the midst of the troubles and the strife, and whose situation calls for compassionate care. Christian faith also calls us to advocate for the poor and marginalised, and to address systemic issues that oppress and dispossess people.

Mike writes:
I had just watched the documentary film, The Final Quarter, about the shocking and sustained racist attacks endured by Indigenous football player, Adam Goodes during the last three years of his career, and I was distressed. Initially I wasn’t sure why, but the outspoken displays of ignorance by columnists and broadcasters like Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Alan Jones, as they attacked Goodes and defended the booing mob, really got to me.

Then it occurred to me: I’ve often seen these right-wing commentators being quoted by church people to ‘disprove’ things like gender dysphoria or toxic masculinity. Like their favourite Greek chorus, they’ll retweet Bolt, Devine, Jones and Latham whenever they want to defend religious freedom or slam ‘leftists’ for trying to impose cultural Marxism on society. In fact, in their fight to protect our perceived Christian heritage, some church people take great comfort in the broadcasts and columns of Andrew Bolt and the others.
And here they were, that same Greek chorus, baying for the blood of Adam Goodes.  

Moral outrage, when it has power, is deaf. And it’s easy to feel like neither satire nor the Gospel will stay its brutal hand. When right-wing columnists and shock-jocks speak with the same voice as some Christian voices and church leaders, you can be sure we live in a distressing time for those of us committed to the values of the Kingdom of God like justice, reconciliation, beauty and wholeness.

In these dark days, important moral issues are reduced to smart-mouthed hot takes, which sound for all intents and purposes like homophobia, and racism, and fossil fuel yahooism (while always being denied as such, of course). 

In times like these, it’s tempting to go to ground, to be circumspect, to wait for another day. But if we remain silent now we tacitly play into the general assumption that Christianity is only concerned with ending same-sex marriage, supporting indefinite offshore detention, backing the coal industry, and fighting tooth and nail for its own freedom of speech. And this at a time when Australia is obviously being wracked by the evils of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, islamophobia, systemic poverty and ecological devastation.

In a time as cynical and corrupt as this, you need to look for the campfires of kind and gentle Christian people.

These are those good-souled followers of Jesus who yearn for justice for men, women and children seeking asylum on our shores. Not just yearn, but march and tweet and sign petitions and visit their local politicians and take refugees into their homes.     

Look for the campfires of those followers of Jesus who yearn for justice for and reconciliation with their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, who yearn for an end to family and domestic violence, and who seek protection for our environment, and peace on earth.  

They want what Dr William Barber calls a true moral revival. Speaking about his own country, the USA, he says, “Some issues are not about left and right, Republican and Democrat – they’re about our deepest moral values. And we believe that you have to have a campaign, a movement, that seeks to reshape the moral narrative.” Martin Luther King referred to these people as the moral defibrillators of our time, to shock this nation with the power of love.

We need to show the love of God’s people who remain committed to ending poverty, and violence against women, and offshore detention; to fuel a renewed commitment to creation care and peacemaking, and racial reconciliation.  

I see their campfires in the direct actions of a group like Love Makes a Way, and in the advocacy of people like the Common Grace team, and in communities like Fixing Her Eyes and Parish Collective, and events like the Justice Conference and Surrender. And now is the time for more such campfires to be lit.

As Rabbi Tarfon, a 2nd century Mishnah sage, once wrote, reflecting on Micah 6:8, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” 

(Michael Frost is a Common Grace supporter and the founder of the Tinsley Institute at Morling College. He has written extensively on a missional paradigm for the church in a post-Christian era and has pastoral experience in several Baptist churches across Sydney)

God and Suffering

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

by Sally Douglas

Suffering and death are difficult subjects to talk about in Australian culture, particularly western culture.

I recently spent time with someone who was weeks away from death and asked them how they felt about dying. They said I was the first person to ask them this question.

While sex may no longer be a taboo topic within the context of popular culture, death and suffering certainly are.

The silence around suffering and death is fed by fear and the consistent messaging from social media and advertising that insists we should be happy, pain free and living our “best lives” – that is, consuming and achieving.

When we are not, when suffering takes our breath away and we are not able to be “productive” or “successful”, it can be compounded by guilt in that we have failed at living.

The common language of “battling” cancer or losing the “fight” supports this way of thinking and re-inscribes responsibility on to a person who is actually just ill. Such people are not losers in a battle. Instead, in their very bodies they defy the narratives of our culture and testify to the truth that we would often rather not face: suffering and death are part of life and will come to all of us.

When people are forced to face suffering, the common expectation is to medicate or simply get over it. If a person’s suffering won’t conform to these expectations and persists, platitudes of the greeting card variety are often deployed. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “every cloud has a silver lining”. Such sentiments, which may be offered in genuine sympathy, are greeting card versions of folk Christianity that have little to do with the God of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, such views (again) imply those who continue to suffer, or who cannot see the good in their suffering, have somehow failed, or have been unfaithful.

Our inability to sit with the real – the realities of our own suffering and the reality of others’ suffering – does so much damage in already profoundly difficult situations. Those journeying with ongoing mental health issues, or their loved ones, will perhaps know this better than any others.

While our culture seeks to deny suffering by medicating or placating it away, the way of Christ has something rather different to say. It is not easy and it is not popular. The strange reality of Christian conviction is that the naked Divine enters the very abyss of our suffering and dying in Jesus and does something from within this vulnerable, awful space.

The reality that Jesus endured a state-sanctioned execution was a terrifying embarrassment for many of his first followers. Their hero and hope had been killed in the most shameful and agonising way by the government. Paul responds, not by downplaying the scandalous nature of Jesus’s crucifixion, but by claiming that in Jesus’s apparent weakness the nature of Divine power is revealed (1 Corinthians 1.18-31).

To take this seriously is to contemplate the shocking reality that Divine power is non-violent, Divine power is forgiving and Divine power does not lord it over others.

Instead Divine power gives of self utterly. And despite, or rather because of, this reality, this Divine “un-power” is more powerful than all our cruelty and violence and hate and fear and death and cannot be extinguished.

These claims about Jesus’s death and risen life are not simply intellectual ideas to be agreed with or dismissed. Nor are they claims that relate only to life beyond this life.

Paul is suggesting something far more provocative: that something is able to happen in our own living when we let this Divine One near us in our suffering. For people who follow Christ Jesus – the one who has been to hell and back – when we allow this One close to us in the midst of our suffering, Spirit can give birth to strange, risen life within us and among us (eg 2 Cor. 1.3-7; Rom 5.1-5). This might come in the shape of fresh wisdom, or surprising peace or wide-open compassion.

These are not qualities achieved through an effort of willpower or positive thinking. They are gifts woven together by the Divine in the vulnerable space that is made available when our egos and certainties have been smashed by life’s circumstances.

In my experience, it is about daring to sit in the dark and be with the pain and questions, not numbing or avoiding them, but naming them and letting the Divine sit with me in these frightening places. It’s then – and only then – that She is able to birth grace.

As the Franciscan Priest and spiritual writer Richard Rohr says: “We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning. That is the path, the perilous dark path of true prayer.”

No one else can do this for us. The journey for each of us will be different. However, followers of Christ can trust the Divine who we know and name is the One who knows our pain and suffering from the inside, and who will not let us go, and who will accompany us each step of the way.

At the recent Synod Meeting I spoke on the floor about a Christian theology of suffering. This was because we were being asked, as a Synod, to discern our response to the Victorian legislation that has made allowable, within limited circumstances, Voluntary Assisted Dying.

Ultimately the Synod discerned there was a range of faithful Christian responses to this legislation. While this may be true, it is crucial we hold fast to our theology of suffering, both in discernment about our own living and dying, and as we journey with others in their discernment about their living and dying.

In a culture that is terrified of suffering and that seeks to alleviate or ignore it at all costs, in a culture that values productivity and success above all else, our theology of suffering is a radical and disruptive word of hope that is desperately needed.

We are not failures when we suffer. We are still of value when we are not productive. God is not on the side of the successful or the positive thinkers.

The Divine we give our hearts to enters into the horror of our suffering in Christ Jesus in vulnerable compassion and is with us in our pain, and if we let Her close, she who knows us by name, will labour with us, and within in us, to birth unexpected gracious life.

Rev Dr Sally Douglas is minister at Richmond Uniting Church and an associate lecturer at Pilgrim Theological College.

Intersectionality

Published / posted by Sandy

Intersectionality has become a buzz word in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space. While the theory (coined in 1989 by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw) has been used in the academic and social justice context for some time, it has gained more traction in corporate diversity and inclusion practice. Organisations have been intentional in using intersectionality as part of their common language around diversity, affirming the need to create space for and see employees as their ‘whole selves.’ There have been studies that create the case for organizations to replace traditional diversity and inclusion efforts that subscribe to a “check one box,” monolithic approach to difference and identity, with strategies that take into account the complex nature of our intersections.
(Making it real: equity is intersectional, by Brittany J.Harris)

Intersectionality acknowledges that our social identities overlap and intersect and form new, more specific identities with new implications. The individual identity groups we belong to – race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc – do not exist in a vacuum, and cannot be compartmentalized. Intersectionality acknowledges that a person can simultaneously belong to multiple historically marginalized groups, and that social identities converge with interlocking systems of power and privilege (sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, nativism) and in turn foster engaged, activist work toward social justice.

It’s a lot to get one’s head around, and especially when the common narrative from political and community leaders seems to be in the realm of binary, polarised, ‘us’ and them’, and dualistic thinking.

In her book, Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, Grace Ji-Sun Kim applies the concepts and questions of intersectionality to theology, highlighting that intersectionality demands attention to the Christian thinker’s own identities and location within systems of power and the value of deep consideration of complementary, competing, and even conflicting points of view that arise from the experiences and understandings of diverse people. Her book challenges readers to imagine an intersectional church, a practice of welcome and inclusion rooted in an ecclesiology that embraces difference and centres social justice. We were privileged at Pilgrim to have Grace speak at a service a few weeks ago, and she also enlarged upon intersectional theology at a special event at UCLT (theological college).

At the recent UCA President’s Conference in Fiji which I attended, Rev. Dr Sef Carroll spoke about using the lens of intersectionality to respond to issues of justice to ensure that we seek the liberation of all, including all of creation. Creation itself can be considered as marginalised by the utilitarian use of the earth’s resources, especially by big companies.

Earth Overshoot Day each year is the date that indicates when we have used more from nature than the planet can replenish this year, when people will have used up its allowance of natural resources such as water, soil and clean air for all of 2019. It happened this on Monday July 29th, 2019. The so-called Earth Overshoot Day has moved up by two months over the past 20 years and this year’s date is the earliest ever, according to a study by the Global Footprint Network.

In the Psalm reading last Sunday, we read, ‘steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky’. But the fecundity of precious earth has been damaged. Farmers are now trying to find way to grow drought proof grain crops. The mining giant Adani plans to take 12.5 billion litres of water from the Suttor River every year, nearly as much as all local farmers combined. The company has been given a licence to take water at a rate of up to 11,600 litres per second – a rate that would fill an Olympic swimming pool in about 3.5 minutes. This is a world where some gain wealth at the expense of their own workers who are simply trying to make ends meet. This is a world where every hour 300 football fields of precious forest in South East Asia are being ploughed to the ground to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used in everything from snack foods to soaps. It is found in over half all packaged items on our supermarket shelves. In just the last 20 years, over 3.5 million hectares of Indonesian and Malaysian forest have been destroyed to make way for palm oil. Almost 80% of orangutan habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years. Over 6,000 orangutans are lost each year.

By using the lens of relational and inclusive justice and intersectionality, we can ensure that no one, including the earth itself, is left out. As Sef said, ‘this is a call to discipleship that is both rewarding and costly’. Indeed.

The God of Love had a really bad week

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

The God of Love had a really bad week.

by Diana Butler Bass

Diana Butler Bass is the author of 10 books on American religion and cultural trends, including her most recent, Grateful: The Subversive Power of Giving Thanks (2018). She is currently writing a book about images of Jesus.

Shock is not the right word when I heard the crowd at a Trump rally chanting “send her back.” There has been so much shock recently that it is hard to know what to call it anymore.

As the crowd continued to chant, I watched them: They were almost exclusively white, wearing T-shirts and polos, with blonde hair peeking from under MAGA hats. Familiar-looking middle class white people — like my neighbors, classmates, friends, and family. I assumed most were probably Christians. Trump’s “base.”

 “Where,” I blurted out to my husband, “did these people go to Sunday school?”

He stared. “You are worried about Sunday school?”

“Yes. Sunday school,” I insisted. “That song — the one we all learned. Jesus loves everybody.” I quoted what may well be the Protestant Sunday school national anthem:

Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world

Red, brown, yellow

Black and white

They are precious in His sight

Jesus loves the little children

Of the world

I sang it in Methodist kindergarten, the teacher displaying a picture of children of every color holding hands. “Jesus said we are all equal,” she instructed, “God loves everybody and you should, too.” It would take me awhile to figure out that the Declaration of Independence was not in the Bible, but it sounded right at the time.

As the chant died down, the rhetoric of division went on with new words from the President’s speech. That familiar audience — mostly white, probably mostly Christian — continued to howl its approval.

As many have noted, “send her back” is racist, sexist, and un-American. It is also the expression of a certain view of God, one that has slowly shifted the priorities and teaching in far too many American churches, and made it possible for those who would have once sung ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children’ to join this hostile liturgy. How did they get there? Slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, hymn-by-hymn and sermon-by-sermon, one theological step at a time.

I do not feel shock. I feel grief. I do not recognize this Christianity, even if the faces in the crowd were familiar.

Not all Christians support Donald Trump. The president remains wildly unpopular among Christians who are persons of color. A majority of white Christians continue to approve of him. Of white Christians, according to Pew, evangelical support for Trump hovers around 70%; white mainline Christians are split with 48% approval; and around 44% of white Roman Catholics support him.

These numbers demonstrate the strength of white Christian base, but they also suggest something else: America’s white churches are roiled by political division. Although pro-Trump evangelicals are a solid majority, the divides in other white Christian groups are fairly even. Many white Christians are struggling with fractured families and frayed friendships. White clergy friends have reported to me that angry congregants have intimidated them after preaching a political sermon with threats to rescind donations or to have them fired. A recurring feature of progressive Christian Twitter has become white people bemoaning the fact that their relatives and friends have turned away from Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor.

White Christianity right now is a dumpster of discord; internecine warfare has not been this bad since the 1920s when controversy ripped American churches apart on whether human beings evolved from monkeys.

In the last three years, Donald Trump has replaced Charles Darwin as troublemaker-in-chief in many white American churches. Scholars have offered sound theories as to the cause of this sharp divide, especially around issues of race and gender. There are excellent books on how white supremacy shaped American Christianity; and equally solid work regarding misogyny in churches, particularly around abortion politics. The media publishes stories about Christian Democrats pushing back against Trump with liberal renderings of faith and politics.

All are helpful. But none seems to get to the heart of the matter: Too many white Christians have a God problem.

I recently mentioned to someone that my brother had not spoken to me since Charlottesville when we argued about white nationalism and racism. My friend asked, “’How is that possible? That you and your brother could be so different?”

My brother and I grew up in the same Methodist Sunday school. We were confirmed together in the same Methodist church. Same parents, same school, same church. We sang how Jesus loved all children. We learned Golden Rule – “Do unto others” — and the Great Commandment – “Love God and love your neighbor.” Ours was not a scary God threatening sinners with hell. It was the God of the peaceable kingdom.

My brother, as an adult, traded that God for a tougher, stricter one who exercises judgment against all who refuse to bend the knee, a kind of Emperor-God, enthroned in glory. This God has often shown up in Christian history; including in American fundamentalism. But from 1980 onward, he underwent a revival in several strands of American religion including Pentecostalism, neo-Calvinism, traditionalist Roman Catholicism, and some Orthodox communities. He is a masculine Sovereign, and a winner-God for people feeling displaced in a pluralistic world. And after 9/11, this militaristic God became more real.

Meanwhile, the God of Love was not having a particularly good run. In the political age bookended by Ronald Reagan’s culture wars and a devastating terrorist attack, the God of Love began to look like a loser, one fit for liberation theologians, do-gooders, and feminists. The churches that still preached a God of Love declined; those seminaries closed.

In 1865, Abraham Lincoln ruminated on how Americans had read the same Bible and prayed to the same God. Poetry aside, Lincoln was wrong. My brother and I read the same Bible and wound up praying to different gods. His God thunders about lawless mobs and unbelievers. Mine is the mysterious Word, present before the beginning of creation, calling all to compassion, and who welcomes little ones.

This was true in Lincoln’s day as well. In the 1840s and 1850s, major denominations split over the issue of slavery and a deeper political crisis bound up with different visions of God: the God of the Master versus the God of Love. All theologies might come from the same Bible, but they were not then and are not now equally true.

Even as trends point to the decline of religion, Americans are still living with this theological argument — one playing out among Christians of mostly European descent. This argument shapes our politics, its dogma chanted as liturgy in Trump rallies and offered up in pulpits across the land. This is an ancient conflict that never quite seems to go away. For whatever reason, western Christianity has a hard time sticking with a God of love.

But, as a minority of white Christians know, and the majority of Christians of color never need be reminded, the God of love is always hanging around, the brown-skinned Jewish rabbi preaching about the poor being blessed and the broken-hearted comforted. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others. Let the little children come. Faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.

For original CNN article and related links go to:

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/20/opinions/god-of-love-had-a-really-bad-week-bass/index.html

Climate Change – a UCA statement

Published / posted by Sandy

A statement from the President’s Conference, Fiji 2019

“For God so loved the cosmos” (John 3:16)

The good news of Christ is for the whole of creation 
and we are one with all creation in Christ. (Col 1: 23)

We, the participants of the 2019 President’s Conference, gathering in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Fiji have drawn together to bear witness and to draw courage from each other – here where climate change is most clearly seen, most clearly felt, by the people least responsible for its progress.

We acknowledge:

Our connection to Moana, Waitui, Wansolwara people, whose lands and hearts are bound by deep, blue Pacific waters.

We are part of the Pacific, a liquid continent where islands are connected and sustained by the ocean currents.

The need to listen again to the voices of our sisters and brothers, our friends, fellow members of the Body of Christ, the most vulnerable and most impacted, who also demonstrate great resilience, determination, hopefulness and commitment to work for change.

This has inspired us and challenged us to hear God’s call to costly discipleship and we lament the effects of the human sin of greed and particularly its effects on this planet, our home.

Together we affirm:

The Uniting Church’s commitment to the wellbeing of the environment arises out of our 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 our discerning of Scripture, we acknowledge the gospel of creation: all things were made in, through and for Christ and are being reconciled in Christ.

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.

The Basis of Union expresses this hope and situates it at the very heart of the church’s mission:
“God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end.”

Together we recognise:

The ongoing concern of the Uniting Church in Australia since its formation in 1977 for the wellbeing of our planet that has been expressed in numerous statements.

The unique place and wisdom of First Peoples of Australia in relation to the land. The Preamble to the Constitution of the Uniting Church recognises that:

The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was finally and fully revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.

The Churches of the Pacific, with whom we are a part of the Body of Christ, and the Pacific Conference of Churches, to which we belong, are leading the response to climate change. We hear their call and witness to us; and recognise their prophetic, practical and pastoral actions among their people.

Dominant forms of the Christian tradition have been complicit in the abuse of creation, often accompanied by the belief that the world is given to use as we please, and the perspective that “more is better”.

The island nations in the Pacific are being disproportionately harmed by climate change, and are among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and climate change induced natural disasters

Climate change induced displacement is already a significant challenge, and grief both to Pacific countries and across the world; disconnecting people from their homes, their culture and their identity.

Climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and across the world, and to all of creation including plant and animal life.

The intersectionality of issues – how climate change disproportionately impacts the poorest communities and on women and children, people living with disabilities, people with different gender identities – calls for relational and inclusive justice.

As participants of this conference, we are called to be God’s co-workers, participants in the work of reconciliation and renewal for the whole creation. We believe that we have a moral responsibility to act, and that God is calling us to be bearers of hope.

Because of this, we commit to:

Working with First Peoples in Australia particularly through the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, sisters and brothers in the Pacific and other communities of faith to understand the impacts of climate change on traditional and contemporary ways of life and pay attention to the Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom of living in right relationship with land, sea and sky.

Being compassionate, active listeners to the environment and people living with the reality of climate change.

Being thankful for all we have, recognising we have enough, enjoying the beauty and bounty of God’s creation, resisting the pressures of consumerism and idolatry of material possessions.

Being responsible for our own actions and our impact on the environment, and calling for a renewed repentance, turning away from seeking more, towards a just sharing and harmony of all life.

Being a green Church by finding creative ways to engage our own communities in climate action, raising aspects of the environment in our worship, replacing disposable with sustainable products, reducing energy use and moving to renewable forms of energy.

Boldly raising our voices to advocate to governments to act on climate change and its effects in Australia, in the Pacific and the global community.

Participants at the UCA President’s Conference: For the whole of creation

For the whole of creation

Published / posted by Sandy

The UCA President’s Conference in Fiji, 13th-17th July 2019, ‘For the whole of creation’ was a thoughtful, engaging time for participants.

The panel on gender justice at the UCA President’s Conference

On one of the evenings, a panel made a presentation on gender justice. Gender justice is actually a huge issue in the Pacific and the UN has implemented a Gender Action Plan (GAP), liaising with church and government.
‘Women commonly face higher risks in responding to natural hazards and greater burden from the impacts of climate change. Although they have intimate local knowledge and are managers of common natural resources, they are often left out of the picture when decisions on climate action are made. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is a pre-requisite to effective conservation, climate action and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. International agreements on biodiversity and the Paris Agreement present new opportunities for engaging women and accelerating equitable action, and climate change gender action plans (GAP), governments, businesses, churches and civil society are now embracing gender-responsive solutions to address the world’s most pressing development challenges, to ensure that women can influence climate change decisions, and that women and men are represented equally in all aspects of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as a way to increase its effectiveness. The UN Development Program’s Pacific Multi-country office, which covers 10 Pacific Island countries, aims to ensure that Pacific women become full and equal partners, and leaders and beneficiaries of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation efforts and overall sustainable development (Vineet Bhatia, UN Development Program)
The Methodist Church in Fiji has implemented a gender action plan, with a dedicated team providing education and training programs. It has been great to learn about this, and that so much great work is happening in relation to addressing climate change.
To finish: the greeting used in Fiji for thanks – Vinaka Vakalevu

The 25th Anniversary of the Covenant

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

Twenty-five years ago the Uniting Church in Australia formalised our commitment to walk together in solidarity with the First Peoples of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) by enacting the Covenant statement.

On Sunday 10 July, 1994, the Covenant Statement was read by then President of the Uniting Church Assembly, Dr Jill Tabart, to the Chairperson, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Ps Bill Hollingsworth.

As we mark the anniversary in NAIDOC Week 2019, President of the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly, Dr Deidre Palmer, and President of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Rev Garry Dronfield, reaffirmed the commitment to be in covenant.

 “We renew our commitment to walk together with our Congress brothers and sisters towards a nation where First Peoples are celebrated at the centre of what it means to be Australian,” said Dr Palmer.

 “We continue to grieve and lament the dispossession, and ongoing injustice for First Peoples.”

 “We continue to seek to journey together in the Spirit of Christ and acknowledge that we are still on a journey of learning what it means to be bound to one another in a covenant.”

 “Walking together means at times putting the interests of the other ahead of our own. It is a particular challenge for us as Second Peoples to preference the needs of First Peoples, thereby enabling justice, equity and healing to be realised in the relationship.”

The Uniting Church has affirmed the Statement from the Heart and its call for Voice, Treaty and Truth – the 2019 NAIDOC theme.

 “In living out our covenantal relationship, we will advocate for First Australians to be given a Voice,” said Dr Palmer. “We seek to be a healing community which fosters truth telling, and we support the treaty negotiations of First Nations Peoples with various governments.”

Rev. Dronfield is a member of the Sovereignty Affirmation Task Group (SATG) established to work through the implications of the 15th Assembly’s 2018 decision to recognise the Sovereignty of Aboriginal and Islander Peoples. For their work, they have developed the understanding that ‘Covenanting is the relationship that shapes how we have conversations about sovereignty and its implications.’

Rev. Dronfield said, “It all comes down to relationships. The need to commit to the relationship, to invest in it, and spend time with one another, to grow the relationship.”

“As the community of Christ this is not foreign to us, this is the way a loving community is able to nurture one another.”

The years between UAICC formation in 1985 and the 1994 Covenant enactment were a time of healing and a growing relationship.

This covenantal relationship was represented beyond the words exchanged through the presentation of a sacred painting.

Dr Palmer and Rev Dronfield gave thanks for those who began to walk together, in solidarity and covenant, so many years ago.


UCA resolutions about recognition and treaty with First Nations Peoples

In 1988 the Assembly resolved:

88.22.22. d. To support efforts to work beyond the concept of the compact proposed by the Australian Government towards a form of treaty – that is an enforceable agreement obtained through formal and full negotiation between Aboriginal political structures and those of the wider Australian community, an agreement which Aboriginal people can use to protect their interests;

In 2000 we resolved:

00.11.02.b. To endorse the idea of a legislated process of negotiation between the leaders of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of Australia towards a formal agreement dealing with the ‘unfinished business’ of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation’s process of reconciliation;

In 2015 we resolved to:

15.22.02.b. Continue to support Recognition as long as the form of recognition offered can be seen as a step towards and not a blockage to the larger issues of sovereignty and treaty,
c. Commit to work with Congress to educate membership of the Church about the need for a treaty.

In 2017 a UAICC National Executive Meeting endorsed the Statement from the Heart.

The Statement from the Heart includes this paragraph:

“We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.”

NAIDOC Week 2019

Published / posted by Sandy

NAIDOC (National Aboriginal Islander Day Observance Committee), 7th to 14th July.
The Australian Indigenous story has many chapters, some coloured with discovery and some blacked out with dispossession, some heartwarming and some heartbreaking, some hidden and some heralded. NAIDOC Week is an annual week-long celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements and is an opportunity for us to recognise the contributions that Indigenous Australians make to our country and our society.
The theme for NAIDOC Week 2019, “Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together” is a reference to the Statement from the Heart. The Statement was made by the First Nations National Constitutional Convention in May 2017 at Uluru. It was a historical moment in Australian history as the coming together of 250 First Peoples’ leaders to articulate the nature of reforms desired by First Peoples.
NAIDOC week 2019 is an opportunity to explore the true story of colonialism and its lasting impact; to engage with the Statement; listen to the voice within it, and work together towards true reconciliation in Australia.

Statement from the heart
We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart: 
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago. 
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown. 
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years? 
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood. 
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future. 
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness. 
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country. 
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution. 
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination. 
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history. 
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. 

First female lecturer a win for equality in the Solomon Islands

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

by UnitingWorld News, Partnering Women for Change (Pacific Region), Women in Ministry (Pacific Region) June 17, 2019

“90% of people in the Solomon Islands believe in God. When a message about women comes from the Bible, their eyes are open, they feel it has more weight. And that’s why we will see a reduction in gender-based violence and increased respect for women in our society.”

If anyone has the insight to comment on what might make a difference to violence against women in the Pacific, it’s Pastor Lima Tura. 

The sole female lecturer at Seghe Theological College in the Solomon Islands, Lima has a Bachelor of Theology from Pilgrim Theological College in Melbourne, she is a single parent and now teaches theology and biblical studies in her home country. It’s not been an easy journey.

Feeling the call to pastor several years ago, Lima was offered a scholarship in partnership with UnitingWorld and the United Church of the Solomon Islands to study at Seghe. A trailblazer, she literally burnt the midnight oil or read under lamps powered by generators, studying third-hand textbooks from Australia as she worked her way through her Certificate. She completed a Bachelor of Theology in Melbourne and has now returned to her college determined to overcome its many challenges.

“We are lucky right now – we have power connected and two light bulbs in most of the homes,” says Lima.

“Our library is small, and we have no Wi-Fi for internet research – we can sometimes use data on our phones but it is very expensive.”

Despite scarce resources, Lima describes her lecturing position as wonderfully inspiring.

“There are fourteen gentlemen and one woman in my classes,” she laughs.

“The men are really great, very open to equality. I mean, sometimes it is probably hard for them. I’m not sure if they have been taught by a woman before except in school when they were younger.”

The first woman to lecture at the college, Lima is bringing new perspectives to students and existing clergy both by example and through her teaching, which draws on gender equality theology work developed by UnitingWorld as part of the Partnering Women for Change program.

Pastor Lima with Solomon Islander Theologian Rev Dr Cliff Bird

“For both the men and the women here, this message of equality and dignity is so liberating,” Lima says. “We held a workshop to teach from the Bible about respect for women and to share what the scriptures have to say about women and men’s roles. People are very excited. When they hear messages from secular women’s rights organisations they can be suspicious and confused. But when it comes from the pulpit, from the church who they trust, it has much more power and influence.”

In July, a group will meet in Fiji to discuss how Bible study material can be brought alive for students in colleges and within church circles. Lima will be among the attendees.

After years of groundwork, our theological workshops with church partners in the Pacific have attracted funding from the Australian Government.

“The Australian Government recognises that overcoming poverty and ending violence against women in the Pacific is about working to see women’s rights and gifts recognised,” says UnitingWorld Associate Director Bronwyn Spencer. “They’ve also realised that in cultures where Christianity is central, churches hold the most influence and authority to create change. As a result, they’ve been funding our work with partners to explore biblical gender equality, so that local leaders are equipped to preach and teach it and help to open opportunities for women in church leadership. That’s actually pretty radical.”

Leaders of women’s fellowship groups at a Gender Equality Theology workshop in Fiji

For Lima, the support of people here in Australia through UnitingWorld is incredibly precious.

“I can’t thank you enough for the scholarship to study and for the prayers you have offered for me,” she says. “Without you, I could not have answered this call. My dream for the students is that they go back to their communities with the wisdom to address through a theological lens all the challenges they face – social, economic and spiritual. We experience so much good here, but so many difficulties as well.”

THANK YOU for supporting our church partners to lead this transformative dialogue among their communities. Pastor Lima’s story is one thread in a fabric we see being woven from country to country, where God’s powerful message of freedom and dignity for all is shaking and sheltering lives.

See original article from UnitingWorld

Refugee Week 2019 #with refugees

Published / posted by Sandy

All over the country, Australians are paying tribute to the contribution made by refugees in our communities.UCA

President Dr Deidre Palmer encouraged Uniting Church members to join Refugee Week celebrations.

“This week we celebrate refugees and honour their strength and courage in taking what was often for them a perilous and life-threatening journey to seek safety and freedom,” Dr Palmer said.

Across the world, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people, including 3.7 million refugees in Asia and the Pacific. Each one is seeking the opportunity for a safe and secure life for themselves and their children.

Despite the urgent need, Dr Palmer said people seeking asylum in Australia faced added challenges as a result of policies focused on border protection, rather than solutions for people in need.  

The Uniting Church has long advocated for a more compassionate response to refugees and asylum seekers.

“It is our vision that people who come to Australia seeking safety are treated fairly, that pathways exist for vulnerable people to start a new life and that they are made to feel welcome,” said Dr Palmer.

Currently, about 800 people seeking asylum in Australian remain in offshore detention in Nauru and Manus. While 300 have been approved for resettlement in the United States, there is no plan for those remaining. The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has expressed its concern for the mental health of those in prolonged detention without any clear path ahead. 

Meanwhile, drastic cuts to vital services for 1200 refugees living in our community have left people without the means to buy food, pay for rent and to access vital health care, including trauma services.

Assembly Associate General Secretary Rob Floyd said the Uniting Church and its members continued to work alongside others to create better outcomes for refugees and asylum seekers.

In a recent meeting with the World Council of Churches, United Nations High Commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi said the role of churches was “phenomenal” in helping refugees, in terms of both direct support and advocacy.

Mr Floyd thanked all those in the UCA who supported refugees, whether through advocacy, support services, as a volunteer, giving financial assistance or in prayer.

“An important way people can make a difference is to build strong relationships within their communities and with their elected representatives to create a more just and compassionate response to refugees.”

Mr Floyd recently attended the launch of a new policy plan from the University of NSW’s Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law which outlines how Australia can develop a more sustainable and humane approach to refugees going forward.

Centre Director Professor Jane McAdam said, “A successful refugee policy not only manages national borders, but also protects people who need safety.”

“Every person has a right to seek asylum. As a matter of international law people who come here in search of protection have not broken the law. Australia is actually breaking the law by not offering people protection when they are in need of it.”

The theme of Refugee Week is #WithRefugees with a focus on sharing stories and sharing food together to help build connections and a better understanding of the challenges facing refugees.

WANT TO GET INVOLVED?

Here are some ideas for supporting refugees:

How we ‘spend our dash’

Published / posted by Sandy

Some years ago, David Hayward reflected on the terms “leader”, “leadership”, and “leadership team”. He commented that “leadership” can give the impression of directing others, telling them how to behave, someone in front of all the others, and that there is a goal to be strived for and conquered. It conjures up images of ambition, competition, manipulation, coercion, exploitation and success. It breeds discontentment for the present reality. It is based on a business model of people-management and is so strongly goal-oriented that it damages the beauty of what is. Love, in this milieu, is in danger of being used as a commodity to achieve the wishes of the visionary leaders.

He was suggesting instead a return to the word “elder”, a term he acknowledges as old-fashioned, but which may be more congruent with the nature of community. “Elder” is not so much about movement outward towards a goal, but is more about growth and maturity. It is about responsibility, service and care. It is about acknowledging the hard-earned wisdom of someone who has a natural influence among the people that isn’t fabricated or artificial, but tangible and practiced. There is less danger of using people to achieve ends. Rather, people are respected as the end in themselves. Love, rather than a means to an end, becomes the end itself.

It may be a good descriptor of Jesus’ ministry.

These reflections came to mind as I pondered the passing of two ‘elders’ in character in our Pilgrim congregation – Brian Jones on the 2nd June and Marjorie Brune this week on the 18th June. Both lived long fruitful lives, and served faithfully for so many years – both in their chosen vocations, and also in and through the church. I have been blessed and inspired by both of them.

In May, former PM Bob Hawke died and there was a public memorial to honour his life. He will be remembered as a remarkable Australian ‘elder statesman’ who served his country with vision, courage and compassion.

I was reminded of ‘The Dash’ poem, about how we ‘spend our dash’ – the small line in a death notice or on a tombstone. The year of birth and death is less important than what’s between those dates – the dash – which represents the years of that person’s life and how they have chosen to live, about their growth and maturity, and about being prepared to take on responsibility, service and care.

The Dash
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we ‘spend our dash’.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
(the full poem can be read here)
© 1996 Linda Ellis

Truth – reflecting the integrity of God’s love

Published / posted by Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our shared values

Published / posted by Sandy

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

Politics and Consensus

Published / posted by Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Sunday: The highs and lows

Published / posted by Sandy

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

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

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

More prayers for Sri Lanka here.

More prayers on the Pilgrim worship resources website.

Risen indeed!

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Federal budget

Published / posted by Sandy

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

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

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

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

Our Vision for a Just Australia

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Vale’, John Smith (‘Smithy’)

Published / posted by Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done, good and faithful servant.


#Christchurch

Published / posted by Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A testing time: 40 days in the wilderness

Published / posted by Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Women’s Day – Friday 8 March 2019.

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

International Women’s Day – Friday 8 March 2019.

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on ‘the church’

Published / posted by Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(originally published on SA Synod website)

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

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

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

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

Compassion for those who need our help

Published / posted by Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Just Earth’ launch

Published / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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 / posted 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