Messages of Hope

Month: March 2017

18c and social cohesion in Australia

Published / by Sandy

The Uniting Church in Australia Assembly released the following statement from President Stuart McMillan as a response to recent discussions of Section 18C in the Federal Racial Discrimination Act:

The Uniting Church in Australia does not support the watering down of existing legal protections in the Federal Racial Discrimination Act.

I reaffirm our Church’s commitment to confront racism wherever it emerges in Australian society.

Every Australian should be able to live in our society free from the threat of racial discrimination and vilification.

Without effective protection, the Uniting Church is most concerned for the individuals subject to discrimination who would remain silent.

The Uniting Church is concerned the proposed changes section 18c of the Act, replacing the words “insult”, “offend” and “humiliate” in section 18C with “harass” could lead to more public expression of overt prejudice.

In a recent submission to the Federal Government, the Uniting Church in Australia argued for the retention in full of sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act to protect the dignity and rights of vulnerable minority groups in Australia.

As representatives from Indigenous and culturally diverse backgrounds have pointed out, this change is being advocated predominantly by people who have no idea what it’s like to endure racial discrimination in Australia.

I believe the changes proposed by the Federal Government present a serious threat to social cohesion in our multicultural society.

I urge all politicians of good conscience to do the right thing, and refuse to pass the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.

[News update 31.3.17: ‘The Senate has rejected changes to the Racial Discrimination Act that were designed to validate people’s desire to offend, insult and humiliate others on the basis of their race. Thanks to all who voted with those who are on the receiving end of racism instead of with those who want to feel able to dish out more of it’ – words by Brad Chilcott]

‘Everyone Belongs’

Published / by Sandy

Reflection of a 2nd Gen Migrant on Harmony Day 2017

Sermon by Rev Dr Amelia Koh-Butler, Pilgrim Uniting Church 8am, Sunday 19th March 2017

Readings: Exodus 17:1-7 and John 4:5-42

Terry and I live in the city – only 3 blocks from here. In the past we have lived in Manses and grown our own vegetables, but now we enjoy shopping at the Central Markets and living close to Chinatown. There are many things we love about living here and this community is a wonderful home for us. Adelaide is rightly one of the most ‘liveable’ cities in the world.

After living here for more than two years I have something to share about the state of the Church… The most confronting and shocking thing for me walking into my first Presbytery and Synod meeting was to look around the room and see about 290 ‘white’ people and half a dozen indigenous people… and one other Asian, Do Young, who was new, like me.

Coming from the East Coast, this was an experience of being alien and different. It was also a bit scary.
Our diversity is meant to make Australia a great place to live…

Harmony Day is a celebration of our cultural diversity – a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home. Held every year on 21 March. The Day coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The message of Harmony Day is ‘everyone belongs’, the Day aims to engage people to participate in their community, respect cultural and religious diversity and foster sense of belonging for everyone.

Since 1999, more than 70,000 Harmony Day events have been held in childcare centres, schools, community groups, churches, businesses and federal, state and local government agencies across Australia.
* around 45 per cent of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was.
* we identify with about 300 ancestries
* since 1945, more than 7.5 million people have migrated to Australia
* 85% of Australians agree multiculturalism has been good for Australia
* more than 60 Indigenous languages are spoken in Australia
* apart from English, the most common languages spoken in Australia are Mandarin, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Vietnamese, Tagalog/Filipino, Spanish and Hindi
(ABS data 2011 and Harmony Day website)

Most of us have grown up have grown up with the narrative “Australia is the lucky country”.
We believe it is a privilege to come here, to live here and to be ‘lucky’.
How, then, do we think of migration?
Is it a pilgrimage that has arrival as a reward?
Whatever cost, being here is an indication of ‘good luck’?
This is, perhaps, the promised land?

Let us, for a moment, think about migration…
what it takes to leave where one has been and journey to the unknown.
This was certainly the experience of the Israelites as they moved through the desert…

(Song – “Is the Lord with us” by Don Stewart – Verse 1)
They were moving through the desert – they were hungry and sore
and they started asking loudly, “What for?!”
Why are we here? Where are we going?
Don’t like the scenery, don’t like the plot.
Is the Lord with us, Is the Lord with us, with us or not?

Migration stories challenge us to consider how and when and where we experience God. Is God to be found in the promised Land or in the pilgrimage journey? How and When and Where do we worship?

When Jesus and the Samaritan Woman have their long and famous encounter, this becomes a central part of their conversation. In their repartee we sense a dancing around how they belong to different communities and how belonging is defined by place and behaviour.

There is a distinction between them because their places of worship are in different places.Maintaining worship and identity when traveling or migrating is difficult. Not having a family home is one thing, but not having a place to encounter and commune with God adds a whole other dimension to displacement.

The Samaritan Woman brings the story of her heritage to this encounter. Her ancestors were part of the Northern Kingdom, taken into captivity and intermarried and corrupted by Babylonians and others. Yet – they still worshipped Yahweh. They were ostracized because they were no longer ‘pure’.

They were mixed blood… mongrels… half-castes. If these terms seem shocking, we should be aware… in our own Australian history, they have been used to describe many Australians… First Australians mixed with Second Peoples and Migrants of mixed ethnicity or Hyphenated Identity, like me. Many in our society still regard such mixture as corruption, or at least with some suspicion… as they did when Catholics and Protestants intermarried… or Germans and English… or Scottish and French… Much of the concern arises from fear of ‘the other’… disagreements, wars, breeches of trust, make us suspicious…

The very site of Jacob’s well would remind the early readers of such distrust… Does the name Shechem ring a bell? Shecham is the name of the place where Jacob’s well is. It is the name of the ancestral place where the Samaritan Woman comes from. It is the name that first appears in Genesis 34…(Genesis 34 – Dinah’s story – extracts from the Jewish Women’s Archive)

The story is set during the ancestral period in the city of Shechem. Dinah goes out “to visit the women of the region” (the indigenous people, 34:1). The phrase implies an openness to and acceptance of outsiders. Dinah’s subsequent sexual intercourse with Shechem, the Hivite prince of the region, is the ultimate symbol of acceptance. And Hamor speaks to Jacob about “giving” his daughter in marriage to Shechem, in the same way that the Jacobites and Shechemites will “give and take” wives, live and trade in the same region, and hold property together peacefully.

But separatist tendencies by Jacob’s sons are threatened by this possibility and by Shechem’s intercourse with Dinah. They want to resist intermarriage. Their idea of “give and take” is “taking” the sword, killing all the Shechemite males, after they had converted to the Covenant by being circumcised, plundering the city, and taking their wives and children. The story passes “judgment” (the meaning of Dinah’s name) on their friendly attitude. It is the story of the first ethnic genocide… of course, it could never happen in Palestine… or here!

(Song – “Is the Lord with us” by Don Stewart – Verse 2 and Bridge)
2. Some are hungry, some are greedy, and there’s always a war.
So we keep on asking loudly, “What for?!” (chorus)
Why are we here? Where are we going?
Don’t like the scenery, don’t like the plot.
Is the Lord with us, Is the Lord with us, with us or not?

Is the Lord with us when the house is burning to the ground?
Is the Lord with us when a child is dead?
Is the Lord with us when we have so much it weighs us down,
while a countless number don’t even have bread?
Why are we here? Where are we going?
Don’t like the scenery, don’t like the plot.
Is the Lord with us, Is the Lord with us, with us or not?

Fear of ‘the other’…
the fear of Canaanites and Israelites…
of Palestinian and Jew?

When the North and South Kingdoms of Judah and Israel broke up it was at that same site of Shechem… between Mt Ebal and Mt Gerazim… this was where the faith was declared by all the nation at the naming and coronation of the new King (Deuteronomy). After a series of particularly bad kings, the people came together and started their list of blessings and curses and ended up just cursing one another and going home, rather than finding a way of reconciling enough to stay together. It was the sin of division.
Years later, this sin of ‘cursing the other’ still impacts on Jesus and the woman at the well. Yet, what Jesus promises is the possibility of worshipping together, not in a place, but in spirit and in truth…

For this to happen, what is required is a coming together… Reconciliation!

The promise of unity within the context of diversity often seems too difficult to bother with, yet – it is the requirement for Heaven (where all nations will worship God). If that were to happen – if we are ever to worship in spirit and in truth, we must seek out the ‘others’ to worship alongside them… to mingle our voices… to discover God’s will for the weaving together of a new heaven and a new earth.

What would it mean for us to focus our invitations, not on people like us, but to people who are different and ‘other’? What would it mean for us to intentionally seek out greater diversity? What would it take for us to start to become household with the Chinese who worship here?

We share a place… what else might we share?

As part of my Lenten discipline, I have been writing reflections on the women of the scriptures, hence my heightened awareness of the connections between Dinah and the Samaritan Woman…

Woman of Sychar

Between the mountains of curses and blessings
We hold the memory of prophets and kings.

I follow the footsteps of Dinah’s shaming
To draw water for cooking and washing small-things.

Like Dinah, the men in my life led to naming
That I could not wed a husband of mine.

Yet lonely I’m not for I live with another
I survive with whoever is there at the time.

For such is the life of Samaria’s woman
That during the day I would go to the well.

I am met and conversed with – by a Messiah!
My story he details and chooses to tell.

We joust with our words in long repartee –
A dialogue given for many to comment.

His wisdom and care lightens my spirit.
Somehow I know I am called to speak out.

I run into town to tell all and sundry –
Here is good news – let there be no doubt.

I follow Him now – and will do so forever
Join with me in song – Join with me to shout:

Hosanna! Hosanna! The Lord is come!

(Samaritan Woman at the Well – John 4) © 2017, A.Koh-Butler

#Be Bold For Change

Published / by Sandy

International Women’s Day (Wednesday 8 March) is calling on women to be bold for change in 2017, and urging people to help forge a more gender-inclusive working environment and world.

The Uniting Church in South Australia is home to many strong, female leaders. New Times asked two of these leaders, Dr Deidre Palmer and Rev Sandy Boyce, to reflect on leadership, change and gender parity in the Uniting Church.

What does being bold for change mean to you?

Dr Deidre Palmer: It means having the courage to participate in God’s transforming action in the world. Embodying God’s deepest desires for justice, reconciliation, equality, love and abundant life for everyone and the whole creation.

Rev Sandy Boyce: It is easy to equate Christian faith with people being simply ‘nice’ and ‘compliant’. The imperatives for followers of Jesus means following his example to challenge those times when people’s worth is diminished, when systems perpetuate injustice, and when opportunities for peace and reconciliation are undermined. Being bold means anticipating that things can be different, and being prepared to work for change for the common good. In services of baptism, I remind the congregation that ‘through baptism we mark the beginning of a life-long pilgrimage in the way of Jesus. Baptism is a celebration of belonging: it is deeply personal but never private’. Christian faith is not privatised, pietist and self-absorbed but engaged with the world in which it finds itself.

How do you think the Uniting Church approaches gender parity?

Deidre: One of the strengths of the Uniting Church from its very beginning is its affirmation that women and men, girls and boys are called to offer who they are and express their gifts fully through the life and mission of the Uniting Church.

Sandy: I’m so proud of the Uniting Church for its commitment from the outset to lift up the ministry of the whole people of God – men and women, old and young. For welcoming the wisdom of women who serve in leadership in every part of the church locally and nationally. For supporting and enhancing the ministry of women. For not privileging and preferencing one gender over another, but to be open to the vibrancy of God’s Spirit flowing in and through both women and men (and children!).

What does it mean to you to be a leader in the Uniting Church?

Sandy: Leadership comes in many forms and in many nuanced expressions. There is not one model or approach. Flexibility and adaptability is required, and a capacity to develop different approaches for particular contexts. Wisdom to discern is deeply embedded in effective leadership, growing from a faith in Jesus that is deep and continually growing.

In my role as Deacon, the lens for leadership is not only about being a practitioner in a ministry of service, but equipping and enthusing others in ministries of service. Deacons also use other descriptors like ‘advocates for justice’, as ‘carers who offers support and encouragement’, ‘educators’, ‘enablers’, ‘bridge builders’, and ‘prophets prepared to challenge injustice and offer alternatives’. Women offer fresh insights as leaders and there is generally a receptivity to a style that is premised on relationships, collaboration, connections and cooperation. None of this is exclusively gender-based, of course, and leadership is enhanced when the way God has gifted each person is affirmed and supported.

Deidre: Christian leadership is grounded in Christian discipleship. It’s as we faithfully follow Christ’s lead that we are formed as leaders. This leadership is shaped by Christ’s servanthood, love and respect for all people. Leaders in the Uniting Church are called to encourage and equip the whole people of God to engage in Christ’s ministry and mission.

As a woman in the Uniting Church, I have had the privilege to exercise leadership in youth and children’s ministry, as a Christian educator, working with congregations, as a teacher engaged in formation and theological education, as Moderator, and now as President-Elect.

I have had the joy of working across generations and cultures, I am very aware that in the Uniting Church my gender has not been a barrier to me exercising the gifts God has given me, in service to Christ, the Church, and the world.

There is sexism, subtle and not so subtle, in various parts of our Church, but it is not endorsed by our Basis of Union, our Constitution, our Regulations or our interpretation of the Scriptures. We affirm, develop and encourage the gifts of all our members – women and men, girls and boys.

There have been times in my life where I have been lulled into a sense that we have won the struggle for equality as women. Then I will meet an ordained woman who has been told that she was not really wanted as the congregation’s Minister of the Word because she was a woman. I have also met women in various ministry contexts who experience violence and abuse from male partners, husbands, and fathers. I then recognise, once more, that this struggle for equality and life-giving relationships for women and men is a struggle in which we as Christ’s church must continue to boldly engage.

Where have you been bold in your leadership in the Church?

Sandy: Along with Uniting Church ministry colleagues and friends, I took part in a bold stand to advocate for the release of children from immigration detention, particularly those detained in the former Inverbrackie detention centre. The arrests that followed this non-violent peaceful action also gave the opportunity to give public witness in the court system as to the reason for the action, particularly the welfare of vulnerable young children. It was not a rash decision to place ourselves in this situation, but one that emerged out of a deeply-held conviction that the welfare of the most vulnerable is an inescapable response to the Gospel.

Has there been a time when you’ve been involved in making bold or significant change for the Church?

Sandy: In 2013, I was elected as DIAKONIA World President at the DIAKONIA World Assembly. The election to this office is a privilege, and also offers an opportunity to spend time with Deacons and Deaconesses around the world serving in so many different ministries. What particularly strikes me is the faithfulness to ministries of service, to innovative pioneering ministries, to advocacy, to caring. Some of these men and women are serving in countries where ministry is challenging, and where their income is necessarily limited due to the financial circumstances of the church. And yet the ministry itself flourishes, with a confidence in God that sustains them through good times and hard times. My role includes learning from and with these diaconal ministry agents, to pray for and encourage them, to share their stories, to build connections, and to name and value what they do. A leader may sometimes do their best work in a ministry of encouragement and prayer so that others may flourish as they respond to God’s call on their lives.

What bold changes would you like to see in the Church in future?

Deidre: My vision is for our primary focus to be on the mission of God in the world – that we not be so focused on sorting out internal structures, but fully engage in doing justice, living compassionately and bearing God’s reconciling love in our world.

Sandy: I return from time to time to the Statement to the Nation 1977, and the one that followed in 1988. They are grand but grounded statements about the aspirations of the Uniting Church, inaugurated only 40 years ago. The statements try to name the essential DNA of the Uniting Church in Australia. At the same time, they are absolutely bold in affirming “our eagerness to uphold basic Christian values and principles, such as the importance of every human being, the need for integrity in public life, the proclamation of truth and justice, the rights for each citizen to participate in decision-making in the community, religious liberty and personal dignity, and a concern for the welfare of the whole human race”. Wow! When read as a whole, these statements give substance to our core business, and what directions the Uniting Church needs to return to again and again which will enable us to envision where we are headed in the future, and to which we commit our lives, in the grace and love of God.

Original article here.