Messages of Hope

Month: November 2017

#Manus

Published / by Sandy

In light of the events this week on Manus, President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan has called on the Federal Government to take moral leadership and resolve the status of refugees on Manus Island in mainland Australia.

Hundreds of men who remained in the offshore detention centre after its closure on 31 October have been transported to new facilities by Papua New Guinean authorities. Their removal follows a tense stand-off in which the men initially refused to leave.

“Haven’t these people suffered enough? After all this time, is it still impossible for the Federal Government to show some compassion and bring them here?” said Mr McMillan.

“As Christians, we believe all people should be treated with respect. The parable of the Good Samaritan is just one bible story that illustrates the Christian ethic of caring and sheltering people in their time of need.”

“We stand together with our sisters and brothers of faith in other Australian churches calling for a long-term humanitarian solution that upholds the dignity of these vulnerable people.”

The Uniting Church in Australia has advocated for the humanitarian treatment of refugees since its inception, and for many years has called for an end to mandatory detention and the closure of all offshore processing centres.

“The Federal Government should take the lead in developing a genuine regional approach, where refugees are offered permanent protection regardless of their means of arrival,” said Mr McMillan.

“Just bring these poor people here!”.”

Meeting today, the South Australian Synod has resolved to encourage congregations to join the call on the Federal Government to find safe haven for the refugees without delay.

Here is the text of what was agreed to at the SA Synod on Friday 24th November (note #2 was passed by formal majority, the rest by consensus):

Proposal 22
That the Presbytery and Synod:
1. Express its deep concern for the health and welfare of the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island to the Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, and the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and urge the Government to effect immediately a humane resolution to the unfolding humanitarian crisis, and to ensure physical security, medical care and basic necessities for their health and welfare, and to reinstate immediately the provision of torture and trauma counselling and interpretation services.

2. Encourage Uniting Church members and their congregations to join in with community actions that call for the Australian Government to evacuate the men on Manus Island t a safe place and if necessary to Australia to await resettlement, to ensure their safety and security, and to find safe haven for the acknowledged genuine refugees without further delay.

3. Encourage Uniting Church members and their congregations to contact Federal MPs by letters, emails or phone calls to express their grave concern for the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island, and to ask Government MPs to ensure that the Government expedites a humane response to the continuing crisis unfolding for the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus.

4. Resource members and their congregations with current information, to be available on the Uniting Church SA website (sa.uca.org.au), so that informed conversations can happen with friends, families, work colleagues etc., in order that a groundswell of community concern is enabled, and request the Public Theology and Mission sub-committee (Mission and Leadership Development Board), in collaboration with the National UCA justice network and refugee networks (Circle of Friends, Justice4RefugeesSA, ACFID, Amnesty and our partner church in Papua New Guinea – UC Papua New Guinea) to compile current information and keep resources updated on the Uniting Church SA website.

Proposers: Rev Sandy Boyce, Margaret Chittleborough

A Space for Grace

Published / by Sandy

This week, the SA UCA Presbytery and Synod is meeting. There are many matters of concern to be discussed, including the UCA understanding of marriage, and implications of the postal vote and deliberations in the Federal parliament on same-sex marriage. It is contested space, given that 61.6% of those who participated in the postal survey voted Yes and 38.4% voted No. The statistics are clearly reflected in the disparity of yes and no voters in the church as well. The Presbytery and Synod aims to use a process called ‘Space for Grace’, and to conduct all conversations in the ‘grace margin’ process – to be respectful, empowering, and inclusive in a way that embraces the full cultural and theological diversity of the Uniting Church. I endorse this approach absolutely. It is in stark contrast to a methodology where people, no matter what their particular viewpoint, state their convictions come hell or high water and steady for a fight. My way or the highway. It is never appropriate. It provides a huge challenge to find our way through polarised views and contested space. A ‘space for grace’ promotes respectful listening, creating space for hospitality and mutuality, and learning from and with the other.

In his book Jesus and Community (1984), Gerhard Lohfink offers a tremendous insight into Christian community. Paul used the reciprocal pronoun “one another” (allēlōn) in the New Testament numerous times eg outdo one another in showing honour (Rom 12.10), live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:16), welcome one another (Rom 15:7), admonish one another (Rom 15:14), wait for one another (1 Cor 11:33), have the same care for one another (1 Cor 12:25), be servants of one another (Gal 5:13), bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2), comfort one another (1 Thess 5:11), build one another up (1 Thess 5:11), be at peace with one another (1 Thess 5:13), bear with one another lovingly (Eph 4:2), confess your sins to one another (James 5:16), pray for one another (1 Peter 4:9), meet one another with humility (1 Peter 5:5), have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). The earliest church was a collection of ‘one-anothering‘ communities, sharing God’s grace, love and mercy together in a reconciling community (ekklesia) of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women brought together by the Holy Spirit. The people of God are called to be a ‘one-anothering‘ community: growing in faith, upholding one another in prayer, encouraging each other, building one another up. It is what we are called to invest in, to extend, to build upon. (*adapted from MCM-NRC Resources: “Space for grace – living in the ‘grace margin’ in respectful, empowering, and inclusive decision-making”)

May we commit ourselves afresh to being such a community together. And please join me in praying as our Presbytery and Synod meet this week. May grace, mercy, love, compassion and reconciliation prevail. Amen.

(an extract from a sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce at Pilgrim Uniting Church 19th November 2017)

(Note: this post has been updated as correspondence related to the conversation around marriage which had previously been available on the Synod website in preparation for the Presbytery and Synod meeting is no longer online).

Pastoral statement: Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey

Published / by Sandy

Pastoral statement from the Uniting Church President and Moderators

Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus.

The week ahead will be challenging for our community and our church, as the results of the Government’s voluntary postal survey on same gender marriage will be released. (On Wednesday, results from the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey will be published on the ABS website)

We are in challenging times facing a range of disturbing issues all of which go to our common humanity – our inherent worth to God and to each other. This affects how we speak and act and, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to reflect upon what the gospel asks of us.

Every human being is of equal value to God. From the creation story, to the birth of Jesus and our own baptism, we assert that every person is created in God’s image, and our worth is without question. Our humanity is made whole in Jesus Christ.

Whatever the result of the postal survey, many people in our community will feel hurt, some deeply. Our families and friends who are LGBTIQ have found the whole survey incredibly difficult, and indeed unsafe. Many of our families and friends in the broader community have also found this time disconcerting.

There has been a great deal of anger, fear and hurt, for which we grieve.

The question for us is how we will act as the church now, and in the weeks and months ahead. We must care for each other, acknowledging that most of our congregations will host a diversity of opinions, as does our community. We cannot use our roles in the church to tell people what to think, to criticise, or to abuse, others.

Ministers and those in specified ministry have particular responsibilities to demonstrate leadership that all with whom they engage, whether directly or through various social or other media platforms, hear and experience the witness of the gospel to the God given dignity of all people.

We are the Uniting Church, a wonderfully diverse community of faith, which is founded in the grace of God’s act in Jesus Christ.

We are responsible to, and for, each other. We need to pray for wisdom, courage and discernment. In this difficult season, we will look towards Christ and encourage others to do the same.

“God 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: to be a fellowship of reconciliation.” (Paragraph 3 Basis of Union).

Friends, when we allow the Spirit to shape us then our witness and love, counters the hostility of the world and testifies to the reality of the risen crucified One.

If you need support please make contact with your Presbytery or Synod.

Be assured that we are praying for our whole church, and for the community in which we live.

Grace and peace,

Stuart McMillan, President
Rev. Sharon Hollis, Moderator, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
Rev. Simon Hansford, Moderator, Synod of NSW and the ACT
Rev. David Baker, Moderator, Synod of Queensland
Rev. Sue Ellis, Moderator, Synod of South Australia
Rev. Thresi Mauboy, Moderator, Northern Synod
Rev. Steve Francis, Moderator, Synod of Western Australia

Uluru Statement from the Heart

Published / by Sandy
Stuart McMillan (President, Uniting Church in Australia) and Rev Dennis Corowa (National Chairperson, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress)

The national leaders of the Uniting Church in Australia and the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) have lamented the Federal Government’s failure to embrace greater national representation for First Peoples.

In May 2017, Indigenous leaders from across the country met for three days at Uluru to discuss their approach to recognition in the Australian Constitution. The meeting rejected the idea of Constitutional Recognition, instead calling for a representative body that would be a “Voice to Parliament”.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has now ruled out the idea, calling a new Indigenous advisory body, neither “desirable [nor] capable of winning acceptance” adding that a Constitutional amendment should not undermine the universal principles of unity, equality and “one person, one vote”.

“The Government had a historic opportunity to recognise and honour the sovereignty of First Peoples through the proposal coming from the Uluru Statement from the Heart,” says Rev Dennis Corowa, the UAICC National Chairperson (pictured right).

“They asked us what we wanted. We told them and they just knocked us back. Why did they ask in the first place if they weren’t prepared to listen?

“We have a Government that is doing nothing and playing around with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Stuart McMillan (pictured left) describes the Government’s response as weak.

“I’m very disappointed that 50 years after Australia gave the First Australians a vote Malcolm Turnbull’s Government has refused them a voice,” says Stuart.

“We in the Uniting Church changed our own Constitution in 2009 to recognise prior ownership of First Peoples, and have regulated for Indigenous representation in the major deliberative meetings of our Church.

“While we are still challenged to honour our Covenant relationship with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, the Uniting Church has shown that progress on representation is possible, if you keep working at it,” he continues.

“Instead of buckling preemptively to intolerance, the Government should be leading for the future. We don’t need a dead hand on the Uluru Statement from the Heart.”