Messages of Hope

Month: May 2018

Spiritually hungry – and wanting community

Published / by Sandy

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

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

The survey question posed 12 options for current priorities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Keep History a Mystery: National Reconcilation Week

Published / by Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a beautiful day for love to change the world

Published / by Sandy

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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


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

Solidarity in times of sorrow

Published / by Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

A PRAYER FOR THE VICTIMS OF CHURCH BOMBINGS IN JAVA

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

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

and so with confidence we offer our prayers to you.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We stand in solidarity with all good citizens in Java

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

and we are confronted by the attacks on Christian worshipers.

We bring to you all the deceased,

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

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for those who grieve the loss of life,

for those who are traumatized during Sunday worship,

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

we ask for your healing presence in their lives

and we commend to your love all the injured.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We give to your care all those

who have been involved in the rescue operation.

Be with local churches and government forces

as they minister to the suffering communities.

Sustain them through this time of stress.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We commend to your care those who are cleaning up,

for those burdened by unimaginable losses

and who have found themselves

like refugees in their own locality.

We ask that the emotional and spiritual support

already offered by local communities and beyond

will encourage and lift their spirits.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for communities that have been devastated

– especially in East Java and West Java.

May your peace bring people together

to rebuild their lives and communities,

and bring them healing from all evil.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

We pray for families and friends in Australia

who feel far away from the loved ones in Indonesia,

and those who had been through racial and religious attacks

– still trying to make sense of the past.

Comfort them across the physical and emotional distance.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

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

especially the gifts of joy we so often take for granted

until they are in danger of being taken away from us

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

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

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer.

God of light over darkness,

come into our hearts in the moment of now!

Come to transform our sorrow over the lost

into blessings to the living.

Come to reassure us your eternal truth

in the resurrection of Christ Jesus:

Life is always stronger than death.

Lord hear us/ Lord hear our prayer. Amen. 

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

Investing in the skills of women

Published / by Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2018 Federal budget – and overseas aid

Published / by Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living with diversity and difference

Published / by Sandy

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

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

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

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and peace,

Rev Sue Ellis (Moderator, Uniting Church SA)

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