Messages of Hope

Month: July 2018

#Because of her, we can

Published / by Sandy

Aunty Rev Denise Champion


Katherine Rainger, Assistant Priest at Holy Covenant Anglican Church in Canberra, celebrates the transformative ministry and theology of Aunty Rev Denise Champion, the first Aboriginal women ordained in South Australia.

Aunty Rev Denise Champion is an Adnyamathanha woman, theologian and Uniting Church minister.

Aunty Denise was ordained in 2015. She was the first Aboriginal woman to be ordained in South Australia. She is a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and aunty.

I know Aunty Denise through her writing and speaking. As a non-Indigenous person, her writing and speaking are a gift. They are a guide to deep wisdom. Because of her, I see and hear my faith more clearly.

Aunty Denise’s book, Yarta Wandatha, contains a theological method and a collection of theological reflections that bring together her Adnyamathanha culture and Christian faith. The voices of the psalmist, the prophets and Mary the mother of Jesus are interwoven with Aunty Denise’s Adnyamathanha Muda (worldview). Rich images of Christ as precious Living Water are shared through her stories and her connection and concern for her people and her Country. Praise and lament, rejoicing and mourning, memory and history, echo through the pages of this very special book.

Yarta Wandatha affirms the deep knowledge that creation holds and speaks to us if we are ready to listen. Yarta Wandatha is a recognition of Adnyamathanha peoples’ “long memory” of the Creator God in their stories and in their land (p.29).

I always say Australia is like one gigantic storybook. There’s a story in every part of the land and sky and sea. When we, as Adnyamathanha, gather and tell our stories we always say yarta wandatha – ‘the land is speaking.’ We also say yarta wandatha ikandadnha. The people are speaking as if the land is speaking. So the land is speaking to us and through us in these stories. There’s a oneness there. We are not separated from the land our mother. We always talk about the land as our mother, which fits very closely with the story of Genesis of the Lord God forming humankind from clay” (p.19)

Aunty Denise is a theological voice that has helped me to approach my research in Australian film and theology which includes the film The Tracker (directed by Rolf de Heer, 2002). The Tracker was filmed on Adnyamathanha country. It is a story of land, conflict between First and Second peoples, lament and truth-telling. Because of Aunty Denise I can see things in this film that I would never have seen on my own. Because of her, I see God’s activity through the creation of peoples, lands, lore and stories in this country we now call Australia. Because of her, I hear lament in the Australian landscape.

I give thanks to God for Aunty Denise, for her gifts of faith, healing, storytelling, theological insight and teaching.

(Source: Common Grace)

Uniting Church Assembly 2018: Proposal on same-gender marriage

Published / by Sandy

 

Proposals on marriage were presented to the Assembly in July. After much debate, discussion and prayer, the Assembly agreed to both the traditional understanding of marriage (wording unchanged) and same gender marriage. Here’s part of the official statement from the President, Dr Deidre Palmer.

The 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia has agreed to hold two equal and distinct views on marriage to honour the diversity of Christian belief among its members.

Meeting for the first time since last year’s change to Australian marriage laws, members of the Church’s national decision-making body, the Assembly, resolved to allow its ministers the freedom to conduct or refuse to conduct same-gender marriages.

“This decision follows many years of reflection, prayer and discernment, and I want to thank Assembly members for the way they have responded with grace to what is a difficult conversation for many people of faith,” said Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer.

Dr Palmer acknowledged the ministry and struggle of LGBTIQ people in the Uniting Church over many years.

“I know that this conversation is painful and difficult for you,” said Dr Palmer, directly addressing LGBTIQ Church members.

“We also acknowledge those who for whatever reason have not been able to support this change – and your pain and difficulty in this space.”

“Please rest assured that your rights to follow your beliefs on marriage will be respected and protected.”

15th Assembly same-gender marriages statement (and reflection by Andrew Dutney)

Pastoral letter from SA Moderator, Rev Sue Ellis

 

UCA Assembly 2018: ‘For the whole of creation’ – Proposal 19

Published / by Sandy

Proposal 19: For the Whole Creation
That the Assembly resolve to adopt the following statement, “For the Whole Creation”.

1. Introduction

1.1 The Uniting Church in Australia adopts this renewed statement on climate change recognising the growing urgency for significant action on this issue and heeding the clamour of voices across the world from people living with the impacts of climate change and fearing the future.
1.2 This Statement recognises there is a diversity of theological reflection, lived experience, policy positions and actions that draw people across the life of the Uniting Church into a deeper understanding of climate change and continuing responsible care of the earth.
1.3 This statement recognises the imperative for the Uniting Church to embody its prophetic role in the public sphere, acknowledging our relationship and responsibility within and with God’s good creation. In making this statement, the Uniting Church also calls upon its members to stand with vulnerable people affected by climate change.

2. Coming to our senses
2.1 The Uniting Church’s commitment to the well-being of the environment arises out of its belief that God is the Creator of the world in which we live and move and have our being. This ‘groaning creation’ is God’s ‘good’ creation. Through its discerning of Scripture, the church acknowledges the gospel of creation: all things were made in, through and for Christ. The Church further confesses with the whole Christian church that the Holy Spirit is the giver and source of life.
2.2 The Uniting Church believes that God calls us into a particular relationship with the rest of creation, a relationship of mutuality and interdependence which seeks the reconciliation of all creation with God.

Read the full proposal here.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

UCA Assembly 2018: Recognition of Sovereignty – Proposal 29

Published / by Sandy


In his final national message, the 14th President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan urged Church members to address the “unfinished business” of sovereignty and treaty for First Peoples.

“I started my Presidency with the Yolŋu words Bala limurr roŋyirr ŋorraŋgitjlil – ‘Let us return to the white ashes of the fire’. It was a call to reflect on the way all the people of God, First and Second Peoples have been sustained by the Holy Spirit in their own way.”

He continues to invite members to consider what it would mean for the practices of the Church to honour First Peoples as sovereign and what it means to “stand with them in their pursuit of just terms treaties”.

A proposal to the 15th Assembly in July 2018 will ask the Uniting Church to affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.

“I pray that the Holy Spirit will rekindle the embers of the work done by both First and Second Peoples over the last three years so that we can together strive to achieve a more just Church and nation.”

Proposal 29: Recognition of Sovereignty

That the Assembly resolve: To affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.

Proposer: Stuart McMillan/Seconder: Colleen Geyer

Rationale

We stand with First Peoples of this land by virtue of the Covenant we hold together.

The Preamble to the Uniting Church Constitution (paragraph 2) acknowledges that:

“Through this land God has nurtured and sustained the First Peoples of this country, the Aboriginal and Islander peoples, who continue to understand themselves to be the traditional owners and custodians (meaning ‘sovereign’ in the languages of the First Peoples) of these lands and waters since time immemorial.”

In the Covenant Statement of 1994 the Uniting Church says:

“We lament our people took your land from you as if it were land belonging to nobody.”

The 14th Assembly repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, and its theological foundations as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases that have no place in the treatment of First Peoples.

At the 14th Assembly we agreed to spend the next triennium in conversation considering what it would mean for the practices of the Church to honour First Peoples as sovereign. First Peoples have never ceded their sovereignty which is of the Creator and springs from the very soil of this land.

The Covenant Statements, the Preamble to the Constitution and various apologies and statements the Uniting Church has made to the First Peoples leave one matter unsaid, the acknowledgment and affirmation that First Peoples are sovereign.

This proposal is important to us because everything that has been done over the past 41 years point to this, even in the preamble UAICC speak of themselves as sovereign. The Uniting Church has never affirmed First Peoples as sovereign. All that we do in our covenant walk together is underpinned by, and flows from, this fundamental truth. In this, in resolving that First Peoples are sovereign, the 15th Assembly gives moral leadership to our nation.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

Original proposal as outlined above. Final wording for the proposal below, and press release on the decision.

That the Assembly resolve:

In the light of:

  1. a)  the Preamble to the Constitution of UCA which defines sovereignty to be the way in which First Peoples understand themselves to be the traditional owners and custodians, and
  2. b)  the Statement from the Heart’s acknowledgment that sovereignty is aspiritual notion, reflecting the ancestral tie between the land and First Peoples,

to affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.

UCA 15th Triennial Assembly – Celebrating Global Partnerships

Published / by Sandy

In a report to the Uniting Church in Australia’s 15th Triennial Assembly meeting in July, UnitingWorld has highlighted the success of a collaborative, network-based approach to community development.

In a sweeping review of three years, the report details the impact of UnitingWorld’s programs across an estimated 250,000 people in breaking down barriers to education, health, human rights and leadership; and strengthening the institutional capacity of Australian and partner churches.

Dr Sureka Goringe, National Director, Uniting World

Dr Sureka Goringe attributes UnitingWorld’s successes to its strong identity as part of the Uniting Church, and championing a relational approach over the charity model of “handing out grants in return for timely reporting.”

“Effective programs need to be built on a foundation of strong, resilient relationships between partners,” said Dr Goringe. “For us, good collaborations start with meaningful connections between people, where all recognise our equal place as children of God, learning from each others’ strengths and caring for each others’ needs.”

In an innovation conceived three years ago, UnitingWorld started using these strong relationships with partner churches to build regional networks, fostering multilateral collaborations; an approach Dr Goringe says was led by the partners themselves.

“In 2015, during a session of the 14th Assembly in Perth, 35 leaders from our overseas partner churches took the spontaneous and unprecedented step of penning a statement which was read out on the floor of the Assembly.”

The statement committed them to:

“Break through the boundaries of our denominations, in order to partner as God’s agents of transformation in the world” and to, “commit to develop, nurture and strengthen multilateral mission relationships by making our God-given resources available to one another, sharing our needs, joys, sorrows, achievements and challenges with openness and joyfully participating in the life of partners in a fruitful and effective manner.”

Following this landmark declaration, UnitingWorld recognised its value to church partners as a facilitator of new multilateral relationships, says Dr Goringe.

“Since then, UnitingWorld’s regional strategy over the past three years has been to create opportunities to bring together our church partners in meaningful ways. We have hosted 11 regional conferences since July 2015, each one aimed at creating a community of shared learning, cultivating connections and relationships and encouraging collaboration between our partners.”

The connections formed at the regional conferences have resulted in partners sharing resources, expertise, management tools and policies on shared issues. These have ranged from the theology of community development to child protection and finance management.

The report also highlights the success of UnitingWorld’s collaborations with the Australian Government (DFAT) on the theology of gender equality, and identifies challenges to be faced over the next triennium.

UnitingWorld looks forward to continuing this journey alongside our church partners.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

UCA Assembly 2018: Proposal 12 – Voluntary Assisted Dying

Published / by Sandy

(this proposal was withdrawn)

Proposal 12: Voluntary Assisted Dying

That the Assembly resolve:

To request UnitingCare Australia to commence a twelve-month process of consultation and discussion across the life of the Church to discern the Church’s approaches to voluntary assisted dying to be presented to the Standing Committee at a meeting no later than July 2019.

To request that the scope of the consultation include theological, ethical, social, pastoral, health, cultural and service aspects of the issue.

Proposer: Bronwyn Pike/ Seconder: Mark Lawrence

Rationale
The issue of Voluntary Assisted Dying is at the forefront in Australia at present. In November 2017 the Victorian Government passed a Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill which allows people with decision-making capacity, who are experiencing unbearable pain and suffering at the end of their life, to be able to access medical intervention to end their lives in certain and limited circumstances. Governments in other Australian states and territories are also considering this issue.

A number of Uniting Church service providers deliver medical and aged care services across Australia and are therefore likely to have requests for Voluntary Assisted Dying to be undertaken in those facilities. The Uniting Church in Australia does not currently have a national position on the issue. Therefore, it is essential that the Church considers its position on this issue to guide its service providers. It is recognised that for a considered decision to be made across the Church, time is required for prayerful discernment and thorough consultation.

Read the proposal here.

If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.

The incoming Uniting Church President

Published / by Sandy

Matt Pulford, Assembly Communications, interviewed Deidre in the lead up to her installation as President of the UCA. The full article is here.

When Deidre receives the symbols of ministry from outgoing President Stuart McMillan at St Michaels Collins St in Melbourne on 8 July, she will become the UCA’s 15th President and the second woman to take up the role. Dr. Jill Tabart was the first, serving as President from 1994 to 1997.

“Abundant Grace Liberating Hope” is the theme Deidre has chosen for her term. “This theme highlights for me Christ’s call to be a church that embodies God’s abundant grace, compassion and love – a Church that is a bearer of Christ’s hope and light in the midst of despair and darkness.”

Abundance
Deidre Palmer grew to appreciate God’s abundant grace at the Seaton Methodist Church in the western suburbs of Adelaide in the early 1970s.

Her formation took place in an era of great creative ferment. Tradition was under challenge on many fronts, from music to social justice. While Bob Dylan prophesied, “The Times they are a Changin’”, the peace, anti-nuclear, women’s and land rights movements all competed for Deidre’s attention.

“I was fortunate enough to be nurtured in a Church that gave voice to those movements. Geoff Scott encouraged people to think theologically about why they were passionate about justice – and how this came out of the radical call of Jesus to identify with the poor and to bring freedom to the oppressed.”

“Every year I used to go to the Mount Barker Easter camp and one year I heard about the Order of St Stephen which gives lay members the opportunity to give a year of voluntary service to the Church. I heard God’s call to that ministry through the encouragement of a number of Methodist leaders.”

Deidre’s offer of service coincided with a new Sunday school curriculum for the Methodist Church in South Australia. She was quickly enlisted into its rollout, working from the Methodist Conference office in Adelaide.

“I did it for one year. Then I did it for a second year and that second year was when the Uniting Church began. The Churches were coming together – not in a marriage of convenience or reasons about finances or efficiency – but because this is what the Spirit was calling us to do.”

Deidre and a group of young adults travelled to Sydney to attend the first Assembly at Sydney Town Hall on 22 June 1977. “It was a really exciting time to be part of the creation of this Australian Church. I still believe today that the Uniting Church is a movement of the Holy Spirit.”

Liberation
Back home in Adelaide, Deidre continued working in youth ministry.“We invited people to engage with Biblical stories through their own life experiences. Christian Education transitioned from a ‘schooling-instructional’ approach into a more relational experience of belonging to a Christian community.

The Holy Spirit moved again when Deidre met Lawrie Palmer on a Uniting Church Youth Committee.

They married in 1978. Life was a “wonderful adventure” with Deidre working at the SA Synod in Children, Youth and Young Adult Ministry and Lawrie as a doctor.

In 1981, the Joint Board of Christian Education invited US academic and religious educator, John Westerhoff to Australia to speak about intergenerational ministry. “I heard Westerhoff speak in Adelaide. At the time he was doing the academic work for what I thought the Uniting Church was embodying in its approach to ministry. I spoke to him, as I’d been looking at doing some further education. He suggested I do a Masters in Religious Education where he taught at Duke University.”

A few months later Deidre and Lawrie were living on campus at Duke Divinity School. While Deidre completed her Master of Religious Education, Lawrie undertook a Masters of Public Health at the University of North Carolina.

At Duke, Deidre studied systematic theology with Professor Frederick Herzog. It was through Herzog’s teaching that Deidre engaged with the work of liberation theologians, including the writings of Gustavo Gutiérrez. “Reflecting on it since, being Christian and following Jesus gave Lawrie and I the courage to do things that we wouldn’t ordinarily have done,” explains Deidre.

After two years in North Carolina she was ready for the next challenge – a PhD at Boston College with Thomas Groome. Groome’s educational approach, Shared Christian Praxis, has contributed to the shape of Christian formation in Australia and in many other countries.

Boston College is a Jesuit university and Deidre was the first Protestant accepted into the doctoral program in religious education and theology. There she took courses with feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether and Gustavo Gutierrez. She read the works of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Christian ethicist Margaret Farley.

“I studied with women who were gifted leaders, but saw how they were denied full participation in some of their local Christian communities. When you see and experience abuse of power it reinforces the importance and radical nature of the discipleship of equals, to which Jesus calls us.

Deidre’s doctoral dissertation was called “An educational approach towards a discipleship of equals in a socially prophetic church.”

By 1986 it was time to head home to Adelaide to write up her thesis. Her doctorate was conferred in 1989, and after the high intensity of US academia she settled back into teaching and editing Christian Education curriculum. Through her Ph.D. supervisor, Thomas Groome, Deidre heard of a new opportunity – a position teaching Christian Education at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Deidre applied for the position and was successful. Deidre and Lawrie, with young daughters Kate and Joanna. headed back to the US, for the foreseeable future.

Grace
“I loved my job in Dallas. I loved the teaching and the students and the community life were amazing. We also had a fantastic church that was embedded in its neighbourhood, with a great minister, Kathleen Baskin who effortlessly integrated evangelism and social justice. She and I met for coffee every week to share our faith and support one another.”

Again a deep sense of call drew Deidre back to the Uniting Church. On a trip home to Adelaide in 1997 Deidre heard there was a faculty position vacant at Parkin-Wesley College and the Adelaide College of Divinity.

“I felt that in being in ministry in the Uniting Church I was pouring my energy into a Church whose vision I was deeply committed to – to the equality of women and men, to every member ministry, to the voice we give to children and young people”.

So she applied and won the position at Parkin-Wesley coordinating lay education, teaching Christian education, feminist theology and family and children’s ministry. She still lectures in Christian Education at Adelaide’s Uniting College and Flinders University.

In 2005 a weeklong family visit to the Christian Medical College of Vellore in South India sparked another academic adventure. Deidre saw social workers implementing the community development models of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who she knew worked alongside liberation theologians.

“I thought that’s a significant intersection with my work as a Christian educator.”

Deidre enrolled in a Masters of Social Work at Flinders University with a placement at Families SA in child protection and with UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide (now Uniting Communities) in family and relationships counselling. Deidre went on to work for Uniting Communities, counselling adult survivors of child sexual abuse.

“As a social worker, I heard their stories and responded to their suffering by inviting them into narratives of hope. As a Christian, I believe that this work is a vital expression of Christ’s compassionate ministry, especially in an area where Christian organisations have failed.”

Deidre was working as a counsellor three days a week when members of the SA Synod nominated her as Moderator-elect. The confidence placed in Deidre as Moderator of the SA Synod was resoundingly shared by members of the 14th Assembly in 2015 who chose her as President-elect on the first ballot.

Hope
Deidre’s first task as President is to preside over the Assembly meeting.

Beyond the Assembly, youth and young adults will definitely be a focus. During her time as SA Moderator, Deidre actively canvassed the views of young UCA members, their issues and struggles and what they thought their Church should be doing in the public space.

“These young people are amazingly gifted and committed to shaping the Church and to live their faith in the world around them.”

“We can move courageously into the future, because we see the hope among us now.”

(written by Matt Pulford, Assembly Communications)