Messages of Hope

Category: Uncategorized

Cathedrals: a forgotten model for church growth

Published / by Sandy

Pilgrim Uniting Church Adelaide has recently updated its strategic plan and clarified key directions. It is premised on the location as a church in the heart of the city, for the city. While the UCA doesn’t have cathedrals (no Bishops in the UCA!) Pilgrim is one of the churches in the city that may be considered cathedral-esque in its mission and ministry. So this article written by Revd Dr Jane Shaw (in the UK context and posted here on 16th July 2021) is most interesting and could be an interesting catalyst for discussion.

The central question posed is: why are church-plants seen as the only game in town when it comes to reversing decline?

Cathedral congregations and communities have been growing in the 21st century. According to official Church of England statistics, attendance at cathedral services grew by 13% in the decade from 2009 to 2019. That is just attendance at services. The statistics do not take account of all the ways in which cathedrals engage the spiritually curious and the wider society; nor do they tot up the tourists and pilgrims who go back home and explore their faith in other places.

This growth did not come out of a vacuum. Throughout the 20th century, cathedrals increasingly opened their doors to the broader community, were patrons of the arts, and enlarged their educational and civic engagement. (This is certainly true for Pilgrim as well).

So, why, when it comes to models for church growth, does there seem to be only one game in town: church-plants?

It was reported recently that the Archbishops had supported a proposal for 10,000 new lay-led churches — effectively church-plants in people’s houses – doing away with “key limiting factors” such as competent clergy and much-loved church buildings (News, 2 July). Many people have expressed their surprise, shock, and hurt at both the proposal and the language in which it was conveyed. Others have run the numbers to show that the model is simply not viable.

So, here is a proposal: let’s use cathedrals as another model for church growth. It seems so obvious. Cathedrals appeal to people who would probably never go near a church-plant. Cathedrals evoke awe as we enter them, helping us to appreciate the beauty of holiness and the glory of God.

They cater to “passengers”, and, let’s face it, many people need that at times. When someone taking the first steps towards faith, or tentatively coming back to church after a period away, quiet anonymity can be essential. When we are tired and worn out, we just need to be in a sacred place without people badgering us to be on the coffee roster or to go on an Alpha course. Cathedrals are full of pillars that people can safely hide behind, until they want to emerge and start to participate. Furthermore, cathedral music is good, the preaching usually thoughtful, and the liturgy well done.

Cathedrals also present a different and, in my experience, successful model of mission: one that’s about throwing open the doors and welcoming everyone into a wide range of activities. They enable people to enter by many different pathways: the arts, pilgrimages, talks on pressing issues, and outreach, service, and social-justice programmes. These activities develop the broader cathedral community, and, from them, a person’s curiosity about “church” can grow, leading to deeper engagement.

I am puzzled about why the Church of England keeps coming back to just one model: church-plants and discipleship. The church-growth report From Anecdote to Evidence (2014) stated “there is no single recipe for growth.” So let’s try a range of models.

Resourcing parishes is vital, too. Sometimes, there is a tension between cathedrals and parishes, but there doesn’t need to be. The parochial system’s vast network of churches and clergy is extraordinary and irreplaceable. Properly resourced, parishes could offer some of the same pathways to faith as cathedrals offer.

The parish church is a great asset: a building that local people find beautiful and would be sad to see closed, but for which they don’t usually feel any responsibility. So, might parish churches increasingly become hubs for the whole village or community, with concerts and talks, clubs for the elderly, pop-up meals for the whole village, and a home for the local post office or library when those vital institutions face closure?

In this way, the congregation can show the love of God to the wider community, and, at the same time, encourage that community to use, enjoy, and take ownership of a building that is often costly to keep up. As with cathedrals, participation in other activities may well lead to tentative, and then not so tentative, steps towards church and faith.

Cathedrals and parishes both exercise a ministry of presence, serving the whole community. Growth is not just for the sake of growth: it is intimately tied to pastoral care, service, love, and social justice. In the face of the one model of church growth that is currently on offer, it is imperative that cathedrals and parishes work together to offer alternative ways to reach the spiritual seekers, the “nones”, and those on the margins.

And the next time that the Church of England wants an expert on mission and church growth, I hope that they will call on one of those many clergy who have been quietly but surely growing cathedrals for years.

The Revd Dr Jane Shaw is Principal of Harris Manchester College, Professor of the History of Religion, and a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford. She was formerly Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

Some Facebook responses in an Australian context
Rev Josephine Inkpin (Pitt St UC, Sydney): Healthy mission strategy needs to be diverse and multi-dimensional. Sadly many Anglicans across the globe have also written off very small congregations which can also come alive where context and intentionality is clear (eg my recent experience in Milton in Brisbane). Much ‘church planting’/‘’discipleship’ approaches are also very narrow theologically and relationally, so where a Church – such as the UCA – goes over headlong for that, it is actually narrowing itself ideologically (the very opposite of ‘cathedral’ or smaller ‘base community’ philosophies and relationships). Pitt St UC is a striking example of a church which was seen as ‘redundant’ by UCA bodies but, thanks to creative divine nonconformity, whose USP and intentionality has enriched a better ecclesial and theological ecology and continues to ask questions about whether church mission strategists are really open to divine surprise and the value of holiness of place, hope-bearing particularity and healthy pluralism.

Glen Spencer (Uniting Mission and Education, NSW): Some really good insights. Certainly wanting to cheer on a diversity of ways in which the church seeks to join in the mission of God…including Cathedrals. What I don’t quite understand is the need to be critical of a plan that seeks to energise lay leadership to start small churches that are trying to love & serve the community around them.
Let’s cheer on Cathedral church.
Let’s cheer on small lay led churches.
Let’s cheer on larger, regional churches…and parish missions and neighbourhood churches…and university chaplaincy…and…and…
All in mutual encouragement, support and love.

Glenn Powell
As I understand it, the growth in attendance at C of E churches in England has been in BOTH cathedrals AND fresh expressions/church plants. What is languishing is average suburban congregations. I think that this is paralleled in the UCA, and I believe for two reasons:
1. In most things in life (eg business enterprises, farms, country towns, educational institutions, as well as churches) there is a “disappearing middle”. Growth is happening at the large and small scale, with the middle not knowing where to go. As I crunch the numbers in the UCA, most members attend churches with fewer than 50 or more than 150 at worship. If in-between, congregations go one way or the other. (Without an intention, there is only one way that they DO go.)
2. What distinguishes BOTH cathedrals AND fresh expressions/church plants is a clear sense of identity and purpose. They know who they are called to be, and what they are sent to do. The average suburban church cannot survive just being the X-suburb Y-denomination church, thinking that when new Y-denomination members move into X-suburb they’ll join. If suburban congregations are to do more than hope to survive, but to thrive, they have to discover a unique calling and sending. In language more familiar to Catholics, a charism and an apostolate.
The article states:
“The parochial system’s vast network of churches and clergy is extraordinary and irreplaceable. Properly resourced, parishes could offer some of the same pathways to faith as cathedrals offer.”
That resourcing can’t be to either bleed the cathedrals or thwart the new. It has to be about helping congregations/parishes to figure out why they even exist.

Peter Hobson
I am excited about the idea of the C of E focussing on mission – and I think there is much we can learn from their efforts.. but I do have a concern when this comes at the expense of discipleship rather than as a result of discipleship. And church growth initiatives, however well intentioned, can come at the expense of discipleship when they look for some sort of easy answer. Discipleship is hard. When we try to sugar coat it – it becomes something else. I spent twelve months at a theological college that tried to ‘blue sky’ it’s educational and formational imperatives. It was – and still is – an absolute disaster. The aim was to increase student numbers – and the numbers were prioritised over the learning. The college forgot what it was for… I’ve heard all the rhetoric about every number is a person. But show me a person who wants to be thought of as a number? Every disciple is a person. And making disciples is our mission. Let’s use Cathedrals and car washes – home churches and parishes… but when we set the goal as ‘numbers’ we will build strategies for ‘numbers’ – and there is no guarantee whatsoever that discipleship will follow. From my experience – it is the exact opposite. Church growth should come organically as a result of discipleship growth – not because of the latest marketing idea.

Dwelling in Love Bible Study

Published / by Sandy

(originally posted on the Uniting Church Assembly website)

First Nations leaders from Nungalinya College led Bible Reflections on Day 2 of the 16th Assembly.

With support and co-ordination from Rev Michelle Cook, eight leaders from Nungalinya* shared on the Assembly theme “Dwelling in love”. (*Nungalinya is an ecumenical training college located in Darwin equipping First Peoples for leadership in churches and communities. It is supported by the Anglican, Uniting and Catholic churches of the Northern Territory).

In preparing for the study, participants washed each other’s feet and thought about the connection between serving and being connected to Jesus.

The study opened with an introduction to the Yolŋu worldview from Rev Deacon Maratja Dhamarrandji, a leader of the Northern Regional Council of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) and former chair of the Nungalinya Board.

“To honour God and respect culture is a policy of Nungalinya College and it fits well my voice and theology,” said Maratja.

“I’m a Yolŋu man and a Christian man. I’m not an individual that can be introduced alone. No Yolŋu person is ever alone. A Yolŋu is always in relationship to someone and something else.”

“A Yolŋu is always a ‘half’ of another ‘set’ of Yolŋu. This understanding may be contrasted from the Latin American saying that it takes two to tango; in the Yolŋu worldview, it takes more than one to be Yolŋu.”

“In the double parts of my cultural heritage, I am also body soul and spirit. I am connected to the past, and now and the future. I am of those at once, I am never alone.”

Marlene Boko, from Aputula (Finke), who is currently studying Christian Ministry and Theology shared on the context of 1 Corinthians 13.

“Paul was talking to the people in the Church at Corinth and he’s telling them about the most important way to live, to live loving each other and loving God.”

Wangarr Dhamarrandji from Galwin’ku shared in the Djambarrpuŋu language on the importance of leading in love.

“If we change our thinking to the way Jesus thinks, that love of Jesus will show in our thinking.

“If we see God’s creation, looking closer to our surroundings and we see closer to God’s creation we also see God’s love in that creation. And that is yindi (great, very big).”

Further reflecting on the texts through their own art, Troy Mardigan from Nauiyu (Daly River) and Uncle Jo Cuttabut spoke about reconciliation, resurrection, the Holy Spirit and God seeking to be closer to us.

Joanne Baker, from Miliŋimbi, and Maurice Karui, from Wadeye (Port Keats), reflected on what it means to act in love.

“How I show love in the community is to walk with those people who are broken in spirit,” said Joanne.

“Love is action, love hurts, love brings people together. It has to be the way Jesus taught us. When we have that integrity of the Lord inside us, your love shows clear.”

Maurice shared how he had experienced God in the opening of the water lily flower.

“When I saw that flower with my own eyes, and I felt that God’s spirit was in that flower, I opened my heart.”

The last reflection, ‘Speaking in love’, by Yurranydjil Dhurrkay, was recorded for the UCA Queensland Synod Bible study on Ephesians 4:15-16. She reflected on how we build one another up as the Body of Christ.

“That way I am able to work with you, and build you, as a part of Christ’s body. I’m helping you to find your place in Christ’s body, and you and me will both grow in love. And then we will become strong and know that Christ is the head.”

Watch the Bible Study in full here. Questions for reflection on the study are here.

Rev Charissa Suli, President-elect of the UCA

Published / by Sandy

CONGRATULATIONS to Charissa on being elected President-elect, announced on the One Great Sunday of Sharing in the UCA. The declaration that the Uniting Church in Australia is a multicultural Church for all God’s people sets us on a journey of continual discovery and renewal and One Great Sunday of Sharing helps us to keep this focus at the heart of our common life in the UCA.

Charissa is a second-generation Tongan Australian with over 20 years of experience in cross cultural and intercultural ministry in the Uniting Church. Charissa is the youngest person to be elected President, and the first person of colour.

In the information Charissa provided to Assembly members she wrote:

My deep love of God was forged in the crucible of early motherhood and a business career to support my family. Not a day goes by when I don’t thank God for the blessings of my husband Langi and our family.

My ministry is the product of many great Uniting Church mentors, people like Tony Floyd and Jason Kioa, who opened my eyes to thepossibility of ministry and leadership. With Jason’s encouragement, I chaired the Tongan National Conference 2nd Generation Team for 9years, encouraging young leaders and nurturing team ministry. I’m thrilled that many of these young leaders are now faith leaders – both lay and ordained – in their own UCA contexts. I went on to work as a cross cultural consultant for the NSW/ACT Synod.

I completed my theological studies at United Theological College and was ordained as a Minister of the Word in 2014 at St David’s Uniting Church in Dee Why on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. I served in congregational ministry at Dapto Uniting Church before followingGod’s call to work at the Assembly from 2018 as a National Consultant focusing on leadership, justice, education, multicultural and cross-cultural ministry, discipling the next generations and mission.

I am a confident presenter and performer, but the heart of my work is enabling young members of the Uniting Church to find their ownvoices. I’ve worked with colleagues across the UCA to improve church resources about domestic and family violence, and coordinated online campaigns and events such as 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-base Violence and supporting ecumenical initiatives such as Thursdays in Black. I’m also serving as a chaplain for the Fifteenth President, Dr Deidre Palmer.

I am passionate about people and ministry, and how we inspire the people around us as communities in Jesus Christ in the life of our beloved Uniting Church to truly be the instruments through which Christ works to bear witness to himself.

In today’s challenged environment for people of faith, I am passionate about being a positive voice in the public square about what it means to be Uniting Church in Australia today,

Passion
I am passionate about pastoral ministry built on respectful and informed relationships – ministry that acknowledges everyone’s difficult journeys but holds a special place for those who have really struggled to feel God’s love in our Church – such as First Peoples, our LGBTIQ+ community, our culturally diverse communities

Vision for the UCA
I want the UCA to be a welcoming Church that is joyful, accepting, hospitable and life-giving to all, one that is open to God’s spirit leading us to new experiences even when the journey together is difficult, painful, or uncomfortable. I want our Church members to love one another enough to travel the road ahead together, seeing beyond whatever differences we have to our shared values.

I want the UCA to be a Church that affirms a variety of expressions of faith to deepen our understanding of God and our neighbour; a Church that is unafraid, even proud of our diversity to the point we let ourselves be enriched and reshaped by it; a Church that goes deeper into the scriptures and makes space for theological talanoa (the Polynesian word for sharing/conversation) to inform our faith and practice of ministry.

I want the UCA to be a Church that bears witness to the Gospel and fulfils God’s mission in every aspect of our ministry as we follow and apply the life and teachings of Christ in everything we do. And as witnesses, we will listen and learn from one another, rather than only speaking and teaching, and we will promote full participation and talanoa.

I want the UCA to continue to be a justice-seeking church that faithfully addresses racism, gender justice, and the effects of climate change, being accountable for how our decisions will affect the flourishing of God’s creation, learning from the mistakes of the past and doing things differently and better.

I want the UCA to be a Church that presents a strong and positive identity front and centre across the Assembly, Synods, Presbyteries, Congregations and Parish Missions and their respective Agencies, across Uniting Church schools and with our global ecumenical partners.

In a world where many borders and minds are closed, I want the UCA to keep thinking globally and maintain a strong commitment to the ecumenical movement.

I really want a UCA that walks the talk when walking together as First and Second Peoples in Covenant with the UAICC.

And I want a UCA that embraces digital technologies to communicate with all generations inside and outside our communities to spread the Gospel in rural and urban contexts, focusing on daily ministry rather than just Sunday ministry – to be a Church that helps people find faith and live out their faith on a daily basis.

I am full of hope and optimism for the Uniting Church in Australia. I see myself as a transformational leader, deeply focused on God’s people in the Uniting Church.

While I’ve experienced firsthand the difficulties of changing embedded cultures, I have also been enormously encouraged by the results of persistence with intergenerational and intercultural ministries.

My learning and growth in ministry has enabled me to resource synods, presbyteries and local congregations in cultural awareness training and being present in spaces of conflict leading people forward through a process of cross cultural mediation to resolve difficult matters of the Church.

I am walking into the future with a well-informed faith and confident I have the tools and skills to pursue ministry in this important leadership role in the life of our Church. I have a finance and marketing background and am currently completing my Masters in Ministry.

By focusing purposefully on our people and our relationships, and by championing our witness and service, I know we can build a bigger, broader and more Uniting Church.

In my own ministry I’ve seen God breathe life into areas that were once arid and barren, bringing them back to life.

A Church to bring the vision of Pentecost to life, a kingdom banquet where “people will come from the East and West, North and South, and will take their places in the feast in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29) Perhaps the vision can only be completely realised until the kingdom has arrived in all of its glory. Nonetheless, we must live as though the eschatological kingdom has already arrived!

Finally, I’m aware of how much I draw my motivation from the people around me in UCA. God has bestowed those in our Church with all the gifts and abilities we need to positively change the world.

The challenges that we face as a Church today are numerous. But when we work collaboratively as the people of God on the way to the promised end, we truly transform lives and communities, leading them forward to Christ

Uniting Church Assembly – Cato Lecture

Published / by Sandy

The Cato* Lecture is an important feature of the triennial Assembly in the Uniting Church in Australia. Black liberation theologian Prof Anthony Reddie, Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture, Regent’s Park College, was invited to deliver the Cato Lecture to the online 16th Assembly, mounting a vision for unity in the Christian community where both difference and oneness in Christ are affirmed and celebrated.

Speaking from the UK, Prof Reddie explored the dichotomy of holding together human commonality and difference as we strive to find new ways to live in whole, healed and just communities.

“It seems to me that the challenge that you have as the Uniting Church is the same challenge we have in the UK, which is the same one that arises in every context in which the church is ‘birthed and earthed’: how do we at the same time affirm difference and how do we affirm unity? How do we live with that tension of togetherness and difference?”

Prof Reddie explored how in the face of difference there are often two responses at opposite ends of the spectrum: to collapse differences into a narrative of ‘sameness’ or similarity, or otherwise, to overemphasise our distinct identities.

To focus overly on sameness highlights unity but may neglect the contributions made by cultural, linguistic or theological difference. A focus on difference celebrates the way in which we belong to “powerful and particular identities”, but may create barriers and exclusion.

Both responses, Prof Reddie suggests, are inadequate on their own.

Instead, he proposes a middle ground: that faithful forms of community lie in understanding ourselves as communities made whole by diversity – not ‘sameness’, but ‘oneness’.

Prof Reddie is a self-described post-colonial educator, and child of Jamaican parents who arrived in the UK as part of the Windrush generation. On his previous visits to Australia he has connected with the National Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission of the NCCA and with members of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.

Drawing on a lifetime of theological reflection on his ancestry, the history of colonisation, and contemporary race dynamics particularly in the UK, Prof Reddie critiques narratives of unity that collapse or deny difference as a hallmark of empire.

The forms of Christian community we embody, he suggests, are opportunities to correct some of the assumptions that have led to Christianity’s complicity with colonialism.

He points out that the close links between Christian mission and ‘Whiteness’ included the export of a ‘White Christ’: imagery and theologies that neglect the particular incarnation of the historical Jesus in first Century Palestine.

The colonial approach based on assumptions about ‘White exceptionalism’, says Prof Reddie, led to outcomes like the destruction and denial of distinct cultures and traditions, residential schools, dispossession and exclusion, and, significantly, the genocide of indigenous cultures and peoples.

He observes that similar assumptions about ‘normative Whiteness’ can underlie theologies and practices of Christian unity which seek to form people into the same image, the image of the dominant culture.

“When you understand this issue within the framework of imperialism and colonialism, of the relationship between white bodies – white settlers – who are seen as superior and brown bodies who are seen as inferior … you see the monstrous construct of race that has bedeviled Christianity since its earliest times.”

“Holding together unity and diversity, particularity and universality, the sense of being one but also respecting our particular differences … is something the church has asserted but rarely practiced well.”

“We have so many texts that talk about how within the ecclesia, within the body of Christ, within the Assembly or the household of God, there’s an egalitarianism, there’s a respect for difference. There’s the affirmation of who we are in our particularity but also that sense of unity in diversity within the broader body.”

“At the same time, within the Christian faith we talk about being part of the one body of Christ. We talk about being one people. We talk about one God, one church, one baptism.”

“I believe this is an ongoing tension in which the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to both celebrate those things that make us specifically who we are, but also affirms our oneness and affirms that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.”

In closing, Prof Reddie proposed the events of Pentecost as a counter-narrative, pointing to a Pentecost ethic of embracing and affirming what makes us distinct from each other without sacrificing unity.

“Pentecost has a special resonance for our increasingly plural and complex time, because any careful reading of this text affirms notions of cultural, physical, and linguistic difference.”

“Pentecost shows sameness and difference being played out together in tension. We see difference being affirmed, as people hear the Good News in their own mother tongue, their own cultural tradition. And yet there is still a unity – that they are speaking of a common experience in Christ Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

* In 1932, successful Victorian businessman Fred Cato established the Cato Lectureship to promote the enhancement of religion and education. The presentation of material of interest to the general body of church members was designed to extend the goodwill and friendly relations between Methodist or related churches in Australia and other countries. Mr Cato stipulated that the lecturer was to come from overseas, and the lecture to be given within the proceedings of the triennial Methodist General Conference.

Dr Anthony G. Reddie is a self-described activist scholar, who has written more than 70 essays and articles and 19 books that firmly position Black liberation theology at the forefront of the practical theology discussion. Recent publications include Theologising Brexit: A Liberationist and Postcolonial Critique (Routledge, 2010), and the republished Is God Colour? Insights from Black Theology for Christian faith and Ministry (SPCK, 2020) and Intercultural Preaching [co-edited with Seidel Abel Boargenes and Pamela Searle], (Regent’s Park College, 2021).

UAICC report to Assembly

Published / by Sandy

Rev Mark Kickett, Interim Chairperson of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress until the next Congress National Conference later this year, presented the report of the UAICC to the 16th Assembly.

The report included a series of video presentations (as the entire Assembly meeting is online) and was quite wonderful. The video below formed part of the presentation.

In March 2018, a delegation of First Nations people from the United Church of Canada travelled to Australia as part of the Canada-Australia Reconciliation Dialogue.

Sara Stratton, Reconciliation and Indigenous Justice Animator at the United Church of Canada has written about the trip here.
united-church.ca/news/canada-australia-reconciliation-dialogue

The trip followed a visit to Canada by members of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress in July 2017.

Thanks Deidre, and welcome Sharon

Published / by Sandy

Rev Sharon Hollis has been installed as the 16th President of the Uniting Church in Australia in an online service of worship, with hundreds across the country tuning in to witness and celebrate. She will lead the Uniting Church over the next three years. Sharon is the first ordained Uniting Church woman to be elected President. Her Assembly theme is #dwellinginlove.

Dr Deidre Palmer has served as President for the past three years – a pastoral, passionate and prophetic leader, with a kind, compassionate, generous heart. She has been attentive to young people, listening to them and encouraging them. Her public and media statements are strong and courageous, and represent so well the tradition of prophetic public ministry in the Uniting Church. Thank you Deidre!

An excerpt from Deidre’s address as retiring President:
The last 16 months have been difficult for our Church, nation and global community. I’m conscious of the challenge those of you in lockdown areas are currently facing, and the grief and loss experienced, as we have been isolated, disconnected, and had our lives disrupted. We thought we were in a better situation, but we still face uncertainty.
Globally, progress made in alleviating extreme poverty has been lost, as the most disadvantaged again suffer the greatest impacts of COVID. We also face the climate crisis witnessed in unprecedented bushfires, drought and intense weather patterns. Many of us are exhausted.
Often, I’ve turned to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4, that speak of the extraordinary power that comes from God. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed” – and call us to “not lose heart”. God has enabled us to endure through conflict, failure, drought, bushfire, injustice, discrimination and this pandemic, and with Christ-like eyes, inspires us to focus on what really matters in people’s lives and in the life and mission of our Church.
These last three years have taught me (us), that we can plan, imagine a way forward and be totally disrupted. But we are a people of Resurrection – we follow a risen, crucified Lord, who is with us always and empowers us to be a people of love, reconciliation, and hope. You are witnesses to this hope as you gather here.
I’ve shaped much of my preaching, presentation of the Assembly’s work and conversations through the lens of my theme for this triennium – Abundant Grace, Liberating Hope. As the Church faces challenging times, I’ve been deeply aware that it’s God’s abundant, extravagant love and grace that holds us together. It transforms our view and enables us to be the people and communities of faith we are called to be. Read the full Retiring President’s address.

On Saturday 17th July, members of the Assembly voted online for the President-elect who will serve as President after Sharon. Impressive candidates. The results of the ballot will be known on Sunday morning.

Dwelling in Love

Published / by Sandy

The 16th Assembly is the triennial decision-making meeting of the national Council of the Uniting Church in Australia, which guides the life of the Church and its advocacy over the next three years.

This year, for the first time, the triennial Assembly meeting will take place online from 17-18 July 2021, a decision made to protect the health and safety of members in the context of COVID-19. The Assembly meeting will then reconvene in 2022 when a face-to-face meeting is possible.

President-elect Rev Sharon Hollis share more about the theme for the triennium, Dwelling in Love. Watch the video here.

Jesus loves me this I know, And the bible tells me so (Anna Bartlett Warner)

Love is central to both our understanding of God and Jesus, and of our practice of Christian discipleshipGeoff Thompson[1]

The theme for the 16th Assembly invites the Assembly to reflect on how God’s love dwells with us shaping us as followers of Jesus and inviting us to dwell lovingly with each other as the household of God.

It reminds us that when we gather as the body of Christ we bear each other’s burdens and share each other’s joy. It calls us as an Assembly to become a loving community of prayer, discernment and decision making, noticing where the Spirit of Jesus is abiding with us.

This theme invites the Assembly to reflect on the nature of God as love and the call for us as Christians to live lovingly in the world. It echoes the prophet’s instruction, even while in exile, to pray for the city.

As community, the people of God seek the city’s welfare because their welfare is caught up in the wellbeing of the other (Jeremiah 29:7). It recalls the new covenant where God gives God’s people a heart of flesh even as they been unfaithful (Ezekiel 11:19-20). It echoes the great commandment to love God and love our neighbour. It reflects John’s metaphor of abiding in Jesus as the branches belong to the vine (John 15: 1-17) and speaks of Paul’s witness that faith, hope and love abide and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

In 1 John we read that those who live in God live in love. As individual disciples and as the church we are loved. Knowing ourselves loved allows us to choose to dwell in God’s love rather than in destructive systems that invite us to dwell in them. To remain in God’s love is to make a choice to live for God’s way and to notice God’s reign.

At times gentle as when Hannah is gifted a child by Love or a mother hen gathering her chicks, Love also speaks with the ferociousness of the mother hen protecting her chicks or the voice of the prophet judging our faithlessness and calling us to love the world as God does through acts of justice and mercy.

God’s love is revealed in Jesus Christ pitching his tent to live amongst us.

Love is willing to suffer for the way and purpose of God, dying on the cross for love of humanity and the redemption of creation and rising to life so that we might continue to know we are held in love and called to live lovingly in the world as followers of Jesus Christ.

Because God dwells with us we are assured that, no matter where we dwell, God is there with solace and a call to transformation. Because God remains with us we are equipped for mission in the world bearing witness to God’s love and inviting others to participate in God’s love.

Inviting the Assembly to dwell in Love provides a lens to view several key callings on our life as a church.

  • The Preamble to the constitution reminds us that the Creator Spirit dwelt with the First Peoples of this land long before missionaries brought the gospel of Jesus Christ.
    In love, the Creator gave the First Peoples customs, culture and spirituality that guided them to dwell in this land with deep care for the earth and each other. The theme invites Second Peoples to continually reflect about the ways Second Peoples have failed First Peoples and into deep relationship with First Peoples. In particular, Second Peoples within the Uniting Church are called to remain alongside Congress seeking to walk together in ways that allow us to be attentive to the deep wisdom God has given to the First Peoples and support their sovereignty and self-determination.
  • It is now 35 years since the Uniting Church declared we are a multicultural Church.
    To grow into this declaration is at times joyful, at times painful. Many people of colour in the Uniting Church know the pain of racism in the Church. To abide with each other in love across racial and cultural difference is to recognise the indwelling of the Spirit in the other and to be willing to do the hard work of confronting our own prejudice so that we might dwell together in love. If we are willing to continue to do this hard work then the quality of our life together will witness to the abundant love of God in our midst and of our abiding with God.
  • The theme invites local communities of faith to be loving neighbours,
    seeking to really get to know the people and communities where they are in ministry and to discern prayerfully how to live lovingly with our neighbours for the sake of the gospel. It calls us to strive to be communities of justice and mercy remaining with those most in need of God’s liberating love and embodying God’s love in our worship witness and service.

[1] Geoff Thompson In His Own Strange Way: A Post-Christendom Sort-of-Commentary on the Basis of Union. Adelaide: Mediacom 2019

A foretaste of something more

Published / by Sandy

A sermon in NAIDOC Week by Stuart McMillan, the Uniting Church Assembly’s National Consultant Covenanting
Unley Uniting Church, Adelaide, July 4th 2021

Ps 148:1-6, 1Kings 21:1-2, Romans 8:19-27, Matthew 25:31-46

Greetings friends, I am delighted to share with you this NAIDOC Sunday.

Let me begin by acknowledging the sovereign First Nations Peoples of the land and waters where you are the Kaurna peoples. I pay my respects to their ancestors, elders and all descendants who have care for country since creation. I also acknowledge the sovereign Larrakia Peoples of the Land and waters where I live and am speaking to you from. I pay my respects to their ancestors, elders and all descendants who have care for country since creation. Truly God was in this ancient land and with her peoples.

I have been led to share from the Scriptures something of our Covenantal journey with the UAICC and First Nations Peoples more generally, that touches upon the theme of Heal Country and the words of the NAIDOC committee: “We are all looking for significant and lasting change”.

I have summarised the vision which accompanied the act of entering a binding Covenantal relationship between the UAICC and UCA in 1994 with these words: “We seek significant and lasting change through a new relationship characterised by justice and love. We are committed to a destiny together where First Nations Peoples, through the UAICC are at the heart of who we are as the UCA.”

The key words for us today from 1Kings 21 are found in v.3 where Naboth says to the King: “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.”

For the Hebrew people there are two expressions of inheritance or heritage and for our purposes the more significant is Morasha. Morasha is acquired by hard work and must be given as a precious heirloom to the next generation. Morasha has two objects in the Hebrew Scripture: First the land of Israel, and second the Torah of Israel, i.e., the law.

The Bible describes both the land of Israel and the Torah poetically as a song. And the Sages interpreted Morasha as if it were written me’orasa, a fiancée; both the song of Torah and the song of Land are expressions of profound love and commitment says Rabbi Riskin (chief Rabbi at Efrat). Hence says Riskin, the people of Israel seem to be wedded in eternal marriage to the land – and the Land assumes an almost personal form, like the beloved bride of her husband, Israel.

Riskin tells of a radio interview with a now 96year old man Ya’acov Hazan. When Hazan was 10 he was a sick child and the doctors advised hard work so his parents apprentice him to a Lithuanian farmer. The boy worked hard beside the farmer; he noticed the farmer even though it was back breaking work always had a smile.

He asked the farmer the source of his joy and the farmer said, “don’t you hear the music the song of the Land?” The boy heard nothing, and the farmer advised, “It’s not your land. If it were, you too would hear the song.” Hazan determine as soon as he was able, he would return to his land to hear its song. Now at 96 he still works his land, and he hears its music.

I am helped and I hope you will be too by this understanding of the connection between creation, the Creator, the Land, and her Peoples together with the Law. This Hebraic understanding is like a window which helps us understand something more of this ancient land, her peoples, their law, and the music of creation – the songlines.

For as First Nations elders have said we do not own the land it owns us, it is mother we are born of it. When First Nations Peoples sing, it is both a recognition of the ancestors and an act of eternal creation in harmony with the Creator.

So, Healing Country cannot be separated from people and law and song. Archie Roach sings as you heard at the commencement of worship: “Heal the people, heal the land, the two go hand in hand.” Profound theology.

“Creation waits…… creation will be liberated……the whole creation groans…..”

Paul in Roman’s reminds us of the link between people and country and all creation. The ‘climate crisis’ is a manifestation of the broken relationship between people and the whole creation. We, my friends, have much to learn from our First Nations sisters and brothers. I want to encourage you to take opportunities to ‘walk on country’ with First Nations Peoples. Uncle Clyde, Rev Ken Sumner, Jordon Sumner and Sean Weetra lead these at Raukkan in the Coorong and Rev Dr Aunty Denise Champion and family take them in Ikara, in the Flinders Ranges. Even in Adelaide city Uncle Frank Wangutya Wanganeen and others lead walks.

The Roman’s passage reminds us that the Spirit intercedes according to God’s will. This is expressed with our hope in paragraph 3 of the Basis of Union: “Jesus is Head over all things, the beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity. 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: to be a fellowship of reconciliation.”

This beloved is our hope and assurance for the whole creation, the Spirit intercedes, and the Spirit enables us to be the co-workers with Christ in this unfinished work of reconciliation and renewal. For us in the Uniting Church this is why in our journey and walking together with the UAICC in the 2009 Assembly we endorsed a new Preamble to our Constitution to further recognise our past, own the truth but importantly to recognise God was in the Land with her peoples before the invasion and the English Scriptures came, the First Nations Peoples of this Ancient Land knew Arrawatanha through creation, the land, law, story, and song.

 It is why in 2018 the 15th Assembly recognised and affirmed the sovereignty of First Nations Peoples in this ancient land. A sovereignty which was never ceded and in terms of the Statement from the Heart co-exists with that of the Crown. A sovereignty which is so much more than about land title, it is a spiritual notion. May I encourage you to do the 6-week Bible study for small groups about the Statement from the Heart. The Assembly Resourcing Unit will be beginning in August a new program; Living the Covenant Locally, which is about studying resources, and taking action. Congregations will be recognised for doing this by the local UAICC Regional Council and encouraged to encourage another congregation to do likewise.

Why have I included the gospel about the sheep and the goats? Not for what might be a normal use of this text to encourage good works. Rather in this I hope you might see that rather than the people taking Jesus with them to feed the hungry, visit the sick and those in prison, cloth and offer shelter to those without and welcome in the refugee; in-fact they may be surprised that they meet Jesus in the other. The story of Saint Oscar Romero of San Salvador is a story of a Catholic Bishop who discovered Jesus in his oppressed and impoverished flock, they shone the light of Christ into his life and the Spirit transformed his faith and life, indeed he lost his life for their sake. I commend the book and or the DVD to you.

So, friends, my experience over 40 years now living, working, and being adopted into First Nations families has been one of discovering Jesus in the other, my life and faith have been transformed.

Healing Country is about relationship, ours with God the Creator, ours in creation, ours walking together First and Second Peoples – sisters and brothers in Christ. This week the Assembly launched its first formal Covenant Action Plan – check it out on the web site.

Healing Country is about relationships where we open ourselves to the other and in this we are enabled to glimpse more of the mystery of the Creator. It is indeed a foretaste of something more discovered in relationship.

Beloved, we celebrate NAIDOC 2021 today and the ancient wisdom of First Nations Peoples. I encourage you to participate as you are able in local NAIDOC week activities. Let us today, commit anew, to the binding covenant relationship the UCA has with the UAICC, and to the broader commitment we have to all First Nations Peoples for healing country and lasting significant change,+ because Christ’s love compels us.

Mägayamirri rom (like blessing you with the fullest meaning of Shalom).

NAIDOC…From little things big things grow

Published / by Sandy


Turning points along the way.

This year NAIDOC (National Aborigines Day Observance Committee) is celebrating 64 years since an inter-church group met in Sydney in 1956 to think about a modest idea.
The National Missionary Council of Australia representing major denominations though it would be a good idea to celebrate “an annual day of observance for Aborigines.” (A brief history of NAIDOC Week includes reference to the NMCA)
In the early 1970s movements of self-determination began to change the emphasis and committee membership was largely made up of first nation activists from across Australia.
The 1970 September meeting held at the Foundation of Aboriginal Affairs George St included leaders of a wide range of indigenous organizations.
By 1977 Federal Executive members included John Moriarty, Lester Bostock, Neville Perkins and Michael Mansell.
In Victoria annual celebrations led by Pastor Doug Nicholls and the Aborigines Advancement League merged with the annual NADOC celebrations.
Today those involved in the early years would be amazed and proud of the widespread public support and recognition now being given to a simple idea. NAIDOC is now one part in a growing movement in recognising and affirming indigenous culture and spirituality.

(Text provided by Rev Dr Dean Eland)

NAIDOC Week IN THE MEDIA

NAIDOC Week IN OUR CHURCHES

You might also like to read the sermon shared by Assembly’s National Consultant Covenanting Stuart McMillan at Unley Uniting Church on 4 July, titled, A Foretaste of Something More

NAIDOC Week

Published / by Sandy

This week is NAIDOC Week, 4th-11th July, #naidocweek. The NAIDOC acronym stands for National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee, and is observed each year from the first Sunday in July until the following Sunday. NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. The week is a great opportunity to participate in a range of activities and to support your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

The 2021 theme is ‘Heal Country‘ (see more below)

On the ABC on Sunday 4th July, Brooke Prentis was a guest presenter on Dr Meredith Lake’s ABC radio show, Soul Search. Brooke is a Wakka Wakka woman who was born on Yidinji country, grew up mainly in Gubbi Gubbi country, but now lives on Gadigal land in Sydney. She’s also an Aboriginal Christian leader and she shares about her journey of faith, the Aboriginal Christian leaders that inspire her, and what she’s up to in her current role as CEO of Common Grace, a Christian movement in Australia.

Joining her was Aunty Rev Dr Denise Champion, an Adnyamathanha storyteller, Uniting Church Minister and theologian. Recently, Brooke travelled with Aunty Denise to Ikara, known in English as the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, to walk on Adnyamathanha country. Together they discuss their trip, why the Flinders Ranges is a place that needs healing, and how Aunty Denise navigates that as an elder and as a Christian.

Aunty Denise’s new book released in June 2021 is Anaditj or ‘The way things are.’

Listen to the ABC Soul Search program here.

And consider ways to get involved in NAIDOC activities including the NAIDOC ecumenical service at Pilgrim Uniting Church at 6pm on 11th July.

About the 2021 Theme: Heal Country, heal our nation

Country is inherent to our identity. It sustains our lives in every aspect – spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially, and culturally. It is more than a place. When we talk about Country it is spoken of like a person.

Country is family, kin, law, lore, ceremony, traditions, and language. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples it has been this way since the dawn of time.

Through our languages and songs, we speak to Country; through our ceremonies and traditions we sing to – and celebrate Country – and Country speak to us.

Increasingly, we worry about Country.

For generations Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been calling for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of our culture and heritage for all Australians.

We have continued to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction.

We are still waiting for those robust protections.

Healing Country means hearing those pleas to provide greater management, involvement, and empowerment by Indigenous peoples over country.

Healing Country means embracing First Nation’s cultural knowledge and understanding of Country as part of Australia’s national heritage. That the culture and values of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders are respected equally to and the cultures and values of all Australians.

The right to protect Country and culture is fundamental.

Destruction and desecration of our sacred lands or ancient sites – some of the oldest human occupation sites on the planet – is an enormous loss for both our nation and the world.

But to truly heal Country we have more to do.

Our lands will continue to burn from bushfires, droughts will continue to destroy our livelihoods, without using traditional practices that have protected this country for centuries.

For generations, our Elders and communities have advocated, marched and fought for substantive institutional, structural and collaborative reform.

The aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the culmination of generations of consultation and discussions among our nations on a range of issues and grievances.

Healing Country means finally resolving many of the outstanding injustices which impact on the lives of our people.

It must be a fair and equitable resolution.

Fundamental grievances will not vanish. In the European settlement of Australia, there were no treaties, no formal settlements, no compacts. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people therefore did not cede sovereignty to our land. It was taken from us. That will remain a continuing source of dispute.

To Heal Country, we must properly work towards redressing historical injustice.

While we can’t change history, through telling the truth about our nation’s past we certainly can change the way history is viewed.

After 250 years, our children and our future generations deserve better.

For generations we have repeatedly called for just recognition of our right to participate on an equal basis in economic and social terms.

Yet such participation cannot be successful unless, first, there is formal recognition that Indigenous people have been dispossessed and, second, definite, specific steps are taken to redress the grave social and economic disadvantage that followed that dispossession.

Healing Country is more than changing a word in our national anthem – it is about the historical, political, and administrative landscapes adapting to successfully empower and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, nations, and heritage.

We are all looking for significant and lasting change.

We cannot afford to let pass the very real opportunity that now presents itself for reform based on a fundamental change in the relationship Australia has with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Heal Country, heal our nation.

Refugee event at Pilgrim

Published / by Sandy

Rev Liellie McLaughlin, Community Connections Facilitator, Pilgrim Uniting Church, reflects on the Pilgrim Refugee Event: ‘Celebrate with Refugees’.

Thank you to Pilgrim for your support in kind, in donations and in person. Being able to invite the incredible panel, and  Allen Edwards, Kaurna person who did the ‘Welcome to Country’, and the photographer, is part of the rich relationships which grows from the work of Community Connections. This panel, consisting of a young man and his dad from Iran ( who are seen to be asylum seekers, thus not allowed to be citizens, will have to pay for education in Australia at international student rates), the young lady from Afghanistan who is allowed to study physiotherapy as a recognised refugee, a mum from the Congo (who is so grateful for the school and tertiary education she received in Australia and the support for her child with autism) and the highly qualified Sudanese person, who entered Australia with a Masters degree and excellent English, yet gratefully cleaned the bins at Flinders Medical Centre as his first job) are all part of the great bridge-building and ‘safe passage’ support Random Acts of Welcome and Community Connections strive for. 

Sandy’s message about the work of Justice for Refugees and Bruce Whyatt, David Winderlich and Libby Hogarth explaining the vast work of Circle of Friends complemented the evening and our knowledge so well. 

I wrote this to thank the panel:
“One cannot express in words what an event like ‘Celebrate with refugees’ would bring in terms of joy, partnerships, community-enrichment, a sense of tapping into the heart to do what is worthwhile, what is good and what is core to us all.

It was so good to hear the feedback at the end of the evening, the next day and flowing into this week…and all of those on the panel were equally picked as favourite speakers and preferred prime minister!  Inspirational.   And the bridge Allen built between the losses suffered by refugees and the position of the Indigenous was very well articulated and build the bridge for the event. 

Due to the great team-work you have given so graciously and so abundantly to this event, COFA Pilgrim has raised +/- $1300.00 last week.  However, that is only the ‘countable assets’, the unseen is for us to explore to see how it will grow wings.   The awareness-making is very worthwhile and many a heart was stirred” 

The work of Community Connections was so well complemented with the presence, dedication and commitment from  Pilgrim UCA and Bridgewater UCA and some from the Interfaith Forum. The work of Sandy, Margaret, Libby and Bron, providing the great hospitality and the gracious welcome –  this great work underpins and frames an event like this, together with the free photography from Subodh (connected via Cofa Jobs).

With a grateful heart to Pilgrim for the support.

Warm regards, Liellie 

Facilitator: Community Connections

(more photos on Pilgrim Uniting Church Facebook page)

Refugee Week – Fostering a Spirit of Welcome

Published / by Sandy

(article adapted from Uniting Church Assembly, June 2021)

This Refugee Week from 14-20 June, Australians are encouraged to help make Australia a more welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers with the theme “Celebrating the Year of Welcome.”

UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer said this Refugee Week, in the context of COVID-19 and the growing momentum of the Black Lives movement, highlighted the need for us to work harder to combat all forms of racism and inequality in Australia.

“For many refugees and asylum seekers, the experience of racism and inequality is not new, it has been part of their lived reality, both in their home country and sadly, also here in Australia. As Christians, we believe that all people are created in God’s image and all people should have the opportunity to enjoy God’s gift of abundant life. Our life in Christ calls us to create communities that are characterised by love for one another, and of welcome and inclusion.”

In recent times, the impact of COVID-19, has meant new levels of desperation for refugees and asylum seekers in Australia who have faced even greater levels of hardship and destitution. One service provider, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia, has experienced a 224% increase in demand since 1 April and is currently providing emergency food relief to more than 600 people each week.

As well as food insecurity and the inability to meet rent payments, there has been a spike in mental health concerns with the pandemic leaving so many unable to work. Charities providing emergency accommodation say they’re being stretched to breaking point.

The Uniting Church joined with a number or organisations in calling for a financial safety net and access to Medicare to be extended to already vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees living in Australia. Thankfully, a number of States have provided some relief funding to support temporary visa holders, but the impact of the pandemic is likely to extend for many months ahead and more is needed.

More broadly, the Uniting Church has called for pathways to permanent protection for asylum seekers as well as an end to indefinite mandatory detention and a fair and timely process for accessing claims for protection. Read more in our justice Vision Statement

One thing you can do this Refugee Week is call or write to your MP to express your concern for refugees and asylum seekers in our community.

You might also like to take the opportunity to listen and learn from refugees who will be sharing their stories and perspectives.

Here are a number of ways you might like to get involved:

=> Listen in to the Working for Justice Circle Conversation with a person seeking asylum on the Assembly Facebook page.
=> Come and enjoy an evening to ‘Celebrate with Refugees‘ at Pilgrim Uniting Church on Tuesday June 22nd.
=> Book in to a movie night to see ‘Scattered People’ at the Welcoming Centre on Friday 25th June.
=> Join one of the many Refugee Week events taking place online this year
=> Watch, listen or share some of the suggested films, podcasts, poems, videos, songs on the Refugee Week resources page
=> Join the Refugee Council of Australia community dinner project, Share a Meal, Share a Story
=> Share a message of support on your social media account – use any of the hashtags #RefugeeWeek2020 #justice4refugees #NobodyLeftBehind #GameOver
=> Call or speak to your MP about extending the safety net and Medicare benefits to refugees and asylum seekers impacted by COVID-19
=> Find out more from the SA Synod website, and the Pilgrim Social Justice website with resources for Refugee Week.

Uniting Church in Australia turns 44 on 22nd June

Published / by Sandy

As we mark 44 years of the Uniting Church in Australia on 22 June, President Dr Deidre Palmer has encouraged UCA members to take time to pause, give thanks for what is past, and reflect on where God is calling us into the future.

In her final Anniversary message, Dr Palmer reflects on how the disruption and devastation of COVID-19 has caused us to think in a new way about what it means to be the Uniting Church.

“Over the past year, we have had cause to reflect on who we are as the church, when our regular rituals, ways of being with each other, our advocacy, and our planned events have been disrupted by a wave of devastation caused by the pandemic that has worked its way across the world,” said Dr Palmer.

“We have at times felt isolated, and powerless in the face of such suffering and grief. We have also been encouraged by the ways people have acted compassionately toward others.”

Dr Palmer said the anniversary was an opportunity to give thanks for who we are as the Uniting Church , who we’ve become and where we are going.

In particular, Dr Palmer gives thanks for the journey we are on together as First and Second Peoples, our work towards becoming an intercultural Christian community, the vision and hope of our young people and prophetic voices calling for justice and healing in our nation and for all creation.

“On this anniversary of the Uniting Church, I invite us to move forward in faith, opening our hearts to the actions of the innovative, creative Holy Spirit, forming and transforming the Uniting Church into a community in Christ embodying God’s abundant grace and liberating hope.”

Watch the full message here.

Talking about boats and ceilings

Published / by Sandy

A sermon from Rev Sandy Boyce, on Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Photo: the roof of St Johns Anglican Church in Branxton NSW provided by DGW

I once was at a church where people used to say if the sermon was boring they’d start counting the holes in the timber roofing. Thankfully no holes in our timber roofing, nor – hopefully – a need to count holes.

But I do want to talk about ceilings. In some older style churches the roof is designed as if it is an upturned boat. The wooden beams are deliberately left bare. And this architectural tradition is said to come from this Gospel story that recounts when Jesus stills a storm while on a boat at night with his disciples. It really must have been quite a storm for the experienced fishermen on board to be terrified. We are told that the geography around Lake Galilee means that the winds can quickly churn up the inland lake and make it treacherous for boats. Now there are storms, and then there are STORMS. And this one is huge, an apocalyptic boat ride from hell.

What’s going on in this story? You may have heard many a sermon on this text and there is much that can be said about this text. I offer these brief reflections.

The writer of Mark’s Gospel is said to have written sometime from 66CE when serious trouble was brewing up against the Roman occupiers with a Jewish rebellion in Judea. All sorts of measures were used to quell the rebellion include systematically starving the people to force order to be restored. Mark’s Gospel could have been written as late as 74CE, a few years later after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. At that time, Roman soldiers had surrounded and then systematically ransacked Jerusalem, culminating in the burning and looting of the Temple that had been the heart of Jewish religious and cultural life. One can only imagine the horror, the chaos, the destruction, with the slaughter of thousands of people in the city of Jerusalem. The historian Josephus writes, ‘Through the roar of the flames streaming far and wide, the groans of the falling victims were heard; such was the height of the hill (on which the Temple stood) and the magnitude of the blazing pile that the entire city seemed to be ablaze; and the noise – nothing more deafening and frightening could be imagined’. Thousands were butchered, with bodies piled up in the street. Many people were taken into slavery in the mines of Egypt or dispersed to arenas throughout the Empire to be butchered for the amusement of the public.

Now, the writer of Mark’s Gospel was like an early journalist writing an account of Jesus in the context of the political world 30 or 40 years after the death of Jesus, and in the shadow of Rome’s enormous power. Then, as now, a writer and journalist can be in serious danger for writing against Empire and the powers of the day. So this story of an apocalyptic storm on the lake might be read in much the same way as the parables that immediately precede this story in Mark’s Gospel – hinting at something beyond the literal story it tells. A chaotic storm threatening to overwhelm the occupants of the boat is an entirely appropriate way to write about the might of the Roman Empire threatening to crush the Jewish people.

Until the destruction of the temple, the early followers of Jesus remained as a group within Judaism, the religion of the Jewish people. Christians were also under threat, terrified for their lives. They had to find safe ways to practice their religious life, with symbols and signs and codified writing like we see in Mark’s Gospel, the earliest of the gospel writings.

The world as they had known it had come to an end. There was terrible ongoing chaos. This description of a small boat caught in a chaotic storm works brilliantly as a symbol for the political chaos at the time. And here’s what sustained hope for the early Christians amidst the chaos – that Jesus was with them, in the ‘boat’ that was caught in such a perilous situation. That even though it appeared he was sleeping, inactive, unaware in the ‘boat’, he had the power to control these storms. And he was present with them.

Like the disciples, those who read Mark’s Gospel may have thought God was indifferent to their hardship and suffering. The writer of Mark’s Gospel was saying to those early Christians – have courage, have faith, because Jesus is in that boat with you. There will be winds and storms again, but the hope of this story is that the Reign of God extends over even the most daunting expression of chaos. It offers the hope that even the chaos can be brought to order.

The boat became a symbol of the early church. During times when Christians needed to disguise the cross, the boat’s mast formed the cross. The depiction of a boat is incorporated into the logo of the World Council of Churches, to represent the world wide Church. It is a potent metaphor for the church tossed around by the storms of this life.The symbol of the boat is literally built into the architecture of many older churches. When we see the exposed beams we are meant to see the keel (bottom) of a ship. Imagine a ship stripped of everything expect the bottom structure, then turn it upside-down and stick it to the ceiling. That is what we are intended to see. We call the part where the congregation sits the ‘nave’, from the Latin navis, or ship (from which we get the word navy), and was meant to portray the reality that the Church itself is a ship or a boat, protecting those inside it from the waves and buffets of the world. The church offers a sanctuary, a safe place, a refuge. We are in that boat, and Jesus is with us, journeying with us through the inevitable storms of life we must go through. Sanctuary has been a place marker of bricks and mortar but over the centuries it’s also been about practice, offering a tangible witness of God’s justice-seeking love.

What does this mean for you, here in this safe place, a sanctuary where Jesus is present with us, where the boat is literally over our heads?

When the service concludes, we are sent out again with the words of benediction. We take the stillness, calm and peace we experience here to give witness to Jesus in a world that knows too much chaos.

Spend a few moments in quiet reflection as you find your place in the boat, name the chaos you know to be present around you, and find your hope in Jesus who is present with you. Amen.

Growing Up Uniting

Published / by Sandy

The Uniting Church National History Association 3rd Biennial Conference was held in Sydney over the June long weekend 2021.

Participants were invited to consider what it meant to be ‘Growing up Uniting‘ in a secular age, or growing up ecumenically, theologically, spiritually, proudly, liturgically, multiculturally, hopefully and joyfully.

Young people from various Uniting Church CALD communities explored what it meant to be growing up Tongan Australian, Korean Australian, Fijian Australian, Samoan Australian etc in the Uniting Church.

As well, there was an opportunity to consider what it means to grow up disciples or to explore growing old gracefully in the Uniting Church.

A new book, Growing Up Uniting, was launched at the conference. It is a collection of reflections by young people in the Uniting Church, edited by Rev Dr William Emilsen (available through MediaCom).

Image: Rev Dr William Emilsen (editor) and Rev Ellie Elia (contributor)

Dr Judith Raftery, President of the Uniting Church (SA) Historical Society, and a member at Pilgrim Uniting Church, commends the book:

“This collection of lively and thoughtful essays is instructive reading for anyone who cares about the present and future of the Uniting Church in Australia. The contributors write with candour about their experiences of “growing up Uniting.” The UCA’s contribution to their lives – its open and welcoming style, its encouragement of their questions and its capacity to respond with conversations that open up rather than close down further enquiry, its provision of loving and practical mentoring, its embrace of diversity and inclusiveness, its witness to radical gospel values of justice, compassion, servant leadership and rejection of oppression – is enthusiastically acknowledged. But they are not blind to their church’s shortcomings – its failure to always live up to the best impulses of the Basis of Union, its growing tendency to replace conciliar and consensus models of decision-making with corporate and managerialist ones, its loss of its early enthusiasm and imagination in the provision of youth ministries, its preference (sometimes and in some places), for hankering after old and past-it certainties rather than grasping the uncertainties of new challenges. These are the young people of our church, speaking to us all. We would do well to heed what they say, allow ourselves to be reproved by it, and let their insights and hopes temper our sometimes fearful predictions about the UCA’s future”.

A book well worth reading as we celebrate the 44th anniversary of the Uniting Church (inauguarated on 22nd June 1977).

 

Reconciliation Week 2021

Published / by Sandy

All three morning services (8am, 9.30am and 11am) on Sunday 30th May included reference to Reconciliation Sunday and Reconciliation Week.
Reconciliation Sunday is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements with our Aboriginal sisters and brothers, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.

The 2021 Reconciliation Week theme, More than a word – reconciliation takes action, asks people to take their awareness and knowledge, and use it as springboard to more substantive, brave action. For reconciliation to be effective, it must involve truth-telling, and actively address issues of inequality, systemic racism and instances where the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are ignored, denied or marginalised. Yes, there is greater support for reconciliation from Australian people than ever before, but we must continue to be determined in order to achieve the goals of the movement – a just, equitable, reconciled Australia. Justice stands at the heart of God. Justice is nothing other than love which seeks to understand, resist and overcome the structure of oppression. Bearing witness to the love of God involves working for justice.

As part of the 9.30am service (which can be viewed on Youtube here), Mr Allen Edwards was invited to play the didgeridoo and to offer Welcome to Country, following the video of the song by Geoff Boyce (Listen to the Whisper), sung by Tim and Aly Solly. We have used the video many times before in the service, but it was particularly emotive this time. Tarlee Leondaris (Covenanting Officer, SA UCA Synod) offered the message. A new book, Realisations and Reflections: Stories of transformation by members of Pilgrim Uniting Church engaging with Australia’s First Peoples*, includes contributions by some of the 8am and 9.30am community and edited by Geoff Boyce. Geoff Boyce wrote a new song, Realisations, for the occasion, which was also launched on Reconciliation. Very meaningful. The book was launched by Hon Kyam Maher, Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The new book can be purchased from the Pilgrim office, or via Lulu online. All funds raised will go to support Covenanting projects.

The Reconciliation Sunday service (and book launch) was a very memorable and moving occasion.

This prayer was used in the Reconciliation Sunday service:
Together, let us create brave space.
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space” —
We exist in the real world.
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space:
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world.
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere.
We call each other to more truth and love and reconciliation.
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect. This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be.
But, it will be our brave space together,
and we will work on it side by side.
(Source: Micky ScottBey Jones, adapted)

Hon Kyam Maher MLC, Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and Mr Allen Edwards
Rev Dr Paul Goh and Geoff Boyce, editor of the new publication
Rev Liellie McLaughlin and Dr Marelle Harisun (part of planning team) and Rev Dr Paul Goh
Reconciliation Sunday 2021 at Pilgrim Uniting Church Adelaide
Rev Sandy Boyce offering the Benediction

Pentecost Sunday

Published / by Sandy

The Uniting Church is blessed with multiple languages ​​in both our First Peoples and Second Peoples. In the Uniting Church, there are more than 45 languages groups worshipping every Sunday in congregations across the country.

On the Day of Pentecost one of the great miracles of the Spirit of God was manifested in various languages. The ability to speak and hear the Good News in different languages ​​is an important sign of God’s presence. On the day of Pentecost, we see language is part of the diversity and unity of all God’s People. Language is no longer a barrier.

In the coming of the Spirit among the disciples, we see the diversity of society is no longer a threat nor is it something that divides us – rather it is the reality of God’s creation. We celebrate our diversity as God’s gift.

For this Pentecost Celebration, Rev Dr Apwee Ting (UCA Assembly National Consultant) has prepared a video with 21 UCA members reading the familiar narrative from Acts 2: 1-21, in their heart languages.

The Coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-21)

1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. (Rosemary Jinmauliya, Burarra)

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. (Helen Milminydjarrk, Djambarrpuyŋu)

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. (Perry Yankaporta, Wik Mungkan)

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Carolyn Namiriya, Pitjantjatjara)

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. (Rev Dr Emanuel Audisho, Arabic)

And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. ( Anita Soghomonian, Armenian)

Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? (Rev Enshuo Zhu, Chinese)

And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? (Rev Paul Dau, Dinka)

Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, (Nina Kautoga, Fijian)

10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, (Cecile Surjanegara, Indonesian)

11 both Jews and proselytesCretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” (Rev Seungjae Yeon, Korean)

12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Falala Pipitolu-Talagi, Niuean)

13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Elizabeth Leth,Nuer)

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. (Rev Esteban Lievano, Portugese)

15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. (Rev Kili Mafaufau, Samoan)

16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: (Rev Kemeri Lievano, Spanish)

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams. (Keyna Gem Guerrero,Tagalog)

18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy. (Jane Zeng, Taiwanese)

19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist. (Sakuntala Roberts Tamil)

20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. (Lisita Palutele,Tongan)

21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Anh Vo,Vietnamese)

This video is part of a series reflecting on the Identity of the Uniting Church.  It provides a reminder and a celebration of our Identity as an intercultural church – both our commitment to being multicultural and to living our life and faith as an intercultural community.

Care for Creation

Published / by Sandy

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.’
(Acts 2:17, NRSV)

‘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.’ (Basis of Union, Par. 3)

In February 2021 at the annual meeting of the South Australian UCA Synod, we resolved that in the Shaping the Future – Strategic Priorities for the Uniting Church Synod of SA 2021 -2025, Caring for Creation should be one of our guiding principles through which all strategic priorities pass.

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, we are reminded of our Uniting Church’s vision toward the goal of reconciliation and renewal of the whole creation. In the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, our Church’s confession that Jesus is Lord comes together with its interconnected confession that, ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’ (Psalm 24:1, NIV). Humanity is not the master of the earth but is responsible to care for the integrity of creation. We, as God’s people are called to participate in the mission of the Holy Spirit to renew the whole creation.

Recently, a series of new resources were developed by the UCA Environmental Action Group in cooperation with Uniting Church Fellowship and Mission Support (UCFAMS), with support from the SA UCA Synod, entitled, “Lessons from Covid-19 for the Climate emergency”.

At the launch, Dr Deidre Palmer, President of the Uniting Church in Australia, said:

“This resource raises awareness of the climate crisis we face, encourages conversation and reflection – personally and communally. It sets it within the context of our Biblical and theological foundations and our faithful following of Jesus. It encourages us to engage intelligently with the science, and to seriously question the way we are living our lives daily. The resource sets it within the context of what we have been facing over this past year, and our response. After more than a year of the emergence of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, and as we continue to live with all its impacts, we are grieving -the loss of life, loss of social connection, loss of income and the uncertainty for our future. We lament the inequities in our world, where not everyone has the opportunity to wash their hands in clean water, or to socially distance, as they cope with crowded shelters and inadequate health care. We are joining together in global cooperation, and in Australia, to stem the spread of this virus, and to protect the most vulnerable in our community”.

“Our political leaders and health and economic professionals are leading us through this crisis with guidance that is based on scientific evidence and compassionate care for those impacted. We have seen what can be achieved in a very short space of time to address a crisis that threatens us all. In the resource, “Lessons from COVID19 for the Climate Emergency”, we recognize as a Church, we have another crisis that we need to face together – the crisis that our whole creation is groaning under the impacts of climate change, pollution, and degradation of our ecosystems”.

“Emerging from the COVID crisis – what will we do? Some have talked about what will be the “new normal” on the other side of this pandemic. This is a time for us as the Uniting Church to be asking: What do we want our common life to be? As followers of Jesus, what are the values and practices we want to embrace and maintain? How will we bear witness to God’s vision of the reconciliation and renewal of the whole creation?”

“The new resource encourages us to consider these questions and others that are before us, and to take action. We need to urgently take action to prioritise what is important for now and into our future. God is calling us to shape a world, where our common life includes care for the earth, which we all share; a recognition, that creation is not there simply for our use and abuse, but the creatures of the earth, the plants, and the land itself, need to be respected, and cherished. We need to live in a sustainable way, using renewable sources of energy, recycling, reducing waste, and having sustainable manufacturing and agricultural practices, so that there is a future for our earth. We need our Government to set in place strategies to ensure that all communities are able to transition into the new low carbon world for the sake of the whole planet”.

Deidre outlined the video series:

The first video is an introduction to the series by Rev Jennifer Hughes.

In the second video “Compassion and Innovation”, Tarlee Leondaris speaks of the significant challenges that face us, if we don’t respond to the climate crisis. And she reminds us of God’s great compassion for the earth. She also reminds us that God’s call to us is to participate in God’s mission now in our present: “Jesus’ understanding of the new heaven and new earth includes that it is not just a future phenomenon, after our death. We are participants in bringing them about in this time and in this place.” She notes that there is hope – and that “Hope is a verb, rather than a noun” – an action.

The third video features Rev John Hughes speaking about our “Connectedness” – with a reference to our SA Synod Moderator’s theme: Connections – we are connected with God, with each other and the earth.

The fourth video is led by Leigh Newton, exploring “Learning from Science”. Leigh reminds us of one of the significant lessons from COVID19 –we need to heed the science – listen to those scientists, who point to the evidence of global warming, and the effects of climate change.

The fifth and final video features Carys Penny who challenges us to consider: “how much do we need?” – and calls us to consider how we live with integrity and sustainably, respecting the earth. She calls us to challenge over consumption and a disposable, throwaway lifestyle.

“As the Uniting Church, as followers of Jesus, we are called to take action to address climate change and renew and protect the life of our planet. We are called to move toward sustainable and non-exploitative living, embracing a relationship of mutuality and respectful interdependence with the whole creation. In concluding, Dr Palmer said, “I highly commend this resource to the whole Church – it will contribute to the deepening of our Christian discipleship in our care for God’s creation”.

A PRAYER FOR THE EARTH
Creator God,
We give you thanks for your beautiful creation. We give you thanks for the intricate web of life that weaves us together. We give you thanks for this resource and pray your blessing on all those who use it. Christ, our Redeemer, forgive us when we exploit and degrade the earth. Forgive us when we consume more than we need. Forgive us when we greedily use the earth’s resources, while others are living in poverty and lack the basic necessities of life. As people around our nation gather in groups to reflect on the themes raised in this resource, renew your vision within us of a world in which we love our neighbours, share equitably all the gifts of the earth, and live in harmony with all creation. Holy Spirit, Life giver, may we be bearers of your liberating hope. Sustain us as we participate in God’s reconciliation and the renewal of the whole earth. Amen.

‘Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth’ (Ps 104:1).

Environmental Action Group on Youtube, blogsite
Uniting Church Fellowship and Mission Support (UCFAMS) 
Youtube channel; President: Jill Polkinghorne
Phone 85226188/0404 326 092 or email jillpolki@gmail.com

(On Friday 21 May, Uniting Church members across the country will join with young people at marches and other events calling for a more genuine response to climate change. Read more here).

Investing in the economy

Published / by Sandy

A statement from the National Assembly, Uniting Church in Australia, in response to this year’s budget, with comments from key leaders in the Assembly (originally published on the UCA Assembly website):

Dr Deidre Palmer, UCA President;
Claerwen Little, UnitingCare Australia National Director;
Pastor Mark Kickett, Interim Chairperson
Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress;
Jannine Jackson, Frontier Services National Director ;
Sureka Goringe, UnitingWorld National Director.

Jim Wallis (Sojourners) has said, “A budget shows who’s important, who’s not, what’s important, what’s not.” It’s helpful to remember that the Federal Government acts on the specific mandated responsibilities it has (as outlined in the Constitution) and does not act outside of those defined areas. ‘Who’s important, who’s not, what’s important, what’s not’ needs to be understood within the specific responsibilities of the Federal Government.

In considering the budget presented to Parliament, there will be matters of relevance affecting the work of the UCA agencies and networks.

Addressing aspects of the budget, the Uniting Church in Australia has welcomed the Federal Government 2021-22 Budget with its historic investment in social services as part of a range of measures focused on rebuilding the economy.

“We welcome this recovery-focused Budget particularly the record investment in vital services that will make a difference for many Australians” said UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer.

Dr Palmer welcomed record investment in aged care, mental health, women’s economic security, safety and participation.

“One of our key learnings from the past 12 months is that we are only as strong and healthy as the most vulnerable members of our society, and we welcome investment in measures that will improve the well-being of our whole society,” said Dr Palmer.

At the same time, Dr Palmer said there were also missed opportunities in areas which might bring about the flourishing of all people and all creation.

“It is disappointing to see there is next to no funding for renewable energy in the budget and no real plan for how Australia can invest in a more sustainable future and strengthen our response to climate change.”

Refugees and people seeking asylum are no better off from the Budget, with the Government continuing to invest in offshore and onshore detention and the absence of any new reforms to the community sponsorship program.

In their response to the Budget, UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little welcomed the Government’s focus on essential services and the Government’s comprehensive response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

“As part of the Australian Aged Care Collaboration, we are pleased to see the $17.7 billion investment in aged care over five years and commend the Government’s commitment to transformation,” said Ms Little. “We are now on the pathway to address many of the challenges facing aged care.”

Ms Little also welcomed investment in homelessness services, mental health and policies that support women saying these measures will support thousands of families, individuals and communities.

In respect to funding for First Peoples, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) Interim Chairperson Ps Mark Kickett welcomed some measures including a new Remote Jobs Program, but expressed disappointment that the Budget lacked the scope and scale to deliver lasting change.

“Sadly, this budget fails to deliver on Closing the Gap for First Peoples including a lack of funding for measures to address the overincarceration of First Peoples, such as support for justice reinvestment,” said Ps Kickett. “For there to be tangible and lasting change we need to invest in community-led programs and services across all key areas of policy, including health, mental health, justice, employment, disability, early childhood care and development, and families.”

Frontier Services National Director Jannine Jackson said the Budget had some steps in the right direction for people in rural and remote Australia but fell short of meeting the need. Ms Jackson welcomed the increased spending on digital mental health support targeted at fly-in and fly-out workers but said this was not enough to address the growing mental health crisis.

“While we appreciate the response, there is limited access to reliable internet and our concern is that when in a crisis, communication is critical. When you are dealing with delicate issues like suicide, having ongoing access to real people is essential.”

UnitingWorld National Director Sureka Goringe expressed concern that while COVID-19 escalates for our closest neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region, the Government’s international aid spending continues to decline.

“We acknowledge the work that is being done by the Australian Government to help our neighbours respond but greater investment is needed to manage the scale of the crisis which has plunged 120 million people into extreme poverty.”

“As a nation we are rightly proud of how we have managed the pandemic, but we believe we have a responsibility to leverage this success and contribute in ways that will ensure an equitable and just recovery for all.”

DNA of the UCA

Published / by Sandy

UCA theologian and blogger Rev Dr John Squires names 10 distinctive features of the Uniting Church in Australia that make up our identity and contribution to the mission of God in the world (originally published on UCA National Assembly website)

The Uniting Church is part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church – we see ourselves as just one part of a much larger whole. We do the things that other denominations within the church do: we gather for worship, preach the Gospel, care for the needy, witness to our faith, and connect with communities.

We have many organisations that cater specifically for pre-schoolers, school students, people with disabilities, theological students, adult learners, Indigenous people and aged and infirm people. We have chaplains in hospitals, schools, industry, and the defence forces. And we have congregations in many places across the continent.

When we worship, we feel connected with the people of God of all denominations across the globe. When we witness, we bear testimony to the faith shared by Christians of many varieties. When we reach out in service, we act in solidarity with people of Christian faith, people of other faiths, and people of goodwill of any stripe, in our communities and across the globe.

We share in the call to be missional, universal, set apart, and unified, as God’s people together. Or in more traditional theological language, we are part of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’ church.

But we believe that we have some distinctive elements to contribute to that larger whole. Our identity as the Uniting Church in Australia is marked by ten distinctive features.

I   In Ecumenical Relationship

When the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches joined together in 1977 to form the Uniting Church in Australia, they declared that this union was both in accord with the will of God, and that it was a gift of God to the people of God in Australia.

Since then, the Uniting Church has been a church which is committed to working ecumenically with other Christian denominations. That commitment is one very important aspect of our identity as a Uniting Church. We belong to the National Council of Churches in Australia and the World Council of Churches, where we co-operate with many denominations.

Nationally, we have participated in ongoing conversations with other denominations (Anglican, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic). At the grassroots level, our ministers participate in local ministers’ associations in hundreds of towns and cities across the nation. Some Congregations share buildings with other denominations; some worship and serve together, especially in rural towns.

We are an ecumenical church.

II   In Covenant with First Peoples

A very important dimension to being the church in this country is that we are a church in Covenant with the First Peoples of Australia. From its earliest years, the Uniting Church has been involved in actions which express our solidarity with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Older members will recall events at Noonkanbah Station in the Kimberley in 1980, when Uniting Church members stood in solidarity with the traditional owners, the Yungngora people, against the mining of their land.

The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) was established in 1985, and a Covenant between the UAICC and the UCA was implemented in 1994. This Covenant recognises that working for reconciliation amongst people is central to the Gospel.

In 2009, the Preamble to the UCA Constitution was revised to recognise the difficult history of relationships between the First Peoples and the later arrivals, as Second Peoples. In 2018, we agreed to support a Makarrata process to give a clear national voice to First Peoples, and to support a national Treaty. Our present relationship is one which seeks to ensure that we commit to the destiny together which we share as Australians. One expression of this commitment is the Walking Together as First and Second Peoples Circle.

We stand in covenant relationship with the First Peoples.

III   A Multicultural Church 

In the same year that the Congress was formed, the Uniting Church declared that it is a multicultural church, which rejoices in the diversity of cultures and languages which are found across Australia. The Basis of Union recognises that we share much, as Australians, with people of Asia and the Pacific. The Uniting Church has maintained strong relationships with churches from these regions, as well forging new links with churches in Africa and the Middle East.

The Statement to the Nation, issued in 1977, acknowledged that the Uniting Church seeks a unity that transcends cultural, economic and racial distinctions. Within Australia, there are 12 national conferences based on regional groupings and people from 193 language groups who belong to the Uniting Church.

Each Sunday, worship takes place in Uniting Churches in 26 languages from cultures beyond Australia, as well as many Indigenous languages used in worship by first peoples across our church. We have learnt the importance of moving form “enjoying each other’s foods”, to conversing at a deep level about the hopes and expectations we bring from different cultural experiences. We have learnt that we need to be intercultural in our relationships.

Through UnitingWorld, we maintain partnerships with churches in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. We are truly a multicultural church. Through the Relations with Other Faiths Working Group and the Seeking Common Ground Circle, the Uniting Church has been active in developing relationships and building understanding of other faith communities. We have a long and fruitful dialogue with the Jewish community, and participate in a number of other interfaith conversations. We are firmly committed to constructive interfaith relations.

We continue to develop as a church in deepening relationships with many cultures and faiths. 

IV   All the people of God

The Uniting Church is a church which values the ministry of all the people of God and seeks to order itself in accordance with the will of God. Our Basis of Union affirms that every member of the church is engaged to confess Christ crucified, and every person is gifted by the Spirit to engage in ministry in their own particular way. We are a church that values the ministry of each and every person.

Throughout the life of the Uniting Church, we have held our structures and forms of ministry accountable to ongoing scrutiny. Alongside the Ministry of the Word, to nurture and guide Congregations, we have introduced the Ministry of Deacon, to focus attention on people living on the margins. We have introduced the Ministry of Pastor to recognise the giftedness of lay people, and that sits alongside the Ministry of Lay Preacher (which we have had since 1977) and the more recent accreditation of Lay Presiders in many locations.

We have also undertaken important conversations about membership and the relationship of Baptism to Holy Communion. We now have a clear commitment to an open table when we gather for The Lord’s Supper: all who are baptised (whether adult or child, whether confirmed or not) are welcome to share at this table.

We are a church which values the ministry of all the people of God.

V   Women and Men

The Basis of Union makes it very clear that we are a church which is committed to equality and mutuality of women and men in ministry. Even before 1977, the three previous denominations had ordained women to ministry. This is a very strong distinctive, especially in the Australian scene.

Since 1977, many women have stood on an equal basis alongside men, as Ministers of the Word, Deacons, Elders, Church Councillors, Lay Preachers, Lay Presiders, Chaplains, and Pastoral Carers. We value the insights and experience of women in each and every way that we seek to “be church”—as we gather to worship, as we witness to our faith, as we serve the wider community.

Both lay and ordained women have served in leadership positions across all councils of the Uniting Church, from Church Council Chairpersons to Presbytery Chairpersons, to Synod Moderators and Secretaries, to the Assembly General Secretary and President. Many couples minister together as husband and wife. Gender equality is most certainly part of our identity.

We are committed to mutuality and gender equality in every part of the church.

VI   Discernment

Another contribution that the UCA has made has been to highlight the importance, when we gather in council, of being open to the Spirit, and seeking to discern the will of God. We live this out in our councils by practising a process of consensus decision-making. The Manual for Meetings sets out the various elements that are involved in making decisions by discernment: a time of information, a time of deliberation, and a time of decision-making.

The infamous “coloured cards” are only one small part of the whole. The focus is on listening to the Spirit before we speak, and striving to find a way forward that most, if not all, people can see as the will of God for the church. This way of decision-making, which originated in the UCA, has now been adopted by the World Council of Churches and a number of its member Churches.

We are a church which deliberately seeks to discern the movement of the Spirit in our midst.

VII   Professional Standards

Over the last 20 years, the Uniting Church has developed a firm commitment to strong professional standards, for Ministers as well as for lay people who exercise leadership in the church. Our commitment to professional standards emerged initially in response to the problems of sexual misconduct within the church. A whole section of the Regulations is now devoted to this.

Since 1999, all Ministers have been expected to adhere to a Code of Ethics, and this has most recently been revised to provide a Code of Ethics Ministry Practice for Ministers and a Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders. Ministers and Pastors undertake regular training in aspects of this code, in ethical ministry workshops.

Since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, we have intensified our efforts to ensure that our churches are Safe Places, valuing everybody, honouring integrity, avoiding negative and hurtful behaviours.

We are a church which values integrity and clarity about our ethical standards.

VIII   Open to explore difficult issues 

Over 40 years, the Uniting Church has shown that it is a church which is prepared to engage in difficult discussions about contentious issues. Our Basis of Union commits us to learn from the insights of contemporary scientific and historical studies, and affirms that we remain open to correction by God in the way we order our life together.

In the early years of the Uniting Church, debates about Baptism were the focus of great controversy. Infant baptism had been an integral part of the worship practices of each denomination which joined the Uniting Church, but Ministers and Elders Councils were receiving regular requests for baptism by adults who had been baptised as infants but had come to a personal faith later in their lives. After debates stretching through the 1980s and 1990s, the Uniting Church has developed a clear set of protocols to cover such requests.

Another area of enduring controversy has been that of human sexuality. There is a wide diversity of opinion within society relating to such matters, and this diversity is present within the Uniting Church. Once again, from the 1980s though into the present era, lively debates regarding human sexuality have taken place in the various councils of the church. We have worked through difficult decisions about sexuality and leadership, and then about sexuality, gender, and marriage. We continue to learn, explore, and adapt.

In dealing with such issues, we have learned how to debate with respect and integrity with ongoing conversations looking to employ a “Space for Grace” process to encourage respectful, empowering, and inclusive decision-making.

We seek to be a church that engages in the difficult discussions with honesty, transparency, and hopefulness.

IX   Advocating for Justice

The Uniting Church inherited from its predecessor Churches a strong commitment to advocating for justice for all. Many Uniting Church congregations and members are actively committed to serving those people who find themselves on the margins of society. This commitment was clearly articulated in the 1977 Statement to the Nation and it has been evident in many actions undertaken by Uniting Church members over the decades.

The Uniting Church has joined in common cause with other groups and organisations in society, in advocating for a welcoming attitude towards refugees; in lobbying for a fair and just system of caring for people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness; in seeking equity for workers in their workplace; and in many other issues.

A regular stream of policy documents and public resolutions point to a clear and unbroken commitment to seeking justice for all. Each federal election, we are provided with resources that encourage us, as people of faith, to consider the implications of our votes in the life of the nation. The Working for Justice Circle is one platform where UCA members share their passion for justice.

We are a church which is strongly committed to justice for all.

X   Environmental Sustainability

In like manner, the Uniting Church has always been a church which honours the environment and supports a sustainable lifestyle. Although such matters are firmly on the radar of the public now, they have long been integral to the identity of the UCA. Once again, the 1977 Statement to the Nation flagged such commitment. A series of subsequent documents attest to the ongoing determination of the church to live responsibly, in such a way that we minimise the damage we cause to the environment in which we live.

Our partnerships with Churches in the Pacific have intensified our awareness of the negative impacts that are resulting from climate change. We know that we need to act now, to reduce the threat. Each year, we experience catastrophic consequences from more regular and more intensified “natural disasters”—fires, floods, drought, cyclones. Just as we provide pastoral support in these situations through Disaster Response Chaplains, so too we maintain advocacy with governments, urging them to set policies which will turn us away from the trajectory of yet more environmental disasters.

Locally, many Congregations and individual members of the UCA are seeking to implement practices that will reduce their carbon footprint on the planet. We know that we owe it to future generations, to live responsibly in the present.

We are a church that lives, acts, and advocates for a sustainable environmental future.

You may have some thoughts about what I have articulated above. You may have thought, “what about …?” – something that I have overlooked, that you see as important. You may have some questions about how I have described some of these elements. I encourage you to talk with others about how you respond. Together, we are the Uniting Church!


Rev Dr John Squires is Presbytery Minister—Wellbeing in the Canberra Region Presbytery. He blogs regularly about various matters at An Informed Faith – John T Squires, including the identity of the Uniting Church. See https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/15/what-i-really-like-about-the-basis-of-union/ and https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/20/alongside-the-basis-of-union-there-was-the-statement-to-the-nation/

#IWMD April 28, 2021

Published / by Sandy

A reverent and touching International Workers Memorial Day service was held at Pilgrim Uniting Church on 28th April 2021. International Workers’ Memorial Day is supported by the Government of South Australia, Pilgrim Uniting Church, SA Council of Churches, SA Unions, Asbestos Victims Association, Asbestos Diseases Society of SA and Voice of Industrial Death, Worksafe SA. Everyone affected by a work-related death or significant trauma was welcomed to attend the service and were provided with the opportunity to contribute a personal item or photograph for the memorial display. The ecumenical commemorative service featured a candle-lighting ceremony as well as the symbolic release of doves.

Rev Liz Dyson presented the following reflection, based on Psalm 139.

“There is sometimes one moment in time, one image that speaks to and captures the imagination of many many people in many many places.
Some weeks ago as I’m sure you noticed, the world was witness to the funeral of Prince Philip. Whether you are a royal follower or not, there’s a strong chance that even if you didn’t stay up late to watch the event, you would have caught images of it on the news, in the paper or on social media.

There was one particular image that captured my imagination and has stayed in my mind, and I know the minds of many others from that event.
It was the image of the Queen of England, dressed all in black, wearing a black mask, head bowed, her hat hiding much of her face from the world, and sitting completely alone, at the funeral of her husband of over 70 years.
Such a profound image for so many reasons. A woman with many privileges yet suddenly not so different from us. Not immune from Covid restrictions. Not immune from sadness and loss. In the midst of grief.
Perhaps this image of grief was so profound for so many because there has been so much grief in our community and in our world in recent times.
We grieve our pre-pandemic world where we could feel safe, where livelihoods might not be threatened by shut downs and restrictions, and where we could travel to be with friends and family. A world where when significant events like funerals and marriages and birthday celebrations are organized we can plan to be there and then actually be there. We grieve for a world in which nurses and doctors and bus drivers and baggage handlers could go to work and not fear contracting a dangerous virus.

And in recent days too we marked Anzac Day – where we remember those who have lost their lives or their limbs or their mental health for the safety and freedom of others.

And then today, International Workers Memorial day we especially remember and share our grief for those who have died in or because of their work-place…

There is something sacred and significant and really helpful about being together at these important times. About grieving in community. About shared ritual and shared space and shared stories … and a shared hope and commitment for things to be different and safer in the future. It connects us. It somehow makes our grief shared. It helps us to carry the load together. And this is why we meet here today.

And yet I think too that what was so powerful about that image of the Queen was the reminder that however helpful it is to be together and share our grief with others, in the end it is also true that our grief is a very personal and individual thing.

There was only one person who knew Prince Philip like the Queen knew Prince Philip. If you are here today because someone you know and love died at work or because of work, you are the only person who knew that person in the way you did.

And we know too that grief is different for different people, and we grieve in different ways … there are the activist grievers who pour the energy of their grief into making the world a safer place for others. I’m sure we have some of those here today.

Then there are the still and quiet grievers who spend time and energy being present to the memory of the one they have lost.

There are those who throw themselves back into life in the hope that the sadness doesn’t swallow them up.

And there are many other ways of doing grief, perhaps as many ways as there are people who grieve.

Sometimes you may have noticed our different ways of grieving create tension – why aren’t they doing it like me? Why can’t they understand that I need to be quiet, or that I need to be busy or that I just can’t think about that right now.

Whatever your experience of grief our reading today is for you. It was written several thousands of years ago, but it is no less meaningful and relevant now than the day it was written down …

Psalm 139 tells us that whatever is happening for us there is One who knows… There is One who understands. “O Lord you have searched me and known me we read. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord you know it completely”.

This scripture tells us that however isolated our grief can make us feel, however long those sleepless nights of tears and pacing and sitting and lying down and pacing might be … we don’t suffer them unseen and alone.
This scripture reminds us that however baffled and confused our thoughts might be as we are reeling from our new reality, there is someone who can make sense of them.

When we find ourselves in the mustard aisle of the supermarket and inexplicably burst into tears. When that song comes on the radio and we are almost knocked over by a tsunami of sadness. When we just can’t get out of bed and we can’t exactly tell you why … there is One who notices and understands.

This is so for each one of us. And every person we love.

We can sometimes feel like we are falling endlessly inwards … but our inner world is known intimately by the God who created us and though we can get lost in there – God knows God’s way around.

And furthermore, this Psalm tells us that there is nowhere in the world, or the universe or on this side of life or on the other side where we or our loved ones can go where the God who created us and loves us is not already there.

You might be thinking … how close to this God do I really want to be – this God who has let me be in this place of great loss and sadness. Fair point.
You can feel free to be angry with God. God is big enough to hold your anger. God is big enough to walk with you in and through that anger and in time to enable you to grow around all that anger and grief.

Perhaps the words of the Psalmist resonate with some here today when they say “surely the darkness shall cover me and the light around me become night” Scholars tell us that the word for cover here can also mean bruise, crush or overwhelm. Surely the darkness shall crush and overwhelm me … But even the darkness is not dark, not overwhelming for God. When the way forward for us is unclear, when it’s hard to see a glimmer of light, the night is as bright as the day for God. Which means that in our darkness we are seen Even if we can’t see where to put our feet
There is one who can see the way forward and whose hand leads us
Whose right hand holds us fast.

If you did watch the funeral of Prince Philip you will have noticed that much effort was made in honouring this man’s life. There were soldiers on parade and cannons being fired, a thousand moving parts and everything choreographed down to the last second and the finest detail to mark the weight of this loss.

And then, perhaps most powerful of all, all of them, everyone present, and potentially most of the nation, and actually millions of people around the world all fell silent… all completely stopped what they were doing …to honour the passing of Philip…

And isn’t that how it feels when our loved one dies – that the whole world should stop. That people shouldn’t just go about their ordinary business.
Because the world has stopped for us.

And God knows this and understands this and cares about this. From the moment we are conceived to the moment we are welcomed into the arms of God when we leave this life we are seen, we are loved, we are known.

It is the same whether we are the Queen of England. Or the ancient writer of this psalm. Whoever we are, construction worker, politician, health care professional, job seeker, union official, cleaner, lawyer, carer, farmer…
The hand that formed and knit us together in our mother’s womb is the hand that continues to lead us and hold us fast.

Whoever we are, whatever we do, may we know deeply the life giving comfort, inspiration and strength of God’s all-knowing understanding presence with us, today and always. Amen”.

(Rev Liz Dyson, Co-ordinating Chaplain, Ashford Hospital, 28th April 2021)

The Gift of Years

Published / by Sandy

Like many viewers, I have enjoyed watching episodes from this season’s ‘Old People’s Home for 4 year olds‘.

What is so heartening is the relationship that grows between the children and the older people, and watching the older people grow in confidence and their willingness to be on the adventure the children embrace so readily.

In the film ‘Nomadland‘ the main character (Fern) in her 60’s is introduced to the concept of ‘ripening’. Joan Chittister writes, ‘All of life, at any age, is about ripening. Life is about doing every age well, learning what we are meant to learn from it, and giving to it what we are meant to give back to it’.

When we think about life as simply a linear trajectory, it is easy to focus on decline and loss – loss of mobility, loss of opportunities, loss of good health, loss of loved ones…. but when we immerse ourselves into each stage of life, as Sr Joan suggests, then we can look at how we do each stage well. “All human beings are continuously coming out of one part of life and going into another; clinging to what is familiar, but unable to stop ourselves from slipping into the next stage.”

It’s worth exploring Sr Joan’s book, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat review of her book is enlightening:

The great adventure of growing older and being an elder is the chance to deepen and enrich our spirituality. Whereas we can find examples of this in the medicine men and women of indigenous cultures and in the seers of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religious traditions, wise old souls are rarely depicted in Western movies and television programs. Usually old people are portrayed as frail, bumbling, or silly. People grow up assuming that they will literally be over the hill with nothing to look forward to once they pass the retirement age. Joan Chittister explores the sad consequences of stereotypes about ageing. She posits a different and very inspiring portrait of the gifts, not the lack, of years.

At a lecture in New York City in late April, Chittister told the funny (and not-so-funny) story of asking a store clerk for a battery charger for her iPhone. The twentysomething man just stared at her, so she repeated what she needed. Finally, he said, “Lady, you have an iPhone?” The message was pretty clear. He thought she was too old to have the latest technology, associated with people who are up and about in the world and need to stay connected with lots of people. We at the lecture had a good laugh over this, but at the same time, we agreed when Chittister added that it was a laugh that was accompanied by a “stab in the psyche.” When we see elders as static people, rather than constantly developing ones, we do them and ourselves a great disservice.

Old brains are no less intellectually competent than young brains. “Scientists have discovered that older people, while not as quick computationally as younger people, do think just as well as the young, but differently – with more depth, with more reflection, with more philosophical awareness.”

Living life to the fullest means active ageing, and one thing that can make the difference between health and unhealthy aging is lifelong learning. According to the Harvard University Longitudinal Study of Adult Development, continued learning determines “the degree to which life will be satisfying to us, as well as the degree to which we will be interesting, valuable, life-giving to others.” Learning projects that keep elders’ minds active also expand their horizons and give them opportunities to be in community with others on retreats, study groups, or in online e-courses.

In a series of short, bright, and snappy chapters, Chittister provides a tour of other elements of growing older gracefully. She is convinced that only the old can make this journey into an adventure, a sweet spot in time that abounds with pleasure:

“Old age is not when we stop growing. It is exactly the time to grow in new ways. It is the period in which we set out to make sense of all the growing we have already done. It is the softening season when everything in us is meant to achieve its sweetest, richest, most unique self.”

One gift of years is the additional time to be of service and to fulfill a life purpose. This may mean playing a greater role as a co-creator of the world through projects for the general welfare. It may mean exploring ethical choices more deeply and bringing our experiences to bear on the challenges facing our communities. “A blessing of these years,” she writes, “is to have the time to complete in ourselves what has been neglected all these years, so that the legacy we leave to others is equal to the full potential within us.” This is a deeply spiritual quest, and Chittister makes a fine guide.

Of course the church is concerned about ‘ageing congregations’ and longevity of ‘church as we know it’, but ministry with older people – not reckoned by a business model but a pastoral model – is strategic and life-giving when seen as connecting meaningfully with a deeply spiritual quest for those in the ‘third third’ of their lives.

ANZAC Day

Published / by Sandy

On Sunday April 25th we recognise ANZAC Day. A special ANZAC Day Evensong service featuring the Choir of Pilgrim Church will take place at 6pm at Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide. The service setting will be Thomas Attwood Walmisley’s D Minor Service and the anthem of Jonathan Dove’s, ‘They will rise’.

All are welcome to this free remembrance service

The Moderator of the SA, Mr Bronte Wilson, offered this reflection for ANZAC Day 2021:

This is the 106th anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, along with soldiers of many other nations, landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula, near the beginning of the First World War which was expected to be the war to end all wars. Since then, there have been over 100,000 deaths and more than 200,000 wounded in 29 conflicts in which Australia has taken part.

ANZAC Day is more than just a national holiday, it is a fundamental Australian tradition. This is not merely a date of some remote campaign, this is a celebration of the spirit of Australia. This is a celebration of the spirit of courage, of discipline, of mateship and solidarity, of resourcefulness and resilience; the spirit where we know that we stick together in adversity, and support each other; the spirit that goes the extra mile to make sure that things are okay.

Australians recognise the date as an occasion of national remembrance, which can take many forms. This year many events have restricted numbers, and like last year, we are encouraged to stand in our driveways at dawn to remember. In these and other ways, ANZAC Day is a time when Australians reflect on the many different meanings of war.

On ANZAC Day, along with Remembrance Day, we especially remember those Australian men and women who died or suffered in the great tragedy of war. Each year we pay homage not only to those original ANZACs, but to all who have died or been disabled in their service to this country. They enrich our nation’s history. Their hope was for the freedom of us all and we remember with pride their courage, their compassion and their comradeship. They have served and continue to serve on land and sea and in the air, in many places throughout the world.

Not only do we honour the memory of those Australians who have fallen in battle; we share the sorrow of those who have mourned them and of all who have been the victims of armed conflict. We remember with sympathy those Australians who have suffered as prisoners of war, and those whose lives have been dramatically impacted because of war.

We also remember those who stayed at home, and who still stay at home, and admire their strength and endurance as they support their loved ones in situations of potential danger.

On ANZAC Day we realise that we are not just thinking of those who fought in times gone by. We remember that we are still involved as a nation in peacekeeping efforts and that there are defence personnel serving in at least 16 locations overseas at this time, in the Middle East, the Pacific and Asia. We remember their duty, their courage, their teamwork and their determination, their initiative and resourcefulness.

We are reminded that remembering does not glorify war. In remembering we can hope that those times are not repeated. In remembering we can stand in solidarity with those who suffer in situations of violence and injustice. In remembering we can pray for God’s peace and reconciliation for the whole world. We recall that the Lord is our shepherd, and is with us, guiding us in difficult times of turmoil and war as well as in times of abundance and tranquility. In remembering we join with our brothers and sisters around the world to stand up for what we know to be right, for justice and fairness for all, for peace and compassion to reign.

On ANZAC Day we pay our respect and say thank you, to God, for the freedom that we enjoy today. We reflect on the notion of sacrifice, the ultimate example of which we have in Christ, and to pray for peace in our world. In commemorating ANZAC Day in the church, we do not seek to glorify war, but to give thanks for those who have laid down their lives for us, and to come alongside and pray for those who bear the costs of war, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Prayer: Loving God, we pause to remember those who sailed from this country many years ago, and all who have served down the years in time of war. We remember the many Australian service personnel who have given their lives in many theatres of war, resisting evil, defending our country and standing with others to protect freedom in the world. We pause in our lives to honour them today. We pray for widows and orphans and those who carry the scars of war in their minds and bodies. May we as a nation always be generous in caring for them and providing for their needs. May we be challenged by this costly sacrifice, to be a little less inwardly focused, and dedicate ourselves afresh to work for peace in our world, our country and our relationships with others. This we pray in Jesus’ name, who also gave his life for others. Amen.

(Originally published on the SA UCA Synod website)

Earth Day 2021

Published / by Sandy

Earth Day 2021 is Thursday April 22. It was first celebrated over 50 years ago, in 1970.

The 2021 theme is Restore Our Earth which focuses on natural processes and emerging green technologies that can restore the world’s ecosystems. The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have painfully reminded us about the impacts of human behaviour that break down natural systems and threaten the lives of so many species, including humans. Restore Our Earth reminds us of the opportunity we have to restore relationship, to reconnect with Creation, and learn to live in right relationship with people and the earth, and to pursue economic recovery programs following the pandemic that incorporate strong sustainability and low-carbon measures. The world could effectively use the exit from COVID-19 to accelerate a green transition. Every one of us needs a healthy Earth to support our jobs, livelihoods, health and survival, and happiness.

Christine Sine (Godspacelight.com) writes:

Like many early Christians, I believe that God speaks through two books – the Bible and creation. The great Irish teacher John Scotus Eriugena, “invites us to listen to the two books in stereo. He encourages us to listen to the strains of the human heart in scripture and to discern within them the sound of God and to listen to the murmurings and thunders of creation and to know within them the music of God’s being.”
(From J. Phillip Newell, Christ of the Celts, p50).

The Celts knew Jesus as the Word of God. They also saw scripture as the little (in size) book testifying to God, and nature as the big book revealing who God is. It was perfectly natural for them to go into nature and learn of God. This makes some folks nervous, and several years ago I would have been nervous as well. (*’Worshipping the creation rather than the Creator” is a significant warning about knowing the difference between the two. God fashioned creation to give testimony to who God is. This truth becomes evident as we re-read scripture, especially the Psalms and the parables of Jesus’).

We should take comfort in the words of Paul to the church in Rome: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made.” (Romans 1:19-20)

Christine continues: ‘I am not alone in this. Christians increasingly meet with God through practices like Lectio Tierra and forest bathing’.

Did you know Rev Dr Jana Norman, former Minister at Pilgrim Uniting Church, is a Certified Nature and Forest Therapy/Forest Bathing Guide? See more about Jana here, and the focus for her second doctoral thesis here). Australian bushwalkers have known for generations that spending time in the great outdoors is good for the body, the mind and the soul. “It’s the slowness, it’s the stillness, it’s the deep attention to being in the place, so I notice shapes, and colours, and sounds”. (Dr Jana Norman)

As you celebrate Earth week this week, find ways to enrich your connection to God’s wonderful creation – on a walk, in the garden – and consider ways to continue “reading” this second book through which God is revealed, every week of the year.

(In the last week, a new video series, “the Lessons from COVID-19 for the Climate Emergence”, was launched by Dr Deidre Palmer, President of the Uniting Church in Australia. It is the Uniting Church Fellowship and Mission Support (UCFAMS) President’s project with the support of the South Australian Synod with collaborators including Rev Jennifer Hughes, Rev Lyn Leane, Rev Brian Polkinghorne, Dr Colin Cargill, and Leigh Newton. The series invites an informed conversation about the Climate Change crisis. All videos and accompanying study materials will be freely available).

30th anniversary – Royal Commission

Published / by Sandy

(from Bronte Wilson, the Moderator, SA Synod)

April 15th marked the 30th anniversary of the handing down of the Royal Commission report into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in Australia.

At that time the report, along with its 339 recommendations was heralded as an important step towards reducing the incarceration rate and deaths in custody of First Peoples.

Sadly, and to our national shame, in the 30 years since, few of the recommendations made and ideals expressed have been fully implemented and the situation has worsened.

The President of the Uniting Church, Dr Deidre Palmer and the National Chair of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Rev Mark Kickett have released a statement which can be found at this link.

I encourage you to read the statement and as the President says, ‘We join UAICC in urging governments at all levels to work together to deliver substantive and durable change.’

In South Australia, our Synod meeting in November 2019 resolved to express to the South Australian Government, among other things, our continuing deep concern about Aboriginal imprisonment and black deaths in custody. In particular, the death of Wayne Morrison after unexplained events at Yatala Labour Prison and our continued grief over the high levels of imprisonment of First People in this state.

We believe it is evidence of the failure of our state to rightly relate to the First People of this place. We also expressed profound concerns about the structures and processes within SA Correctional Services.

We all stand with First Peoples and continue to strive for justice and work towards the adoption and implementation of all the Royal Commission recommendations. We continue to pray for the families and friends of those who have died and also pray for continuing reconciliation as we live out the Covenant between First and Second Peoples.

And this statement from Dr Deidre Palmer, President, Uniting Church in Australia, and Pastor Mark Kickett, Interim Chair, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress):

On the 30-year anniversary of the report of Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) and Uniting Church in Australia have called on all levels of government to commit to systemic and lasting change to reduce the nation’s alarmingly high incarceration rates for First Peoples.

“Thirty years ago, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody provided a blueprint for preventing deaths in custody and reducing the incarceration rate of First Peoples. It’s now a generation later and governments at all levels have failed to act,” said Pastor Mark Kickett, Interim UAICC National Chairperson.

Since the final report was table in 1991, the incarceration rate for First Peoples has doubled. More than 450 First Peoples have died in custody in the past 30 years, with five dying in the past month alone.

“This is a national crisis that requires urgent, systemic and lasting change – not more buck passing, delay or deferral”.

“We should be building communities, not more prisons. We need a comprehensive, coordinated and holistic approach that empowers communities and shifts the focus toward investing in prevention, early intervention, and diversion approaches.”

Pastor Kickett noted a key theme in the Royal Commission’s findings was the importance of self-determination.

“Lasting change must be based on the involvement of First Peoples in the development, implementation and ownership of policies and programs that tackle incarceration and build strong and resilient communities.

“A Constitutionally-enshrined Voice would ensure First Nations full participation in the solutions – all we need now is the political leadership and commitment from governments to listen and act,” said Pastor Kickett.

Alison Overeem, UAICC National Executive member and co-Chair of the Uniting First Peoples Working Group, emphasised the need for a comprehensive approach that promotes healing and connections to culture, and recognises the impacts of colonisation and intergenerational trauma.

“Churning people through the justice system simply perpetuates a cycle of intergenerational grief, trauma and disadvantage. Governments should instead be supporting a whole-of-community, grassroots-led, and solutions-based approach – an approach that takes into account social determinants and the impacts of intergenerational trauma and child removal.

“Programs and policies to tackle incarceration need to be grounded in our strengths, our resilience, our cultures. The connections and reconnections to culture and community bring the strength that’s needed to sustain preventative measures.”

UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer said the 30-year failure to address Indigenous incarceration was a national shame.

“In the Uniting Church, we believe we have a destiny together as First and Second Peoples, and this calls us to seek out justice for all.”

“Today we grieve with our First Nation brothers and sisters the more than 450 Indigenous deaths in custody since the Royal Commission 30 years ago, including five in the past month.”

“It is unacceptable that nearly half of the youth detention population are First Peoples, with children as young as 10-years of age being torn away from their communities and locked away.”

“We join UAICC in urging governments at all levels to work together to deliver substantive and durable change.”

“Raising the age of criminal responsibility nationally is one action that Australian governments can take right now that will have an immediate – and generational – impact to reduce the over-incarceration and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children a brighter future,” said Dr Palmer.

(Pilgrim Uniting Church is planning a series of events and activities in the next few months that we hope will resource the church further in raising awareness of these critical issues, including a forum with Rev Dr Chris Budden. Updates will be on the website and Pilgrim’s Facebook page and in UC e-news)

Hope in these troubled times

Published / by Sandy
Professor Dr Jürgen Moltmann

Renowned theologian Jürgen Moltmann turned 95 on 8th April, 2021.

For decades, he has shared books, lectures, presentations and discussions that have been received and beloved by audiences far and wide. With topics ranging from the afterlife, to justice, peace and the integrity of creation, Moltmann continues to make immeasurable contributions to ongoing theological formation. He came to prominence in 1964 with the publication of Theology of Hope, which offered a message that chimed with the turbulent 1960s and the search for a better future. He got public attention when the New York Times featured his theology of hope on the front page with the caption “‘God Is Dead’ Doctrine Losing Ground to “Theology of Hope”’.

In his most recent book, Hope in These Troubled Times (2019), he offers a frank assessment of the dangers that confront humanity, and traces our steepest problems to assumptions behind the modern worldview. But he also explores the root and character of Christian hope, and he envisions the form and shape of a life-affirming spirituality, one that can inform and enliven Christian faith in imperiled times.

In chapters composed over the last five years, Moltmann includes specific discussions of the ecological crisis, the encounter of world religions, terror and violence, social justice and compassion, as well as rethinking foundational philosophical and theological questions, particularly of God, creation, and being human, in light of these challenges. “Today’s many crises put the survival of the human species and of the planet at risk. What do Christians and Christian faith have to offer?”

Since Moltmann is one of the most widely-read theologians of our time, and remains so even today, in honour of his 95th birthday, the WCC is offering Hope in These Troubled Times (2019) for free for a limited time (downloadable PDF). Definitely worth a read!

Content
Preface
Christian hope draws the promised future of God into the present day, and prepares the present day for this future. As Immanuel Kant rightly said, thinking in the power of hope is not the train-bearer of reality: instead, it goes ahead of reality and lights its way with a torch. The historical-eschatological category is the category of the novum, that which is new: the new spirit, the new heart, the new human being, the new covenant, the new song, and ultimately, the promise: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). In light of our faith, as Christians we can honestly assess and face the full force of humanity’s contemporary challenges yet also experience and instil a realistic hope of transcending them.
Part One: Facing the Future
Part One focuses on renewing theology and reasserting hope today.
A Culture of Life in the Dangers of This Time
The Hope of the Earth: The Ecological Future of Modern Theology
A Common Earth Religion: World Religions from an Ecological Perspective
Mercy and Solidarity
The Unfinished World: Nature, Time, and the
Terrorism and Political Theology
Is the City a Place of Hope? The Urbanization of Humankind – A Challenge for Christianity
Part Two: Learning from the Past
Part Two explores the historical and theological sources of our situation and our future.
God and the Soul, God and the Senses
The Unfinished Reformation: Ecumenical Answers to Unresolved Problems
Persevering in Faith: Roots of a Theology of Hope
The Passibility or Impassibility of God
The Mystery of the Past

The Youtube link is a lecture and book launch for Hope in These Troubles Times (1.43 in length!)

A prayer for Myanmar

Published / by Sandy

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Dr Deidre Palmer, has called upon church members to hold in prayer the people of Myanmar as they continue to face an ongoing state of emergency following the recent military coup on February 1. Daily protests have been ongoing in towns and cities across Myanmar after the military seized control. On April 1, the United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Myanmar.

As reports emerge of the use of violent force against peaceful protestors, and the rising civilian death toll, the Uniting Church echoes the deep concern of the World Council of Churches and Christian Conference of Asia about the deteriorating and volatile situation in the region.

“We hear the distress of the Burmese community in Australia, some of whom have found a home in the Uniting Church,” said Dr Palmer. “We stand with those members of our communities, and with the people of Myanmar as they protest for the restoration of democracy and freedom.”

“We believe that Christ comes to bring renewal and wholeness to the whole of creation, and so we reject violence, urging dialogue and a spirit of reconciliation to resolve conflict. We pray for God’s vision of non-violence, peace, and justice to prevail.”

Prayer
Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace,
in your death you absorb the violence and injustice we do to each other,
and in your rising
they are proven to be futile and false.
May it be so in Myanmar,
where violence and injustice overwhelms.
Reconcile what is broken.
Heal what is wounded.
Restore what is just.
Disrupt the forces of death once again,
so that we may see peace in our time.
Amen.

Easter: Hope and Courage

Published / by Sandy

“In the Easter Story, we hear of the hope and transformation that comes from following Jesus, as well as the courage this inspires,” says Dr Deidre Palmer in her 2021 Easter message. Deidre is President of the Uniting Church in Australia.

Dr Palmer has used her annual Easter video to highlight the courageous women in the Easter story and those speaking out against injustice today.

Just two weeks after tens of thousands of Australians gathered at Parliament House and in cities across the country for the March4Justice, Dr Palmer gives thanks in her Easter message to those raising their voices for gender equality.

Deidre recalls the women in the Easter story, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who came to the tomb of Jesus while the other disciples were in hiding because they feared for the lives.

“It would have taken courage and deep love to come to that place to honour Jesus after his death,” said Dr Palmer.

“In the face of doubt and a society that discounted women’s voices, the women left that place and shared the good news with great joy.”

“The risen Christ inspires and empowers Christians today, to courageously advocate in the face of injustice: raising voices for gender equality, walking together with First Peoples and calling out for the healing of our planet”.

The Moderator in the SA UCA Synod, Mr Bronte Wilson has also issued an Easter message.

Easter is a time of hope, a time of new beginnings. As we approach Easter this year, our hearts go out to people, all over the world, who have been living in darkness and fear and uncertainty. And continue to do so. We think of people devastated by the global pandemic, physically, financially, emotionally and of those experiencing discrimination and disadvantage. We think of families living in situations of domestic violence and other forms of abuse and of those trying to rebuild lives and communities after natural disasters and events such as bushfires, droughts and floods. But as we approach Easter this year, we can also see, around us, situations of hope. As the rain arrives and the green shoots sprout on the ash-blackened trees, as community groups raise awareness of our biases and judgements, as we stand up for situations of injustice and oppression, as the Covid19 vaccine begins its uptake, there are signs of hope springing forth all around us. Easter is a time of hope. A time of new beginnings. Easter is also time of darkness and uncertainty, as we witness Jesus’ journey to the cross and the injustice of his death. But then, Easter brings the promise of new life, in resurrection power, as Jesus’ broken body, put to death on the cross, is transformed into a new creation. As is written in 2 Corinthians 5 if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! Easter brings the fulfilment of God’s promise of hope, of a new way of being. Easter brings the hope of reconnection and reconciliation, of all humanity to God, and to each other; the hope of reconciliation for all of creation. It is a time to leave behind the darkness and despair of the past. That doesn’t always mean our situations will dramatically improve. Natural disasters still occur, people still live with racism and oppression, inequality still exists, power still corrupts. But Easter brings a promise of a new way of being, a way of transforming these situations, in ways that we might never imagine; as the spirit of God works in our world, and in our midst. The spirit of God sustains and strengthens and empowers us both to live in these difficult situations of darkness and uncertainty, and to be transformed by them… so that we live out this hope and bring hope to others. Easter is a time of hope, a time of new beginnings. New beginnings and new opportunities.

Risen Life

Published / by Sandy
CRAIGIE AITCHISON ‘The Pink Crucifixion’, from the Methodist Modern Art Collection

A POEM ‘THE PINK CRUCIFIXION’
Pink: How shocking!
How outrageous!
How daring!
How bold!
Bright, shocking, in your face, pink.
The pink of teenagers making a statement, standing out from the crowd.
The breast cancer campaigner.
The pink of the Dulux advert: The young man goes to the best party!
– The Pink Crucifixion: People stop and stare. They talk…..
The picture challenges and shocks.
It’s daring and innovative;
Challenges to think outside the box.
It’s off the wall, in your face!
Perhaps not too far removed from Jesus…
Perhaps the picture reminds us of when we were first challenged by the Cross?
The Cross – A brutal place.
The work of Jesus on the Cross:
A symbol of hope and new beginnings. We are a risen Easter people.
We come in faith to the Cross.
We move forward beyond the Cross.
We place our faith in events we did not witness.
We give thanks for the first witnesses to tell their story;
For those who still give the message of “Good News” through their creative work.
We are reminded that we are washed, cleansed, forgiven, restored, redeemed and healed at the Cross.
Perhaps pink represents the vibrancy of Jesus…
A Jesus whom we serve, journey with, and give witness to?
Happy Easter.
He is Risen. Alleluia.

(Glenys Jones 2014)

Holy Saturday – hope deferred?

Published / by Sandy

Meditation
What was it like for the first disciples?
What was it like to live on that first Holy Saturday when all hope is gone,
when all that we love is lost,
when God is dead?
We know the end of the story.
We know of resurrection, so we do not wish to dwell in this dark place.
We want to rush on to Easter Sunday, when life returns.
It is too hard to live on Holy Saturday,
to spend our time in the dark and conflicted places of Golgotha and Gethsemane,
the place where despair has all the best answers to our questions.
But what of the people who have no choice?
What of the people who always live on Holy Saturday.
The child beaten and abused at home whose only hope is to run away?
The child living with alcohol misusing parents,
Trapped, too young, into adult responsibilities.
The disabled child, never given the chance to join in.
The refugee child, always a problem, never simply a person.
What must it be like to live on Holy Saturday,
when we do not know how the story ends?
When hope is absent, who will be there to look after them?
Who will be there for the children on their Holy Saturday?

A prayer of response
Lord Jesus help me to wait here
In the in-between of Holy Saturday.
For I cannot help but rejoice – you have come!
And yet still I grieve – for the world still waits – you have yet to come.
Lord Jesus help me to pray here in the in-between of Holy Saturday.
For you are risen and I can’t, won’t, don’t want to forget it.
And yet I mourn with those who still wait
for your kingdom’s fullness of peace, hope and justice.
Lord Jesus help me to live here in the in-between of Holy Saturday.
For your kingdom has come and is yet to come.
And I, in some small way,
hope to build – with you – all things new.

© 2011 Nigel Varndell www.thesanctuarycentre.org/whereworldandworshipmeet

From glory to glory?

Published / by Sandy

Nadia Bolz-Weber is an author, ordained minister and public theologian. She served as the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Denver. She is also a three-time New York Times bestselling author. Here’s her theological take on Easter week (which will no doubt invite further reflection on atonement doctrines and theories).

Nadia writes:

I’d like to quickly make a case that we have experienced way too much death and grief and loss to skip holy week.

Palm Sunday used to just be Palm Sunday but in a lot of churches it’s become Palm/Passion Sunday because people were going from the triumphant “Hosanna” of Palm Sunday to the glorious “He is Risen” of Easter Sunday without ever going through the horrifying “Crucify him!” of Good Friday.

And hey, I understand the impulse. Who doesn’t want to go from glory to glory and just skip the messy middle…..like how Jesus ate his last meal with the people he loved most, all of whom (perhaps like me) would betray abandon or deny him, that these friends (perhaps like me) couldn’t even stay awake while he prayed in the garden, that the crowd (perhaps like me) would strike and taunt him for not living up to their expectations, that the people would (perhaps like me) shout crucify him! And twist him a crown of thorns, the fact that Jesus got himself killed in a totally preventable way never once showing enough self-respect to fight back or get himself off that cross…well maybe he had it coming – which is why the passersby would (perhaps like me) shout “for God’s sake, save yourself”. Why? Because we would save ourselves.

That’s the problem with the cross – it feels either senseless or condemning and sometimes both.

I know for myself that at the fundamentalist church I was raised in I was taught that the cross was about the fact that, because I was bad God had to send his son…(and God only had one!)… to suffer and die a horrible death because – well, someone had to pay for the fact that I’m bad. And therefore, being a Christian meant feeling bad enough about all of this that you would then try much, much harder to be good.

I’m not sure which is worse about what I was taught: the fact that we had somehow made God out to be a divine child abuser or that we had made God out to be an angry loan shark demanding his pound of flesh.

Either way, I don’t think that’s really who God really is. But I do think that whole mess is what we get when we think the cross is about us and not about God.

No wonder people want to go from glory to glory and skip the cross.

Because when we think the cross is about us, the only view we can have of God is of God standing in heaven with folded arms looking down at the cross judging us but punishing Jesus.

But the thing is, God isn’t standing above the cross. God is hanging from the cross.

Maybe the problem starts when we think we can know who God is by just looking at who we are and then projecting that up really big. We’re vengeful so God must be vengeful. We are power-hungry so God must be power hungry. We want to smite our enemies so God must want to smite our enemies. That’s why it’s hard to imagine that God would willingly choose to be poured out for us on the cross because, well, we’d never do a thing like that.

Yet in the end, it’s like that quote from Einstein “the same thinking that created a problem cannot solve the problem.” We cannot be saved by a God who is just a bigger, bad-er version of the worst parts of us or a bigger better version of the best parts of us.

But we can see who God actually (is), when we see how God chose to reveal God’s self in a humble cradle and on a human cross.

Because on the cross we don’t see a legal transaction where Jesus pays our debt. We see God. The Word made flesh hangs from the cross as though God is saying, ‘I would rather die than be in your sin accounting business anymore’.

From his rough hewn throne of a cross Christ the King looks at the world and no one escapes his judgment…those who betray him, those who execute him, those who love him, and those who ignore him. He judges us all. From the cross the pronouncement is made and the judgment is final and that judgement is….forgiveness. Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing is an eternally valid statement. From his cross Christ loves the betrayer, the violent, the God killer in all of us and despite our protests he will not even lift a finger to condemn those who put him up there. Because it is finally only a God unlike us- a God who enters our human existence and suffers our insults with only love and forgiveness who can save us from ourselves.

And, I would contend that through the cross we know that God isn’t standing smugly at a distance but that God’s abundant grace is hiding in, with, and under all the brokenness in the world around us.

God is present with us in all of it.

And while the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross is not about you. It is certainly FOR you.

In fact, God is so for you that there is no place God will not go to be with you. Nothing separates you from the love of God in Jesus….not insults, not betrayal, not suffering, and as we will see at Easter – not even death itself.

So don’t go from glory to glory and skip the cross, because it is there that you will find a self-emptying God who pursues you and saves you with relentless, terrifying love and who ultimately will enter the grave and the very stench of death in order to say even here, even here I will not be without you.

Hosanna in the highest indeed. Whatever it ends up looking like, have a blessed Holy Week. We need it this year. Amen.

(originally posted on Nadia’s website The Corners on 28th March 2021, and slightly adapted for this post)

Nadia’s reflection is a catalyst to consider what we SING during Easter week, and the implicit/explicit atonement understandings in our songs and hymns. One song popular in many churches, In Christ Alone, has caused a lot of controversy. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has dropped it from the hymnal because the song’s authors refused to change a phrase about the wrath of God. The original lyrics say that “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song wanted to substitute the words, “the love of God was magnified.” The song’s authors objected. So the committee voted to drop the song. Ian Paul writes: ‘The real danger in talking of Jesus satisfying God’s wrath is that we separate the actions of the Trinity in the cross. It appears to portray loving Jesus saving us from an angry God who metes out his punishment upon the innocent. Instead, we should see in the open arms of Jesus a welcome by a loving Father, who no longer counts our sin against us – it is from our sin and its consequences that Jesus saves us, rather than from a hateful God’. (Read the article here).

Holy Week beckons us into thoughtful, prayerful reflection.

A litany for Palm Sunday

Published / by Sandy

Jesus, you began the week riding into Jerusalem
to shouts of “Hosanna. Save us.”
In this current climate of
the mass shootings and violence,
the intersection of racism and misogyny,
the dislocation of global migration,
the fear of variant strands and a third wave,
the flooding and environmental emergency,
we, too, shout “Hosanna. Save us.”
Hosanna. Save us.
In this trying time, grant us your peace and your strength.

Jesus, you experienced a parade of palms and shouts of joy.
Today, we struggle to raise our cries in jubilant celebration.
Many of us are in shock at the current state of the world.
Many cry tears of grief and loss.
Many live with fear and anxiety.
Many of us worry about the unknown future.
Hosanna. Save us.
In this trying time, grant us your vision and your hope.

You, Holy Other,
do not arrive in Jerusalem on a charging steed.
You enter riding on a donkey.
You, Holy Other,
confuse our love of celebrity with your humility.
You, Holy Other,
confound our lust for winning with your vulnerability.
You, Holy Other,
die on a cross.
You, Holy Other,
are executed.
You are not the way of imperial power and principalities.
You are the way of righteousness and radical compassion.
In your passion,
shake us, confront us, and teach us your ways.
And grant us your conviction and your courage.
Blessed are you who comes in the name of all that is holy and sacred.

(March 2021, Diaconal Minister Ted Dodd, United Church of Canada)

Earth Overshoot Day 22 March 2021

Published / by Sandy

(originally published in Insights online)

Monday 22 March was Australia’s Overshoot Day for 2021. This is the day that Australia has used up its yearly allocation of the earth’s resources. What should have taken 365 days has taken Australians 81 days. We are the seventh worst offender in this regard and if every nation lived as we did this year, we would need 4.5 planets. In 2020, the Earth’s Overshoot Day was 22 August. This was the date that the earth’s ability to regenerate last year was exceeded by humanity’s demand for ecological services and resources.

We are currently in the Anthropocene, a geological period of time commencing around 1800, where human presence and activity is ‘actually changing the direction and course of the evolution of the planet’. We are seeing mass animal extinctions, deforestation, heat waves and catastrophic fires, glacial and polar ice melting with corresponding rising ocean levels, indiscriminate mining and fracking, air pollution, floods and extreme weather events on an unprecedented scale. These are not naturally occurring, but are the result of human interaction with the planet. How did we get to this destructive place?

At a recent Mayoral Reception in Adelaide, Uncle Mickey Kumatpi Marrutya O’Brien, a Senior Aboriginal man and descendant of the Kaurna (Adelaide Plains) and Narrunga (Yorke Peninsula) people observed that white people often have a hierarchy with humans at the top. This meant that humans saw that everything else existed to serve them. For Indigenous Australians, however, this hierarchy is completely inverted. The land actually stands at the top because it gives everything else life – the plants, the animals and finally humans. As such, humans are there to serve and care for everything else, because land is the provider of life.

If Second Nations people in Australia shared this attitude, would our Overshoot Day be as early in the year? Where did this white understanding of human relationship with creation come from?

Part of the answer lies with Christian theology.

Our theology often determines our behaviour. In simple terms, if we have a theology of domination, we are more likely to view creation as a resource for our benefit and we can thus use it any way we see fit. We will see the earth purely as a collection of commodities to use– trees to be cleared, minerals and ores to be mined, water to be wasted, land only as a place for development. Humans have long thought of themselves as living on earth. As Professor David Rhoads points out, For 20 centuries, virtually all Christian traditions have focused on the relationship between God and humans and between humans and humans. In so doing, we have given scant attention to God in relation to nature, nor our human relationship with the rest of nature, nor our relationship with God in and through nature’). We and, more concerningly, future generations are paying for this oversight.

Part of the reason for this is the understanding of Genesis 1:26-28, where God makes humans, blesses them, and gives instruction concerning the rest of creation. The Hebrew word kabash has been translated to subdue or to subjugate and the word radah as have dominion, rule or dominate. While the original writer may not have had violent or human-centred intentions when they first wrote it, over time, this translation has resulted in a very anthropocentric framework for understanding human relationship with nature. It was something created for humans and to be exploited as such.

If we have a theology of stewardship, hopefully we will see creation as actually belonging to God and we are to care for and protect it. We need to have a concept of humans being embedded in earth, that we belong to this planet. Human beings are mammals and have evolved alongside many other species. We are deeply reliant upon the earth for our survival. Clean air, drinkable water, sustainable food are necessities and we cannot produce these without the earth’s interaction.

New understandings of Genesis 2:15 may offer a more positive way of interpreting our relationship with creation. God puts the man in the Garden and he is to look after it in some way. Traditionally, the words abad and shamar are translated work and keep respectively. These are agricultural terms. Other translations for abad are serve, and for shamar are guard, watch or preserve and have more a sense of acts of worship. In this sense, the land remains God’s and we are to care for it in such a way to keep it pristine and nurtured. If we have this as our theology, then our behaviour should respond with protecting, sustaining and wisely sharing the earth’s resources because they are not actually ours, they are God’s.

Another area of theology that impacts our understanding of human relationship with creation is eschatology. If we understand that this planet is not our ‘real’ home and that God is going to whisk us away to heaven for our eternal life, we are less likely to care for the earth now. There is a sense in which God is going to destroy this earth anyway, so there is little point in humans caring for creation. If this is not the case, however, and God is moving toward a restored and redeemed earth and sky, which Christians are participating in, we are more likely to nurture and care for our planet and its creatures.

Another resource is the Earth Bible Project, where scholars read Biblical passages through the lens of ecojustice principles of the intrinsic worth, interconnectedness, voice, purpose, mutual custodianship and resistance of the universe, earth and all its components. By doing so, they try to set aside a history of reading scripture through an anthropocentric and patriarchal framework.

By valuing creation, seeing it as precious and humans as a dependant part of a complex whole, perhaps Christians can be part of changing the date of Overshoot Day.

Dr Katherine Grocott

Grateful thanks to Rev Dr Vicky Balabanski, Director of Biblical Studies at Uniting College in Adelaide, for her insights.

Prayer in response to NSW floods

Published / by Sandy

Torrential rainfall (a ‘once in 50 years event’) is battering the east coast of Australia and New South Wales has been declared a natural disaster. We are thankful no lives have been lost, while at the same time there has been tremendous loss of livelihoods, and property.

Amidst the beauty of God’s creation, we encounter forces beyond our control that bring loss and destruction. Fire, flood and drought are deeply etched into the Australian psyche. We ache with sorrow at the destruction of homes and livelihoods. We offer our prayers for those affected by the floods and for all those working to bring relief and fresh hope. Here is a prayer by Maren Tirabassi in response to the NSW floods.

God who walks across the water,
reach out your hand
to the people of New South Wales,
where the rains continue,
roads are flooded,
dams broken, rivers swollen,
families evacuated from their homes,
where the Australian government
names sixteen national disaster sites,
and rescue workers are at risk.
Reach out your hand, O God,
that makes in those who fear to sink
new Peters
finding themselves lifted
to help a neighbour,
to share food, seek shelter,
care for COVID protocols.
And bless, O Holy One,
the ministry of disaster recovery chaplains*
in the days of rain to come. Amen.

(Maren Tirabassi on her blogsite, Gifts in Open Hands, 21 March 2021)

* Disaster recovery chaplaincy is an ecumenical network of chaplains established to assist people who have been affected by disasters and major emergencies within their communities.

(World Water Day on March 22 is an annual UN observance day that highlights the importance of freshwater. The day is used to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. Still a high priority despite the floods in NSW).

Professor Will Steffen from the Climate Council writes:
It’s been devastating watching the worsening flooding disaster unfold. New South Wales and Queensland have been hit particularly hard so far, whilst 10 million Australians are currently subject to an extreme weather warning covering every state and territory except Western Australia. Many people have been asking over the past few days how flooding events are being influenced by climate change, so here are the facts.

Globally, the risk of extreme rainfall and flooding events like those currently devastating Australian communities is increasing with climate change. The global average temperature has already risen by around 1.1°C, and for every 1°C rise in temperature, the atmosphere is able to hold around 7% more water.

This extra heat and moisture means more energy for weather systems that generate intense rainfall, and in Australia, we’re already seeing an increase in the intensity of heavy rainfall events.

Our weather over summer and autumn has also been influenced by a La Niña event, which tends to bring more rain for much of Australia. But it’s important to remember: everything we are experiencing today is occurring in the context of a rapidly warming planet.

Reflections on Harmony Day 2021

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, on 21st March 2021 (Harmony Day)

Rev Dr Grace Ji-Sun Kim is a Korean-American who preached here at Pilgrim in 2018. She teaches theology, and is a prolific author. Grace introduced us to the notion of intersectionality, a framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of privilege – and discrimination. We all have multiple aspects to what makes each one of us – age, race, gender and sexual identity, physical abilities or disabilities, religious identifications, family background, marital status, education, income and social class. This gives privilege to some, and endless marginalisation, discrimination and denigration to others.

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

I had cause to remember Grace this week when news came out about the shootings in Georgia this week with 8 people dead. Turns out the majority of victims were Asian, women from South Korea (Grace’s place of birth) simply at work in their workplace. It wasn’t declared a hate or racist crime because, according to the police spokesperson, the 21 year old white shooter, baptized a couple of years ago in a Baptist Church, was just having a bad day (dealing with is own demons). White privilege. In response, Grace wrote an impassioned article, urging people to listen to stories of people who live with discrimination, suffering, marginalization, racism, and racialization.

In her book, Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, Grace challenged readers to imagine an intersectional church, a practice of welcome and inclusion that embraces difference and centres social justice along all the axes of identity including age, race, sexual identity and orientation, economic status and more. What would it look like to have church that is inclusive for all sorts and conditions of people?

March 21 is Harmony Day, celebrated each year, the same date as the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (which in turn recognised the 1960 Sharpeville shootings).

In Australia we celebrate cultural diversity, inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone. It is intended to celebrate the cohesive and inclusive nature of Australia and promote a tolerant and culturally diverse society. The message of Harmony Day is Everyone Belongs. It is a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home – from the First Nations people of this land to those who have come from many countries around the world. Our communities are stronger when we understand the stories, motivations and hopes of those we live alongside; when we recognise what connects us, not what separates us.

So, happy Harmony Day!

Harmony Day is a one day community celebratration that should be at the heart of our Christian community every day – our core DNA, that transcends the ‘isms’ and celebrates diversity as an integral part of God’s kin-dom family.

I was interested to learn about this statement from Duke Memorial United Methodist Church which is read in their church each Sunday: “As our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to love and accept every person, we welcome into our life together those of every age, race, ethnic background, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, family or socioeconomic status, educational background, and physical or mental ability. In our commitment to the reconciliation of all persons as beloved children of God, we celebrate our diversity and recognize the sacred worth and dignity of all. We invite you to join us in our faith journey toward discipleship in Christ with mutual respect, understanding, and love.”

What would it mean to focus our attention, not on people like us, but to people who are considered different, who are often ‘othered’? What would it mean to intentionally seek out greater diversity? 

This morning’s Gospel reading is set in Jerusalem, with an influx of visitors for Passover. People who spoke different languages, had different accents, food, customs, clothes. Some of the visitors had a Greek heritage. Foreigners – even if they lived in the same country alongside Jewish people. Some Greeks went to Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples. They had no doubt heard about Jesus, raising Lazarus from the dead. For some reason they didn’t feel worthy enough to approach Jesus themselves. They simply said, Sir, we want to see Jesus, to really see him, person to person, face to face. They wanted an encounter, an experience of Jesus.

Interestingly enough, we never learn whether these Greeks got to see Jesus. As soon as Philip and Andrew tell Jesus that some Greeks have come to see him, it sets in motion the transition to Jesus’ passion. Jesus begins a difficult teaching saying, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus immediately looks ahead to the cross.

Fr Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, in his book Falling Upward takes a look at the journey of life each person is on. He writes:
“One of the best-kept secrets, and yet hidden in plain sight, is that the way up is the way down. Or, if you prefer, the way down is the way up.” Jesus continues his difficult teaching on the grand reversal – the ones who love their lives will lose them; those who hate their lives, will keep them for eternal life. The way of greatness is in service and humility and sacrifice. The way down is the way up.

History tells us that countless others have also said, ‘We want to see Jesus‘. That’s what unified the early church – a focus on the inclusive and salvific love of Jesus. As the early church grew, it did so across ethnicities and languages. It cut across cultural barriers among rich and poor, men and women, leaders and servants, all now worshipping God together in spirit and in truth, living out of love for each other. It’s more than tolerance or friendship. The Gospel unites otherwise disparate people together in Christ.

Theologian Palmer Becker sums it up this way:
“Jesus is the centre of our faith,
community is the centre of our lives,
and reconciliation is the centre of our work.”

Each person is made in God’s image and is deeply loved by God and should be able to live life abundantly. We don’t actually need Harmony Day, because as a church we are called to live it every day – a church known by love for one another, of peace with justice, of healing and reconciliation, of welcome and inclusion.

Part of our confessional life must be to recognise the way we don’t live this out, to recognise that in the church we have people who remain on the margins – the powerless, the downcast, the outcast. We have silos of exclusion. We tend to keep to our own people, to what is familiar to us.

If those Greeks in our reading were to show up in our churches today, would they see Jesus, embodied in our living and our community?

A friend shared this poem this week by Rebecca del Rio:
“Come new to this day. Remove the rigid overcoat of experience, the notion of knowing, the beliefs that cloud your vision. Leave behind the stories of your life. Spit out the sour taste of unmet expectation. Let the stale scent of what-ifs waft back into the swamp of your useless fears. Arrive curious, without the armour of certainty, the plans and planned results of the life you’ve imagined. Live the life that chooses you, new every breath, every blink of your astonished eyes.”

Reflecting on this poem, Steve Koski writes:
“Arrive curious. Curiousity is a spiritual practice. Imagine the spiritual practice of meeting every single person, event, and feeling that shows up in your life with a deep and abiding curiosity. Imagine if you were able to pause and notice, observe, wonder and be curious instead of living from a state of habitual reactivity. Curiousity means instead of snapping at someone because you’re angry, you sit for a moment with the feeling and energy of anger in your body and notice it. Observe the angry tirade of thoughts. Imagine if you were able to sit with this uncomfortable feeling for a moment. As the poem says, leave behind the stories you’re telling yourself about this anger for a moment and, without judgment, be curious. What can you learn about yourself? Be curious: How are you being triggered? What old things are coming up for you? What if you became curious about the person who triggered your anger – what burdens are they carrying; what pain is unhealed; what grief do they hold?What would happen if you waited and didn’t react? What would your deepest wisdom advise in this moment? What is the most loving response you could have in this moment? What response would free you from those old patterns that no longer serve you? There is a space between whatever pushes our buttons and our habitual reactions. That space for most of us is razor thin. Curiosity is the spiritual intervention that widens that space and sets us free from those habitual reactions that no longer serve us. Curiosity creates calm, welcomes wisdom and helps us see things in new and unexpected ways.

Let us together commit to the spiritual practice of curiousity – to be curious about each other’s stories, to listen deeply, to build caring community. Together may we work for a world where we embrace our differences and stand strong, united in our shared humanity, embraced by the love of God. Together, may we continue to embody reconciliation, love and peace.

May it be so. Amen.

#March4Justice

Published / by Sandy

(originally posted on Uniting Church Assembly website)

Uniting Church women and men were among tens of thousands of people who took to the streets across the nation on Monday 15th March calling for an end to violence against women. The March4Justice rallies took place in 40 cities and towns across Australia, with huge crowds swelling the capital cities.

The rallies called for justice and equality in Australian society and an end to the systems, attitudes and culture that allow sexual violence and harassment to continue.

UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer applauded the women and men who took part in the March4Justice rallies.

“The exceptional turnout at the March4Justice events show there is deep desire in Australia to see meaningful change and justice for women who have experienced violence,” said Dr Palmer.

“I am grateful for all those women who have had the courage to speak out about their experiences and for the passion for justice among those who took the time to march.”

“As the Uniting Church, and as followers of Jesus, we are called to name gender-based violence as a sin against God and a breach of the love, trust and care that Christ embodies and calls us to model.”

“All women should experience safety, respect and dignity and the fullness of life that God intends for us all.”

“We support all those calling for justice. Enough is enough.”

Organisers at the rally in Canberra presented a petition to Government with more than 135,000 Australians calling for independent investigations and greater accountability over gendered violence connected to Parliament House. (Brittany Higgins addressed the March4Justice rally in Canberra).

A large contingent from Tuggeranong Uniting Church joined about 5000 people at the protest outside Parliament House. Minister Rev Elizabeth Raine said women within the congregation felt very strongly about the issue and wanted to make their voices heard. “This is a justice issue and there is a gender equality issue that needs to be addressed,” said Elizabeth. “My congregation includes retired public servants who understand there is a toxic culture that makes women more vulnerable when reporting sexual assaults and harassment.”

Elizabeth described the atmosphere as energising. “It felt maybe we could do something, change might be possible.”

Rev Sandy Boyce joined the March4Justice event in Adelaide.

“It really was good to be able to join the thousands of men, women and children who turned out to stand in solidarity and to call for change. The speakers were inspiring and spoke truth to power to a very receptive crowd. I deliberately wore purple, a symbol of lament, and wearing my clerical collar gave witness to the fact that the Church is also concerned about the safety and well-being of women. To quote Cornel West, ‘Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public’.”

Close the Gap 2021

Published / by Sandy

Close The Gap is held on the third Thursday in March each year and is an opportunity to send a clear message that Australians value health equality as a fundamental right for all, and urge meaningful action to be taken in support of achieving health equality for First Nations Peoples by 2032.

The 2021 theme is, Leadership and legacy through crises: keeping our mob safe‘.

The 2021 Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee report was prepared by the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s community controlled national institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research. (Click here to download the document).

In introducing the report, the co-Chairs of Closing the Gap write:

“We remain steadfast and persistent in the expectation that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, being and doing will be respected and understood. The time for governments to deliver has long passed. We invite our readers to connect with the strengths-based examples of our peoples, professionals and communities managing the most complex of challenges such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and suicide prevention”.

“There are countless individual and community level success stories in Indigenous-led health policy, service delivery and human rights sectors. We chose a small section of these case studies for presentation here to demonstrate that investment in the programs that have been designed and led by our people is the most effective way to achieve better health outcomes. Self-determination is critical and to ensure that change occurs, our voices must be heard by governments at every level of society. We perpetually recommend the same approach: to involve us, to listen, to reform and invest. Be it in systemic reform, policy design, service delivery, evaluation or agreeing upon funding, “nothing about us, without us” will be the only successful approach”.

“There is considerable work to do. We remain the only country in the Western world that has failed to eliminate trachoma (preventable blindness) – an international embarrassment. The Indigenous youth suicide rate remains four times that of other Australian youth. We are greatly in need of finishing the unfinished business all Australians deserve: that of health equality. We should start by grasping the opportunity of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – with its full implementation of a constitutional voice, treaty and truth-telling processes. Over the past 12 months, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and allies have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement that helped inform many on the prevalence of systemic racism and the preventable deaths in custody of so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

“At times of crises true leadership steps up. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders moved rapidly to safeguard communities when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Their actions were decisive and designed with each local community in mind and avoided a potential catastrophe. Some of our homelands, once threatened with closure by governments in the past, became some of the safest places in Australia. We know what is best for our people and we are delighted to summarise some of this remarkable and ongoing work herein”.

“This report presents the voices of our youth – our future generations. Our young leaders are showing the way in matters of huge importance such as climate change. In the words of Seed Mob, as sea levels are rising globally, so too First Nations peoples are rising and demanding genuine action on climate change. Climate change is suffocatingly real yet our governments’ responses to the hottest of issues, the survival of all Australians and our planet, are tepid responses at best. Our northern homelands are disappearing under rising sea-levels, to the despair of Torres Strait Islander peoples attempting to sustain their communities as they have done for millennia”.

“In 2020 our leaders finally sat with government, negotiated and co-signed the New National Agreement on Closing the Gap as partners. The investment for health equity is relatively small but must be relative to a burden of disease 2.3 times that of other Australians. As repeated often, a country as ’great’ and wealthy as Australia is capable of delivering health equity for and with its First Nations peoples – just 3% of the population”.

“We present the passionate and wise voices of youth protecting Country and examples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership successfully protecting communities. We have faith that leadership within governments can and will deliver Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander equity through partnership. We offer clear recommendations. Finally, as Campaign Co-Chairs, we would like to thank the wider Australian public and our members for their ongoing support and commitment to equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

Ms June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner; Mr Karl Briscoe, CEO, National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners
Co-Chairs, Close the Gap Campaign

A prayer for Closing the Gap (by Dr Maleika Selwyn, a GP who is passionate about working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. She lives and works in NSW on the land of the Dharuk and Wiradjuri nations).

Dear Lord,
We thank you for this land of Australia. We thank you for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters who you placed as the original custodians and stewards of this precious land. We pray that as we begin to acknowledge the truth of past hurt it is the start of a deep healing in our nation.
We pray that the gap in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Non-Indigenous Australians will be closed. We pray for all health professionals – doctors, nurses, carers, dentists, administration staff in health facilities – may these health professionals be filled with compassion, understanding, and love as they see their frontline role in helping to Close the Gap. We pray Australia will Close The Gap!
We pray for greater cultural understanding and improved access to health services. Show us how we can each, individually, be a part of making this a reality. Teach us how to love each other and journey together in this process of reconciliation and true friendship.
We pray for those that feel hopeless that they will find their hope in You. We pray especially for the families and communities of Aboriginal people who have committed suicide this year. We pray that you fill the families and communities each with a peace that surpasses all human understanding; that they will know that they are not alone in their grief, that You walk beside them and there is a community around them that loves, supports and cares for them.
We thank you for each of our Aboriginal Elders who have journeyed with their communities through much sickness, hardship, and grief. Fill them afresh with your strength and wisdom and courage.
As we pray for these Stolen Lives, we pray that we may be the agents of your healing, in Jesus name.

A time for healing…

Published / by Sandy

We will all have seen the #BlackLivesMatter actions after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police (and tragically, so many other African Americans who have also been killed by police brutality*). To raise public awareness, #BlackLivesMatter signs have been painted on public roads.

(*In a single week in March 2021, 3 Aboriginal people have died in police custody in Australia. Victorian Greens senator Lidia Thorpe describes the justice system as “deeply racist”).

Washington DC street sign: Black Lives Matter

In June 2020, Miriam Moran – an African American artist, together with her friends, took part in a community project to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ on a main street in downtown Cambridge (Dorchester State), with the endorsement of the City Council. The idea was to paint a street mural depicting historical milestones of the city’s culture in the context of the words Black Lives Matter.

In July, in the middle of the night, a man in a pick up truck deliberately ‘burned rubber’, damaging the mural. (Apparently, a so-called friend in the passenger seat had encouraged him to do it.)

Security camera footage led to coverage on social media, and the driver was quickly identified – a 21 year old local. The driver saw the disappointment his actions had fostered, called police and turned himself in.

The artist said she felt ‘hurt and devastated’ when she found out the mural had been damaged, not just for herself, but for the community that helped create the painting.

The man and his parents met with the District Attorney (who could have opted to charge the man with a hate crime), the Mayor, the Police Chief, a detective, the artist, Alpha Genesis Co-Founder and Chairman, along with others. The State Attorney reported it was a ‘good conversation – and a difficult conversation’. The driver was contrite, and agreed to work with other volunteers, his parents, and his friends to repair the mural.

He also agreed to apologize publicly for his thoughtless act. His apology was heartfelt. There was genuine remorse in his voice, and genuine tears in his eyes. His mother stood by his side, quietly, even as members of the black community talked to him in no uncertain terms, not about him, per se, but about the burden of being black in America. They asked him what it was like to grow up white in the same community. The testimony was at times raw, at times uncomfortable, but never angry or accusatory. They got to know each other’s stories. It was meant to educate, and illuminate experiences that the driver was not tuned into, despite living and working in the same community. It was an opportunity to learn about what “Black Lives Matter” means to people who have often been treated as if they don’t matter.

As much as there was talking, there was also listening. A lot of listening.
The driver was given the opportunity to demonstrate his repentance. A black man would most likely not have received that opportunity.

The District Attorney (DA) spoke about the opportunity to make it a teachable moment, that it was important to work together to keep the situation from escalating further, and to find a path toward healing. The DA was confronted by Theresa Stafford, a career educator, and director of a public housing youth centre. She wanted a commitment from the DA that this kind of opportunity would also be extended to black youth that get into trouble for vandalism, to provide a path forward, as had been extended to the driver, who is white. He agreed he would actively seek opportunities to work with black kids to help them learn from their mistakes.

After the speeches and testimony, and hard questions, the volunteers returned to work. They added several elements to the mural. Tyre marks were incorporated into the repairs to the mural. Roses were added, and the words “Say Their Names” were added above “Black Lives Matter”.

The driver and his parents stayed till the end. The driver did whatever tasks the muralist Miriam Moran asked him to do.

‘It’s time for healing but also for accountability to one’s self to understand each other and also to do what is right’, said artist Miriam Moran.

A story shared by Rev Dr Ian Price on Sunday 14th March 2021. This post incorporates information from a newspaper article and a Facebook post by Lee Weldon (an artist Miriam Moran’s Facebook page).

When theology seems odd

Published / by Sandy

A reading for Sunday March 14, 2021 (Lent 4B) Numbers 21: 4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water,
– and we detest this miserable food.” Then God sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against God and against you; pray to God to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And God said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Prayer/Reflection
God of the Scriptures, thank you for these stories,
even when they are strange, they help us think things through.
Even when the theology seems odd,
they push us to sort out what we believe.
Even when we are left scratching our heads at the weirdness,
they encourage us to keep searching and questioning and growing.
In a lot of ways, we can see ourselves in these stories.
We are wandering in the wilderness, too.
We are trekking through pandemics: viral and racist.
We are travelling in times of crisis: personal and environmental.
In all the binge-watching and over-indulging,
in the kneeling and knees on necks,
in the being overwhelmed and ticking climate change clock,
we pray for direction, insight, and wisdom.
And even though we know, in faith, that
water came from a rock when there was thirst, and
manna came from heaven when there was hunger;
we know, too, that we can be complainers,
griping and grumbling over the petty,
murmuring and mumbling with vindictiveness,
ranting and railing when we feel slighted.
Forgive us our trespasses.
Let us forgive those who trespass against us.
And so like Moses, we intercede for the people.
We pray for the planet.
We may not believe in the magic or sorcery of snakes on sticks.
We may not believe in the power of idols bronze or brazen.
We may not believe in a God who dispenses luck and antidotes
according to our will,
but, nevertheless, we still ask:
that we might face our fears,
that healing may come to the brokenness,
that joy may erupt in the barrenness,
that wholeness might come to this Earth.
May the poison and the venom and the serpents be taken away from us.
In as much as we are at fault, we also ask for forgiveness.
We take this Lenten moment to repent, to turn around,
to seek transformation for ourselves, our church, our society and our world.
May there be genuine healing, authentic redemption and real reconciliation.
Let us look on the Holy One, and live.
(Diaconal Minister Ted Dodd, United Church of Canada)

Hope is a bag of onions

Published / by Sandy

This week Extinction Rebellion protesters disrupted peak hour traffic for two hours when they glued themselves to the road on the corner of Gawler Place and Flinders St (a short distance from Pilgrim Uniting Church) near the SANTOS building. A 70-year-old North Plympton woman, a 65-year-old Flaxley woman, a 38-year-old Mile End woman and a 65-year-old Henley Beach South woman were charged with ‘loitering’. In a press release, the group said it was protesting against Santos and wanted the company to abandon fracking projects and invest more in renewable energy.

[In response to the protest, a Santos spokesperson said the company was a “corporate leader in climate action”, and that it had set a net-zero emissions target by 2040]

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said protests were “a regular feature of most civilised communities. People have a right to express their opinions”. An excellent statement from Commissioner Stevens, in the context of a democratic society.

What does protest look like in a country like Myanmar where a coup d’état took place on 1 February 2021 (when democratically elected members of Myanmar’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy, were deposed by Myanmar’s military, which then proclaimed a year-long state of emergency and declared power had been vested in Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services. The results of Myanmar’s November 2020 general election were then declared invalid and a new election has been forecast at the end of the state of emergency even though most of Myanmar’s people are satisfied with the results of the election.

I was struck by this reflection by Maren Tirabassi on protest actions in Myanmar, and the creative ways that protest is able to happen even in military rule.

Hope is a bag of onions
I am praying for Myanmar and I am crying,
then I open my Australian newspaper*
and an article by “Anonymous”
tells me about new creative protest.
Some is by Generation Z surely,
those who do not remember
the horrific violence of 1988 or 2007,
but know they do not want
the coup to succeed.
The generation of “pop up” and “work around,”
is joined also by many others.
Every night is the “metal bucket protest,”
fifteen minutes of banging pots and pans.
Too short to pinpoint the homes,
and too traditional,
after all, it is
the way to drive out evil spirits.
Ten cars stop in the road, open their hoods,
tell police they’ve broken down –
traffic grinds to a halt.
A bride in a wedding dress
holds a sign telling the world
she doesn’t want her babies
to grow up under martial law.
And students cross the streets
with bags of onions,
except there are holes in the bags.
Cars stop,
while they pick up and bag again,
pick up and bag again –
onions, the same ones,
over and over again.
I am praying for Myanmar
in the midst of this terrible coup,
and my heart fills
with their tremendous courage –
today these onions do not make me cry.

(*“Eureka Street”, a publication of Jesuit Communications Australia)

#Sacred People, Sacred Earth 2021 – 11am March 11

Published / by Sandy

Global Day of Climate Action, 11am March 11 (‘the eleventh hour’)

“Sacred People Sacred Earth” is a multi-faith day of climate action organized by the GreenFaith International Network. The day will unite hundreds of actions around the world, in which people of faith step up to express a collective wish for bold solutions on climate change and social justice. Actions will take place at 11am on Thursday March 11 to symbolize the urgency we face. Make a noise about climate justice!

[At Pilgrim Uniting Church it will include bell-ringing at 11am to ‘sound the alarm’, followed at 11.05am by ‘Blue Planet’ musicians performing songs that highlight environmental concern (on the forecourt of Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide). At 5pm there will be a conversation with Mark Parnell at Wild Nectre Cafe, Victoria Square, exploring Sacred People, Sacred Earth – towards a Hopeful Path for 2040, with Philippa Rowland, President Multi-faith SA and MC’d by Leigh Newton, EAG UCA and followed by Q&A. Free event. All welcome. If posting any photos on social media, use the hashtag #SacredPeopleSacredEarth].

This global day of action will highlight ten pledges that were developed by a grassroots body of diverse religions from around the world. Over 100 high-level faith leaders have signed onto it, and the list of supporters is steadily growing. Please take a look and sign on and share with others. The bold multi-faith statement will be launched on March 11.

The vision is a world transformed. One in which humanity in all its diversity has developed a shared reverence for life on Earth; in which the era of conquest, extraction, and exploitation has given way to cooperation and community. Yet, across the world, more and more people are experiencing climate-fuelled disasters first-hand. COVID is cruelly worsening these impacts on our most vulnerable communities. There is a need to bring an end to fossil fuels and deforestation, and to create a renewable future. A better world is possible.

Green Faith International Statement:
We are united by a fundamental belief that all people, all living things, and the Earth are sacred. As we consider the state of the world today, our hearts overflow with concern. We are frightened and frustrated by the damage that COVID-19 is inflicting on our communities. The pandemic has revealed cruel injustices. The vulnerable suffer the most severe impacts.
We know about this injustice. We have seen it before. These same communities are disproportionately and catastrophically affected by the accelerating climate emergency. 
Grave threats are at our door as the world shelters in place. We see the rise of increasingly unaccountable or authoritarian governments, exploitive economies, and extremist cultural forces which pit us against each other, target women and oppressed communities, and foster doubt about the science required to save life on Earth. This is a world of widespread poverty, racial and gender injustice, massive income inequality, and the devastation of nature. This version of civilization is unsustainable at every level. Worse impacts lie ahead if we do not act now. 
A far better future is possible if our collective response to the pandemic and the climate crisis is guided by compassion, love and justice at a scale that meets this moment. We must not only provide the relief that so many need to survive. We must create a new culture, politics and economy of life that heals people and planet.
We envision a world transformed, in which humanity in all its diversity has developed a shared reverence for life on Earth. Together, we are building resilient, caring communities and economies that meet everyone’s needs and protect the planet. The era of conquest, extraction, and exploitation has given way to cooperation and community. The good life is one of connectedness—with each other and all of nature. It is a world of flourishing life that replaces despair with joy, scarcity with shared abundance, and privilege with justly distributed power.
The work to create this future begins now.
In the months ahead, governments and financial institutions will spend massive sums in response to the pandemic. Governments will present climate commitments at COP26 in November 2021. These actions must not perpetuate an outdated economic system that relies on fossil fuels and the destruction of the very forests, waters, oceans and soils that make life possible. Instead they should accelerate renewable energy development; ensure universal access to clean water and air, affordable clean energy, and food grown with respect for the land; create jobs paying family-sustaining wages to workers in safe conditions. Wealthy countries must take responsibility for a larger share of emissions reductions to support a global just transition. We must also prepare ourselves to welcome those who will be displaced by COVID and climate change.  
Compassion, love and justice require no less of us all.

International Women’s Day, March 8th

Published / by Sandy

Year after year, March 8 is celebrated as International Women’s Day the world over. It celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women while highlighting the problems they face in day-to-day life as well as in the professional environment. The day also marks as a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

This year, #IWD is being specially marked to highlight the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. The theme, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Writing about the #IWD2021 theme, Neelanjan Chakraborty says: It highlights how women can be equal partners in decision-making processes, especially those regarding policymaking. This year, the need of the hour is to bring to light the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and highlight the gaps that remain. According to the United Nations, only three countries in the world have 50% or more women in parliament. Women are Heads of State in only 22 nations. In fact, globally 119 countries have never had a woman leader as a Head of State.

UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said, “We need women’s representation that reflects all women and girls in all their diversity and abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic and political situations. This is the only way we will get real societal change that incorporates women in decision-making as equals and benefits us all.”

Neelanjan Chakraborty continues: “One thing which the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that when women lead, we see positive results. Some of the most efficient and successful responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were led by women. They are even on the forefront of humanity’s battle against the pandemic. Be it as front-line and health sector workers, or scientists, doctors, and caregivers. However, recent data released by the United Nations reveal an alarming disparity. These women frontline workers are getting paid 11% less than their male counterparts globally. According to United Nations Development Programme, in 2021, around 435 million women and girls are living on less than $1.90 a day. Nearly 47 million women have been pushed to poverty because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report also adds that women’s employment is at 19% more risk than men. That’s not all, as per World Economic Forum, while women make up 70% of health sector workers, only 24.7% of health ministers are female”.

UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer has offered a #IWD message and a prayer to use in worship (originally posted on the UCA Assembly website which includes Deidre’s video message for# IWD2021).

PRAYER FOR INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
Liberating God,
We thank you for the ways you lead us into freedom and expressions of our fullest humanity.
Empowering Christ, 
bless us with courage to follow you in advocating for all those who experience oppression.
Life-giving Spirit, 
Inspire us to shape communities of love, respect and mutuality.
We thank you for women who have led the way in our Church – who have been bearers of your good news through their teaching, preaching, and pastoral care.
We thank you for women who have led the way in calling for gender equality.
We thank you for women who have preserved culture and language and led the way in shaping a vision of society in which all cultures are valued and respected.
We thank you for men who share in partnership with women, in advocating for respectful relationships and a world of equality and mutuality, in which all people can flourish.
We pray for women throughout our world, who experience discrimination, and whose voice is diminished. May their voice be heard.
Through Christ, our Life and Hope,
We pray, Amen.

#Sacred People Sacred Earth

Published / by Sandy

Faith communities around the world are being asked to ‘sound the alarm’ for the climate and call for climate justice as we try to get our economies going in the wake of COVID. The biggest ever global faith-based Day of Action for the Climate is planned for 11am (the ‘eleventh hour’) on March 11, with the theme ‘Sacred People, Sacred Earth‘. After the Day of Action, ‘Green Faith International’ will call for a “Year of Action” in the lead-up to COP26 which will be held in Glasgow in November 2021.

On March 11 at 11am, each place of worship, faith-based small group or household will choose its own way to do this (eg by ringing its bells as will happen at Pilgrim Uniting Church). Action Kit for churches here.

Thea Ormerod from ARRCC (Australian Religious Response to Climate Change) speaks about the Global Multi-Faith Day of Action.

A statement for ‘Sacred People, Sacred Earth’
We are united by a fundamental belief that all people, all living things, and the Earth are sacred. As we consider the state of the world today, our hearts overflow with concern. We are frightened and frustrated by the damage that COVID-19 is inflicting on our communities. The pandemic has revealed cruel injustices. The vulnerable suffer the most severe impacts. We know about this injustice. We have seen it before. These same communities are disproportionately and catastrophically affected by the accelerating climate emergency.
Grave threats are at our door as the world shelters in place. We see the rise of increasingly unaccountable or authoritarian governments, exploitive economies, and extremist cultural forces which pit us against each other, target women and oppressed communities, and foster doubt about the science required to save life on Earth. This is a world of widespread poverty, racial and gender injustice, massive income inequality, and the devastation of nature. This version of civilization is unsustainable at every level. Worse impacts lie ahead if we do not act now.
A far better future is possible if our collective response to the pandemic and the climate crisis is guided by compassion, love and justice at a scale that meets this moment. We must not only provide the relief that so many need to survive. We must create a new culture, politics and economy of life that heals people and planet.
We envision a world transformed, in which humanity in all its diversity has developed a shared reverence for life on Earth. Together, we are building resilient, caring communities and economies that meet everyone’s needs and protect the planet. The era of conquest, extraction, and exploitation has given way to cooperation and community. The good life is one of connectedness – with each other and all of nature. It is a world of flourishing life that replaces despair with joy, scarcity with shared abundance, and privilege with justly distributed power.
The work to create this future begins now.
In the months ahead, governments and financial institutions will spend massive sums in response to the pandemic. Governments will present climate commitments at COP26 in November 2021. These actions must not perpetuate an outdated economic system that relies on fossil fuels and the destruction of the very forests, waters, oceans and soils that make life possible. Instead they should accelerate renewable energy development; ensure universal access to clean water and air, affordable clean energy, and food grown with respect for the land; create jobs paying family-sustaining wages to workers in safe conditions. Wealthy countries must take responsibility for a larger share of emissions reductions to support a global just transition. We must also prepare ourselves to welcome those who will be displaced by COVID and climate change.
Compassion, love and justice require no less of us all.

Pilgrim Uniting Church is a member of ARRCC (Australian Religious Response to Climate Change). ARRCC joins in the call for:
100% clean energy for all – especially the 800 million people in energy poverty
Global finance aligned with compassionate values – in COVID recovery and beyond – for renewable energy and sustainable food systems
Jobs and healthcare for all – necessary support for a just transition for workers and communities currently dependent on fossil fuel industries
Protection of Indigenous rights
Welcome for migrants who are compelled to find new homes because of climate impacts
No more climate pollution – net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in wealthy countries by 2030; accelerated finance/technology transfers for global net zero before 2050
An end to the planet’s desecration – No new fossil fuel exploration or infrastructure, industrial agriculture, or deforestation; no more habitat or biodiversity loss
Elimination of immoral finance – No further financing or COVID bailouts for all fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, or deforestation
Climate reparations from wealthy countries – wealthy countries should provide climate financing and technology transfer
Bold faith community leadership

Aligned with these demands, ARRCC is calling on the Morrison Government to:
* A formal commitment from Australia under the Paris Accord to achieving net zero emissions by 2030. It follows that Australia should offer Nationally
* Determined Contributions (NDC’s) that align with this goal.
* The use of post-COVID recovery spending to boost renewable energy and low carbon industries rather than fund a “gas-led recovery”.
* Provision of substantial amounts of finance for the UN Green Climate Fund, additional to the aid budget.
* Provision of support for an orderly, planned, just transition for communities currently dependent on the coal and gas industries.

For many, it’s a question of faith

Published / by Greg Elsdon

For many, it’s a question of faith

By Stephen Acott

It’s 6.47am in sunny Samoa. The calendar says its September 29, 2009, but when the clock strikes 6.48am, Frank Rees won’t need a calendar to record this day. Mother nature will have that covered.

Frank, principal of Whitley College in Parkville, is in Samoa holidaying with his wife and daughter. At just 2800sqkm, Samoa is your quintessential, picture-postcard speck in the ocean. This is a place to lose yourself, or maybe find yourself, depending on your circumstances – either way, not much happens in Samoa, so “relax” is at the top of most people’s to-do lists.

Frank won’t be relaxing today, as he’s about to discover.

At 6.48am, Frank wakes to the sound of rumbling. The room is shaking, furniture is moving. Frank has never experienced an earthquake before, but he doesn’t need a second opinion – this is an earthquake, 8.1 on the Richter scale. Some things just explain themselves.

His wife is also woken by the clatter and, not knowing quite what to do, the two of them run outside. This doesn’t really achieve anything and, besides, they’re not fully dressed so they return to their room, put on some extra clothes and head back outside.

By now there’s a siren blaring and one of the staff members is running around shouting the word “tsunami”.

Tsunami? Did he just say “tsunami”?

Frank doesn’t have time to fully digest the word, much less its implications. Before he knows it he’s underwater, trying to negotiate the non-negotiable.

“I’m under a wave that is carrying me away and thinking I’m about to drown,” he recalls. The moment is as vivid now, 11 years down the track, as it was then.

“My wife was carried in one direction inland and my daughter and I were carried into the rubble of the building we had been staying in. After the first big wave, I tried to swim, tried to swim, tried to swim, but in the end I couldn’t. But the wave had smashed up the building and we ended up on the ledge of a part of what was left of one wall.

“When I finally got my head above water, I found my daughter and we started to walk uphill. I had six broken ribs and a whole lot of other injuries and I was in excruciating pain, but we made it.

“We didn’t know if my wife was alive, and she didn’t know if we were alive, but we managed to find each other about an hour later.”

Each of us have had moments in our lives we’ll never forget, moments that have helped shape us and shift us and even define us. Your wedding day, for example.

Some of these moments are so totemic we aren’t the same person afterwards. We are irreversibly different. The birth of your first child, for example. Or surviving a tsunami.

 “I had the sense then that I’d been given another chance at life,” Frank, now a Reverend Associate Professor at the University of Divinity, says. “And I determined that I would do things that I really believed were worthwhile, put up with a lot less crap, and articulate as best I could the idea of a God who is with us in life, inviting us to life.

“The tsunami literally took away from me everything that I had, all of the possessions I’d taken to the island. I had no mobile phone, wallet, no credit cards, no clothes. When everything is taken from us, we discover what really matters, and that’s the potential for a new sense of faith, a new sense of that trusting and belonging. What can you really trust? Well, you can trust yourself and each other in the face of everything else being lost. And that I think is the potential for faith in God beyond ideas, beyond the idea of the God who pulls the strings and causes things.”

If you don’t have faith before a tsunami sweeps you to within an inch of your life, chances are you might have it once you wake up and have time to comprehend what just happened. Frank, now 70, lived to further his life. As did his wife and daughter. But 149 people weren’t so fortunate that day. Why did Frank live?

Frank, who is also an author and blogger, says he’s never tried to answer that question and who can blame him? There is no answer, just a responsibility to not take life for granted.

“I don’t think you can answer it with ideas,” he says. “The great temptation of Western thought is wanting to explain everything. I’m all in favour of trying to understand things, but I think there are times when we can’t understand and instead we need to respond. So for those who died, and this is happening all the time in different contexts, we have to respond with appropriate compassion and gratitude, gratitude for them, for what they gave to life, but also gratitude for our life. So that’s my response – not to explain ‘why me?’, but to say ‘thank God. I’m alive. I’m going to live’.”

The thing is, Frank didn’t need a tsunami to find faith or have faith. He’d been a man of faith long before he hopped on a plane to Samoa. He can’t pinpoint a precise “lightbulb” moment but remembers listening to a preacher back when he was 15 that had a marked influence on his faith.

“He was talking about the kind of faith that people can switch on and switch off according to whether it was convenient or not,” Frank says. “And I thought that whatever faith I was going to affirm it had to be fair dinkum. I was either going to be in or out. And that’s basically been my affirmation – I don’t want to pretend – so if I can’t articulate something, I’m not going to pretend. And authenticity as faith is trusting honesty. Honest trusting includes some believing and some ‘I’m not sure what to believe’ – actions that try to express oneself honestly.”

Faith is not a foreign concept. And yet, and yet … do we really, truly understand what it is? Do we have different definitions? Different parameters? Different levels? Can you switch it on and off, as the preacher described to Frank?

Faith isn’t hard to find; like everything nowadays, it’s only a mouse click away. It’s right there in Google, on YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest … any and all manner of platforms. Some of it is superficial, some of it is as deep and complex as a theological PhD. People have written countless books and poems and songs on the topic, there’s been movies and art and mass gatherings – you won’t struggle to find faith, but having faith, well that’s something else altogether.

How do you get faith? What does it involve? Is there a guidebook? A set of rules? Is it a case of simply believing?

Well, no.

Fr Richard Rohr is a Catholic priest and highly acclaimed spiritual writer. Highly acclaimed and prolific. Chances are he’s written four or five books while we’ve been in lockdown. The point is, when it comes to matters of faith there isn’t an angle he hasn’t considered and explored in print.

“Most people think having faith means ‘to believe in Jesus’,” he says. “But, ‘to share in the faith of Jesus’ is a much richer concept. By myself, I don’t know how to have faith in God, but once we know that Jesus is the corporate stand-in for everybody, we know we have already been taken on the ride through death and back to life. All we can do now is make what is objectively true fully conscious for us.”

Objectively true. That’s an interesting statement to say as fact, particularly in a society where many would argue faith is subjective and occurs, thrives even, in the absence of proof. Even The Bible seems to suggest this view: “Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Maybe we should let Richard explain himself further.

“Faith is not an intellectual acceptance of God, or believing certain doctrines to be true,” he says. “Such intellectual ascent does not usually change your heart or your lifestyle. I’m convinced that much modern atheism is a result of such a heady and really ineffective definition of faith.

“God refuses to be known intellectually. God can only be loved and known in the act of love. Love is like a living organism, an active force-field upon which we can rely, from which we can draw, and which we can allow to pass through us.”

Rev Nadia Bolz-Weber is a theologian and three-times New York Times best-selling author. She agrees with Richard that faith is not “intellectually assenting to a set of theological propositions”. To her, faith is “trusting God’s promises”.

“Faith is trusting we are who God says we are, that God’s promises are being fulfilled among us even if we’re not seeing it,” she says.

Nadia, who agrees with Richard’s proposition that sharing in the faith of Jesus is a richer concept than simply believing in Him, has a phrase for faith: “team sport”.

“Faith isn’t given in sufficient quantities to individuals, it’s given in sufficient quantities to communities. Faith is a team sport, it’s not an individual competition,” she says.

This is an interesting concept and one worth exploring further because everyone interviewed for this story said their faith was deeply personal and not in short supply. Yes, they belonged to a faith community – and rejoiced in the fact – but their faith was imbedded in their soul, it was part of their being. It was personal, almost individually-tailored.

Gus Yearsley is the state officer of the Tasmanian Council of Churches Emergency Ministry. Now 53, he grew up in what he describes as a “Christian household”, but says it took until his teens for his faith to get a strong foothold in his life.

“Faith is very personal,” he says. “For me, faith is about serving people and loving people and being a good example of who I think Jesus would be and represent Him as best I can.”

Or, as Hampton Park UC member Diane Leak puts it, faith is about “doing stuff”. “The best thing I can do is live out my faith,” she says. “I’ve become quite involved with what we’re doing at Uniting Place, which is what we call the church building. Before lockdown, we offered free lunches twice a week. And I was involved with religious education for about 30 years with the local schools. That was a bit of a seed-sowing ministry.”

If we accept that faith is fundamental to the human condition, it’s interesting to consider the fact we aren’t born with it. Faith is something we have to find, or allow ourselves to find, or allow faith to find us.

Think about when you first truly had faith? Did you hunt high and low for it? Or did it come to you in a rather roundabout, unexpected way? Revealing itself only when you were truly ready to receive it?

Richard says we “don’t really do faith”. “It happens to you when you give up control and all the steering of your ship,” he says. “Frankly, we often do it when we have no other choice. Faith hardly ever happens when we rush to judgment or seek too-quick resolution of anything. Thus, you see why faith will invariably be a minority and suspect position. You fall into it more than ever fully choosing it.

“Many scholars have pointed out that what is usually translated in Paul’s letters as ‘faith in Christ’ would be more accurately translated as ‘the faith of Christ’. It’s more than a change of prepositions. It means we are all participating – with varying degrees of resistance and consent – in the faith journey that Jesus has already walked.”

What does he mean when he says “you don’t really do faith”? Does he mean “faith” is not a verb? If so, he has an ally in Frank.

“One of the really unfortunate things in the English language is that we don’t actually have a verb for faith,” he says. “We don’t have ‘faithing’ in the way that the Bible does and, therefore, all too often people think of faith in terms of ‘do you believe?’ and when you get to belief then you get to specific ideas and content and a great deal of the theological tradition is focused on that, unfortunately.

“It’s really important to say that faith is a personal and relational stance in life. It has much more to do with trust and relating and engaging than it has to do with the traditional focus on belief.

“Faith is a natural human responsiveness to life itself. And it is a stance that involves relationships and ethics, action, emotions as well as some intellectual content. But for a great many people, the intellectual content is either not well developed and often not expressed in words.”

Beth Woolsey is an American author, mother of five, very down to earth and someone who believes finding faith does take some searching on our part.

 “Jesus said a lot of earth-shattering things,” she says, “but now that I’m a mum, I think this was one of the most radical of all: Askand it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

“It seems to me that Jesus’s words are a clear directive: ask, seek, knock. And then, if I’ve got this right, Jesus follows up a few verses later by saying that God will actually respond. God, the lover of us all, will reveal divine things. To me. To you. To anyone who asks. And God will do it without discretion or conditions. Without caution or prudence. Without making a list first of who has a right to which truth or who will handle the answers the best.

 “The revolutionary, almost subversive, thing about asking is that it goes beyond making it OK to have secret questions and inner doubts and gives us permission to raise our hands in God’s classroom with a ‘pardon me, but I don’t get it’. Or ‘I just can’t bring myself to believe what the rest of your class is telling me’.

“I suspect – a sneaking suspicion that gets louder as I age – that we’re somehow expected to keep asking. Out loud. And to keep seeking. And to keep knocking. Which has crazy implications on parenting from a Jesus perspective because typically when we don’t know something, we pretend we doThat’s in the Parenting Manual. Or the Being a Grownup Manual. Or the Christianity Manual. Or maybe it’s just being human.

“I had a conversation recently with my father about whether we’re obligated as Christians to be aspirational. ‘Are we,’ I asked, ‘supposed to hold ourselves up as an example of the Godly life? Because I’m afraid I lack what it takes for others – my children, my friends, my blog readers – to want to aspire to be like me and, therefore, like God’.

“He replied: ‘What if the root word of aspiration isn’t only to aspire to? What if the root word of aspiration is also to aspirate? To expel or dislodge the things that make people choke? To tell a truth that is so wild and so free that it helps people learn to breathe? What if you’re called to be that kind of aspiration?’

 “And I thought,‘by God, if this life is about helping people breathe, I can do that’.

 “Ask. Seek. Knock. Breathe.”

And if you ask and seek and knock and breathe and discover something, what do you do? Believe? Have faith? Or are they one and the same thing? Of course they’re not. In fact, according to outspoken agnostic (and author) Lesley Hazleton, faith can flourish in the absence of belief.

Lesley, 75, says “doubt is essential to faith”. “Demolish all doubt and what is left is absolute, heartless conviction,” she says. “You are certain you possess ‘The Truth’ and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness – in short, the arrogance of fundamentalism. Like fundamentalists of all Christian stripes they have no questions, only answers. They’ve found the perfect antidote to thought and the ideal refuge from the hard demands of real faith. We have to recognise that real faith has no easy answers.

“Faith is not hard to find. It’s difficult and stubborn and involves an ongoing struggle, a continuing questioning of what we think we know, a wrestling with issues and ideas. It goes hand in hand with doubt and sometimes in conscious defiance of it. And this conscious defiance is why I, as an agnostic, can still have faith.

“What drives us is that, despite our doubts, and even because of our doubts, we reject the nihilism of despair. We insist on faith in the future and in each other. Call us naïve or impossibly idealistic, but call it human.”

Tanya Walker, 44, is a wife and mother and lay leader at Benalla UC. She is also a witness to a remarkable occurrence at her fortnightly Sunday worship. “I have a friend who comes every two weeks, reads the Bible with us, prays with us, but she keeps saying she doesn’t believe in God.

“I’m always intrigued about what is going through her mind. I’ve had several conversations with her about it and I think, for her, there’s too much of the faith aspect tied up with religion. And so the religion side of things puts up this massive barrier for people opening themselves up to actually believing in something.

“She said ‘I believe in Mother Earth’ and I think we’re just using different names, really. I think what you believe in and what I believe in is probably closer than we think. You’re very adamant about saying ‘I don’t believe in God’ because you have this picture of what you think God is, but if we break it down, it’s closer than we think it is.”

Diane had an interesting encounter once with someone who believed in extra terrestrials. He said he had no faith, but believed there was something ‘out there’ so I think underneath all that he had some kind of faith,” she says. “We both believed there was something out there beyond us that we don’t understand and sometimes we just have to accept that those things are there. We don’t know everything.”

Gus’s job sees him working with people of many faiths. He describes it as “an interesting space” and it has taught him that “faith means different things to different people, depending on their belief system”. It has also taught him that, no matter what “brand” your faith may be, questions always linger. There is always an element of the unknown.

“There are some questions we just can’t answer,” he says. “But that doesn’t undermine my faith in God.”

Faith may come in many ways and many forms to many people – there is no single “faith” packet you can grab off the supermarket shelf – so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover that once you have it, your experience with it, how it nurtures and nourishes you, will be relatively unique.

When asked to describe what faith provides, Tanya offers just one word: “Freedom.” When asked to explain, she says: “People without faith are missing out on a sense of hope, but also an element of freedom. By this I mean many people are living with the expectations that society and others put on them, sometimes it is what they put on themselves – an expectation to live up to what others want them to be and, in many cases, falling short time and again. This leads to feelings of inadequacy and failure and causes anxiety and stress.

“For example, a friend of mine who is a mother of three small children thinks that for her to have a good life she needs to be the ideal mother and not get things wrong. She needs to have more and more possessions in order to keep up with what is new and fashionable. She dresses nicely, she portrays herself as having an idyllic life, but when we dig deeper, she has many mental challenges that stem from the expectations she feels are on her. These mental challenges manifest themselves in physical ways on her body and cause more issues. The push in our world is to have more, to achieve more and to be more.

“My point is that having faith in a God who loves us no matter what and knowing that God forgives us when we muck up, gives me a sense of freedom in the way I live my life, that we don’t have in other ways.

“We don’t have to get it perfect, we don’t have to have everything, because ultimately that doesn’t matter and, if people judge us for what we don’t have or what they think we don’t have, then it doesn’t matter because I know that God loves me no matter what and that is more powerful than all other things. This gives me the freedom to not worry about everything else, but instead to put my energies into trying to love others as God loves us. Because that will make the world a better place. I don’t always get it right, but it is in the trying that God shows grace.”

Frank says faith provides “a framework of ethics, a life style”. “What we often call a ‘lifestyle’ is actually a ‘deathstyle’ – it’s life-denying,” he says. “And I think faith provides a life style, the Christian faith with its affirmation of death and resurrection is actually a way to live.”

Sometimes, when trying to gauge the worth of something, it pays to think of what the world would look like without it. Just how essential is it really? When push came to shove, could we live without it?

Diane says a world without faith is not a world we would recognise. It wouldn’t work,” she says adamantly.

“Faith and love and hope are what carry us through this world. We are moving to a place where faith is in the margins, but I think we’ll move back again. Throughout history it has swung backwards and forwards. I don’t believe God will ever leave the world.”

 Frank believes the swing back is already happening and is there for all to see. “I call it bikes, Bunnings and brunch,” he says.

 “Sundays used to be preserved for church by a portion of society, but these days we see an extraordinary number of people exercising or doing healthy things. You see people doing stuff about homemaking, to enhance their homes. And others get together for brunch. Now those three things are immensely life-affirming and the getting together part of it is enormously important. Inherent in all that is a quest for life, the quest for belonging, the quest for a kind of life that affirms, rather than divides, the kind of life that is growing and nurturing, rather than stultifying.

 “And the future of faith is with that movement and I’m hopeful that out of all that we might reclaim the ideas of justice, peace, Shalom. And God is already in all of that. The church has never had an adequate doctrine of the Holy Spirit and if we believe that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of the whole creation and not just limited to people who go to church then the Holy Spirit is at work in all of this stuff. That’s why I’m hopeful.”

Frank has every right to be hopeful and every reason to have perspective – he’s survived a tsunami. If that doesn’t grant you perspective, nothing will.

___________________________________________________________

Stephen Acott is Editor of ‘Crosslight’, a publication of the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. This article was first published in ‘Crosslight’ on 16 February 2021.


Stephen Acott is Editor of ‘Crosslight’, a publication of the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. This article was first published in ‘Crosslight’ on 16 February 2021.

Just a cup of coffee

Published / by Sandy

Australian Government ministers have agreed to permanently lift the base rate of the jobseeker payment by $50 a fortnight when the coronavirus supplement ends in March – the equivalent of just $3.50 a day. Not even enough for a cup of coffee at a cafe (average cost is $4).

Photo by dapiki moto, https://unsplash.com/@dapiki

Before the pandemic, the base rate of Job Seeker for a single person was about $40 a day. This week the Federal Government announced it would increase payments by $50 a fortnight, lifting the base rate to $44 a day.

The Uniting Church Assembly has joined UnitingCare Australia in expressing disappointment at this meagre increase in the base rate of the JobSeeker payment.

Those receiving the Job Keeper benefit will get $615.70 a fortnight, which is still a drop from the current rate of $715 a fortnight, when the $150 coronavirus supplement expires at the end of March.

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union described the $50-a-fortnight increase as a “cruel joke”. Perhaps appropriate then that the increase takes effect on April Fools Day, April 1.

The UCA President, Dr Deidre Palmer, said: “One of our key learnings from the pandemic has been that we are only as strong and healthy as the most vulnerable members of our society. The extra support delivered by the Government throughout the pandemic has been a lifeline for many Australians. COVID-19 highlighted in a new way that people who are unemployed need adequate funds in order to live with dignity, remain healthy and participate in society.”

“In 2020, we released our Build Back Better statement which called for a fair and permanent increase to JobSeeker to ensure a safety net for people out of work, but these changes fail to live up to those hopes,” said Dr Palmer.

“We need to do better.”

In recent months, UnitingCare Australia has joined other community sector agencies in calling for a permanent rise to the JobSeeker payment.

This week UnitingCare joined Anglicare Australia in condemning the changes that they say will plunge people into poverty.

UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little said the announcement was a devastating blow to individuals and families struggling to make ends meet.

“Unemployment payments need to be above the poverty line. Increasing the base rate by a mere $3.60 a day is not enough to lift people out of poverty.

“As one of the largest networks of community service providers nationally, we have seen first-hand the positive impact of the Coronavirus Supplement,” said Ms Little.

“One of our services spoke about a young father who is the sole carer of his three small children. He said the impact of the JobSeeker supplement meant that instead of living life on the edge, he has been enabled to be a better father.”

“No one deserves to live in poverty. We need a permanent, adequate increase to JobSeeker that actually enables people to meet their needs and live with dignity.”

Two weeks ago, UnitingCare and Anglicare called on the Government to raise the rate of JobSeeker after releasing research which showed people on the old rate of JobSeeker, which has been frozen for nearly three decades, had forced people to skip meals because their payments were so low.

Many were left with as little as $7 a day after paying their rent. Others were forced to couch-surf. Read the FULL REPORT.  

Facts and figures
March 2020: JobSeeker – $40 a day
April-September 2020: JobSeeker – $80 a day
October-December: JobSeeker – $60 a day
January-March 2021: JobSeeker – $50 a day
April 1 2021: JobSeeker – $43.50 a day
(Could you live on this?)
Those receiving the new Job Keeper benefit will get $615.70 a fortnight (or about $44 a day), which is a drop from the current rate of $715 a fortnight, when the $150 coronavirus supplement expires at the end of March.
Before the pandemic, the base rate of jobseeker for a single person was $565 a fortnight, or about $40 a day.
During the pandemic, the jobseeker payment was initially doubled with a $550 coronavirus supplement before the top-up payment was reduced in September 2020 and January 2021.
The relative poverty line for a single person – set at 50% of median income – is $914 a fortnight, while another measure, the Henderson poverty line, puts it at about $1,100 a fortnight.
Welfare groups, Labor, the Greens and even the Reserve Bank of Australia urging the Coalition not to allow the payment to fall back to the pre-pandemic rate.
Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) had called for a permanent increase to jobseeker of at least $25 per day ($350 a fortnight). The Australian Unemployed Workers Union, backed by the Greens, wanted it raised to $80 a day, which is closer to the rate paid at the height of the pandemic.

A new report from Anglicare Victoria found the coronavirus supplements had alleviated financial stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anglicare Victoria chief executive, Paul McDonald, said: “The COVID-19 stimulus measures gave people without work a better quality of life, helping them meet their debts and restore their dignity. They gave people more ability to pay off outstanding debt and the research recommends that they should be permanent.”

Sourced from The Guardian, a statement by the Uniting Church in Australia, and ACOSS.

Just another Ashy day

Published / by Sandy

Diana Butler-Bass, writing on her website The Cottage, offered these reflections for Ash Wednesday, in her own context in the USA. Many here in Australia will resonate with her thoughts. She writes:

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the second Lent of the Great Pandemic of the early 21st century. 

On Ash Wednesday, Christians go to church, pray a solemn liturgy, are marked on the forehead with the sign of a cross made from ashes as “a sign of our mortality and penitence.” As the ashes are imposed, those who receive it are told: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
(At Pilgrim we use the words ‘Remember that God formed you from the dust of the earth and in God’s hands you shall remain. May this time deepen your faith and love in God‘).

But, I confess: the whole thing is wearying. How is Ash Wednesday really all that different from any other day in this interminable pandemic? 

The entire year has felt like Lent, so today is just another ashy day.

I know that some will protest – saying that Lent is a specifically Christian season to prepare for Easter some forty days hence, that it is necessary for us to consider our death in order to understand the work of God in salvation. 

When I say this entire year has felt like Lent, I’m not just saying that I’m tired of being introspective or don’t want to think about death. The point is that for more than a year now, that’s pretty much all I’ve done – reflect, pray, and read, mostly alone, all while worried that I might die, someone I love might die, or I’d unwittingly contribute (by my own carelessness) to someone else dying. Every time I put on a mask, I think of death and dying. In a year of a half-million deaths of other Americans and millions of people around the world, the Lenten discipline of contemplating mortality seems like one more painful day. 

Add to that all the climate-related crises of fire, ice, water, and wind that have killed far too many people this year, and we don’t need ashes to remind us that the world is heavy with sorrow, and that much that we love is being lost and is ending. Every single day is an exercise in mortality, as we see our dusty illusions of existence coming at us like a haboob (dust storm) in the desert. 

Frankly, I don’t need the church to remind me that I’m surrounded by death this year. I know that. Everyone I know knows that. We are covered in dust.

Dust. Ashes. I know these things. I grew up in Arizona. I know what it’s like to see the dust coming at sixty miles an hour with nowhere to go, to turn away from the dust to keep it out of your eyes, to feel your back blasted with stinging sand. I’ve lived in California. I know what it is like to see a hillside on fire, to know when to run so one isn’t incinerated, to walk in ashy landscapes of death. Dust and ash aren’t merely reminders of death – dust and ash are death. (We know this all too well in bushfire season in Australia and dust storms robbing farmers of their precious topsoil).

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The church has always emphasized this verse (taken from Genesis 3:19) as penitence in anticipation of death. You came from nothing, you return to nothing. The starkest of all reminders of fleeting existence, the ever-present reminder of death. But the verse also points another direction — not toward death but toward creation. In Genesis 3:6-7 (a poetic account of the beginning), a spring wells up on the dusty earth. From the resulting clay, God fashioned a man, breathed on him, and thus created humankind: The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Dust may be our ending, but it was also our beginning. Dust and ash are the stuff of creation.

Deserts do bloom. Charred landscapes birth new forests. From dust and ash come flowers and trees and fruitful fields. Dust is not nothing; ash is not nothing. Dust and ash are necessary for life. Repentance isn’t the point. Recognizing the circle of creation, the connectedness of all existence — that is the point.

Somehow, in this miserable pandemic, this endless season of death, even this dust and ash will become the humus of new life, a recreation of who we are, what we do, and how we love.

This Lent, I await the spring rising from the parched ground, and I wonder how we are being fashioned into a new people. I’m looking for water in this dry land. I’ve had quite enough of death. I’m longing for life.

‘About’

Published / by Sandy

‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth’ (Isaiah 43.19)

Day 1 of the SA Synod meeting (11-13th February) began with ‘..about’

Neryl McCallum read these words:

‘About…’, God says.
‘I’m about to do a new thing’.
And my mind floods with ‘about’ moments…
Coming in the kitchen and seeing the ingredients for chocolate cake lined up on the bench.
A tree in bud.
A violinist raising a bow as a dancer tiptoes on their toes.
A footy tam running onto the field.
The intense gaze of a basketball player standing on the three point line.
The nervous stance of a groom awaiting a bride.
The chortling of a chook ready to lay an egg.
The frozen bow of a cat stalking a mouse.
The unfolding of an eagle’s wings as the wind ruffles its feathers.
The first rays of gold emerging from the east.
Ants marching underground as rain clouds roll in,
A shower of glowing red sparks in a blackened sky as a fire advances.
The first pangs of labour.
The teetering raised foot of a toddler on the brink of walking.
The intake of breath before blowing out birthday candles.
A coffin held over the ground –

Our days are full of ‘abouts’.
Singular moments
that exist as specks in the expansive breadth of time.
They are loaded with a multitude of emotions.
From excited expectation to menacing fear.
And no matter how solid they seem
we cannot settle into them,
for they are by nature transitory and ephemeral.

But a moment can change everything.
‘About’, God says. ‘I’m about to do a new thing’.

Groundhog Day – that time of the year (again)

Published / by Sandy

February 2nd. Groundhog Day in the U.S.A.

I love the Bill Murray/Andie McDowell comedic movie Groundhog Day and have watched it many times. It’s profound and philosophical. 

I was interested to read this recent reflection by Neil Carter:

Groundhog Day is an audiovisual dissertation on philosophy disguised as cinematic entertainment.  Every year when Februrary 2nd rolls around, I have to pull this movie back out and watch it again because there are so many things about it that I love.  For example, who wouldn’t want a chance to get do-overs for all of their mistakes?  And how many times have I wished that I had all the time I need to read whatever I want to read, have all the conversations I want to have, learn to play an instrument, or learn a foreign language?  It has quite a few of my favorite movie lines as well.  But on a deeper level, Groundhog Day asks a question: What If There Were No Tomorrow?

What if there is no afterlife?  How should we then live? What will order our priorities and guide our choices if “tomorrow” (i.e. life in the hereafter) were removed from the equation?

After spending a long miserable day in his least favorite place in the world, Phil Conners (superbly played by Bill Murray) wakes up the next morning only to discover that he has to relive the same day again in the exact same miserable place.  Then the next day it happens again.  And the next day, again.  And again, and again, and again. 

The movie explores the many stages a person might go through upon learning that they can do practically anything they wanted.  If you were to let a someone have whatever they wanted as many times as they wanted it, how might it change what they want? Upon realizing that he can do whatever he likes, and that there are no lasting consequences for his actions, Phil first embarks on a hedonistic thrill-seeking adventure.  He robs banks, evades cops, crashes cars, seduces women, and gorges himself on every unhealthy dish the local diner has to offer.  Since there’s no meaningful punishment, there’s nothing to stop him from doing as he pleases.  But this only satisfies him for so long.  Eventually the novelty of it all wears off and he decides to set his sights a little higher.  The most interesting and attractive person in town is his producer, Rita (played by the beautiful Andie MacDowell), but she proves much more difficult to acquire.  Intelligent, sensitive, and beautiful, she needs someone much more altruistic and self-actualized than Phil to swoop her off her feet.  He tries but fails to win her affections and soon descends into a period of nihilistic despair.  He tries to take his own life a number of different ways, but he always wakes up again the next morning unscathed.  No matter how bleak the days get, life goes on.

This pushes Phil to re-evaluate what would truly make him happy.  The sensual pleasures were fun for a while but people are complex and therefore want more complicated things.  Phil starts to read interesting books, learns to play jazz piano, learns to ice sculpt, and teaches himself French.  His morning broadcast becomes more and more poetic as he begins to contemplate the deeper questions of human existence.  Before long, this self-absorbed weather diva learns to appreciate the company of people he previously thought were too far beneath him for his time and attention.  In time he learns that the enjoyment you receive from helping others satisfies something deeper than food, money, or sex could ever satisfy by themselves.  He learns the value of contributing to the lives of people around him, not because he would be rewarded the next day for his good behavior, but just because it’s the most enjoyable way he could envision spending this eternally recurring day.

Phil’s impressive knowledge of the intimate details of every person in town revealed that he had spent countless hours sitting and listening to people telling their stories, which is perhaps the most powerful education anyone could ever have. In the meantime, he also learned more about himself and about what really makes a person happy – what makes life worth living. He discovered that investing time and care into the lives of others made for a more fulfilling life.  He had all the time in the world to try out every other way of living and that’s the one he chose in the end.  He would never land that dream job working for the big network, but he would find a way to make his ‘day’ as meaningful as it could possibly be under the circumstances in which he found himself. This is what humans do if allowed the time and freedom to discover for themselves what truly makes us happy.

What Groundhog Day suggests is true of human nature:  We are equally capable of both great selfishness and noble altruism, but the enjoyment of the latter ultimately eclipses the thrill of the former if only you’ll give people the time and opportunity to figure that out.

In the end, Phil grew into his full potential as a human being.  He learned to sympathize with others and to identify with them in their life situations.  He learned compassion, cooperation, and humility.  He also grew in his ability to love and to appreciate beauty.  All the external motivators were removed, and he became a better man for it, the kind of man which Rita wanted to be with in the first place.  In the end he got the girl after all (who doesn’t want the story to end that way?).  He broke the curse by becoming more than the man he was when he entered this purgatorial time loop.  The next day finally came, and a new man greeted the morning, ready to find out what new things could be learned and explored.

2021 Awards, 26th January

Published / by Sandy
Grace Tame, Australian of the Year 2021

Grace Tame, who took on the law over rape silencing, has been named Australian of the Year for 2021. She is the first Tasmanian to be named Australian of the Year. After a sexual assault at the age of 15, she was unable to speak about her experience due to Tasmania’s sexual assault victim gag laws. Ms Tame ultimately applied to the Supreme Court for the right to publicly self-identify as a rape survivor and won. Her case is one of those that has prompted the Tasmanian government to reconsider the gag law, for which it is now taking community submissions. Ms Tame has continued to use her media profile to advocate for other vulnerable groups in the community. In her acceptance speech she said she was focused on empowering survivors and using education to prevent child sex abuse.
(1800 RESPECT is the national sexual assault and domestic and family violence counselling service on 1800 737 732)

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungumerr Baumann (AM) of Daly River in the Northern Territory was named Senior Australian of the Year.

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungumerr Baumann, Senior Australian of the Year

Dr Baumann, 73, is an Aboriginal activist, educator and artist who in 1975 became the NT’s first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher. She campaigned for years for visual art to become part of every child’s education, and has served on the National Indigenous Council. In 2013, she established the Miriam Rose Foundation, which drives grassroots reconciliation. to bridge the divide between Aboriginal culture and the rest of Australia.
Dr Baumann said, “We have lived in this great country for many thousands of years and 200 years ago we began to interact with whitefellas. And now, Australia has become multicultural. Since then we have adapted to a new way of living. We learnt to speak your English fluently. For years, we have walked on a one-way street to learn the white people’s way. I’ve learnt to walk in two worlds and live in towns and cities, and even worked in them. Now is the time for you to come closer to understand us and how – and to understand how we live, and listen to what needs are in our communities. When you come to visit or work in our communities and leave your comfort zones, I ask that you bring your knowledge and wisdom, but we ask you also to learn and understand how we live and function in our communities, and listen to what our needs are.”

The Young Australian of the Year was tonight revealed to be 22-year-old social entrepreneur Isobel Marshall.

Young Australian of the Year, Isobel Marshall

Isobel is a full-time student at the University of Adelaide, where she is studying medicine and surgery. She was just 18 when she co-founded women’s organisation TABOO with school friend Eloise Hall. The pair crowdfunded $56,000 to launch their range of hygiene products in August 2019, selling organic cotton pads and tampons to Australian buyers, with all profits going to One Girls, a charity that provides education programs for girls and women in Sierra Leone and Uganda.
Ms Hall said, “Menstrual products should be accessible, affordable, not a luxury or a choice. But the reality is one in every 10 girls around the world can’t afford menstrual products and culture stigma forces women and girls to isolate the days they bleed.”

She called on all Australians to join the cause. “Firstly, let’s change the conversation around menstruation. Those on your period, expect respect in place of shame and be proud of what your body can do. Families and teachers, invest in creating an environment that understands the importance and the strength of the menstrual cycle, and don’t shy away from the conversation. And, of course, let’s all commit to fighting period poverty around the world.” TABOO also provides free hygiene products to Vinnies Women’s Crisis Centre, for women in need of emergency accommodation in South Australia.

Migrant and refugee advocate Rosemary Kariuki was named Australia’s Local Hero. The 60-year-old – the subject of 2020 documentary Rosemary’s Way.

She arrived in Australia from Kenya in 1999, fleeing family abuse and tribal clashes. Her early lonely years in Australia made her realise how isolated migrant and refugee women could be – with many unused to going out alone, having no transport, and struggling to speak English. “It took me a while to feel like this country is home”.
Ms Kariuki encourages women to become involved with the community, creating with the African Women’s Group the annual African Women’s Dinner Dance, which attracts a crowd of hundreds. She also ran the African Village Market, which helped migrants and refugees start their own business. Currently she is the multicultural community liaison officer for the Parramatta Local Area Command, specialising in helping migrants who are facing domestic violence, language barriers and financial distress.
She urged people to embrace Australia’s multiculturalism.
“Together we can make this wonderful country that I call home even greater. So let us share what we know and give each a helping hand. Let us embrace our multicultural nation, more building on it and looking for the opportunities and positives. I would like to encourage every one of you to meet someone new from a different background this coming week and see what doors open to you.”

Australia’s local hero, Rosemary Kariuki

National Australia Day Council chairperson Danielle Roche (OAM) congratulated the recipients. “Grace, Miriam-Rose, Isobel and Rosemary are all committed to changing attitudes in our society and changing lives. They are strong, determined women who are dedicated to breaking down barriers and advocating for people’s rights – particularly the rights of women and children.”

Inspiring women! Inspiration for us all!!

(Text sourced from Channel 9 news report, 25 January 2021)

Comments were accidentally turned on for this page. Apologies to those who made comment. Please pass on details of this blog if you find it interesting. If you wish to contact our church or our ministers, contact information is to be found on our website www.pilgrim.org.au.
God bless. Peace be with you [Editor]

A fresh look at Jonah

Published / by Sandy

(A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 24th January 2021).

If we can think beyond boats, storms and whales from Sunday School lessons about Jonah, we might find ways that the story is surprisingly relevant.

God called Jonah the prophet to deliver a hard message to the city of Ninevah. God had seen their wickedness and Jonah was to call them to repentance. Jonah was reluctant to go. More about that later. Instead, Jonah fled in the other direction. Sunday School lessons have given a negative spin on Jonah. Shouldn’t he have been like those fisherman in today’s Gospel reading who just dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus, no questions asked. Shouldn’t Jonah have just eagerly shared God’s message to the people in Ninevah?

Let me tell you about Ninevah, the largest city of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, on the outskirts of Mosul in what is modern-day northern Iraq. Nineveh was a city great in power, culture, and size. The citizens of Nineveh felt secure behind its massive walls – some 30 metres high and broad enough for three chariots to be driven abreast on the roadway running along their top. The Assyrian Empire was powerful, and sought to conquer the world. Enter Jonah, a Jewish man, who God asked to leave his own country of Israel, and go into the heartland of an enemy people, to declare the coming wrath of God.

Now, the Assyrian empire considered the Jewish God inferior to their own, especially since their own gods had prevailed. Ninevah as a city was thriving, defeating enemies, gaining power and wealth. Nobody would have felt they were evil and needed to repent – they just relished the success they had achieved.

To maintain its power, the Empire had a way of dealing harshly with anyone who challenged the status quo. Jonah knew he risked imprisonment at the very least for the message he would bring. Ninevah was infamous for mutilating and torturing its prisoners. He faced the prospect that he might even be killed as soon as he opened his mouth. The prophet Nahum had called Ninevah ‘the city of blood’.

Jonah declared, “40 days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” He had the audacity and courage to speak truth to power, right there in the centre of the city that served as the capital of the Empire. Just 8 words (5 in Hebrew). And God wasn’t even mentioned. Nor was there any mention of what the people should do in response.

But, surprisingly, the city listened, took it seriously, and acted. A fast was proclaimed; everyone wore sackcloth. Even the King put on sackcloth and sat in the ashes. I’d like to see a few current day leaders repent, don the sackcloth and repent! The King declared everyone should turn from their evil ways and from the violence that was in their hands, so that God’s mind would be changed and the people would not perish. Indeed, that’s what happened. The threatened calamity was averted. I could round this off by saying this passage from Jonah reminds us that people can, in fact, turn from their unfaithful ways, and that the voice of a prophet can be extremely powerful!

But we need to read on – the punchline is that Jonah was angry with God when the Ninevah actually put on a show of repentance. He was angry because God’s mind could be changed so easily, just because the oppressor had a temporary change of heart and put on a bit of a show. In fact, the Assyrian Empire would quickly return to its ways. History reveals Assyria conquered Israel in waves in the late 8th century deporting most of its citizens. A remnant remained in the north, but the nation of Israel was under Assyrian rule. Tens of thousands were deported and put to work as servants in Assyria. And then, the Assyrians began to populate Israel with people from other nations they had defeated (2 Kings 17:24).

This was a practice called geographical migration, or transmigration, where they would invade an area and uproot the heart of their society, forcing them to move to another region of the Empire. It’s a strategy still used in our world. The resulting confusion and terror ensured that the people can never rise against their oppressors. Scholar Christy Randazzo cites three factors: ignorance – since the people had no knowledge about the new place in which they were forced to live and work; starvation (“uprooting” was meant literally: they lost their carefully tended fields, which often took generations to cultivate); cultural trauma because so many cultural practices had been linked to the physical landscape, the land itself. Many turned to the gods of the Empire for comfort.

Empire would cut the heart out of a people, in effect killing their entire sense of “peoplehood.” This form of cultural genocide was, and is, irrefutably “evil”. It’s part of our Australian story and the dispossession and dislocation of First Peoples. It’s why the conversation about January 26th matters.

The Assyrian Empire was clearly the oppressor in this story. Violence. Nations and patriots. Power, privilege and entitlement was on their side. Oppressive systems and structures.

Jonah was a lone voice calling for change, for justice, for repentance. Jonah’s call for change, had it led to transformative change, would have enabled the nation of Israel to safely live in peace, to be unafraid. His call for change is replicated in those voices from the margins over the centuries calling for transformative change, for the sake of the poor and marginalised. Repeatedly, the biblical witness tells us that God’s priority is for the welfare of the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. The groundswell of such voices led to the Black Lives Matter movement. To the Civil Rights movement. To recognising Aboriginal people in the 1967 Referendum.

How does the Church speak to the Empires of our day? How do we listen to the voices of the prophets in our midst calling for justice, mercy and repentance? To turn from evil and towards good. Modern day prophets, like Jonah before them, will be angry when repentance is lip service only and does not lead to changed lives, nor substantive systemic change that disrupts power and privilege. Injustices need to be named, and structures that created and sustained injustice completely reimagined. Anything else is cheap repentance, the cause of Jonah’s anger.

What is needed is a change of heart.

The Book of Jonah may have been written in the context of Jewish people encountering cultural genocide by the Assyrian invaders, to explain what was happening to them. They would have resonated with Jonah’s rage. How could Ninevah, the centre of the Assyrian Empire, the one that would destroy God’s own people, be reconciled to God? Jonah lamented, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you’re a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing”.

God: gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. God’s love is for all, even enemies like the Assyrian Empire – when there is repentance. The prophet Isaiah (Ch19) says, “Behold the days are coming when God’s promises are all fulfilled. Behold the days are coming, when I will bless Assyria, my people Egypt to my chosen, and Israel, my inheritance”. There is the possibility of many blessed, beloved chosen peoples.

God never gives up hope on anyone, even the least likely.

Thanks be to God. Amen.