Messages of Hope

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Revised Religious Discrimination Bill 2021

Published / by Sandy

Media Statement on the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021  by the Uniting Church in Australia

The revised (third and final draft) Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and associated legislation was introduced to Parliament on Thursday 25th November by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It aims to ensure Australians are protected from discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity – just as they are protected from discrimination on the basis of age, sex, disability and race. It wants to make sure “statements of belief” are not considered discriminatory, as long as they don’t threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify a person or would be considered malicious to a “reasonable person”. It is important to protect religious freedoms without in turn compromising any other forms of discrimination. The Uniting Church is committed to the right of every person to a robust freedom of religion as described in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (see below). 

A statement released by the Uniting Church in Australia and UnitingCare expresses concern that the revised Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 does not achieve the balance needed to protect the rights of all people.

The national Assembly of the Uniting Church notes and welcomes improvements made to the proposed laws but, like many other civil society groups, remains concerned by significant elements.

“The Uniting Church is committed to the right of every person to a robust freedom of religion,” said Rev Sharon Hollis, President of the Uniting Church in Australia. “However, we maintain any permission given to individuals or religious organisations that allows them to discriminate on the basis of religious belief must be carefully balanced against the rights of people to be free from discrimination and live with dignity.”

“It is our view that the Religious Discrimination Bill does not achieve that balance.”

“The Uniting Church is concerned for vulnerable people and groups who are most likely to be adversely impacted by the legislation should it be passed into law in its current form.”

“We particularly fear that members of the LGBTIQ+ community, those of minority faiths, women, and people living with disability may be subject to additional discrimination under this legislation.”

Such discrimination could take many forms including in public statements and employment.

“We encourage the government to continue to consult and listen to the concerns of groups expressing their genuine fears about the proposed legislation.”

“In the Uniting Church we believe that all people are created in the image of God and are loved and valued by God. The ministry of Jesus emphasised welcoming all, especially people who were vulnerable and marginalised.”

“Our approach to religious freedom is that such freedoms are never to be self-serving, but rather ought to be directed toward the Church’s continuing commitment to seeking human flourishing and wholeness within a healthy, diverse society,” said Rev Hollis. “Any legislative provisions for religious freedom should be driven by an overriding focus on enabling and maintaining a society which encourages mutual respect and is free from discrimination that demeans and diminishes people’s dignity.”

UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little said, “As a provider of community services across Australia, including hospitals and aged care services, the Uniting Church is concerned certain provisions within this Bill could undermine our ability to ensure safe and inclusive workplaces and may act as a barrier to vulnerable people accessing essential services or seeking employment.”

“Uniting Church community service providers do not discriminate in the employment of staff or access to services. We do not seek additional powers in this regard and will not use them even if the Parliament passes the Bill,” Ms Little said.

The consistent position of the Uniting Church has been, and continues to be, that legislative provisions for religious freedom would best be made through the mechanism of a comprehensive Human Rights Act, within which the competing claims and values inherent in this discussion may be grounded in a holistic approach to human rights.

After the Bill is voted on in the House of Representatives, the bill will go to a Senate inquiry over summer. It will not be decided in Parliament until early next year, depending on election timing and when the Parliament resumes.

The Assembly will make a full response to any inquiry.

UCA Assembly Media Contact: Rebecca Beisler 0450790218

Article 18

1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.

3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

#unitingforclimate

Published / by Sandy

A friend in NSW, and a leader in environmental matters in the UCA and raising the profile of the climate emergency, posted this comment on a Facebook post this morning: “The visiting preacher at our (rural) church this morning expressed climate denial in the sermon. Sigh”. It generated quite a few comments including one person who asserted the right to ‘free speech’.

In a highly individualised society, and the same for the congregations, our sense of shared identity as the UCA and commitment to the ‘common good’ is somewhat fractured. The ACT2 project initiated by the Assembly Standing Committee has identified a need ‘to further develop a cohesive, national character and vision for the UCA’. Not everyone will be ‘au fait‘ with or care much about what the UCA Assembly is doing, but I have to say that the resources prepared and the work being done across many diverse areas to resource the UCA is extraordinary.

The Uniting Church has prepared a theological statement on climate change, and has commitments to reduce impact of climate change. There are various resource online including the Assembly National Climate Action Plan which states “Acting to make this vision a reality, we will work with all parts of the Uniting Church to reduce emissions by 5% per annum and aim to become a net zero emissions church by 2040”. And more online statements and resources here.

I read the comments about and by younger leaders in the UCA (see below) with a glad heart. (Originally published on the UCA Assembly website)

In the final days of the COP26 talks in Glasgow, young UCA members have shared their reflections on why we must act on climate change, urging our world leaders to do more.

Young people have played a leading role in generating momentum and support for climate action, and this is also true within the Uniting Church where many of our young members have been on the frontline of advocacy calling for actions and policies that provide the greatest hope for God’s creation. (See their messages below).

Michael Ramaidama Utoni, a member of Burwood Uniting Church and Christian Students Uniting, who is originally from Fiji, this week reflected on the devastating effects of climate change. His reflection includes a poem he wrote highlighting the impact of rising sea levels for people in the Pacific, dislocating people from their homes and their identity. Here is Michael’s reflection and poem:

The effects of climate change in the Pacific Islands are devastating and life-threatening. The ever-rising sea level has threatened many villages along the coast of our islands to relocate to higher grounds. Still, this is not an option for some island nations such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands. Relocation and migration challenge and affects our identity. Our Oceania people are crying out for help and for Australia and other developed countries to make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of humanity. Please act now to leave us at least, if not liveable, a trace of who we are. The poem ‘I Am’ shares our journey of experiencing the sea-level rise and our continuing cry to have our home, our identity saved. 

I Am

The Tides sweeps in 
To the toes of I Am
To the ankles of I Am –
There is a foreboding presence 
What is that? I Am asks
Wind whispers in the far off trees

I Am feels a change
The foam now reaches the calves of I Am 
A tide mark left on the knees
I Am surfs out for help –
It keeps rising to the thighs and hips 
I Am shouts 

A heavy swell on the chest of I Am
Seawater flows into the heart
Cries remain unheard
Tongue tastes brine
The tears of I Am
Hands of I Am reach for the air

But who will notice?
On a dead zone 
I Am waves goodbye
I Am What Once Was

In the same vein as Michael’s poem, Tuvalu’s Minister for Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs, Simon Kofe, delivered his video statement to the COP26 climate conference in a suit and tie and knee deep in seawater.

The Pacific Conference of Churches is also highlighting the voices of young people with a prayer from a Pacific young person each day of the COP26 meeting shared on their Facebook page.

The comments below are from younger leaders in the UCA. 

The UCA: Considering afresh our life together

Published / by Sandy

5 Reflections on the Basis of Union

The Act2 project in the Uniting Church has published Considering Afresh Our Life Together, reflecting on the UCA. Here’s a quick snapshot.

As part of the Act2 project in the Uniting Church, a new series of studies has been launched with 5 reflections on the Uniting Church’s key foundational document, the Basis of Union. Developed for use in a range of settings across the UCA, the studies are designed to foster reflection on the themes and directions of Act2 in light of the foundations shaping Uniting Church theology and identity. As we look to the future, it is important to know what makes us who we are.

The studies were commissioned by the Act2 Task Group and written by Rev Dr Geoff Thompson, a Uniting Church theologian and a member of the Assembly Standing Committee. Rev Dr Thompson has written extensively on the Basis of Union and Uniting Church theology.

Uniting Church President Rev Sharon Hollis introduced the studies as a way of beginning to respond to recommendations of the Act2 paper, that the UCA ‘reconnect with its core identity’ and rearticulate common theological and other frameworks. “The Basis of Union is a key guiding document allowing us to reconnect with our core theological identity as we continue to chart our life together. It is our prayer that these studies will deepen your love of God, encourage you in your service in the world and strengthen your commitment to God’s church.”

Each study includes reflections on a particular section of the Basis of Union, related biblical passages, and questions for discussion. At the end of the studies there are some specific Act2 questions you can use to provide feedback on the Act2 project. The studies can be downloaded from the Uniting Church Assembly website.

It is hoped these studies may be used across the breadth of the Uniting Church as we reflect on Act2 from different perspectives. You might use them in small groups, Church Councils, Presbyteries, and school and agency settings. It is recommended that you have both the Basis of Union and a Bible available as you participate. The Basis of Union is available on the Uniting Church website in English, with a link to translations into other languages.

The Assembly Resourcing Unit will also lead a series of online sessions exploring the studies over five Thursdays. It’s a great opportunity to be part of a national conversation. The studies have already commenced, but you might consider joining the last three on 18th and 25 November, and 2 December. You can choose to attend either morning sessions (9:30-11am AEDT) to be run by Rev Charissa Suli and Rev Lindsay Cullen, or evening sessions (7-8.30 pm AEDT) to be run by Rev Dr Apwee Ting and Rob Floyd. You will need to register online for Thursday morning or Thursday evening.

Thursday morning registration
https://uca-nat.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYpcOGurjssGdcJeMAT2NCwTBtrbY8lstQ5

Thursday evening registration
https://uca-nat.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZwud-CqrDMuE9ycIZQolFqBuM9GBrruGFnv

Link to download the Studies
https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Our-Life-Together-Reflections-on-the-BoU.pdf

Basis of Union
https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/basisofunion1992_exported.pdf

Climate justice for all

Published / by Sandy

Rev James Bhagwan, Secretary-General of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) and based in Fiji presented this statement to COP26 Climate Summit High Level Plenary in Glasgow this week:

The climate emergency is the result of an ethical, moral and spiritual crisis, manifested in a fixation on profit.

The extractive and, ultimately, unsustainable systems of production and consumption, by those complicit in this crisis, continue to ignore increasing scientific, and moral warnings.

Those who have contributed to this crisis the least, suffer the most, physically, existentially, and ecologically.

This is an injustice that must end.

We affirm the Faith and Science Joint Appeal, calling us to respond, with the knowledge of science, and the wisdom of spirituality: to know more and to care more.

Our interconnectedness to this common home forces us to a radical solidarity, across gender and generation, for climate justice for all.

In this spirit, wealthier countries must lead in reducing their own emissions, and in financing emission reductions of poorer nations.

They must put into action a mechanism for loss and damage, with additional funds.

Love calls us to seek climate justice and restoration. It calls us to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, to protect them, and their ancestral domains, from predatory economic interests, and to learn from their ancient wisdom.

Indigenous spirituality could restore our understanding of interdependence between land, ocean, and life, between generations before us,and the ones to come.

Love calls us to transformation of systems and lifestyles. This transition away from fossil fuel-based economies must be just, securing livelihoods and wellbeing for all and not just some.

We ask our leaders to not only keep the promise of the Paris Agreement alive, but also to keep alive the hope of a flourishing future for humanity.

We have heard many commitments in this place.

Words have power, but only when they are manifested into action.

The fate of the planet depends on it.

(reported online here)

We will remember them

Published / by Sandy

We will remember them.

For those whom we have asked
to bear the horror of our violence
we offer our prayers
of thanks for their willingness
to stand between us and our fears,
for forgiveness for having asked them,
of healing for the damage to their souls
by what they have done and seen,
for mercy for them who don’t know
how to carry the horror back to us,
how to shed the darkness
we have asked them to drink,
how to live among us, who are so willing
to sacrifice our children.
May we give others peace to bear, not fear,
healing to carry, not weapons,
and send them into blessing, not danger.
May we, too, have the courage to serve,
to risk, to give our lives in love
for the sake of our homeland,
which is the Kingdom of God,
the whole human family,
in the spirit of peace. Amen.
(Steve Garnaas-Holmes, www.unfoldinglight.net)
(Photo shows poppies in Sandy’s productive home garden amidst the silver beet, kale, broad beans etc)

SCAMS AWARENESS WEEK

Published / by Sandy

Who knew there was such a thing as SCAMS AWARENESS WEEK, Nov 8th-12th. The theme for the week is Let’s talk scams.

Some of us have caught our breath when we’ve received a very official sounding voice message from the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Federal Police, or Border Force, reporting illegal activity and that an arrest warrant had been issued. Con-artists are phoning people to claim their tax file number (TFN) has been suspended or compromised due to money laundering or other illegal activity or that they owe a debt.

Scamwatch is urging people to be extra vigilant about scams after Australians reported a record $211 million in losses to scams so far this year, an 89% increase compared to the same period last year.

ATO assistant commissioner Tim Loh: “We recently saw one scammer lure a young woman out of lockdown to drop off $30,000 in cash to a person at a local hardware store carpark. The scammer, claiming to be from the Federal Police, threatened arrest and told the victim that her TFN was compromised. The victim also sent photocopies of her driver’s licence and Medicare card to the scammer before reporting to the ATO and the police. Another shocking account came from a Victorian man who paid $50,000 to a representative who collected the cash from their front door. The scammer demanded personal details such as their TFN, address and name over the phone before the home visit. The scammer also ‘guaranteed’ the victim would get their money back if they paid upfront.”

Scammers also pretend to be from companies such as Amazon or eBay, claiming large purchases have been made on the victim’s credit card. When they pretend to help you process a refund, they actually gain remote access to your computer and steal your personal and banking details.

Scammers are always on the hunt for new ways to con Australians out of their hard-earned cash. Many intelligent people have fallen victim to these online scams – not because they had a lapse in judgement but because the scammers are so clever and take advantage of people. And then it feels shameful to admit or report being victim of a scam, but it’s so important to do so.

Why would this topic be a ‘Message of Hope’? Simply because by naming the outrageous activity of the scammers, you know you’re not alone if you fall victim to a scam, and can be forewarned about the way scammers operate.According to the ACCC Deputy Chair, Delia Rickard, it is important to talk about scams because staying silent just benefits the scammers. Talking about scams spreads awareness, and that awareness is what empowers us to trust our judgement and avoid scams. Encouraging open, judgement-free conversations about scams is a powerful tool to help people get out of scams sooner, before they lose any more money, or prevent scams altogether.
If you see a scam, report it to Scamwatch – these reports are extremely important as they provide key information about any emerging scams or trends.

It’s been a bumper year for scammers so far. Aussies have lost over $70 million to investment scams in just the first six months of this year alone. Disturbingly, this is more than the total losses reported to the ACCC’s Scamwatch division for all of 2020, and projected losses are set to double to $140 million by the end of the year.

Some scams are obvious – like the text message from someone you know saying they’re stuck overseas and need money to return home. COVID seems to have dealt with that one, anyway, since no-one is travelling.

Recently, there has been a spate of annoying text messages about parcel deliveries. Scams again. Quite clever to target online buyers about deliveries. Australia’s scam watchdog has warned that the malicious “Flubot” scam is now presenting as fake text messages warning victims that a parcel is about to be delivered. The text messages pretend to be from a reputable shipping company, and contain a php link for the recipient to “track their parcel”. If a victim were to click the link, they are directed to a second page that asks them download a specific app to track their parcel. The app is part of a malicious form of scam known as the “Flubot”. Flubot is a form of software known as malware that has the potential to immediately access a user’s passwords and financial information. Delete these messages and don’t click on links! If you want to check a delivery, use the confirmation email from the business.

Scamwatch recently warned Australians to be on the lookout for ‘Flubot’ text messages where phone users are often enticed to click on the link by promises of hearing a missed voicemail.

Thousands of Australians have fallen victim to a convincing new phone scam with a recorded message from someone claiming to be an Australian Border Force Officer. The message suggests a parcel addressed to the individual has been intercepted and seized after it was found to have been containing illegal components. As a result, an arrest warrant had been issued. It then asks recipients to dial ‘one’ to speak with an officer. But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says individuals should “hang up immediately”. (The scammers) would ask the victim to google their local Australian Federal Police phone number and the scammer had called the reporter from that number through spoofing. Scammers would then get the victim to share bank account details, driving licence, passport, and a photo of reporter holding the licence. With these details, scammers can compromise the victim’s identity, with the photo being useful to pass a variety of institutions’ Know Your Customer checks.” The regulator warned that scammers will also often tell the victim they need to withdraw money from their bank account and deposit it into a ‘government bank account’ so they can check or safeguard the money.

The scam is believed to be a new variation of two others that impersonate officers from the Australian Taxation Office and Australian Federal Police, threatening people with arrest if they do not make payment immediately.

The spokesperson was clear – “law enforcement agencies and government departments will never ask you to pay a fine with cash, cryptocurrencies, or gift cards. They will not call and demand you transfer funds to a bank account. The Australian Border Force will not call, email or contact you via social media and threaten to arrest you. (And) no Australian government agency (law enforcement included) will demand payment for a fine over the phone. When in doubt, residents should verify the identity of the contact by calling the relevant organisation directly. Never provide bank details, passport or copies of photo identification to someone who had called you out of the blue. It is OK to hang up and check the person’s story by contacting the police or government organisation yourself.”

Or those gift cards. If someone calls you and demands that you pay them with gift cards, you can bet that a scammer is behind that call. Once they have the gift card number and the PIN, they have your money. Scammers may tell you many stories to get you to pay them with gift cards, but this is what usually happens:
* The caller says it’s urgent. The scammer says you have to pay right away or something terrible will happen. But you don’t, and it won’t.
* The caller usually tells you which gift card to buy. They might say to put money on an eBay, Google Play, Target, or iTunes gift card. They might send you to a specific store. Sometimes they say to buy cards at several stores, so cashiers won’t get suspicious. And, the caller might stay on the phone with you while you go to the store and load money onto the card. These are all signs of a scam.
The caller asks you for the gift card number and PIN. The card number and PIN on the back of the card let the scammer get the money you loaded onto the card. And the scammer gets it right away.

Scammers pretend to be someone they’re not. They want to scare or pressure you into acting quickly, so you don’t have time to think or talk to someone you trust. Here’s a list of common scams:

The caller says they’re from the government. They say you have to pay taxes or a fine, but it’s a scam.
Someone calls from tech support, maybe saying they’re from Apple or Microsoft, saying there’s something wrong with your computer. But it’s a lie. (Easy to pick up if you have a different ‘brand’ computer!!).
The scammer pretends to be a friend or family member in an emergency and asks you to send money right away – but not tell anyone. This is a scam. If you’re worried, hang up and call your friend or relative to check that everything is all right.
Someone says you’ve won a prize but first, you have to pay fees or other charges with a gift card. Remember: no honest business or agency will ever make you pay with a gift card. But also – did you even enter that raffle?
The caller says she’s from your power company, or another utility company. She threatens to cut off your service if you don’t pay immediately. But utility companies don’t work that way. It’s a scam.
You get a check from someone for way more than you expected. They tell you to deposit the check, then give them the difference on a gift card. But that check will be fake and you’ll be out all that money.

Payment is demanded through ‘cardless cash’ ATM withdrawals and retail gift cards from the likes of JB Hi-Fi, Myer and Woolworths, as well as from courier services who collect the cash payments and cash delivery made in person at a predetermined public location.

Between 1 January and 19 September 2021, people aged 65+ have lost the most money – $49.1 million, or 23% of total losses for the year. Indigenous Australians have reported $4.3 million in losses to scams, an increase of 172% on the losses reported in the same period in 2020. People who speak English as a second language made over 10,500 reports with losses of $29.9 million, representing almost 14.4% of total losses for the period.

All very disturbing. But it can be as simple as hanging up on a call. Deleting text messages. And report to the police, and Scamwatch.  People who suspect they may be a victim of identity theft should contact IDCARE on 1800 595 160 or via www.idcare.org – a free government-funded service that works with individuals to develop a specific response plan to their situation and support them throughout the process.

No shame if you’re a victim. Speak up. Take action. Report what has happened. And get support from friends and family.

(Take care everyone!!)

Preachers as Social Poets

Published / by Sandy

by Leo Guardado, Assistant Professor of Theology, Fordham University, New York City

The social poet “creates hope where there appears to be only waste and exclusion,” bears dreams in community, and creatively imagines new ways of organizing together in history.

These are some of the ways that Pope Francis speaks of “social poets” in his 2021 message to Popular/Social Movements, a text delivered Oct. 16, 2021, that effectively commissions as disciples the grassroot global communities whom Francis not only loves, but in whom he sees the possibility for a new humanity.

One cannot help but hear echoes of Oscar Romero’s final homilies in El Salvador, that great preacher who denounced and announced from the altar, and for whom history was the reality in which Christ continued to become incarnate in every struggle for life and against death. In fact, some of Francis’ declarations are reminiscent of Romero’s iconic words on March 23, 1980, when “in the name of God” Romero begged, beseeched, and ultimately ordered the military in El Salvador to stop the repression.

Francis issues a series of nine direct statements to global corporations, governments, and to all who effectively benefit from the life and death of millions, asking them to cease their own violent exploitation of humanity.

He writes:

  • “in the name of God, I ask arms manufacturers and dealers to completely stop their activity…,”
  • “in the name of God, I ask the great extractive industries—mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness—to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people,”
  • “in the name of God, I ask the great food corporations to stop imposing monopolistic systems of production and distribution that inflate prices and end up withholding bread from the hungry.”

Although Francis calls himself a “pedigüeño,” someone who keeps on begging or pestering, his asks bear the spirit of denouncement.

Romero’s ask, and then order to soldiers on that March 23, 1980, homily sealed his fate, and he was assassinated the next day, becoming one more martyr and cadaver that even in death continued to communicate truth.

In Francis’ message, there are moments that read like a goodbye letter. Perhaps it reflects his knowledge and intuition of the dangers that come with the proclamation of truth in a world where lying and post-truth has become a way of living.

Francis ends his heartfelt message with reference to Jesus’ own words to his disciples – “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20) – and similarly, Francis says to his social poets – to all those who regardless of faith tradition or no faith tradition dedicate their lives to eradicating systems of death – “in this moment of my life, I want to tell you also that I will be with you.” He thanks them for allowing him to dream with them what we could call the dreams of God.

If to preach is to proclaim the living Word of God who continues to take flesh in history, then anyone who attempts to preach must first discern where the presence of God is particularly manifest in their time. But this discernment does not take place in isolation, but through community, in the midst of struggles for life. It is there that the creative Spirit of God reveals what is new, what is becoming, and what must be transformed so that any proclamation is in fact of the living Word and not of a dead message that long ago ceased mediating an encounter with life.

It is not a given that preachers are social poets, quite the opposite; preachers have the difficult but holy invitation to become social poets, to bear the dreams of the poor and the dreams of God with the people of God. The social poetry of preachers must arise from the joys and laments of those who have made the streets their home as they protest racism, patriarchy, and all forms of social injustice.

Francis names these resisters of death, such as the Black Lives Matters movement, a “Collective Samaritan,” for their witness gathers the wounded and dead who have been left along the winding road of histories of plunder.

Preachers who become social poets will journey with the movements, letting the Spirit of each movement speak in unexpected tongues, with myriad accents, as it and they become present and manifest in the sacrament of song and dance that births new liturgies into existence.

The preacher as social poet will make the church the site of protest, the place of denunciation, the people of annunciation. The preacher will become a midwife to new movements of the Spirit, serving as a rearguard who makes sure that no one is left vulnerable to the predations of those who seek to buy the Spirit of the church and the life of the movement. Those who capitalize from keeping faith and the church privatized, spiritualized, tranquilized.

In the words of Francis, “let us ask God to pour out His blessings on our dreams,” that we may serve as poets of a new world, preaching the messages inscribed on broken sidewalks, on borders, on walls, and on all those places where there is a confrontation between what is and what ought to be. Then, those who proclaim will have also become disciples who “create, compose, venture, and risk” in community and communion with God.

All Saints…

Published / by Sandy

Halloween. October 31. Hallow evening. The evening before All Saints Day. The root word of Halloween – ‘’hallow’’ – means ‘’holy.’’ The suffix “een” is an abbreviation of “evening.” It refers to the Eve of All Hallows, the night before the Christian holy day that honours saintly people of the past. All Hallows was considered a time to recognise the way evil could manifest itself, seen and unseen. More than a thousand years ago in Ireland and Britain, Christians would come together on the eve of the feast of All Hallows Day to ask for God’s blessing and protection from evil in the world. Often, they would dress in costumes of saints or evil spirits and act out the battle between good and evil around bonfires. That’s the source of the modern observance of Halloween.

If you’re getting ready for children door knocking as they ‘trick or treat’ this Halloween, you can help end the exploitation of children in the cocoa industry and raise awareness of Fair Trade by handing Fair Trade chocolate back to adults, with informational cards attached, to explain the problems of the cocoa industry and how Fair Trade presents a solution to child labour and forced labour.
“According to an investigative report by the BBC, hundreds of thousands of children are being purchased from their parents or outright stolen and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms. Destitute parents in these poverty-stricken lands sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work in Ivory Coast and send some of their earnings home. The terrible reality is that these children, 11 to 16 years old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are under fed, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.” (Huffington Post)
One freed child slave said, “They enjoy something I suffered to make; I worked hard for them but saw no benefit. They are eating my flesh.” Similar comments were recorded in the film Slavery: A Global Investigation which interviewed children who had broken free from the slave trade.

All Saints Day (November 1), also known as All Hallows’ Day, or Hallowmas, is a Christian celebration of the communion of saints, and honours of the saints from Christian history. In Western Christianity, it is observed on November 1st (the Eastern Orthodox Church and associated Eastern Catholic churches observe All Saints Day on the first Sunday following Pentecost). The beginning of November is a traditional time for the honouring of our ancestors, remembering loved ones who have gone, tending graves and cleaning up cemeteries, and for cherishing life while contemplating its inevitable end. All Saints Day comes from a conviction that there is a spiritual connection between those in heaven and on earth, with an opportunity to express gratitude for the lives and deaths of the saints (not just the ‘beatified’ saints of the Catholic church). Individuals throughout Christian history are celebrated, such as Peter the Apostle and Charles Wesley, as well as people who have personally guided each of us in our faith journey. We give thanks for the saints we have known in our church communities.

On Passing a Graveyard by John O’Donohue
May perpetual light shine upon
The faces of all who rest here.
May the lives they lived
Unfold further in spirit.
May the remembering earth
Mind every memory they brought.
May the rains from the heavens
Fall gently upon them.
May the wildflowers and grasses
Whisper their wishes into the light.
May we reverence the village of presence
In the stillness of this silent field.

All Souls’ Day (November 2) is primarily a Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox holy day. It is set aside for honouring the dead, and offering prayers for those understood to be in purgatory, waiting to get into heaven. Most protestant denominations do not recognize the holiday and disagree with the theology behind it. According to Catholic belief, the soul of a person who dies can go to one of three places. The first is heaven, where a person who dies in a state of perfect grace and communion with God goes. The second is hell, where those who die in a state of mortal sin are naturally condemned by their choice. The intermediate option is purgatory, which is thought to be where most people, free of mortal sin, but still in a state of lesser (venial) sin, must go.

At one time, the Catholic Church sold indulgences as spiritual pardons to the poor and applied to the souls of the dead (or the living) to get people into heaven. The flagrant abuse of indulgences were used to raise money for the Church during the renaissance. The blatant, sometimes fraudulent practice of selling indulgences for money, led to protests by Martin Luther and his argument with the monk Johan Tetzel. When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he omitted the seven books of the canon which refer to prayers for the dead. He then introduced the belief that people are simply saved, or not, and argued that there is no need to pray for the dead to get them into heaven.

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos (Nov 2) is a national holiday in many countries after three days of celebration: All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. People often dress as skeletons as a way of remembering the dead and celebrating their ancestors.

Rest

Published / by Sandy

From Ann Siddall’s blog.


A word is beginning to pop up everywhere I look, and the word is ‘rest”. It has come from the mouths of friends and medical professionals, and seems to be present in almost everything I pick up to read. At this point I usually decide God, the universe and the world around me think it is important for me to pay attention. So I am. And the word? Rest.

Rest is presenting itself to me as a medical necessity that suddenly reveals itself as an experience of both frustration, and joy and delight! It’s as if I had been so very serious about life that I had forgotten how to lie in the sun like a cat that blissfully stretches itself into the ecstatic enjoyment of just being alive!

Sometimes we seem to need permission, or approval, to rest. There is always more to be done, our work and our lives are always incomplete. There are so many people and situations needing our help and attention. Lying around seems indulgent, especially if there is a  “Martha’ bustling away in the kitchen. “Marthas” often make a lot of noise and look pointedly at us as they race by!

I hadn’t read the following verses for a very long time, but I came across them the other day and wondered why I seemed to be hearing more lately about the Jesus who calls us to be working hard than the Jesus who invites us to rest. Has it been my selective listening and reading, or is it perhaps that Christianity under pressure focuses us on what we should be doing in order to renew the church?

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (1)

If someone sent me an email with that invitation I’d be on their doorstep in a flash!  Consider the trend that is emerging from the Covid era, where people have now had a taste of spending more time at home and discovered that they like it. They have been urged to work harder but have had a taste of freedom and now they are bucking the system, wanting to return to a new rather than an old normal.

Another set of words which spoke deeply to me came from a book I was reading while spending a few days with a friend down on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Claire Dunn is a Melbourne woman who, after spending a year living in the wilderness, living more closely to the earth and its natural resources, decided to explore a way of “re-wilding” in an urban environment. She found a share-house on the banks of the Yarra River and began to forage for food, build a network of people sharing resources, and share her skills with both adults and groups of children.  In her biography she reflects on what she calls our “exhaustion epidemic”. She has friends who remain up-beat, trying to hide their exhaustion and fueling themselves with coffee, and quotes philosopher and social commentator Charles Einstein who has a theory that todays common ailments like chronic fatigue and depression are “the body’s quiet mutiny against the specific demands placed upon us in our hyper-modern world.” (2)

Last weekend the word “rest” was before me again in Moira Were’s weekly blog post.(3) Her theme was “resistance” and she wrote of how rest can be a form of resistance (to, for example, the pressure to over-work). I found this very inspiring. To me it represented a way of expressing non-compliance to the prevailing culture around us.

It is entirely possible to present the word ‘rest” as if it were a sentence, a judgment about what we ought to be doing rather than invitation. Being told to rest can feel like we are being taken out of circulation, regarded as not useful anymore. In an society where millions of people do not have family or friends near to them it can feel like being condemned to isolation.

True rest is not laziness or shirking our responsibilities. To consider it in this way is often the fruit of a family or culture which saw busyness as next to Godliness, and inactivity as sinful. The Protestant work ethic is deep within the genes of many of us. When I first retired a decade ago I frequently received a piece of advice: “Don’t say ‘retired”. Say ‘re-fired’.” I am far too nice to say “b….r off” but I thought it! Rest as resistance to both the values of these kind of cultures and the values of a society whose institutions approve of hard over-work and long hours is a noble act, not unrelated to the need to work for climate change (think about it).

We have perhaps not adequately represented to each other the joys of rest, relaxation, refreshment, renewal, and restoration. I think of various kinds of rest I have experienced that have been either peaceful or joyful, or both. There was the deep rest that came to me years ago when I did a day retreat at a spirituality centre in the middle of a Queensland rainforest. Gradually the sounds of birds, the wind in the trees, the gentle sound of a nearby water-fall and the simple setting of the chapel began to deepen the sense of rest in me. It became deep joy, even ecstasy as the vitality of the natural world around me began to enliven me and restore my soul. In that experience rest restored me to my true nature, a human being at one with all creation.

I think of my reaction to the advice given to me following a stroke three years ago. I was told to rest, for some time. This did not feel like an intrusion into the mix of retirement and work I was engaged in. It suddenly felt like a deep release – from expectations and deadlines. A gift of free time. More recent advice to rest, as old symptoms of Chronic Fatigue appear again, has not been as easy. I’ve been frustrated. But if I relax into it life feels very different. I have noticed and appointed myself custodian of a blackbird, nesting in the tree by my bedroom window. I love its singing. I think of the new life growing there, and tiny demanding tweets let me know there is new life. I am encouraging this mother bird in her work and yelling at the noisy miner birds who squawk at her. If I need to I rest for a while in the afternoon and let go of everything for a while. (By the way, letting go is a very important spiritual practice, it implies acceptance of our inability to control absolutely everything in our lives, and stillness allows us to see everything much more clearly. I am only too familiar with anxiety so I know that stillness is not always possible but I do feel invited to a deeper trust when anxiety intrudes).

I remember years ago, while travelling around Europe and England, I came to the Rialto Bridge in Venice. Suddenly this tourist as consumer needed to stop and take breath. The only way I would hold the memory of this beauty was to rest deeply in the moment, letting myself take in all the sights and sounds of the place, like a slow-exposure photograph.

My tendency has always been to get all the work done and then rest. I am needing to re-look at this. By the time I do stop I can feel very exhausted. To rest without completing everything on my list is a reminder again about control, I will never complete all the things I want to complete in life. To rest without completion reminds me that I am enough and grace flows in to unhook me from an ego that would drive me to over-achieve

Enough of me. How do you feel about rest – do you resent it or see it as a gift? What keeps you from rest – a culture that sees it as lazy, or a fear that is kept at bay by busyness? What is most restful to you – a place, the natural world, music, words, meditation, intimacy? What makes you rest-less? (In saying all this I do understand that for all kinds of reasons our current circumstances can make it difficult for us to rest adequately, sometimes for quite a long time. When this is the case it is helpful to determinedly claim moments of stillness as if they were cool, refreshing raindrops on a parched earth.)

Holy One, I am so often rest-less,
a thousand tasks nudge at me,
a million worries are nurtured by the world’s bad news,
and all that is unknown is lining up
to stake its claim as soon as a space opens up.

Holy One, we live in a rest-less world.
Nothing is ever enough to satisfy our longings.
We strive for more of everything
believing that more will bring us peace,
that the affirmation of others
will convince us that we are enough.

Holy One, Your church is rest-less,
stirred by the need to recruit,
worried that it is not enough in either its doing or being.
It plans, reviews, re-plans,
perhaps resists the simple/difficult work of simply loving well.

Holy One, grant us Your peace,
great waterfalls of peace
poured over us in blessing and mercy!
Drench us with a downpour of grace
so that we laugh in joy and surprise,
and stop to rest,
realising we do not do the work of living this life on our own.

1) Matthew 11: 28-30
2)Rewilding the urban soul: searching for the wild in the city, Claire Dunn, published Scribe 2021)
3)moirawere.wordpress.com
4) Photo of sleeping cat, Jacalyn Beales on Unsplash.

Eyes wide open

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 24th October

I remember meeting Christians at university in my teens. I literally had no knowledge of the specifics of the Bible, nor who Jesus was. Well meaning Christians shared the four spiritual laws with me, popular at the time as a summary of the Gospel story. 

  1. That God loves you personally: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
  2. Humankind is sinful and separated from God: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
  3. Jesus died for our sins/Jesus is the only way to God: “God love is shown towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  4. We must receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him” (Revelation 3:20).

Convicted of the truth of this message, people would then be invited to pray the sinner’s prayer – and become a Christian. I know there are some of you who will have committed your life to Jesus in this way and faithfully turned your life towards the Jesus way. For me, this formulaic way of summarising the salvation story was important but partial, and it was the lived experience and example of many Christians who revealed Jesus to me in a way that truly opened my eyes. 

I’m intrigued by the series of stories in Mark’s Gospel Chapter 8-10 that we have been reading these last few weeks, and the way they speak about the encounter with Jesus and the nature of Christian discipleship that is integral to any conversion to the Jesus Way. 

It may help for this exercise if you imagine a piece of paper folded in half to make two columns, with the stories of Mark on one side, and reflections on the disciples on the other side.

In Mark Ch 8-10, two stories serve as bookends and both involve the healing of a blind man. In the first story (Mark 8:22-26) Jesus attempts to heal a blind man. Strangely, Jesus fails to heal him fully. After laying hands on the man once, Jesus asks him whether he can see anything. The man says, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking”. Jesus then lays hands on him a second time before he can see everything clearly. That’s the story.

Now for the 2nd column on your imaginary paper – reflecting on the disciples, who up until this point in Mark’s narrative have been ‘blind’, as it were, to Jesus’ identity as the messiah. Immediately following this story, Jesus asks his disciples the central question of Mark’s Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?” (8:29). The disciples finally glimpse who Jesus really is, as Peter declares, “You are the Messiah” (8:29). The eyes of the disciples are opened, but like the blind man, only partially. They see that Jesus is the long awaited messiah. But immediately their minds turn to what it means to be part of the messiah’s inner circle, and the power and the glory that will come their way. Like the people at that time, they were waiting for a hero who would liberate them from the Empire that occupied their land. But Jesus is nothing like that kind of messiah. Instead, Jesus declares three times that as messiah he must suffer and die. How can that be? This didn’t fit the understanding the disciples had of a triumphant victorious powerful messiah. Who can blame the disciples if they failed to grasp this notion?

Peter scolds Jesus for saying he must be crucified, and Jesus immediately counters that by telling him that he is “setting [his] mind not on divine things but on human things” (8:32-33). But who can blame Peter – he understands the messiah as humans would. Jesus speaks a second time about the crucifixion (9:30-32) that he must face, and immediately afterwards he catches the disciples arguing about which of them is the greatest (9:33-34). And the third time Jesus describes the suffering he must endure, James and John ask him if they may be seated at his right and left hands in his glory (10:3-37). Are they blind to who Jesus really is? Well, yes, that’s the point. They see, but only partially. 

So, back to that second column on your imaginary paper, the commentary on the disciples. What are you jotting in the second column? The disciples see only partially who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. They aspire towards power, glory, influence, status. When Jesus speaks about the crucifixion, he dismantles all of those notions, for himself as messiah, and for those who would follow him. Instead, he tells his followers they must be prepared to take up their own cross and follow the Jesus way of radical love for the most vulnerable in society.

Now turn that paper over, to make a third column. Your column. Who do you say Jesus is? And what is Jesus asking of you? Where do you place yourself in the story? And the final blank column – we’ll make that about what all this means for the church, and all the property, wealth, influence, status that the church as an institution has enjoyed over centuries. How do we reflect upon the church when our eyes are fully open and the church re-orients its life to reflect the Way of Jesus. 

As we look to the future as a church, what is God saying to us about how we order our life so we can be committed to transforming lives and communities with God’s love? There are so many challenges confronting us – Christians are now a much smaller % of the Australian population, & more culturally and theologically diverse. Society’s attitudes towards Christianity have become more complex and less predictable. The Uniting Church Assembly has begun a project called Act2, to check the health of our Church and ask, ‘where is God leading us, what is God calling us to do in this new context and how do we order our lives to best fulfil that calling?’ It’s actually not unlike the story of the disciples, gradually gaining insight to truly see, & follow the Jesus Way. 

The reading set for today offers an alternative to half-sighted discipleship. Sitting beside the road, blind Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is approaching and calls out to him, asking for mercy. When the crowd shouts him down, as crowds do to the poor and vulnerable, he cries all the louder. When Jesus stops, and the blind man is told Jesus is calling him, he throws off his cloak. Not for him the need to hold on to his possessions, like the rich young man earlier in the same chapter, who could not part with his possessions and wealth. No, this poor blind beggar throws off his beggar’s cloak – all that he really possessed. The cloak was the most versatile item of Palestinian clothing at the time. It was protection against rapid and frequent temperature changes, insulation against the harsh winds, and at night it doubled as a blanket. The Fathers of the Church thought of it as a symbol of self-sufficiency, of those things in our lives that we depend on – things that can hold us back when we hear God calling. Bartimaeus makes his way to Jesus. Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus responds he wants his sight restored. Jesus heals him but the key point is not the healing itself, but in Bartimaeus’ response. As with the first blind man healed, Jesus tells Bartimaeus to go on his way (10:52). But he does not go away. Instead he “followed Jesus on the way” (10:52). In the very next verse of the narrative of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It would seem that Bartimaeus followed Jesus, towards the humiliation and suffering of the cross that would happen only a few days later. Unlike the disciples, he does not compete to be the greatest. Nor does he seek a position of influence at Jesus’ right hand. In gratitude for mercy received, he simply followed Jesus. An example of faith.

Time to return to the second column, about the disciples, and this new disciple, Bartimaeus.

Time to fill in that third column, about you and your own discipleship as a follower of Jesus. 

And that fourth column, about the church. The world needs a church that sees clearly, like Bartimaeus, orienting it’s life to the Way of Jesus, and not a half-sighted church that seeks glory, wealth, status, power. Pope Francis Pope (in Laudato Si) speaks of our need for an “integral ecology” – his name for communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, multicultural, ecologically wise, and spiritually satisfying, with no one left behind. Such a church is willing to risk itself on behalf of those who suffer, to give up its life so that others may live. Following Jesus leads us toward the most vulnerable in society, toward those who have been left on the streets to beg, toward those who have been shouted down by the crowds, toward those who have been treated mercilessly.

The Act2 survey reveals many positives about the Uniting Church; it also reflects some of the key challenges facing us as a church – with a clear mandate and a sense of urgency for change. I encourage you to re-read the narrative in Mark’s Gospel bookended by the healing of the two blind men, and consider afresh what Mark was saying about the disciples and discipleship, what it means for you to be a follower of the Jesus way, and what it might mean for our Uniting Church, and for us here at Pilgrim.

What might be seen afresh with eyes wide open to the Way of Jesus? This is a kairos moment, a time to be alert to the inbreaking of God, even amid so much social, economic, ecological and political upheaval, disruption and destruction. Let us see, with eyes wide open, and partner with God to create a faithful and faith-filled future. May it be so. Amen. 

An anniversary, an apology: October 22

Published / by Sandy

Third anniversary of apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse (October 22)

A Joint statement from UCA President Rev Sharon Hollis, National Director UCA Redress Ltd Sarah Lim and National Safe Church Unit Director Rev John Cox.

October 22 marks the third anniversary of the National Apology to Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. On this date, the Uniting Church in Australia remembers and acknowledges the harm done, the terrible breach of trust and laments its role in causing the harm.

“We reaffirm our apology and say sorry to survivors of Child Sexual Abuse and their families”, said UCA President Rev Sharon Hollis.

“The Uniting Church remains firm in its commitment to learn from the past, to restore relationships and to work to make our Church a safe place for all people into the future.”

“We welcome and invite survivors of sexual abuse to come to us to tell us their stories,” said Rev Hollis.

“We need to honour those who tell us their stories of abuse by ensuring that we truly hear and learn from every single survivor,” said Rev Hollis. “As a Church, we must openly and transparently face up to our failings and aim every day to be better and do better, for people who have been harmed in the past, and for every child who we serve today.”

The Uniting Church in Australia is an active participant in the National Redress Scheme, established in July 2018 following recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Scheme offers a monetary payment, access to counselling and a Direct Personal Response with the institution if the survivor wishes.

National Director of UCA Redress Ltd Sarah Lim said there were 11,000 applications to the National Redress Scheme since the scheme was established. The Uniting Church has received more than 600. However, the take up of Direct Personal Response is low. “The Direct Personal Response is the opportunity for survivors to meet with a senior representative of the Church, tell their story, and hear directly how sorry we are for the abuse. While we know that some people do not want to have any contact with the institution, we think there are others who are hesitant because they are unsure of what to expect. To those people, we say, we want to hear from you and warmly invite you to contact us when you are ready. You will be treated with courtesy and respect.  Our people are trained, and will work with you to ensure the Direct Personal Response is appropriate for you and your situation.”

The Uniting Church in Australia established the National Safe Church Unit to support its work to implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations and to ensure the Church is a safe place for all people.

“The NSCU works to ensure every adult across the Church understands their part in keeping children and young people safe. Children and young people have a right to feel and be safe, and it is vital that children and young people know who they can go to should they feel unsafe,” said Rev John Cox, Director of the NSCU.

“Our work includes awareness, education and communication, quality assurance, policy and reporting to help the Church clearly see how child safe activity is being lived and where we need to work harder. Education includes online training available to everyone across the Church, and mandatory for some roles such as congregational ministers and leaders. It highlights child safety and issues such as grooming. We all are responsible for  the safety of children in our church.”

Download the full statement. Download worship and liturgy resources.

Pilgrim Uniting Church is vigilant in following the safe church protocols and practices.

#faiths4climate Sunday October 17th

Published / by Sandy

Over 120 Australian faith communities participated on Sunday October 17th. Globally, over 500 actions took place by people of faith from Fiji to Indonesia, from Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria to France, the UK, the US and more.

The unified message in a week when Net Zero by 2050 was a top news story: we need bold emissions reduction targets by 2030, more in line with our partners, the UK, the US and EU. For the sake of all beings, no more fossil fuels! Australia should also re-start contributions to the Green Climate Fund, something our nation agreed to under the Paris Accord.

The photos were amazing! See some on Flickr, on the ARRCC Facebook page and  Green Faith.

Overseas, there was this great pic from Rev. James Bhagwan, Secretary General of the Pacific Council of Churches in Fiji.

In mainstream media, SBS online covered some of the actions.

We will all be watching the outcomes of COP26 when world leaders gather in Glasgow in November.

Rev Prof Andrew Dutney charts a new direction

Published / by Sandy

Uniting Church in Australia President has paid tribute to Rev Prof Andrew Dutney on his resignation as Executive Officer and Principal with Uniting College for Leadership and Theology in the Synod of South Australia.

“I give thanks for the enormous contribution Andrew has made to the Uniting Church nationally. As a church we are grateful for his wise and creative leadership as the 13th President.”

“Andrew is particularly remembered for his advocacy for Palestine, his commitment to the UCA covenant with First Peoples, particularly through A Destiny Together and his census of the Uniting Church which gave us a more accurate picture of ourselves as a basis for ministry and mission.”

“Andrew has also written and taught extensively on the history and theology of the Basis of Union. Through his teaching and writing he has helped many people fall in love with the Church, the Basis of Union, and the story of our formation.”

“I wish Andrew and Heather well as they move into a new phase of life. May this transition be full of wonder, joy and hope.”

SA UCA SYNOD PRESS RELEASE

The end of an era

Reverend Professor Andrew Dutney Resignation

It is with mixed feelings and deep regret that the Synod Standing Committee of South Australia accepted the resignation of the Reverend Professor Andrew Dutney from his roles as Executive Officer and Principal with Uniting College for Leadership and Theology on Friday, October 15th, 2021.

Andrew has had an illustrious and dedicated career with the Uniting Church in Australia. His ministry has been characterised by innovative leadership in theological education, research and teaching both nationally and internationally. His deep knowledge, understanding and love for the Basis of Union in the Uniting Church epitomises his passion for God’s church in the world. ‘His ability to bring the Basis of Union to life and his ability to engage with students at all levels of learning has been a privilege to observe,’ said the Moderator, Bronte Wilson.

Andrew has achieved many significant milestones during his leadership including his appointment to the South Australian Council of Reproductive Technology in 1990 and as its chairperson from 1996 until 2005. He has been a member of the Advisory Board of the Ethics Centre of South Australia and the Human Research Ethics Committee of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide. A regular guest on local ABC radio, Andrew was also a columnist for the Adelaide Independent and Australian Leadership with particular focus on questions of public and practical theology that emerged through his involvement with the wider South Australian community.

As a member of the Theology Faculty of Flinders University, he was regularly involved in committees, working groups and networks within the University and was the Founding Director of the Adelaide College of Divinity/Flinders University Centre for Theology, Science and Culture from 1999 to 2005.

Andrew was promoted to Associate Professor in 2003 and then to Professor in 2010 and is the only member of the Theology Faculty to have been made a full Professor at Flinders University.

In addition to his leadership in theological education, Andrew took on the role as the Uniting Church Assembly’s 13thPresident, guiding the Uniting Church through a challenging period of exploring what God is calling the Uniting Church to be.

In 2016, on his return from his time as President, Andrew resumed his role as the Principal of Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, later taking on the role of Executive Officer of the newly formed Mission and Leadership Development Ministry Centre. While continuing to research and teach, he designed and implemented the Mission and Leadership Development Board and various sub-committees; restructured and integrated the Adelaide College of Divinity into the Uniting College, together with the staff of the Adelaide Theological Library. He also oversaw the refurbishment of the College and welcomed the United Aboriginal and Islander Congress into the shared campus that is now known as Yarthu-apinthi.

A prolific writer he is widely published and recognised as an expert in ethics, theology, theological education and especially in the history, theology and polity of the Uniting Church.

‘It is with profound sadness that we acknowledge Andrew’s decision to resign at this time. It is also with deep gratitude that we acknowledge his contribution to the faith and unity of the universal Church, both nationally and internationally. In South Australia we have been especially blessed by his gifts and the many ways he has contributed to the life and witness of the Uniting Church,’ said Reverend Felicity Amery, General Secretary.

Reverend Professor Andrew Dutney will conclude his placement in December 2021 and intends to live without distraction as he looks forward to fresh opportunities to continue to imagine new possibilities for himself and his wife, Heather.

Things are heating up

Published / by Sandy

Pilgrim Uniting Church, October 17 2021.

Sermon on Mk 10.35-45

Rev. Assoc. Prof. Vicky Balabanski

Today’s Gospel reading invites us to think about issues of power.

This is an interesting moment in history to think about issues of power, who wields it and to what ends. Globally, there is about to be a conference – the Glasgow Climate Change conference, COP26 – that will decide what the trajectory of earth’s eco-system will be in the coming decades and centuries and indeed millennia. The implications of this conference are … tremendous. Who gets to sit at the table making these decisions, and whose voices will be ignored? What would a good use of power look like at a global level? I am going to reflect on these issues in the light of the Gospel passage.

Nationally, our federal system has never faced the sorts of challenges it is under right now. I think it’s fair to say that the powers of the national and state governments are at odds with one another, not only over crucial issues like timelines and priorities in opening up our borders and economies in the post Covid era, but about priorities with regard to climate change. How does power play itself out under pressure at the national and state levels? Whose concerns will be ignored? What would a good use of power look like right now?

And the political turmoil in state parliament we’ve seen in the past week, issues of power and allegiance are in flux as well. There seems to be a strange disconnect between power and accountability in our halls of power at state level as well. 

In so many places institutions and businesses that should be characterized by service are instead proving to be places where abuse of power is normalized. 

This is indeed a crucial time to think about issues of power. 

The Gospel reading has something to say about how we accrue power, and how we use power and to what ends. The reading opened with James and John manoeuvring themselves into key positions of power as they understand it. But we need to see this in its context in the Gospel, as otherwise we might imagine James and John simply as selfish for their own status. Actually this is a move to shape what the nature of the Jesus movement will be. As Mark portrays it, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection explicitly three times as they travel on the road to Jerusalem together. Each time, the disciples’ response is not only a failure to understand, but a dispute about what their movement is about. 

In the first instance, when Jesus predicts his suffering, death and resurrection, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. There is a fundamental disconnect between Peter as the spokesperson of the group or as Jesus’ ‘political manager’ or ‘strategist’ and what Jesus is saying. They disagree profoundly on what their goal is. For Jesus it is not about gaining the whole world or about saving his own life. It’s about aligning himself with the Father, who will bring God’s reign in power. 

The second time Jesus predicts his death and resurrection, his disciples don’t respond. Instead, they talk among themselves. And when Jesus asks them what they were talking about, there’s an awkward silence. Because they’d been talking about which one of them was the greatest. Again, they are intent upon making the Jesus movement about power and prestige. But Jesus is intent on making it about service. 

Then for a third time, in the lead-up to today’s Gospel reading, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection. This last time is the longest and most explicit. He says this is going to involve being mocked, spat on and flogged. It’s going to involve the Jewish authorities condemning him, and ultimately the Gentiles executing him. This will not be the end of the story, but this is the unavoidable path that they are on together. 

James and John are the ones who respond explicitly. We often think of them as making their own personal move on power, not least because Peter had just been discredited in front of the other disciples. But they are also intent on steering Jesus’ path to glory. They are intent upon shaping what the Jesus movement is on about. With one of them on Jesus’ left and the other on his right, James and John may be able to avert the nasty bits and make the Jesus movement a successful uprising. After all, the Maccabees did a similar thing and ended up forming a royal dynasty. 

What is the Jesus movement? Is it a path to glory, or is it something else?

I suspect that Christians have often thought of our faith as a path to glory, often in a disembodied heavenly future. But what if it is not about our personal salvation in the bye and bye? What if the self-emptying that Jesus talks about and embodies is actually about revealing the nature of God who self-empties? What if the Gospel is about joining a movement that embodies the God who ‘self-divests’; who chooses freely to self-limit for the good of the whole creation? In theology we call this kenosis. And what if the Gospel is really about service? About taking the path of the common good, even if it means being mocked, spat upon, flogged and even executed? This may not be a very marketable gospel, but it rings true to the path Jesus took and the conflict with his closest followers that he had to confront. 

What would the Gospel of service and of self-divestment look like at this moment in the world’s history, where we are challenged to make life and death decisions about the future of coming generations?

Today marks a day when communities of faith across Australia are joining in issuing a call the Australian Government for commitment to our common future. These are the key things:

We need our federal government to formally commit to achieving net zero emissions, not just by 2050, but by setting ambitious goals for 2030. Kicking the can down the road to 2050 will be too late. We need our Government to commit to a Nationally Determined Contribution that aligns with this goal. This also means putting our post-Covid recovery funding to renewables and low carbon industries, not to gas. This means providing substantial finance to the UN Green Climate Fund for other countries, over and above our aid budget. And this also means providing an orderly, planned and just transition for Australian communities that are currently dependent on coal and gas for their livelihoods.

Woah, you might say. What has all that got to do with the Gospel? 

It’s got everything to do with the Gospel, if we understand the implications of Jesus’ path to Jerusalem not as the path to our future heavenly glory, but as the path of service here and now. Jesus’ path demonstrates how we can set aside our own interests for the common good. Jesus is modelling a path that leads to self-divestment, not as a strategy to ensure our own long-term comfort, but as a path of redemption for the many. By saying this, I am not saying that there is no future aspect of salvation. Rather, I am saying that Jesus’ path of discipleship needs to be lived out in the present, investing ourselves in preserving and enhancing the common good of all.

It is this sort of Good News that the whole creation needs right now: followers of Jesus who are intent upon service of others, on self-limiting for the good not only of other people but other species as well. We need to face this challenging time for the sake of the many who will come after us.

We are already at 1.1 degrees of Global heating, and are seeing bushfires, droughts, floods and mass extinction on our own shores and across the world. We know that every fraction of a degree makes a difference.

At 1.5 degrees heating, 700 million people will be at risk of extreme heat waves. At 2 degrees it will be 2 billion.

At 1.5 degrees 70 per cent of the world’s coral reefs die. At 2 degrees they are all gone.

As Alok Sharma says, ‘If temperatures continue to rise we will step through a series of one-way doors, and the end destination of [that] … is climate catastrophe.’1

That is why in Glasgow, the world must deliver an outcome which keeps 1.5 degrees in reach. That is why — as one of the G20 countries which account for around 80 per cent of global emissions — Australia needs to step up and commit to action. And that is why people of faith need to call on our federal government to take responsibility to lead us right now. We don’t want billions of our taxpayer dollars spent on nuclear powered submarines to protect us from future threats, we want our taxes to be deployed towards a world that restores the climate and eco-systems and so that we can live justly and peaceably alongside other nations.

Jesus says of himself that the Son of Man – the Human One, came not to be served but to serve. At the heart of Jesus’ vocation is service. Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life. Our common vocation is also to serve and to give, on behalf of the many. 

I had reason this week to visit the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Tearooms, which offer ‘scones, jam and a Dollop of History’ with your cup of tea. All over the walls there are pictures and displays of how key Christian women exercised power for social good – for women’s suffrage in particular. There was clearly no question in their minds that the Christian faith and political activism are two sides of the same coin. 

Fast forward one hundred and thirty or so years, and this connection between Christian faith and political activism is no longer obvious to everyone. It may be obvious to many people at Pilgrim 9.30 congregation, but it is not obvious to Christians across the denominational and political spectrum out there. If we privatize and individualize Jesus’ teachings – our Gospel may simply be ‘a pie in the sky when you die’. The power of the Gospel will be neutralized, or even manipulated to certain political ends. But if we know ourselves to be followers of the One who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, then we can live this way too. God grant that we have the courage and clarity to live out our call, for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the whole creation. Amen.

1. Alok Sharma’s speech at UNESCO, Paris on the need for world leaders to deliver at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow. October 12, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/paris-promised-glasgow-must-deliver? Accessed 16/10/2021.

Reflecting on what’s important

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce on Mark 10: 17-31 – The Rich Young Man (prepared for SermonShare here)

Reading
As Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (you can read the full text of this reading here)

It is a challenge to reflect upon this particular encounter of Jesus with the rich young man, while we are still in the grip of a global pandemic, and living with economic uncertainty. Last year, Australia’s economy was plunged into its first recession in nearly 30 years as a result of lockdowns imposed across the country. The economic fallout from COVID-19 impacted many small businesses that didn’t survive. There was a disruption to supply chains and cash flow shortages. Households were living with financial stress. Tourism was brought to its knees. There was real tension between the economic welfare of the country, the need to contain the virus, and look after the welfare of people. And now, we’re told, Australia’s economy has had a rapid rebound, growing larger than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic due to the soaring demand for commodities around the world and spending by consumers and businesses. But we will all know people who have been doing it tough, and there’s more to come when interest rates inevitably rise sometime in the future, and people find themselves in economic uncertainty and peril. We may be those people.

The context for the Gospel story was a society where 9 out of 10 people were living close to the subsistence level or below. There was no middle class. Wealth was based on the ownership of land. Most land was controlled by a small number of wealthy, elite families. The landowners rented the land for tenant farmers, who – together with their families and possibly slaves – actually worked the land. The wealth and status of the elite families ensured their influence in politics, so that they were able to control both local and regional governance and also profit from taxation.

The Gospel story recounts what happens when a rich man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” His question is sincere. Initially, Jesus responds by reciting the six socially oriented commandments – Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother.’. Interestingly, Jesus reframes ‘do not covet’ with a commercial twist – ‘do not defraud’.

It must have been a relief to the man to have these listed, as he was confident his life had been lived with integrity, that he was morally and spiritually good. The rich man said he had “kept all of the commandments since my youth” (Mark 10:20). He understood his wealth to be a result of God’s favour and blessing.

But in the upside-down world of the reign of God, Jesus states that the one thing the man lacks is treasure in heaven, and that the man would need to set aside his attachment to wealth and status and privilege – and follow Jesus. In fact, he is to sell what he has and give it to the poor – in order to obtain treasure in heaven. It’s the only time Jesus makes such a demand. What will the man love more – his wealth, or treasure in heaven. Is a relationship with God more valuable than the things we possess?

This is a scene of great pathos. The rich man was shocked and went away grieving. Jesus, looking at him, loved him. Jesus’ does not set out to shame the young man, but to love him. Jesus calls him to leave his possessions for his own benefit, saying, “You will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Jesus uses this encounter as a teaching opportunity with the disciples about attachment to ‘things’ (in this case, wealth), and the need to give priority to following the way of Jesus.

How do we unpack this? Is wealth the opposite of Christianity? Is profit antithetical to the kin-dom of God? Are we talking about the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, with his $US201+ billion? Closely followed by economic powerhouses like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. Do we take this Gospel reading and layer it over all of our lives – the rich and elite, the Mum and Dad suburban investors, those just trying to earn an honest living through their own work and industry, those struggling to keep their heads above water.

Probably. Yes. The story points us to the fact that when wealth and privilege are seen as more valuable than our relationship with God, it creates a distance in the way we relate to others and may deaden our sensitivity to the needs of others. It’s the love of money, privilege and power, not the wealth itself, that is the issue here.

Wealth has the potential to create a distance make us and God, to dampen our relationship with God. That’s what Jesus seems to be picking up here, identifying the things that take our time and attention, the things we seek that give us meaning and purpose, the things that serve to orient our lives? If not seeking a deeper relationship with the God revealed by Jesus Christ, then our lives need redirection to give priority to the values of the reign of God, and not to be distracted by other things. Our calling as disciples of Jesus is expressed in the the imperative to serve others, to contribute to a healthy social fabric where all are valued and afforded the means to live with dignity.

Ram Dass has an expression, “We’re all just walking each other home.” He was talking about coming home inside of ourselves. To risk the journey of peeling away all of the identities, beliefs, assumptions, expectations, roles and attachments we have adopted in our lifetime, and discover who we are as beloved children of God. The language of salvation is about finding healing and wholeness, knowing who we are at the deepest and most profound levels of our being as beloved children of God.

Maybe the pandemic, as unwelcome as it is with all the changes and uncertainty, is an invitation to unpack a little of our personal lives, what we give attention to. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine some of the economic, environmental, political, social, and spiritual structures, paradigms, assumptions, and habits we take for granted, and re-imagine the world and our relationships. Perhaps it’s time to shed some of the things that have taken our attention away from following Jesus and the values of the reign of God.

Perhaps it’s also time to have a fresh look at wealth and the practices of the church, and to dream of a Christianity unreconciled with wealth. Yes, many congregations may be struggling financially and many will close their doors in the next few years. But the institution that is church has eye-watering wealth through property and investments. Perhaps that’s a subject for another time. Perhaps it’s time to dream of a church intentionally uncoupled from the concept of wealth as virtue and reward. There’s a branch of Christianity that promises a direct path to the good life. It is called by many names, but most often referred to as “prosperity gospel” for its bold central claim that God will give you your heart’s desires: money in the bank, a healthy body, a thriving family, and boundless happiness.

Go with me for a quick history journey. A Tuscan Franciscan friar and mathematician named Luca Pacioli made possible an institutionalized wealth shrouded in Christian language and scripture. He made possible the renaissance of early capitalist commerce for the profit of European Christianity. He followed a very different sort of Jesus from the Jesus we encounter in Mark, one that baptizes wealth as virtue, and names it God’s will for Christians. In 1494 he published Double-Entry Bookkeeping which firmly reconciled wealth and Christianity, a “foundational text of capitalism” which made profit virtuous. It changed the world. At the time of his writing, the Catholic church condemned profit made from lending people money. Being a Catholic priest himself, Pacioli could challenge such ideas from the inside. He was, ironically, a priest in the order of Franciscans called the Conventuals, or Minorities, so named for living a minor life adhering to the vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. But Pacioli was closely aligned with the Pope and several wealthy benefactors, and so he received a special papal dispensation to earn money as a mathematician and teacher. In his will he legitimated that wealth by mentioning this special papal bull by Pope Julius II permitting property ownership. He also legally willed his soul to God. Pacioli might amend Jesus’ declaration in Mark to say, “a rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven if he files the proper paperwork.” Pacioli’s fellow priests were not thrilled with his flagrant flouting of the rules of their order; they tried to get him kicked out. He was instead made head of his monastery. Money makes a way. Pacioli understood that wealth was a matter of reputation and credibility. His entire premise was an apologetic of sorts to prove the virtue of a good wealthy Christian merchant. His neatly ordered financial system of profit is still used in every country in the world, by a different name: reconciliation accounting. A rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of men, given the right system and the right reputation.

What have we inherited that we now consider normative, unexamined, but may be subject to challenge and critique by the Gospel teachings of Jesus? And by our own UCA Statement to the Nation in 1977 which said, We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others and which encourage a higher standard of living for the privileged in the face of the daily widening gap between the rich and poor”.

Our lives are diminished when we let wealth or possessions or work or hobbies or the ‘to do’ list or positions of privilege and power cut us off from other people and underwhelm our relationship with God. The invitation is to follow the way of Jesus as the way to life, to healing and wholeness. This Jesus, who looks at us, sees us for who we really are entangled with the systems and structures of the world, and loves us enough to inspire dreams of worlds otherwise.

The writers of the Basis of Union expressed our calling as the church: 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, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself. The Church lives between the time of Christ’s death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things which Christ will bring; the Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal; here the Church does not have a continuing city but seeks one to come. On the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments, and it has the gift of the Spirit in order that it may not lose the way.

May we all play our part as we walk each other home. Amen.

October 10th

 

UN International Day of Older Persons (IDOP)

Published / by Sandy

The United Nations established the International Day of Older Persons (IDOP) in 1990 as a way to focus attention around the globe on the barriers to respect and dignity for older people caused by ageism. IDOP is recognised  on October 1st each year as a celebration of the older people in all societies, and a reminder to continue developing a society for all ages. It is an opportunity to challenge negative stereotypes and misconceptions about older persons and aging. It is widely recognised that older persons are an asset to the society; their wisdom, value-system and experience helps in guiding and mentoring the present generation.

In 2021 the IDOP theme stresses digital equality for older people. Digital access has become a more important issue with the challenges of the COVID pandemic.

“Imagine … an Australian community where older people are valued and included in community life, enabled to maintain health & independence, are able to contribute their talents and wisdom, pursue their interests, nurture relationships, maintain their culture and spirituality and be in control of their future. Imagine if those who need support can receive it in a way that supports the above, and is provided with dignity and respect”.
(UnitingCare Australia submission to Productivity Commission – Caring for Older Australians, 2009) 

What is important is not merely adding ‘years to life’ but also adding ‘life to years’.

Meaningful ageing experiences for Australians are facilitated by care and support that put people in the centre and build on their interests, strengths and capabilities. A good support system empowers older people, families and carers, service staff, volunteers and the broader community to live and work together in communities where they experience relationships, joy and hope. People of all ages have a valued place in their communities. Older people enjoy respect and dignity, can exercise their rights, and continue to live and grow to their full potential across all of the dimensions of their humanity. Where people are vulnerable, care and support systems reach out to them in partnership with their communities and are tailored deliberately to meet their needs, preferences and aspirations. (Ageing to our full potential – preparing for an older Australia, UnitingCare report)

Uniting Churches are being encouraged to recognise the human rights and dignity of older people on the first Sunday after the IDOP. This year the date is October 3.

“The Uniting Church’s life is enriched by its many older members who remember faithfully and watch hopefully for where God is leading, and nurture and encourage others across the generations. We give thanks for their worship, witness and service” (Rev Sharon Hollis, President, Uniting Church in Australia)

The proportion of Australian church attenders aged 60+ (48%) is much higher than the proportion of people aged 60+ in the general population (26%). In the Uniting Church, according to the NCLS survey, the Uniting Church had 67% aged 60+ (higher than other denominations [Lutheran (58%), Catholic (55%), Anglican (51%), Pentecostal churches 21%].

While the Australian population continues to age, with the elderly making up an increasing proportion of society, those denominations with established ministries for older residents may find their activities and experience of value to offer their local communities.

Affirmation
We believe in God who is creating all that is,
who knows our hearts and loves us as we are,
who speaks to us in our deepest beings,
who calls people of all ages
to abundant life and wholeness.
Christ Jesus shows us the Way,
guiding us and healing our bodies and minds,
sharing our joys and sufferings,
crossing all human barriers and distinctions,
transforming the power of death into new life.
The Holy Spirit is the gift of God’s life with us now,
giving us the courage to take new paths,
and the strength to continue the journey
in different stages and ages of our lives.
In solitude, vulnerability, compassion and love,
the Spirit reveals her presence with. Amen.
(Source: Worship resources, Older Persons Sunday: dignity and hope for all ages)

Is older age an ‘underlying health condition’?

Published / by Sandy

In the lead up to the UN International Day of Older Persons (October 1), this opinion piece by Dr David Berger, an emergency doctor in northern Australia, provides a thoughtful perspective on how ‘older people’ seem to be viewed in a COVID embattled world. Is age an ‘underlying condition’?

(Published 7 September 2021 in the Sydney Morning Herald)

At the daily press conferences in NSW*, deaths are parenthesised by age and “underlying health conditions”. We are being indoctrinated into believing that these deaths are happening not to healthy young people – the economically productive, important, “valuable” members of society – but rather to the old, the weak, the infirm.

The dead wood, in other words, for whom it would be crazy to jeopardise the success of the economy, or even interrupt people’s pleasure-seeking. We would expect them to die soon anyway, COVID or no COVID.

The Scandinavians, living by forest metaphors, categorise these people as “dry tinder”, that fragile underbrush accumulated on the forest floor and ready to combust, waiting only on the inevitable spark. The narrative is compelling in its implied imagery and quasi-Darwinistic simplicity: a powerful battalion marches forward, its muscular forearms and resolute jaws redolent of the factory worker on a 1950s Soviet poster.

Producing, living, loving – these are the people charged with fulfilling the social and biological destiny of mankind. Of course, they can carry the infirm and the old to an extent – they are not heartless, after all – but only to an extent. As soon as the burden starts to impinge too much on the progress of the Great March Forward, it is time to shed sentimentality and with it those unproductive elements that hold “us” back.

The fact is that one in two Australians has at least one chronic condition and more than one in five of us are over sixty, so it is a nifty trick to get us to believe that these people are all somehow “other”. They are not, they are us, and we are all of inestimable value.

It is a further cynical fiction that soon the rest of “us” will be able to circulate like vaccinated super-beings, impervious to the virus as it scythes down the weak, the infirm, the old. The examples of Israel and other highly vaccinated countries, which are reimposing restrictions hand over fist, show this to be blatantly untrue. A letter from the Business Council of Australia with 80 signatories urges “opening up for the sake of the economy”. If we put aside that this is a factually incorrect position, as the best performing economies have uniformly been those that have opted for eliminating COVID, we are still left asking “what exactly is the economy” and “precisely whose benefit is being served here”?

In a way, “the economy” is really code for movement, the continual displacement of people and things for the purposes of creating profit. Restricting movement – the most powerful weapon against any novel pathogen – impedes the efficient creation of profit. By convincing the bulk of the herd that it is only the weaker animals at the edge that will be picked off by predators, the bulk continues on. No matter that this is not true and that it is a swathe of the bulk itself that is eliminated: population growth will soon fix that in a few years. The essential thing is to keep the herd moving.

Several decades of libertarian political philosophy have resulted in the partial destruction of the idea of collective fates and collective action. All that matters is the individual, who is mendaciously instructed they must keep moving and abandon the weak for the sake of “the economy”, a construct whose purpose increasingly appears to be to deliver excessive profit to fewer and fewer oligarchs.

* The daily press conferences in NSW have been abandoned by the NSW Premier since the publication of this article in the SMH.

Season of Creation – Week 2

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 12th September 2021

An interesting insight from Paul Farhi from the Washington Post about the ‘crawl’ or ‘ticker’ that feeds the constant news cycle. Those banners on the bottom of your television screens with snippets of breaking news. And we all catch our breath hoping it’s not another disaster, another tragedy. On 9/11, less than an hour after the first tower collapsed, Fox News began a scroll of text across the bottom of the screen, to summarise the events for those wanting to catch up on what was happening. The other channels quickly followed. The crawls were an improvisation, that remained part of what we have become accustomed to, whether it’s on the television, or scrolling through headlines on our smart phones and devices. The crawls became little conveyer belts of doom and dread. They remain, and act now as a reminder that something terrible could be happening, somewhere, to somebody, by somebody – even when there isn’t so much going on at all in a slow news cycle. It can create a perpetual air of crisis and frenzy and partial facts generating opinions. And it leads to a kind of startled paralysis – too much happening in the world so we retreat to our small safe world in our homes. 

Until that small safe world isn’t anymore – and the reality of storms, bushfires, floods, extreme weather events and other so called natural disasters come calling. And the reality of climate crisis, climate justice, climate emergency become something experienced by young and old, rich and poor. We awaken to the real world consequences of our warming climate. Tough news is what we’ve come to expect. Humanity is gaining a glimpse of the dystopia scientists have long warned of due to our profound disruption of the earth’s balance.

Pope Francis’s encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si, says that climate change is real and mainly “a result of human activity.” Humans have pushed the climate into unprecedented territory. The problem is urgent. “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.”  We must all change our day-to-day actions to live more sustainably.  “Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility.”  On a larger scale, our leaders must be held to account. “Those who will have to suffer the consequences . . . will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility.”

Solving climate change means protecting the planet and vulnerable people, and we must hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”  Faith can guide us. “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains – everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” The problems are big and urgent. But hope remains if we act in honesty and love.  “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home . . . Truly, much can be done!” “We need to ensure that the environment is cleaner, purer and that it is conserved. We must care for nature so that nature may care for us”. 

We’re pretty proud as Australians about how we deal with a crisis. Mateship. Working together. Cooperation. And if the earth itself is the one in crisis, can we pull up our sleeves and help to make the change that is needed? Well, yes, we can make adaptions. 

We do what we can with home insulation, recycling, solar panels, fuel efficient cars and other things in our sphere of influence, and mainly in the home. But thinking beyond that is overwhelming. Trying to get the government to make radical shifts to mitigate the effect of climate change seems huge – setting realistic targets and identifying actions that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions and limit the warming, and meet the goals aspired to by the United Nations or by the Paris agreement. One writer said there is a cacophany of mitigation panic. The tragedy is we’ve had the abiity and the roadmap to make major strides in reducing emissions and mitigating climate change for many years. 

But how might our thinking change when we think about earth as our common home. This year, the theme for the season is A home for all? Renewing the Oikos of God. With the followers of Christ from around the world, we share a common role as caretakers of God’s creation. We see that our wellbeing is interwoven with its wellbeing. We rejoice in this opportunity to care for our common home and the sisters and brothers who share it.

Effective mitigration of climate change requires changing human behaviour, ingrained geopolitical and economic power structures, and built infrastructure on a global scale. It requires convincing people to invest for the common good of other people, often decades into the future. “No nation can solve this crisis on our own,” said Joe Biden. This year he called on countries, especially the largest economies, to step up their ambition, including providing greater financing to help vulnerable countries mitigate the impacts of climate change and adapt to a warming world. Biden announced the U.S. would double its climate financing to developing countries by 2024. “This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative,” Biden said. “A moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities. Time is short, but I believe we can do this. And I believe we will do this.” 

Climate despair is a real thing. But as Christiana Figueres says, we can be and need to stubborn optimists choosing to build a better future together. Re-balancing the earth will only be possible with active, forward-moving conviction. The choice that we each must make every day requires that we are fully aware of the reality that we see, not blind to it, and at the same time filled with the conviction that we possess the ingenuity, innovative capacity and determination to change that reality for the better. Outrage and Optimism are both needed at this time. Hope needs to be cradled and cherished lest despair overwhelm and paralyse us.

Take the example of 29 year old Kenyan woman Nzami Matee, who invented a brick stronger than concrete that’s made entirely of recycled materials like plastic. Then there’s Peri Coleman talking about how salinity is effecting the SA St Kilda Mangroves and how nature will move back in and re-generate if given a change. and her fight to preserve the St Kilda mangroves here in South Australia. And an Indian man who has transformed a treeless landscape over the last 20 years. And so many more inspiring stories that give hope! 

9/11 re-membering

Published / by Sandy

It is twenty years since the four coordinated terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda that killed 2,977 people — 2,753 of them at ground zero in New York City. A post from Diana Butler Bass written 10 years after 9/11 (slightly adapted for the 20 year anniversary). Still pertinent.

More than anything on this anniversary I wish to be silent. A few may protest saying it is important to remember the events of two decades ago. That is true. A people must know their past. But who alive has forgotten? Indeed, the media will not let us forget. The images of 9/11 are seared in our minds forever, replayed millions of time on television and across the internet.

There is, however, a difference between memory – the snapshots that stay in our minds always – and remembering.  ‘Remembering’ means to ‘put back together’ the pieces of the past, to rearrange the pictures of memory in order to make meaning, to heal, to forgive or to inspire. Memory and remembering are related, but they are not the same thing. Memory is simply not forgetting, the process in which we feel the power of events once again. Remembering is the hard work of seeing, understanding, making sense of, and learning from the past.

In the two decades since 9/11, we have not forgotten. But we have treated the events of 9/11 rather like taking a video of a loved one’s death – and replaying the end over and over and over. Anyone who has suffered the pain of death knows that endlessly playing a DVD  of the last moment’s of that person’s life will never lead to healing. Indeed, watching death do its worst repeatedly opens grief and wounds anew, imprinting the immediacy of suffering on the minds of the mournful. In order to heal, to ‘move on’ as counsellors say, one must do the hard work of death – to patiently remember the whole life of those who have died and to learn from the gifts that person left behind. Remembering is a process, a spiritual one at that, by which we come to terms with mortality and flawed humanity, as well as the power of courage and abiding love.

We all have a memory of 9/11. But have we remembered?

Silence makes room for remembering. I don’t want to hear patriotic songs, jingoistic speeches, or even well considered rehearsals of ‘what happened on that day’. I want to see no pictures of burning towers or flag waving. I wish for empty public space, a communal practice of quiet, to reflect not only what happened on 9/11, but in the long sad decades since. For just a brief time, I long for, in the words of an ancient hymn, ‘all mortal flesh keep silence’ in the face of fear and trembling that gripped us one September day 20 years ago.

I wonder what we would find there – of ourselves, our neighbours and God – in that void of words?

How has September 11 affected our Christian communities? What shadows did it reveal among some? What strengths did it evoke among others? What has happened to us in the years since?

A hymn for the anniversary of September 11th: O God, Our Hearts Were Shattered
O God, our hearts were shattered On that horrendous day;
We heard the news and gathered To grieve and then to pray.
We cried to you and wondered, “Where did the violence start?”
The world as we had known it Had just been torn apart.

We heard of those who perished — Of heroes’ sacrifice.
We paused again to cherish The gifts of love and life.
We worried for the future; We hugged our loved ones then.
We cried, “Can peace be found here?” “We can’t let terror win!”

Some sought to answer terror The only way they knew —
With anger toward the stranger And calls for vengeance, too.
Yet this is not your answer, Nor what you would create.
May we live toward a future Where love will conquer hate.

God, give us faith and wisdom To be your healing hands;
Give open minds that listen To truth from all your lands.
Give strength to work for justice; Grant love that casts out fear.
Then peace and not destruction Will be the victor here.
Tune: LLANGLOFFAN 7.6.7.6 D (“Lead On, O King Eternal”; “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”)
Text: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

(You might be interested in an open online ‘pop up’ class exploring the impact of 9/11 and all that followed on Christianity, with Diana Butler Bass, Tripp Fuller and Brian McLaren – six sessions, pay what you can, watch anytime over the next 12 months. The 6 Feature Sessions are: 20 Years of Religious Decline; The Rise of Authoritarianism; Repentance & Resistance; Inter-religious Learning; Theology & Spirituality in Times of Rupture; Christianity – Should I Stay or Should I Go?)

 

Season of Creation

Published / by Sandy

It’s spring – a time for fresh life and abundant growth!

It’s the time we have the opportunity to celebrate the Season of Creation. This is a world-wide ecumenical movement to recognise the wonder of the gift of the earth and the living world. This world speaks to us of God.

This year the Season of Creation has, as its theme, ‘A Home For All? Renewing the Oikos of God’. This is our home, but not ours alone.

The Season of Creation draws our attention to caring for the entire ‘web of life’. We are understanding more and more that what we do has an impact on the earth and all living things and that we have a role as healers in our world.

Climate change and it’s ramifications can weigh on us heavily.

Maybe it’s time for spring cleaning – local, national, global, personal, communal, political?

One small step at a time. Is it enough? We know how dispiriting and overwhelming we can feel in the face of one crisis after another.

What sustains hope for renewal?

Christiana Figueres, a former diplomat and longtime climate change leader, presided over the 2015 Paris climate talks for the United Nations. She sees optimism as a key solution for climate change. She introduced the concept of relentless (stubborn) optimism to fight for the future. In fact, her whole brand is optimism. She founded a group called Global Optimism, and co-authored a book titled, “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis.” She believes the only choice we have is to take a determined, optimistic mindset.

“It is only by doing something positive to contribute to the solution that you actually dispel the bubble of despair and move into a much more constructive frame of mind and a much more impactful space in which you can make a difference. Yes, we have a very difficult situation in front of us. But if we are negative about it, I guarantee we will not be able to get out of it,” she explains.

She considers optimism is imperative in the struggle for climate justice.

How do we take that stance – relentless stubborn optimism – in our own lives?

How do we live with the weighty matters that cluster around climate change, while maintaining a relentless stubborn optimism?

It is a question that needs resolution so we can get on with global ‘spring cleaning’.

She goes on to say, “If we do not devote our energies, our thinking, our actions, our decisions, our finance, our policies, toward addressing climate change, we are implicitly, or in fact, even explicitly contributing to more inequality. It is precisely because of the inequality that we have to address climate change”.

Spring cleaning = positive resolve… participation … priorities … prayer

Reflecting on compassion

Published / by Sandy

The lowest form of knowledge is opinion. It requires no accountability and understanding.
The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our ego and live in another’s world
. — Plato

A reflection on compassion by Stephen Shoemaker.

The main character in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose, is an ageing professor of history in the decade of the 1970s. He comments on life in America, noting that most people have undergone an “empathectomy,” their empathy surgically removed. It seems only to have gotten worse since. The absence of empathy is an indicator of sociopathy and can make people monsters.

Recent research has revealed that the church in America as a whole has been among the most antagonistic toward immigrants – and this from a people whose most repeated Old Testament command is to care for the widows, orphans and strangers (or immigrants).

Where has all the empathy gone?

The biblical word for empathy is “compassion.” The Hebrew word for it comes from the word for “womb.” The love of God is womb-like. Over and over again in the Gospels Jesus, God’s compassion made flesh, is described as having compassion and from that compassion healing people, feeding people, comforting people, lifting people up. The main characters in two of his most famous parables act out of “compassion” – the Samaritan who saved the life of the Jew lying beaten on the road and the father who ran down the road to welcome home his wayward son.

When Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he was talking about empathy. Wendell Berry has paraphrased the Golden Rule: “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” Empathy knows we all live upstream or downstream from someone else.

“Empathy knows we all live upstream or downstream from someone else.”

The Koran echoes the foundational moral virtue of empathy: “A person does not have faith until one loves for one’s neighbour what one loves for oneself.”

Rabbi Abraham Heschel described the God of the Bible as a God of Pathos. Empathy is one of the names of God.

Many in the world today have suffered an “empathectomy”. It has become deadly for us all, especially for the most vulnerable among us. The church can make a difference. We can start a contagion of compassion. Empathy can be renewed in our human hearts as we have hearts after God’s own heart. As it follows Jesus, the mission of the church is the increase in the love of God and neighbour.

A prayer for facemarks

Published / by Sandy

Face-masks are changing – from ill-fitting disposable* ones discarded after each use, to face-masks that are bright, colourful, personal, washable and re-usable. Rev Deacon Susan Wickham (see photo below), Minister at Church of the Trinity, takes the prize for one that made people laugh this week. Consider buying face-masks online to support the work of Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation which performs life changing surgery on women in Africa living with fistula, or another charity of your choice selling face-masks. Or one that will bring a ‘crinkled eye smile’ to others. Or even to show your support for your football team for the finals season!

We’re in this for the long haul with mandatory mask wearing until we’re given the ‘all clear’ from the health authorities. In the scheme of things a minor inconvenience if it serves to keep us – and our neighbours – safe.

A prayer for face-masks from the United Church of Canada:

Creator, as I prepare to go into the world,
help me see the sacrament in the wearing of this cloth –
let it be an ‘outward sign of an inward grace’ –
a tangible and visible way of living love for my neighbours,
as I love myself.

Christ, since my lips will be covered, uncover my heart,
that people would see my smile in the crinkles around my eyes.
Since my voice may be muffled, help me speak clearly,
not only with my words, but with my actions.

Holy Spirit, as the elastic touches  my ears,
remind me to listen carefully – and full of care –
to all those I meet.

May this simple piece of cloth be shield and banner,
and each breath that it holds be filled with your love.
In your name and in that love, I pray.
May it be so. May it be so.

(*If you do use disposable face-masks, remember to snip the straps when putting them in the rubbish, as there are reports of wildlife becoming entangled in the straps – see photo below)

It’s all too much…

Published / by Sandy

(a post by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber on The Corners blog)


I used to live in a very old apartment building with super sketchy electrical wiring. Were I to audaciously assume my hair drier could run while my stereo was on, I would once again find myself opening the grey metal fuse box next to the refrigerator and flipping the breaker. My apartment had been built at a time when there were no electric hair driers, and the system shut down when modernity asked too much of it.

I think of that fuse box often these days, because friends, I just do not think our psyches were developed to hold, feel and respond to everything coming at them right now; every tragedy, injustice, sorrow and natural disaster happening to every human across the entire planet, in real time every minute of every day.  The human heart and spirit were developed to be able to hold, feel and respond to any tragedy, injustice, sorrow or natural disaster that was happening IN OUR VILLAGE.

So my emotional circuit breaker keeps overloading because the hardware was built for an older time.

And yet, when I check social media it feels like there are voices saying “if you aren’t talking about, doing something about, performatively posting about ___(fill in the blank)___then you are an irredeemably callous, priviledged, bigot who IS PART OF THE PROBLEM” and when I am someone who does actually care about human suffering and injustice (someone who feels every picture I see, and story I read) it leaves me feeling like absolute sh*t. I am left with wondering: am I doing enough, sacrificing enough, giving enough, saying enough about all the horrible things right now to think of myself as a good person and subsequently silence the accusing voice in my head?No. The answer is always no. No I am not. Nor could I. Because no matter what I do the goal of “enough” is just as far as when I started.

And yet doing nothing is hardly the answer.

So I wanted to share something with you. Every day of my life I ask myself three discernment questions I learned from one of my teachers, Suzanne Stabile:

What’s MINE to do, and what’s NOT mine to do?

What’s MINE to say and what’s NOT mine to say?

And the third one is harder:

What’s MINE to care about and what’s NOT mine to care about?

To be clear – that is not to say that it is not worthy to be cared about by SOMEONE, only that my effectiveness in the world cannot extend to every worthy to be cared about event and situation.  It’s not an issue of values, it’s an issue of MATH.*

So I try and remember,
1. We are still living through a global pandemic – and that means the baseline of anxiety and grief is higher than ever and shared by everyone.
2. The world is on fire literally and metaphorically.
But
3. I only have so much water in my bucket to help with the fires. The more exposure I have to the fires I have NO WATER to fight, the more likely I am to get so burned, and inhale so much smoke that I cannot help anymore with the fires close enough to fight once my bucket is full again.

So I try and tell myself that It’s ok to focus on one fire.

It’s ok to do what is YOURS to do. Say what’s yours to say. Care about what’s yours to care about.

That’s enough.

If immigration reform is yours to do, if it is the fire you have water to throw on, (thank you! and…) that is enough. There will be voices saying “but what about climate change? You don’t care that the planet is dying??”. Tune that sh*t out. I mean, you could turn around and ask the environmentalist next door why they heartlessly don’t care about immigrants, but there is no percentage in that. Instead, we could be so grateful for the people who are called to work on and respond to worthy issues that are not fires we ourselves are equipped to put out.

I’m not saying we should put our heads in the sand, I’m saying that if your circuits are overwhelmed there’s a reason and the reason isn’t because you are heartless, it’s because there is not a human heart on this planet that can bear all of what it happening right now. So thank you for being a person who cares about and responds to animals, or the environment, or immigration, or domestic violence or any of the other worthy-to-be-cared-about shit-shows we are in the midst of right now. Just, thank you.

Call for compassion and leadership on Afghanistan

Published / by Sandy

(Statement on Afghanistan, 17th August 2021)

The Uniting Church in Australia Assembly has joined calls urging the Australian Government to act urgently, swiftly, compassionately and with leadership in responding to the crisis in Afghanistan.

Taliban insurgents seized the presidential palace in Kabul on Sunday after taking control of the country in just over a week, following weeks of fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan Government forces and the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan.

There is now grave concern for the safety of many who remain in Afghanistan as crowds of desperate people flocked to the airport in an attempt to escape.

UCA President Rev Sharon Hollis encouraged Uniting Church members to pray for the people of Afghanistan impacted by the violence and for those desperately seeking protection and safety.

“We hold in our prayers the people of Afghanistan who long for peace after decades of armed conflict, and we pray for the safety and security of all Afghan people in this latest crisis,” said Rev Hollis.

The UCA President called on the Australian Government to show leadership in its response to the crisis by taking steps to protect the safety of those who remain in Afghanistan.

There is particular concern for the safety of people who have worked with the Australian and other Western governments and non-government organisations as translators, security and support staff.

“We welcome the existing efforts of the Government in making arrangements to provide visas to Afghani people who have worked with the Australian Government and ask the Prime Minister to intensify efforts to bring people to safety.”

“Right now, Australia can offer additional refugee settlement places for Afghan refugees sending a strong message that the world is ready to share the responsibility to protect lives.”

“We also offer our support and prayers to the many Afghan Australians and Afghani refugees and temporary visa holders based here in Australia. As they desperately seek news of loved ones and in some cases face uncertain futures themselves, we ask that the Australian Government will do all in its power to support them and their families. One first step is to provide permanent protection for the 4300 Afghans on temporary protection visas to provide certainty for a safe future without the fear of return to an unsafe situation.

The Taliban takeover comes after weeks of violent fighting between Taliban insurgents and Afghanistan forces and follows the withdrawal of the US, Australian and other Western troops.

The Refugee Council of Australia said reports have emerged of executions and forced marriages of young women and girls. Members of religious minorities are also at grave risk, including the many Shia members of the Hazara community.

There is also fear the Taliban will undo years of work to support the education, safety and autonomy of Afghanistan’s women, including in programs funded by the Australian Government.

World Council of Churches calls for prayers for people of Afghanistan as fears of violence grows.

Prayers that could be incorporated into services can be found here.

Beautiful music and images from Rev David MacGregor, Lament … Afghanistan (on Vimeo here)

Article on The Conversation.

Consider also ways to financially support relief organisations caring for the welfare of those who have fled violence with only the clothes on their back. Here’s one example of an emergency appeal through Asia-Pacific Network of Refugees. There will be other reputable organisations you can consider as well.

 

 

National Day of Prayer (Aug 22) – COVID pandemic

Published / by Sandy

Uniting Church in Australia President Rev Sharon Hollis is encouraging UCA members to join in a day of prayer for all those experiencing the ongoing impacts of the pandemic. 

It follows an invitation from the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) for churches to mark a National Day of Prayer in their worship services on Sunday 22 August.  

“I encourage you to join together in prayerful ways as we acknowledge the loss, anxiety, fear and uncertainty facing many people in Australia and across the world,” said Rev Hollis. 

“While we are physically apart, we draw together with churches across the country and the world, united as the Body of Christ, and reminded of a God of love who cares for us all.” 

“In recent weeks, many congregations across Australia have again found themselves in lockdown and gathered worship has moved online. I am thankful to all those who are making it possible for us to come together in worship in creative ways and support each other pastorally in what continues to be a very challenging time.” 

“We are also mindful that this is a global challenge, and many people across the world are particularly vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the virus.” 

“We welcome the additional supports for people impacted economically provided by the Australian Government, for which UnitingCare Australia has advocated,and we continue to call for vaccine equity across the globe and vital support for vulnerable nations called for under the End COVID for All campaign.” 

“I encourage you to be mindful of the ways we can continue to be kind and compassionate to one another and to seek to be life-giving communities of faith within the context we all find ourselves.” 

“Thank you to all those who are already or making plans to be vaccinated. We know that vaccination is a key step to overcoming the challenges of COVID.” 

The President invited UCA members to pray for those impacted by COVID in the week from 16-22 August and particularly in their gathered worship, whether it will be online or in-person on Sunday 22 August. 

Rev Sharon Hollis has written a prayer which people are encouraged to use and share in their worship. During the week from 16 –22 August, the Assembly will continue to share other resources for prayer.  

Prayer from Rev Sharon Hollis, UCA President

God of mercy and compassion,

We pray for the world as across the globe we face the challenges of COVID.

We give you thanks for those who care for the sick,

for those who work on limiting the spread of the disease

and those who develop and administer vaccines.

We remember before you all those affected by COVID,

Comfort those who mourn the death of a loved one,

Heal those who have COVID-19 or suffer the long-term effects of having had COVID.

Sustain those who work in health care, testing and vaccination.

Encourage those who are supporting education remotely,

Console those who must stay at home,

And bless and protect those whose work is essential for our wellbeing.

We long for a world where access to health care and vaccines are shared equitably

Strengthen the efforts of those who work to end COVID for all.

And fill us with a desire to work for justice and care for all. Amen

Reflecting on ongoing delays, disappointments and lockdowns

Published / by Sandy

(originally published on Nadia Bolz-Weber’s website, The Corners 11th August 2021 and written in the US context. Slightly adapted)

“Mental health is a dedication to reality at all costs” (M. Scott Peck)

Fifteen months ago, in the baby stages of the pandemic, I wrote a piece in which I described how I was ok staying at home to “flatten the curve” because I was sure that when it was all over in a few weeks, I could still preach at the cathedral on Pentecost (2020). Then Pentecost (2020) came and went. As did the next event I was hoping to attend. And the next one.

I had hooked my hope on something in the future and as each hope dissolved, I’d find another hook. Until finally, reality sunk in. 

I go on in that piece to describe the Stockdale Paradox:
An Admiral in the US Navy, James Stockdale survived 8 years as a POW in a North Vietnamese prison camp. When asked who of his fellow prisoners struggled to make it out alive he replied,

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart….”

So the “Stockdale Paradox” is the ability to hold two opposing but equally true things at once:

You must have faith that you will prevail in the end

And at the same time you must confront the brutal facts of your current reality.

I WROTE THAT 15 MONTHS AGO

…why….WHY am I still having to learn that same thing???

I say this because right now I do not want to “confront the brutal facts of our current reality”. I want it to still be like a few months ago when they said fully vaccinated folks didn’t need to wear masks or socially distance themselves. I want it to still be like a few months ago when I was finally able to say yes to some in-person speaking gigs. (Because I really miss my job).

But many of those events are now also cancelled. And hospitals are full again. And masks are coming back.

Last week a friend said it could actually be years and years of COVID variants and various restrictions and protocols.

But I wonder – what is healthier for us: to keep acting and wishing and hoping it’s over soon and then having our hearts broken over and over – OR – maybe just assuming it is going to be years of this and acting accordingly. Planting gardens. Learning to cook more stuff. Meeting more neighbours. Living the life our dogs want us to live. Because then if it DOES end soon or even soon-ish, we get to be overwhelmed with joy and surprise. But if it lasts for years we are prepared (kind of) and able to live each day to the fullest possible extent.

I am just once again aware of how much my mental health depends on accepting reality. Not endorsing it, but accepting it.

So yeah…we can grieve. We can grieve our dead. We can lament, and fight and struggle. We can register our complaints. But let it all be based in a relationship with actual reality.

Because actual reality is also the only place where actual joy is to be found. If joy is delayed until a preferred future comes about, we set ourselves up for despair. But if there is hope in THIS day. Joy in THIS reality. This life. This body. This heart, then certainly we can prevail.

We can. We will. We are.

Be gentle with yourselves right now.

-Nadia

Nicola McDermott – leaping high

Published / by Sandy

Nicola McDermott won the Silver medal in women’s high jump. She became a Christian at the age of 16 years and has been very public about her faith and calls it a conscious decision. She considers her Christian faith more important to her than her sport.
As a primary school student, she discovered Little Athletics, and the joy of high jumping. In 2005, she wrote about her Olympic dream…

But because she was significantly taller than everyone else, she was also an easy target for bullies. Kids can be cruel and they didn’t miss the freakishly tall girl with the long ponytail who moved like a giraffe. She dealt with it as best she could, getting used to the daily barbs, but when her parents decided to change schools in Grade 6 she was anxious. “I was so tall and I was so used to getting bullied,” McDermott recalls. “I remember going into that new school thinking I’m going to get eaten alive here.”
The school was Green Point Christian College, a 20-minute bus ride from her home in Tascott, just outside of Gosford on the NSW Central Coast. She braced herself for the worst given there were 1000 students at the school, which certainly increased the ratio of potential bullies. But from day one something was different. No one was commenting about her height, in fact they were doing something completely different.
“When I walked in, I was immediately met by this overwhelming, non-judging love from the students and teachers,” she says.
“I was like, ‘What is this?’ I was just loved by them and it left me with all these questions as I was envious of how they were able to show that sort of love.
“They said we love because Jesus loves us. I said, ‘Well, I’m sold’ because I had never experienced a love quite like it. It was simple yet it changed my entire life. I got welcomed into a faith community that loved me. It changed the way that I thought of myself as a misfit. It gave me passion and purpose, and I think in 2017, it was my big moment when it flicked a switch, and I decided to pursue God over sport and whatever comes with sport is a bonus. But I am already complete and perfect in love regardless of it. That has just allowed me to soar over every high jump bar and not be scared anymore. Because I am loved. That is the most important thing.”

Sport and mental health

Published / by Sandy


This week, gymnastics superstar Simone Biles withdrew from the individual all-round competition in the team gymnastics finals at the Tokyo Olympics, citing mental health concerns. She said it was important to “focus on my mental health” and “not jeopardize my health and well-being. Whenever you get in a high-stress situation, you kind of freak out. We have to protect our body and our mind. It just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head.”

Biles said tennis star Naomi Osaka, who cited her mental health when withdrawing from the French Open earlier this year, had inspired her to speak out about her own issues.

The athletes have been so much already just to get to the Olympics, coping with an ongoing COVID global pandemic, and without friends and family able to be with them, to support them. Simone got the ‘twisties’ (lost her spatial awareness) in a vault routine. Gymnastics routines can be dangerous, and any lack of confidence or self-doubt can have serious consequences.

Praise has been heaped upon her decision, like the following by Lauren Welch on a Facebook post: “Simone Biles is an amazing woman. We can learn a lot from her. She recognized that she was feeling the burden of all the pressure that was directed to her being perfect in all she could do as a gymnast. She recognized she was human and that she could not withstand this pressure at this time. She also knows that she is a great athlete and she loves what she does and she pushes herself to do more than is possible for most young gymnasts. With that knowledge, courage and wisdom she listened to her body, mind and spirit and knew it was not her time for a medal. She pulled herself out of competition and allowed others to shine at the Olympics. She is brave, courageous and wise beyond her years. We all can learn to listen to our body, mind and spirit to discern what our next step needs to be – and if we do that we all might be healthier in mind, body and spirit. The healthier we are in body, mind and spirit – the better our world will be”.

Needless to say there will be some pushback from people like broadcaster Piers Morgan, denigrating those who cite mental health issues as a reason to step back from sport for a while. A veiled ‘toughen up’ critique. Andrew Bolt said he was concerned about the “praise” heaped on Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the Olympics. “She should get sympathy for pulling out, but I don’t think praise for actually quitting after muffing a vault and then walking out of the team.”

There is a back story, of course. Washington Post‘s Sally Jenkins writes that to this day, American Olympics officials continue to betray Simone Biles. They deny they had a legal duty to protect her and others from a rapist-child pornographer, Larry Nassar, even though they had  unambiguous and credible evidence that the gymnastics doctor was a serial sex assaulter. Corrupt officials covered it up, and favours were traded to ensure the issue was ‘bottom drawered’. The officials continue to evade responsibility in judicial manoeuvring.

They are Simone Biles’ tormenters.

Abuse is a current event for Simone Biles. Nothing was ever said to her, or efforts made to protect her. She has been frank about her profound lingering distrust of USA Gymnastics and her conviction that they will not do right by her and other athletes of her own accord. In a recent interview Simone Biles said one of the main reasons she came back for another Olympics at aged 24 was to try to ensure accountability. ‘If there weren’t a remaining survivor in the sport, they would’ve just brushed it to one side’.

The Olympics is no happy anniversary for Larry Nassar’s victims. ‘It is a huge trigger’, says Rachael Denhollander, whose police report against Nassar in August 2016 finally triggered the Michigan law enforcement investigation – led by women – that took him down. ‘This time is year is awful because it brings back what it was like. It brings back how hard it was to speak up, to verbalise it for the first time. This is when it all came out. And the body keeps score. It remembers those times of year and those anniversaries. I can’t even imagine trying to function’.

The body keeps score.

To perform the aerials that Biles does requires a wholesale commitment of mind and body. When you are suspended 10′ up in the air, upside down and twisting at the rate of a motorised motor, ‘You have to be 100% or 120% because, if you’re not the slightest bit, you can get hurt’, Biles said.

To perform at that height and that hazard required trust. Right now, Simone Biles has none. And why should she?

Lifeline 13 11 14  24/7 Crisis Support
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

From Refugee to the Olympics

Published / by Sandy

When the Refugee Olympic team participated in the Olympics Games in Rio in 2016 for the first time, it sent a message of hope and inclusion to millions of refugees who inspire the world with the strength of their human spirit. How Yusra Mardini escaped war-torn Syria to reach the Olympics in Rio and then Tokyo is a story full of strength and resilience.

Born in Syria, Yusra was raised in a disciplined Muslim family in Darayya. Her father was a swimming coach and she started learning swimming on weekends. But fascinated by flying planes, she always wanted to be a pilot.

She was in 7th standard when the civil unrest began in Syria in 2011 and never came to an end leading to a mass exodus of refugees. Yusra’s family also fled the town and this put a stop to her swimming sessions.

In 2015, Yusra along with her elder sister escaped from Syria and completed an arduous journey to Germany. They flew to Turkey from where they boarded a boat to Greece.

The boat journey that was supposed to be around 45 minutes lasted for over 3 hours as their boat broke mid-water. Yusra along with her sister and others were found pushing the broken boat ashore.

A 17-year-old swimming across the sea with the load of 17 more passengers on her shoulder. Yusra became a symbol of hope and strength.

She reached Germany part on foot, in buses and even with the help of smugglers.

And one year later, there she was in Rio competing as part of the first-ever IOC Refugee Olympic Team in 2016.  “Sport was our way out. It was kind of what gave us hope to build our new lives”.

While she could not secure a spot in the semi-finals, she went on to become a UNHCR goodwill ambassador. Today, she continues to work for the welfare of refugees across the world.

“I want to do lots of things but, for me, swimming has been number one and being a part of the Olympic games is my biggest dream. My dream is for the world to be at peace and there will be no more refugees anymore. That those wars will end and that we are all equal in the world and live peacefully and in harmony. I know it’s hard but this is my dream”.

(adapted from an article by Meenu Katariya)

 

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)