Messages of Hope

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Religious Freedom

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

On 24 January 2020, President Dr Deidre Palmer took part in a forum in Sydney organised by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre on the latest version of the Religious Freedom Bills drafted by the Federal Government.


Thank you for the invitation to be part of this conversation. I hope that at this forum we can progress this important conversation.

The Uniting Church has for many years called for religious freedoms in Australia to be protected within a broader picture of the commitment to uphold all human rights. Our preference is for the development of a Human Rights Act or Charter.

Uniting Church members enjoy the freedom to practice our religion in Australia and we seek to do it in such a way that encourages the wellbeing and flourishing of all people, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality or religion.

We would not want, in exercising our right to practice our religion, to violate the human rights of others.

The fundamental Christian belief is that every person is created in the image of God, deeply loved by God and of infinite value, and that every person is equal before God and before the law.

We have and will continue to advocate for all people to be respected, treated with dignity, and to have their rights protected.

The first and second drafts of this Religious Discrimination Bill give us the freedom to practice our religion.

This is a good thing, although I might add it’s a right which we already enjoy without impediment.

My concern with the design of this Bill is to make sure that protections for religious belief do not undermine the rights, wellbeing and sense of identity of other people.

Over the years women, First Peoples, and LGBTIQ people have suffered from particular interpretations of Scripture and practices of religion that I would call “narratives of harm”, rather than “narratives of hope”.

Within the Uniting Church context, we would expect our congregations and ministry agents to express their faith in such a way that they are contributing to the wellbeing of people and communities in which they are ministering.

From my experience, Uniting Church schools and agencies do not discriminate in their employment practices, and don’t want to either.

The exception we have sought, is the ability to discriminate in terms of belief for key leadership roles within the Church and our agencies, roles that we see as crucial to the transmission of the faith and our ethos. (President, Moderator, General Secretary, chaplains). Generally, in job descriptions for such positions, it is clearly stated that these are essential requirements.

The Uniting Church supports this legislation, where it protects religious minorities who experience discrimination. We support protection for other faiths in Australia. People of Muslim, Jewish and other faiths are much more likely to be the subject of religious discrimination.

We have heard from the Jewish community about the ongoing anti-Semitism they experience and the research from the Islamophobia project has documented ongoing discrimination against people of Muslim faith here in Australia.

To be a welcoming, inclusive, multi-faith and multicultural society, it is important that people are able to freely practice religion without fear.

Christians of all persuasions enjoy and exercise a robust freedom of speech in Australia. But privileging statements of religious belief at the expense of other people’s dignity and wellbeing is not something we support.

Christians in Australia are not persecuted. In Australia, churches aren’t victims. To cultivate some kind of victim status is disingenuous. We are significant, influential organisations, actively contributing in positive ways to the Australian community.

Uniting Church agencies deliver community services to more than 1.4 million people.

Our schools educate hundreds of thousands of students.

To sum up, my understanding of Christian faith and the way of Jesus is that it is about liberation, love and justice for all people.

These are the positive values I’d like to see reflected when Christians speak about human rights.

Whatever the outcome of this legislation, I would hope that both within Australian faith communities and in our wider Australian society, that we would promote respectful conversation among people who have different viewpoints, for the common good of all.

Dr Deidre Palmer

President, Uniting Church in Australia

Salt and Light

Published / posted by Sandy

REFLECTION on Matthew 5:13-16 – 9th FEBRUARY, 2020
(by Annemarie Reiner, Coordinator, Listening Heart Contemplative Centre)

When we refer to a person as ‘the salt of the earth’ we all have an image in mind of what that means. When we say someone is ‘a light in my life’ we also know what that means. During the bushfires that have happened and continue to blaze across our lands and communities, we are now hearing of stories and experiences of where the ‘salt of the earth’ people, and those who are ‘a light in my life’ have emerged and are inspiring us amidst all the horrendous suffering and loss.

These people often make suffering bearable. They expose us to courage, vulnerability, goodness and what it is to have compassion, to nurture and to Love. Such shocking tragedies often bring out the very best in us. They help move us out of our complacency and apathy and we put all sensibility, selfishness and fear aside and simply ACT from that deepest part of us. We instinctively become vulnerable. How many stories of vulnerability have we heard and will continue to hear that have emerged during these past months? Countless.

In a very real way, many of us have become sterile and allowed our ‘salt to become tasteless’, and have ‘hidden our lights under a tub’ – that is until something happens (like the fires) that can plunge us into who we truly are – people who have each other’s backs, people who will risk their own lives for the other and the ‘whole’, people who are generous, and are suddenly prepared to be vulnerable in ways they never imagined. All of us have been moved and horrified at the same time as we have watched and heard the stories. Many of us may well have been those who truly risked their lives for their ‘neighbour’ (regardless of colour, race or creed) and have survived to share their stories.

Almost certainly their lives and our collective lives will never be the same again. The Australian psyche has been forever changed and the World too has watched on in disbelief.

It seems that mostly we have to lose something before we are able to receive something. This seems to be part of our human condition. Whether it’s losing our security in such a wonderful country, whether it is the loss of loved ones or possessions, or whether we have experienced powerlessness in the face of what is before us, all suggest a loss of something, but also an extraordinary ability to become consciously vulnerable within it all. And it is this vulnerability that has the capacity to change everything for us and for our world.

We live in a time where our Earth is shattering many of our dreams. We no longer can feel secure and are scampering around trying to find ways to sure up our security and our consumerist world, we have been confronted with our powerless in the faces of the many natural forces our beautiful Earth has faced us with, and we are also confronted with just how vulnerable we are in the face of it all and we feel the very essence of our life is being threatened on many levels. We do not like it. Life as we have known it on our Earth is changing – that is our reality now. As long as we scurry around like rats in a feeding frenzy trying to shore up what we have had, and continue the life we have largely enjoyed, to bury our heads in the sand, to ignore our Earth that is pleading with us to LISTEN to Her, then we are like a person holding a garden hose to ward of being surrounded by hundred-metre-high flames in 100km hour winds. It can’t be done.

Our Earth is sending message after message to listen to her. Our scientists are begging us to see that life cannot go ahead with ‘business as usual’. We are not co-operating with our Earth; we are actually working against Her. Australia is quickly losing its credibility on the world stage firstly with our record of the way we treat refugees and secondly as a country that is in denial with regard Climate Change. There is no vision, no preparedness to become vulnerable, and no capacity to see past those words ‘a growing economy’.

Our politicians (on both sides) play us for fools, lie to us about reaching our emissions targets, play economic games with emissions figures, and encourage us to build more coal fired power stations, more dams, ‘adapt’ and become more ‘resilient’ is the advice coming from our Government. We are in CRISIS just as those who have braved these shocking fires are in crisis and are courageous enough to enter into a state of vulnerability and risk everything to survive and help others to survive. In this situation, if we are not prepared to risk, to become vulnerable, to be ‘salt of the earth’ people, to be ‘a light to the nations’ people, then we are leaving nothing for the generations to come and our very survival is in jeopardy.

Even if we doubt the Science (but with what evidence?), if we feel ourselves bound by blind political idealism and damaging loyalty, if we sense our own apathy, the call is to RISE and ACT – why would we jeopardise our human survival and the survival of all life on this planet because of our own selfish needs and often ignorant belief systems? But don’t we keep doing it?

If we are not prepared to become vulnerable, in every sense of the word, then we are ignoring the calls and cries of our Earth. If our Earth weeps, we will weep eventually. When we weep and our Earth weeps, the God within us also weeps. Our God is surely weeping even if we are too blind to see it. If we are not weeping within the Crisis we find ourselves in, then surely we do not know the God we proclaim to know? It is not a political issue, and yet we have politicised it. It is not an ‘us and them’ matter, and yet we have divided it in such a way. It is not ‘she’ll be right mate..’, because it isn’t right. We have now ignored the Scientific warnings and predictions for decades and we have had a taste this summer of what might lie ahead of us in future years – a summer that Science predicted. Our Earth simply will not tolerate being ignored. She is reactive to our ignorance and selfishness, because She, like us, has a deep desire to survive and live to Her full potential. She is like all of us and we are like her.

For those who do not want their privileged lives disturbed or disrupted, for those who have the most to lose as far as assets and business are concerned, for those who can’t be bothered with it all, for those who blindly go along with a particular ideology pushed by power mongers and so often received in ignorance and wherever the rest of us fit into this picture – the message is we must open into becoming vulnerable. We must learn to become courageous, be images of goodness, be people of compassion, and nurture Love all around us – including our Love of the Earth and Her Love for us. We keep breaking the bonds of that Love by our ignorance and refusal to ACT.

It seems pretty obvious that we would be most unwise to rely on the shocking and shameful inaction and political game playing operative within many of our politicians on all sides of politics. It is we the people who must now act. It matters the way in which we choose to live our lives. It matters what foot print we leave upon the Earth. Our consciousness about the Crises we are well and truly facing, matters deeply.

We have great power within us to change what our politicians are refusing to act upon. If we play politics with this, then we lose. What we need to do is embrace the Divinity within us that is prepared to become vulnerable for each other and for our World in a way where we truly become ‘the salt of the Earth’ and ‘a light to each other and other nations’. Because so many of our political leaders are gutless to truly lead, does not mean that is also our lot. It isn’t.

There have been extraordinary lessons emerging as these fires have burned through our various States and communities, and they have scarred deeply our souls and our landscape – our preparedness to become vulnerable perhaps being the most evident and the most Grace filled.

As Marianne Williamson says, and so many of us are familiar with this powerful quote, but perhaps we need a reminder of its confronting challenge to us all:
‘Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’
© Annemarie Reiner, originally published on Facebook 5th February 2020

Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God

Published / posted by Sandy

In the prophecy of Micah, which is one of the Lectionary readings for the first Sunday in February, the prophet asks what God requires of God’s people. Then he answers his own question: “…to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 CEB).
If we wish to know what justice, faithful love and walking with God look like, the Sermon on the Mount gives a pretty good picture. Situated near the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the famous Sermon is the first of five important teaching sessions of Jesus, and it offers summary of Jesus’ message, a manifesto for his ministry.
The first part of the Sermon, known as the Beatitudes, is the Gospel reading for today.
Along with Micah’s prophecy, the Beatitudes show us the kind of life that “God blesses”. This doesn’t mean that we earn God’s blessing by making the Beatitudes as a new law. Rather, these Scriptures invite us into the blessing of God that is already ours because of God’s grace. Everyone is blessed!
But, not everyone experiences the blessing because we may have shut ourselves off to the qualities and values that open us to abundant life. We may not live as justly as we could, and we may not embrace faithful love for God and others – in which case we have chosen ways that bring pain to others and, ultimately, to ourselves. But, when we open ourselves to God’s values and purposes, our hearts begin to change and we begin to live the kind of life that brings blessing and justice. God’s grace enables us to live this way, but if we refuse to allow God’s grace to do its work, we separate ourselves from God’s “blessings”.
This week we explore what it means to live a life of justice, faithful love and walking humbly with God.
(Source: John van de Laar, Sacredise)
At Pilgrim this Sunday, February 2nd, we will explore what it means to live of life of justice, faithful love and to walk humbly with God. As part of the Covenant Service, we will use the following covenant prayer by Rev Helen Alexander, a former Minister at Pilgrim UC and recently retired from the Church of Scotland.
PILGRIM COVENANT PRAYER
God of pilgrim faith, as you call us together to be your people, we will seek to live by the values and hope of Christ Jesus whom we follow. We will honour one another, and seek to be an inclusive community in which each one is given justice, dignity and love.
As your Spirit prompts us, we will seek to discern your will for us and act on your call in our lives.
We shall be open to discovering your purposes for us in all aspects of our personal and corporate life.
We commit ourselves to a deepening of our knowledge and love of you: in relationship and solidarity with one another, through worship together and shared reflection, through faithful action in the wider community, and in honest fellowship.
We commit ourselves in this our Pilgrim congregation; for by your love it is here that you have called us to serve.
And we commit ourselves to live in faith beyond this building and this body: for we believe we are partners with you in the ministry of reconciliation in your world. Amen.

UCA Pastoral Statement – Bushfire crisis

Published / posted by Sandy

Shared Pastoral Statement from UCA President and Moderators – Australian Bushfire Crisis

God’s grace and peace be with you.
The bushfire emergency that has unfolded across our nation in these past weeks is unprecedented in its scale and the devastation caused.
As President and Moderators of the Uniting Church in Australia, we offer this Pastoral Letter to our Uniting Church members and communities across our nation as an expression of our shared grief, our deep gratitude to those involved in the incredible emergency response and our commitment to be part of the long-term recovery in communities.
At this time, we join as Uniting Church members across Australia, in offering our deepest sympathy to those mourning loved ones, friends and community members who have died protecting lives and property.
We pray for those who have lost property and for those who remain in fire zones or evacuation centres.
We acknowledge that many have endured weeks of stress, anxiety and continued smoke inhalation. The sheer scale of this disaster has been traumatising for many people, the effects of which will linger for many months to come.
We pay tribute to the extraordinary effort of our emergency services on the frontline, particularly firefighters in various services across the country.
We give thanks to the many who have given their time and resources to provide practical and pastoral support in evacuation centres and at relief points, including many Uniting Church chaplains working around the clock to be there when needed.
For all in the Uniting Church who are involved in the response, we thank you. We give thanks for the ways you are bearers of Christ’s hope and compassion in disaster recovery ministry across the nation, and in opening your doors, as congregations, to provide shelter, food and a safe place.
We give thanks for the stories of amazing courage and goodwill in the community, and for all who have pitched in to support the displaced and the responders.
Amid the most tragic of circumstances, incredible kindness has been demonstrated in small acts and large-scale fundraising efforts.
We lament that God’s beloved creation, is hurting. The toll on our wildlife, biodiversity and our natural heritage is incalculable.
It is our Christian belief, that amid such suffering, God is with us. We ask Uniting Church members across the country to join in prayer for all those suffering, to know God’s love, grace and comfort.
In the very long road to recovery ahead, the Uniting Church will continue to provide support to recovering communities through pastoral care and other relief projects in the months to come.
We encourage you to do what you can to practically and pastorally support those who are rebuilding their lives and communities.
If you would like to support bush fire communities with a donation, below are the various Synod and Assembly appeals and funds which will provide long-term support to communities as they recover.

SA Synod Bushfire Relief

Target and UnitingCare Australia Bushfire Appeal

Frontier Services Bushfire Relief Appeal

Yours in Christ,

Dr Deidre Palmer
President Uniting Church in Australia
Rev Simon Hansford 
Moderator, NSW / ACT Synod
Rev Denise Liersch 
Moderator, VIC / TAS Synod
Rev David Baker 
Moderator, QLD Synod
Rev Steve Francis 
Moderator, WA Synod
Rev Thresi Mauboy 
Moderator, Northern Synod
Mr Bronte Wilson 
Moderator, SA Synod

Sandy’s sermon on 12th January (Baptism of Jesus) outlining some of the ways the UCA has been involved in supporting those impacted by the bushfires.

Blessed are you – East Gippsland

Published / posted by Sandy

The fires in Australia have been devastating, and the fires in southern NSW and Gippsland are so shocking. This reflection was written by Jennie Gordon and may be a prompt for prayer and action.

blessed are you
who walk the scorching beaches
and shelter in the ocean
brushing burning embers
God beside you
 
blessed are you
who weep with grief and sorrow
and bear an ashen image
of a life of green and growing
God beside you
 
blessed are you
who face the firestorm’s fury
and volunteer for danger
companions in the battle
God beside you
 
blessed are you
who work to bring together
the rallied deeds of angels
and shape a place of respite
God beside you
 
blessed are you
who set a bowl of water
in the wilderness of burning
to care for little creatures
God beside you
 
blessed are you
who wait with calm and coping
engage in patient listening
approach with wine and welcome
cook for crowds of strangers
clothe and house your neighbours
pray for rest and rainfall
God beside you
 
01/01/2020     Jennie Gordon

MEMORIAL HYMN FOR AUSTRALIAN PEOPLE
IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE BUSHFIRES 2009
Shirley Murray wrote this hymn on 12 February 2009, in response to the Victorian bushfire disaster and chose the theme and tune of “Now thank we all our God” because Martin Rinkart wrote his much-loved hymn after ministering to people dying from the plague in Saxony in the 17th century, and after conducting funerals for about 5000 plague victims, including his wife. Shirley gives free permission for its use throughout Australia.

Now thank we all our God
for lives beloved and cherished,
the brave who faced the flames,
the young and old who perished,
for those who fight the fires that sear our country’s soul,
for all who give relief to comfort and make whole.

No tears can stem this grief
through outback, town or city,
yet as disaster strikes,
we share a common pity,
where hearts and hands can help to build or recreate,
our nation stands as one
to mourn our people’s fate.

Our lives are held in trust,
O God of our believing,
and we who still are spared,
owe duty to the grieving,
for everyone is kin when all can feel this pain,
as families are gone
and shattered ones remain.

Now thank we all our God
for courage meeting danger,
when selfless spirits fight
for mate or helpless stranger,
when wind and bushfire flare and terror grips our faith,
compassion keeps us strong,
through tragedy and death.

TUNE: Nun Danket Alle Gott; words: © Shirley Erena Murray

Is this the greatest Christmas painting of all time?

Published / posted by Sandy
Scène du massacre des Innocents (“Scene of the massacre of the Innocents”) by Parisian painter, Léon Cogniet in 1894

(Michael Frost, originally posted on his blogsite)

Today the painting hangs in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes. If it’s not the greatest of Christmas paintings, it must be one of the most haunting and affecting. A terrified mother cowers in a darkened corner, muffling the cries of her small infant, while around her the chaos and horror of Herod’s slaughter of the children of Bethlehem rages.
Most painters of this scene turn it into a huge biblical spectacle, making it a revolting tableaux of death and mayhem. But Cogniet focuses our attention on one petrified woman, a mother who knows she is about to lose her child. She envelopes her doomed child, her bare feet revealing how vulnerable they are. There’s no way to run. She is cornered.
Wisely, Cogniet doesn’t show us the carnage. It is hinted at in the rushing figures in the background. Another mother is seen carrying her own children down the stairs to the left, running for their lives. But Cogniet shows a level of artistic restraint not seen in many depictions of this story. He forces everything to the background in order to draw our attention to the woman’s terrified face.
That face!
Staring at… us!
It’s as if we are one of Herod’s agents of death, and we have found her. She glares at us in horror.
Cogniet is making us a party to the massacre of the innocents.
Hear the words of Matthew 2:18, taken, in turn, from the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
At the birth of Jesus, the heavenly host of angels had promised peace on earth and goodwill to all. But in Herod’s slaughter of the infant boys of Bethlehem, we see not peace, but evil being unleashed.
At Christmas we celebrate our belief that the king of the universe has come into the world, to wage peace and justice, to bring love and kindness to all. But we forget that the birth of Christ also released a malignant force, the unbridled power of empire, the jealous strength of a threatened monarch, meted out upon the most vulnerable of all people.
Cogniet’s Scène du massacre des Innocents asks us to examine ourselves, to consider why this woman would be so scared of us, to examine the ways we have been coopted by the forces of empire, and sided with the powerful over the weak and the poor.
On September 1, 2004, more than 30 armed Chechen militants stormed a school in Beslan, Russia, barricading 1100 children, teachers and parents in the gymnasium and wiring the room with explosives. What followed was a living hell for those caught in the three-day maelstrom. Denied food and water and forced to stand for hours in the stiflingly hot room, the children began fainting. Their parents and teachers feared they would die. By the time the Russians stormed the school and the Chechens started setting off explosives, many of the hostages were too weak to flee the carnage. Over 385 people died.
Can you picture the woman in this painting in that gymnasium? Hers could also be the face of a mother in Aleppo or Homs or Yemen or South Sudan.
Empires continue to clash. The powerful continue to victimize children to secure their political goals. Mothers still cradled doomed children in their arms all around the world.
This Christmas, by all means remember the angels and the shepherds and the magi and the little boy-child Jesus in his manger. But also remember this mother and her child on the streets of Bethlehem. And remember that the coming of the Christ was to set in train a revolution of love and justice that would eventually sweep away all tyrants and free all victims and end all wars.
This Christmas, remember that the followers of the Christ are called not to side with empire, but to sit with the terrified, to comfort those who mourn, to join the meek and merciful and pure in heart. And to hunger and thirst for the righteousness only Jesus can bring.

What is the Uniting Church for?

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

What is the Uniting Church for?

by Geoff Thompson

This might seem a strange question to ask. After all, our very name tells us: we’re uniting. Yes, this tells us something about the ecumenical context of our origins. We are one product of the 20th century pursuit of visible church unity.

For a while, our existence was something of a beacon to other churches – a sign of what could actually happen when long-standing differences and mistrust were put aside. Indeed, we had a mandate to go on uniting.

But what now? The quest for visible church unity is no longer characterised by the energy it exhibited in the middle third of the 20th century.

Churches have found ways of respecting and supporting each other, and somehow co-existing, despite continuing differences. Church division doesn’t seem to be quite the scandal it once was. Moreover, the rise and proliferation of Pentecostal and independent churches in Asia, Africa and South America has completely re-shaped the ecumenical landscape.

The diversity of Christianity is now even more complex than anything thrown up by the conventional denominational differences associated with the historic European churches.

We and other ‘mainline churches’ are often little more than bit-players in those recent global movements.

Of course, over the last 40 years we’ve quite rightly taken up additional and new vocations. We shouldn’t expect it to be otherwise if we believe that we are being led by the Spirit. We demonstrate that in the way we quite frequently describe ourselves as a multicultural, inclusive, covenant-making, social justice-prioritising and diverse church. None of the commitments behind these adjectives are in question.

But look more carefully at what we do when we put any of those adjectives, including uniting, in front of the word church. We risk defining ourselves over and against other churches.

Given the reality of multiple churches, this is largely inevitable. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pause and look more deeply at what is going on. Are we in fact simply perpetuating denominationalism, albeit in a new form, by continuing to define ourselves over and against other churches?

What happens when we take those adjectives away and are left with ‘church’? Why is there a church in the first place and why should there continue to be a church?

My hunch is that, quite apart from the answers offered, the force of those questions will vary according to our generation and whether or not we are shaped by a Christendom or post-Christendom imagination. Let me explain this.

The generation which courageously voted for union was largely able to take the existence of the church for granted. It was part of the fabric of society. Being a Christian and going to church had cultural legitimacy. The existence per se of the church did not require social justification. Accordingly, there was cultural, spiritual and intellectual space to think about such matters as uniting divided churches, the social role of the churches, and even the finer doctrinal points of inter-denominational disputes. None of this was trivial, and without it union would never have happened. It was, however, the world of Christendom.

On the other hand, matters are quite different for anyone born after union, let alone in the last 20 years. They know first-hand, in a way that those of us of the older generation don’t, what it means to be in a culturally minority position and daily engaged with a level of cultural pluralism unimaginable 40 years ago. They have never known the church to be a major social player.

They have no memory of, and therefore no nostalgia for, huge Sunday schools and church sports clubs or the church possessing social prestige. Uniting Church congregations have simply not been big enough for their lives to be built around their church commitments the way the lives of many of us older Christians were.

For them, Christianity is something you have to step into with few cultural supports for doing so. Many of them will be the only point of contact with Christianity for perhaps most of their friends.

Recently, a sales assistant – probably in her mid-20s – asked me what I did. On hearing that I was a minister she responded by telling me that no one in her family has ever had any contact with religion. I suspect she and her family are far from alone. This is the post-Christendom world.

I believe that this post-Christendom world has largely caught the Uniting Church by surprise. The courage, hopes and aspirations which accompanied union and which have sustained us for 40 years were the hopes and aspirations which were needed in Christendom. We were right to show that courage, have those hopes and nurture those aspirations.

Yet, the remarkable thing is that the theology which brought union about was strangely anticipating post-Christendom. (This was not accidental. The authors of the Basis of Union had noted the declining influence of Christendom in their first Report in 1959.)  There is a sense in which we now have a chance to catch up to the theology of the Basis.

When the Basis describes the church as “an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself” it defines the church wholly in terms of its relationship to Christ. This might seem a straightforward matter, but it is exactly what risks being obscured when we don’t pause to ask what ‘church’ means and we emphasise instead any of the various adjectives we choose to place before it.

As we move more deeply into the post-Christendom context, the questions of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the church will press upon us more persistently. Starting to answer those questions with something like ‘an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself’ could prove very fruitful.

It also pushes us back to ask, ‘Who is this Christ for whom we are an instrument?’ And on such questions, I believe we need to listen to the post-union/post-Christendom generation of the UCA as they help us reflect on what the UCA is for.

Rev Associate Professor Geoff Thompson teaches Systematic Theology at Pilgrim Theological College in Melbourne.

This article was originally published in Crosslight on 20 August 2017.

Sing Freedom!

Published / posted by Sandy

And so we begin a new liturgical year, and Advent leads us into the Christmas season. Advent – a time of waiting, longing, hoping. We sing of our hopes.

In a post in October 2019 on his website, Mike Frost asks, Why isn’t Christian music more revolutionary? He writes:

Nearly fifteen years ago, I ruffled a few feathers when I criticized contemporary Christian music (CCM) for its highly romanticized – even sexualized – lyrics for expressing devotion to God. Other critics have emerged to say that CCM lyrics are too individualistic, too pietistic, too safe.

In a couple of recent interviews, U2’s Bono ripped into the CCM industry, calling it bland and predictable. Reflecting on the richness of the Old Testament psalms, he wondered why modern-day gospel singing wasn’t as concerned with laughter, tears, and doubt. He especially wanted to know why there’s no reference to injustice: “I want to hear songs of justice, I want to hear rage at injustice and I want to hear a song so good that it makes people want to do something about the subject.”

Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae has been more than willing to address systemic issues like racism and injustice in his lyrics, but he has been criticized for doing so. He wrote, “Christians saying that ‘preaching the gospel is all we need’ ignores how sin affects infrastructures and societal systems… True faith stands up for the oppressed and the broken.”

Christian worship should express our collective hope in Christ of a rescued, renewed and restored world, a world in which injustice, racism, hatred and violence have ended, once and for all.

My suggested alternative to romantic worship songs was that we ought to sing revolutionary worship songs. We need lyrics that call us into a revolution of love and justice. In fact, there hasn’t been a single revolution in history that wasn’t sung into existence. Social change has a soundtrack.
The revolutionaries of the French, American and Bolshevik uprisings all sang about the new nation they were forging, a song they were willing to die for.
The Civil Rights movement sang Christian spirituals.
The German democratic movement that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall began with singing and prayers for freedom in a church in Leipzig in 1980. (This week celebrates the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov 9th)
The anti-Marcos movement in the Philippines, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the anti-Russian movement in Ukraine – they all wrote songs to inspire their followers.

Even today on the streets of Hong Kong, millions of protesters resisting the controls imposed by Communist China have found the Christian hymn, “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” as their anthem of freedom. The song has even been banned from Chinese streaming platforms.

And to underscore the point, today, across scores of cities in the US and around the world, secular Justice Choirs are being launched, where ordinary citizens can come together to sing for social justice.

Isn’t the radical teaching of Jesus as revolutionary as any of these examples of political upheaval? Hasn’t he called us to a revolution of grace, peace, and justice? And hasn’t he told us that if we love him, we will follow him, we will obey his commands? His message is a call to insurgency, to mutiny against the values of this, our host empire… We have been called by the Revolutionary One to demonstrate our love for him with action, with insubordinate acts of generosity and kindness, with a struggle against injustice, with an activist’s vision for a renewed world in which God is acknowledged as the one, true God, and every knee is bent in service to him.

The Bible is full of revolutionary songs, and not just in the Psalms. (There’s the familiar words of Mary’s song we call the Magnicat in Luke’s Gospel, for instance).

In Isaiah 42, we are told to sing a new song to the Lord, but shortly after that, God decides to sing a song to us! And it’s a doozy.
“For a long time I have kept silent,
I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth,
I cry out, I gasp and pant.
I will lay waste the mountains and hills
and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn rivers into islands
and dry up the pools.
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.
But those who trust in idols,
who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’
will be turned back in utter shame. (Isa 42:14-17)

Singing (wailing?) like a mother in childbirth, God’s lyrics concern a new world in which the unjust, the idolater, the oppressor, are laid to waste and a new world of peace, justice and joy emerges.

Can’t someone write some songs like that today?!

Related post:
Making an earthly difference: why it’s time to re-think our worship songs by Sam and Sara Hargreaves

#forgivemoji

Published / posted by Sandy

Did you know there is a World Emoji Day (July 17)?
(Must ‘diarise’ it for next year!!)

There’s a kissing cat, an astronaut, a magnet and three kinds of vampires. The “tears of joy” and “blowing a kiss” emoji faces are the top two used in smartphone conversations. Other emojis in the top 10 are: smiling face with heart eyes, kiss mark, OK hand, loudly crying face, beaming face with smiling eyes, thumbs-up, folded hands and smiling face with sunglasses.

Emojis have wormed their way into our digital culture and our way of communicating with each other. There are now 3019 emojis approved by Unicode Consortium. More than 2300 of them are used daily. Over 700 million emojis are used each day on Facebook posts! When words fail or time is short, you can say most things by simply inserting an emoji. Over 900 million emojis are sent everyday on phones and social media – without any additional text.

A coalition of peace-building organizations in Finland has launched a campaign to crowdsource an emoji that symbolizes forgiveness. The idea was created by the Evangelical Lutheran church of Finland (ELCF), which is also one of the founding organisations of the #forgivemoji campaign.

The #forgivemoji team will urge managers of the emoji list at the Unicode Consortium to add the idea to the collection. There is currently not a single one relating to forgiveness.

Tuomo Pesonen, director of communication at ELCF, said:
‘We need an easy, compact way to express our feelings in situations where we are not able to find the right words. Emojis or smileys do not work properly in the context of serious crimes such as genocides or war crimes. But in our daily lives, we face often situations when such a small genuine gesture could have a great, refreshing impact. To apologize and to forgive are cornerstones for all kinds of peace with each other. This simple, easy emoji could challenge the depressing atmosphere of hate talk”.

The winning design will be chosen this month (November 2019). Watch this space!!

Do you love me?

Published / posted by Sandy
World Council of Churches General Secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit

Gospel reading: John 21: 15-18: “Do you love me?”

This is a tough question to hear. Maybe one of the toughest questions we can ask one another. The question itself contains a doubt that it is so, and perhaps even reasons to believe that it is not the case. The relationship that raises the question is perhaps a broken one. Still, the question also reveals a hope that love can be affirmed, even manifested in such a way that the question will not have to be repeated.

The context of our gospel reading was a catastrophe. The worst possible scenario had happened. Jesus’ words about truth and love, justice for the poor, and hope for the future had indeed created a new reality and new relationships. But his message had also provoked opposition, most of all from the powerful. It had led to conspiracy, power-games, politicization of religion, wilful ignorance , and violation of moral and legal responsibilities and principles. Countering his message and seeking to retain power led his enemies to inflict violence, cruelty, torture of an innocent person, and death.

But even Jesus’ friends, his closest friends, had broken their relationships through betrayal and denial. All the more remarkable, then, that when Jesus next met them, as the resurrected Christ, he offered his disciples a chance to share his new life: “Come and eat!” The one whom they had betrayed, left alone, was inviting them to a new relationship.

Jesus’ love across all broken relationships, all barriers, all fear and hopelessness, could not be expressed in a stronger way. Love is always about relationships, and love is about the future: Where are we going from here? To get there, the past must be clarified, and Jesus had done it. Completely. His love for Peter and the failing disciples was without reservation. Still, Peter also had to clarify and answer the question: Do you love me? This is the question and the answer that will define their future relationship.

No wonder that it was tough to answer. Three times Jesus asked. It had to be a moment of truth in his mind.

Today, this is the defining question to all leaders in the church. Do you love me? The question comes from Jesus. But he immediately directs the attention to all on whose behalf he is asking. Affirming love leads immediately to the task: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Love for God must be shown in responsibility and care for those in need, all those whom God cares for.

I hear Jesus’ question in what we face in our time, and particularly in what we face here in these days. Children and young people are posing the same question in a new way. Do you love me? Do you care for our future? Do you care for more than yourself? Do you love us? Do you love me?

Today we hear this question as it pertains to this greatest concern of our time, climate change or global warming. Will we fulfil the promises from Paris – or maybe just mouth the intentions – to halt global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius? The destructive changes in our environment, water, soil, air – all that defines the parameters of “nature” – raise questions of calling and conscience for us, to us, and even about us.

With regard to climate change, we are far beyond the level of knowing or not. Denial is not a serious option. Yet we are perhaps still in the phase of understanding or not, at least understanding the full dimensions of what we are talking about. In almost all the places in the world, we are experiencing its consequences: droughts, fires, irregular and unpredictable seasons, extreme rain, hail and snow, new record-high temperatures, winds, destructions, sea levels raising.

We address this human-made situation and talk about these catastrophes at our dinner tables, in classrooms, in social media, in private and public, in parliaments, in the UN.

We also address this situation as communities of faith, believing in God. We remind others and ourselves about our responsibilities to take care of God’s creation. We talk about achieving just peace with creation. We discuss climate justice, asking who is responsible for the problem and the solutions. We ponder what it means to hope, in face of these challenges. We plan for a just and sustainable way of living, locally and globally. We give children and youth to have agency in how the churches address the global warming.

All this and much more raises many questions, and many answers are required from our churches as communities, as institutions, from leaders, indeed from all of us. Again and again, from our pulpits, in our liturgies, in our meetings, as we work and walk together in faith.

Today I am struck by anew by Jesus’ question, as I have been many times before at critical points in my life, when making decisions about my life and future. Do you love me? The question immediately shifts our attention to the tasks of our lives, whether we are pastors caring for lambs, leaders or actors in community organizations or businesses or government, or something totally different. It is all and always about whether and how we love each other in response to divine love.

Do you love me? Do you respond to the love of the creator, who has given you life and all that nurtures and protects your life? Do you respond to being forgiven and accepted by God, even when we know very well our shortcomings and our failures? Do you respond to the love that expects you to do something that really makes a difference for those around you, for the ones you love the most – your partner in life, your family, your friends, your children, your grandchildren, all those who are enriched or affected by the way you live?

Do you love me? This is the question our children and youth are asking, demanding a love that shows itself in solidarity with them and their future, all over the world. What we are dealing with is always both very near to us and yet also a global reality. We know that now.

Do you love me? The question also comes from all those with whom Jesus identified. All those in the margins, all those who are less empowered and privileged. The WCC has said that we are on a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace together, seeking just peace in all the world. We are pursuing our mission work from and with the margins. And we are committing ourselves as churches to children, ending violence against them, individually and collectively, now and for the future.

Do you love me? The question comes from all that are created by God, all that are interdependent with one another in what we call nature. This is no less the reality for those living in urban areas than in rural areas. We are all totally dependent on everything, the whole, the balances between everything God has created. We are ourselves living organisms, we are nature ourselves, not disembodied souls just sojourning on earth.

When we realize that the essence, the heart, of our relationships is love, and we hear from each other this question of our love for God, it becomes clear that the great commandment, the principle guideline for life, is the double commandment: You shall love God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. Because the neighbour is “as one of us.” We are all as one of us. We are so even with nature. Therefore, in our time, we cannot love God and our neighbour without loving nature. We cannot ignore or destroy God’s creation while claiming to love God and those God has created.

We still have the ability to hear this question, though it seems that some of us need more hearing aids than others. Still, there is hope in the question being asked, continually posed and amplified and echoed: Do you love me?

Dear leaders of churches and religious communities: This is our testing time. What are we doing, through what we are say, preach, and teach: Do you love me?

Dear leaders of states and international bodies: This is your testing time. What are you doing now, not only saying, to give your children and your grandchildren a future in which they can live, love, and enjoy life together in justice and peace? What are you doing to answer the question: Do you love me?

This is the time for the leaders of the world to give the right answers – and for all of us to make them do so. Amen.

(A sermon by World Council of Churches General Secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at Sermon Marble Collegiate Church, New York City, Sunday 22 September 2019, just before the UN Climate Summit)

Why it’s important to keep diversity in mind when reading the Bible

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

Why it’s important to keep diversity in mind when reading the Bible

by Dr Gareth Wearne

We tend to assume the Bible has some place — for better or worse — in debates about morality and social values.

But why do we care about the opinions of writers who lived 2,000 years ago or more?

From its stances on slavery to sexual ethics and gender equality, the Bible contains much that could be considered problematic.

Yet as recent debates about freedom of religion or same-sex marriage show, the Bible is not going away any time soon.

At its heart, this is a question about what sort of society we want to be.

A 2018 survey of young Australians aged 13 to 18 found that while 91 per cent thought having people of different faiths made Australia a better place to live, 44 per cent thought religion caused more problems in society than it solved.

Fifty per cent thought people with very strong religious beliefs were often too intolerant of others.

In this climate, simplistic approaches that reduce Christian views to a single “biblical” position risk splitting Australia into two camps: those who accept the Bible’s authority, and those who see it as a problem for diversity and tolerance.

This division stems in part from a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible’s nature, which views the text simply as a static object, waiting to be interpreted or applied in a range of situations.

It ignores the fact that the Bible is made of different parts, which came together over hundreds of years to meet the changing needs of multiple communities.

A diverse text for a diverse community

Few people realise that the Old Testament in most modern Christian Bibles is primarily based on a single, 1,000-year-old medieval Hebrew manuscript.

This manuscript is generally regarded to be a reliable witness to ancient forms of the text.

But it represents only one of the versions that existed in antiquity.

Two of these versions are especially important for shaping the Bible as we know it.

The version we know from modern Bibles is the so-called Masoretic text — named after the medieval Hebrew scribes who copied the manuscripts.

The other version is an ancient Greek translation known as the Septuagint, which was produced by Greek-speaking Jewish communities living in Egypt around 2,200 years ago.

But understanding the diversity of the Bible is not as simple as asking which version to use, because the diversity of the Bible is also reflected within the text.

When it comes to the New Testament gospels, it can be tempting to assume we are reading the actual words of Jesus.

However, a simple comparison of parallel passages reveals that can’t be the case.

We can see this in one of the most well-known stories in the New Testament — the parable of the sower.

One story, multiple versions

In Mark 4:1-20 we find a story told by Jesus about a farmer scattering seed on different kinds of soil.

The story is a parable, or extended metaphor, about ways of responding to Jesus’s teachings.

Versions of the parable also appear in the books of Luke and Matthew, and similar stories are found in some early Jewish writings.

The story is unusual because it’s one of only two times Jesus explains a parable to his followers.

It also occupies pride of place at the beginning of a major block of teachings in all three gospels, suggesting it held special significance for the writers.

In Mark, when Jesus is asked what the story means, he quotes the Masoretic version of the prophet Isaiah, saying he teaches in parables so only a select few will understand his meaning.

In Isaiah, these words are intentionally divisive, forcing people to choose for themselves how they will respond to the prophet’s message.

Matthew’s Septuagint version of the story contains a crucial difference — Jesus says he uses parables to help his hearers understand and accept his message.

In other words, the parable in Mark serves the opposite purpose to that in Matthew.

Many readers notice this tension but don’t know what to make of it.

Though the versions differ, both forms of Isaiah exist side-by-side in the New Testament and, while they are used in different ways, both are recognised by the gospel writers as having equal authority.

The Bible and the future of diversity

The complexity reflected in the pages of the Bible means, when it comes to religious viewpoints, we must resist oversimplifications.

Far from being a timeless and unyielding text, the Bible we know today reflects the diverse and changing needs of the communities that shaped and interacted with it over time.

This can serve as a model for modern readers.

Before we attempt to relate any biblical passage to modern contexts, we must first try to identify the distinctive voices it contains and the purposes it was intended to serve.

We must also attempt to evaluate the complex factors that have influenced our perception of the text, while acknowledging that others may perceive it differently.

After all, no interpretation exists in a vacuum.

[Dr Gareth Wearne is a lecturer in biblical studies at the Australian Catholic University and an ABC Top 5 humanities scholar for 2019.]

For original article [posted 23 Oct 2019] see:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-21/understanding-the-diversity-within-the-bible/11593834?j=1128778&jb=20&l=125_HTML&mid=7296852&pfmredir=sm&sfmc_sub=224293213&u=31484631

The parable of the widow and the judge

Published / posted by Sandy

We have all seen the TV footage of climate change rallies, and many have joined in climate strikes (another one planned for November) – activists, students, and ordinary people who have never done this kind of thing before. You may have seen Jane Fonda was arrested while participating in a climate change rally. Benedict Cumberbacht joined Extinction Rebellion protesters in London for a few hours. We’ve seen and heard plenty about Extinction Rebellion protests around the world, including cities in Australia. The Adelaide Extinction Rebellion actions have been less disruptive including dancing in the street (Nutbush City Limits on Flinders St outside Pilgrim Uniting Church), and a symbolic ‘die-in’ in Rundle Mall. 

We will all have different views on the tactics being used, and even the imperative for action. Young and old have shown stoic determination and resolve to bring about action on climate change and climate justice, shaped by a conviction that change needs to happen. 

With this in mind, I began to explore last Sunday’s Gospel reading (the persistent widow and the judge in Luke 18). Bill Loader comments that “It is missing the mark if we treat the passage as a general teaching about intercessory prayer. It is primarily about a yearning for change. The widow represents poverty and vulnerability, which is the point of the parable’s message. The story was shaped in the context of the Roman occupation, by the cruelty of exploitation, the arbitrary abuse of power and the wounds of the people. Luke’s Gospel reflects a yearning for the redemption of Israel. It is a political yearning, but much bigger than that. It is the cry for justice, for peace, for the establishment of God’s rule in the world. It is the cry: ‘Your kingdom come!’ 

Look at Mary’s Magnificat, look at Jesus’ mandate. The hope for transformation and liberation are right there, and permeate Luke’s Gospel. 

In our time and place, there are plenty of vulnerable people, and those living in poverty, who yearn for change. Maybe it’s time also to think of the earth as being vulnerable, impoverished by the way forests have been destroyed, rivers polluted and water diverted for mining, and rice and cotton crops, overfishing, squandering limited natural resources etc. The list could go on. 

Steve Koski reflects, Caring for God’s holy and sacred earth is a spiritual practice. The environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis. We will not cherish or protect what we take for granted. We will not restore and renew what we do not revere. We will not save what we do not savor and regard as sacred. The earth is not a commodity to be consumed by our greed and arrogance. The earth is a sacred community we share with all living things.

Can we plead for eco-justice, for change? Systems and structures that perpetuate harm to the environment need to change. Business models that depend on exploitation of natural resources need to change. Alarming effects of climate change are being felt all over the world, while many, including those in power, consider climate science conspiratorial fiction. Debra Dean Murphy writes, The terror humans have unleashed on mountains and oceans and vulnerable populations, whether through ignorance or greed, is a kind of unmaking of the world, an act of de-creation and a defacing of the imago Dei in us – our own capacity for world-making. 

Do we have the luxury of standing back, or – like the widow – to be among those demanding change be made by those who have the power to do so? Day after day after day, being prepared to call for eco-justice in our own sphere of influence.

Mikali Anagnostis, a university student and a member at Leichart Uniting Church says, ‘I see the Divine working in creative and hopeful young people, who refuse to let dark prognoses silence their passion for life. People who in bold and beautiful collective action proclaim that there is hope and that if we act in faith, that hope will become a reality’. 

Debie Thomas reflects: At the outset, the Gospel writer tells us that Jesus’s parable is about “the need to pray always and not lose heart.” Consider the story from the perspective of the widow. What does it look like to “lose heart”? The words that come to mind are weariness, resignation, numbness, and despair. To lose focus, clarity and direction. To be irritable and cynical very quickly. ‘Compassion fatigue’. In contrast, the widow in Jesus’ parable is the very picture of purposefulness,  precision, aliveness, and clarity.  She knows her need, she knows its urgency, and she knows exactly where to go and whom to ask in order to get her need met.  If anything, the daily business of getting up, getting dressed, heading over to the judge’s house or workplace, banging on his door, and talking his ear off until he listens fortifies her own sense of who she is and what she’s about. The widow’s predicament is not straightforward; she has to make a costly choice every single day.  Will I keep asking?  Dare I risk humiliation one more time?  Do I still believe that my request is worthy of articulation?  Can I be patient?  Am I still capable of trusting in the possibility of justice? The widow’s only power in this story is the power of showing up.  The power of sheer grit.

Day after day after day. 

Here’s another lens for the story. Consider the story from the perspective of the judge. What if I am the judge in the parable, and God (the pleading, persistent one) is the widow? What if my own complacent disposition and comfortable position makes me less willing to know the need for change? The widow knocking down my door in the hopes that I will soften my heart and attend to the pain, injustice, and sorrow wounding God’s very being, and the earth itself? It makes me recognise the times when I am tired, indifferent, irritable, closed off, or unsympathetic. Scripture attests to the fact that God not only hears the cries of the helpless; God is in the cries of the helpless. God dwells with the unseen, unheard, unloved, and unwanted.  God is the wronged widow crying for justice, pleading with me to listen, to care, and to keep my heart open on her behalf. 

Day after day after day. 

Oneness

Published / posted by Sandy

I am not alone in my tiredness or sickness or fears, but at one with millions of others from many centuries, and it is all part of life. (Etty Hillesum)

At the end of August, my father died after living with cancer for 9 years. He was able to stay at home, with family support, as was his wish. He had shown tremendous strength, dignity and determination, especially in the challenges of his final weeks. His cat, that had faithfully kept him company through the journey, was stretched out alongside him when he died. It was remarkable watching the cat being so attentive over the final days – loyal to the end, sensing what was happening and offering comfort along the way.

I was struck by this reflection by Richard Rohr about his 15 year old black Labrador dog which was suffering from inoperable cancer. He faced the unenviable decision to have the dog put down. ‘Venus had been giving me a knowing and profoundly accepting look for weeks, but I did not know how to read it. Deep down, I did not want to know. After her diagnosis, every time I looked at her, she gazed up at me with those same soft and fully permissive eyes, as if to say, “It is okay. You can let me go. I know it is my time.” But she patiently waited until I, too, was ready.

In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness.

When we carry our small suffering in solidarity with humanity’s one universal longing for deep union, it helps keep us from self-pity or self-preoccupation. We know that we are all in this together. It is just as hard for everybody else, and our healing is bound up in each other’s. Almost all people are carrying a great and secret hurt, even when they don’t know it. This realization softens the space around our overly defended hearts. It makes it hard to be cruel to anyone. It somehow makes us one – in a way that easy comfort and entertainment never can.

Some mystics go so far as to say that individual suffering doesn’t exist at all and that there is only one suffering. It is all the same, and it is all the suffering of God. The image of Jesus on the cross somehow communicates that to the willing soul. A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us – much more than just for us, as many Christians were trained to think.

If suffering, even unjust suffering (and all suffering is unjust), is part of one Great Mystery, then I am willing to carry my little portion. Etty Hillesum (1914–1943), a young, Dutch, Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz, truly believed her suffering was also the suffering of God. She even expressed a deep desire to help God carry some of it:

And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last“.

Richard Rohr responds: Such freedom and generosity of spirit are almost unimaginable to me. What creates such altruistic and loving people?

References:
Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork (Henry Holt and Company: 1996), 157, 17

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 160, 161-162.

Handle with care

Published / posted by Sandy

A ministry colleague, Rev Steve Koski, has been posting thoughtful reflections on Facebook. His reflections offer great insight into our human condition, arising from his own experiences of life, love and loss. Here is one of his recent posts which resonated with the experiences of so many living with difficult situations.

Behind the shiny surface we present to one another, everyone has a story. It is not our strength that unites us. It is our vulnerability. Life is hard. Damn hard. If you feel like life is hard it is not because there’s something wrong with you or you are doing it wrong. The hard truth is that life is just hard.
The Psalmist said in Psalm 31, “I am a broken vessel.” Me too. We should all wear stickers on our foreheads that say – FRAGILE. HANDLE WITH CARE.
I hear often, “I’d come to church but I know I’d just cry. I will return when I can pull it together.”
This makes me so sad because our church community should be the place you feel free to cry; the place you feel safe to be vulnerable; the place you don’t have to wear a mask or pretend everything’s OK when it’s not; the place where you can trust you won’t be shamed for simply being human.
Imagine belonging to a community where you don’t have to put on a brave face or put up walls.
Imagine belonging to a community where you don’t have to feel ashamed or feel any expectations that you should have it all together.
Imagine belonging to a community where you hear, “You? Me too.”
Imagine belonging to a community where you are reminded you are made in the image of God’s goodness and you are loved beyond comprehension.
Imagine belonging to a community where “where does it hurt?” is asked more often that “what do you think?”
Imagine a community of healers where you can trust your fragility will be handled with care.
A starting point for such a community is to treat your own fragility with tenderness and care. Jean Vanier wrote, “We don’t know what to do with our own weakness except hide it or pretend it doesn’t exist. So how can we welcome fully the weakness of another if we haven’t welcomed our own weakness.” Sometimes the person who is in greatest need of our alms of kindness is ourselves. Handle yourself with care today.
(Rev Steve Koski was Minister at Brougham Place Uniting Church in the 90’s, and is now in ministry in Bend, Oregon, USA. I visited Steve a couple of years ago and was inspired by his ministry)

A new cosmology

Published / posted by Sandy
Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1888,
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4

September is celebrated as ‘Season of Creation‘ in many churches, where creation and the Creator is celebrated, and we commit ourselves to a ministry of healing Earth, partnering with Christ for the whole of creation.
Richard Rohr reflects on a ‘new cosmology’:
When I was growing up, the common perception was that science and religion were at deep odds with one another. Now that we are coming to understand the magnificent nature of the cosmos, we’re finding that many mystics’ spiritual intuitions are paralleled by scientific theories and explanations. All disciplines, arts, and sciences are just approaching truth from different perspectives. The modern and postmodern mistake is that they only take one or no perspective seriously.

It’s easy to imagine the delight St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) found by turning skyward. His first biographer, Thomas of Celano (1185–1260), wrote: “he often overflowed with amazing, unspeakable joy as he looked at the sun, gazed at the moon, or observed the stars in the sky.” [1] Thomas Aquinas also intuited the deep connection between spirituality and science when he wrote, “Any mistake we make about creation will also be a mistake about God.” [2] Inner and outer realities must indeed mirror one another.

Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister and scientist, observes how our view of the universe and God has been evolving. [3] During the Middle Ages, a key period of development for Christian theology, the universe was thought to be centered around humans and the Earth. Scientists saw the universe as anthropocentric, unchanging, mechanistic, orderly, predictable, and hierarchical. Christians viewed God, the “Prime Mover,” in much the same way, with the same static and predictable characteristics—omnipotent and omniscient, but not really loving. God was “out there” somewhere, separate from us and the universe. The central message of Christianity – incarnation – was not really taken seriously by most Christians. In fact, our whole salvation plan was largely about getting away from this Earth!

Today, we know that the universe is old, large, dynamic, and interconnected. It is about 13.8 billion years old, and some scientists think it could still exist for 100 trillion years. The universe has been expanding since its birth. Our home planet, Earth, far from being the center of the universe, revolves around the Sun, a medium-sized star near the edge of a medium-sized galaxy, the Milky Way, which contains about 200 billion stars. The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter.

Furthermore, it is one of 100 billion galaxies in the universe. We do not appear to be the center of anything. And yet, by faith we trust that we are.
Delio writes:
We’re reaching a fork in the road; two paths are diverging on planet Earth, and the one we choose will make all the difference for the life of the planet. Shall we continue our medieval religious practices in a medieval paradigm and mechanistic culture and undergo extinction? Or shall we wake up to this dynamic, evolutionary universe and the rise of consciousness toward an integral wholeness? [4]

We are called to make the paradigm shift to an utterly new cosmology and worldview. I believe, even unbeknown to themselves, many are leaving organized Christianity now because these two cosmologies no longer coincide.

References:
[1] Thomas of Celano, The Life of Saint Francis: The First Book, chapter 29. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1 (New City Press: 1999), 250.
[2] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, II.3.1, II.3.6.
[3] See Ilia Delio, CONSPIRE 2014: A Benevolent Universe (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), MP4 video download.
[4] Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Orbis Books: 2013), xxii-xxiii.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 169.

(The Pilgrim 9.30am community worship during September is focussed on Season of Creation)

Unscrambling Jesus

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

Unscrambling Jesus 

by Sean Winter [first published in June 2015] https://crosslight.org.au/2015/06/21/unscrambling-jesus/

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the formation of the Jesus Seminar. Readers of Crosslight may have heard of this convocation of scholars who famously, over a period of several years, took a vote on each of the sayings of Jesus to establish whether or not he actually said them. Using a grading system that ranged from red-letter confidence (‘Yes, that’s Jesus!’) through to black-letter scepticism (‘There’s been some mistake’) the work of the Seminar achieved notoriety and influence.

The notoriety was understandable. Only one of Jesus’ sayings in the Gospel of Mark was judged to be authentic in the sense that ‘Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it’ (Mark 12:17 to be exact). Many of the sayings of Jesus, including large chunks of the Sermon on the Mount, were put into the category of ‘Jesus did not say this’.

Populist, conservative outrage at such audacious claims aligned with more sober scholarly challenges to the methods and results of the Seminar’s deliberations. But its key advocates had a knock down argument up their sleeve: we have found the real Jesus, based on the consensus of critical scholars, so it’s about time that the Church, and Christian faith and practice, caught up and changed.

In this way the Seminar’s influence grew and, in the words of its founder and greatest proponent, Robert Funk, people began to wonder what it might mean to ‘liberate the gospel of Jesus from the Jesus of the gospels’.

The Seminar’s careful and critical scholarly work was designed to prompt a ‘revamp’ of our understanding. Christian faith should become an ethical, not a credal, affair. Christian life should be focussed on imitating Jesus. Jesus himself must be ‘demoted’ from his place within Christian theology.

These are important claims, which, if followed to their logical extreme, would indeed require a new reformation in which the contemporary Church’s relationship to its own history and tradition undergoes a radical renegotiation.

It is only right that, in this 30th anniversary year, I declare my hand in relation to this bold, adventurous and radical move.

I believe that it is basically bunk, but not for the reasons that you might suspect.

My own view is that there is no part of the Jesus tradition for which we can draw the conclusion that ‘Jesus said it’. There are no red-letter sayings of Jesus, within or outside of the New Testament gospels. This is a conclusion borne not of a radical scepticism about the historical reliability of the gospels. It is rather the result of noticing some fairly basic facts about the gospels.

First, they were written in Greek. Although Jesus may have possessed some rudimentary knowledge of Greek, the consensus is that he taught in the common language of first century Palestine, Aramaic. With the exception of a word here or there (the most significant being Jesus’ cry from the cross in Mark 15:34) the gospels preserve translations of the sayings of Jesus. And then, as now, translation always involves a level of interpretation.

Second, recent New Testament scholarship has shown us that it is about as difficult to separate out ‘authentic’ words of Jesus from ‘inauthentic’ words as it is to unscramble an omelette.

Scholars used to think that they had a set of especially sharp tools that would enable them to cut away the dying flesh of the Church’s tradition, thus saving the life of the real Jesus for the benefit of his followers. They called these tools ‘criteria for authenticity’. I used to use them myself. I now realise that they were about as useful for finding Jesus as a scalpel is for eating eggs and bacon: you can try, but you are really missing the point.

The reason we know this is because we now better understand the way that human memory works. Memory is also the work of interpretation from the outset. If you don’t interpret it, you won’t remember it. And so it becomes entirely possible that in the gospels, we find words that Jesus didn’t actually say that preserve some kind of accurate historical memory, and vice-versa. The gospels provide us with translated memories of the sayings of Jesus.

Third, the gospels are not documents that are at all interested in telling us ‘what Jesus actually said’. They cannot lead us to the past because they were never intended to. What the gospels provide for us is an indication of the impact that Jesus made upon the memories of his earliest followers, and of the impact of those memories on subsequent communities of Christian disciples.

If we take these aspects of the gospels seriously we find ourselves having to say that the only Jesus we have is the remembered Jesus. We can continue to call that Jesus ‘historical’, I suppose, but ‘historical’ here can mean little more than ‘Jesus as he was remembered and understood by those who believed that God had raised him from the dead’.

We get closest to this Jesus not by trying to get behind or beyond the witness of the gospels and not by stripping away the theological convictions the first generations held about his relationship to God and saving work.

In the words of one recent scholar ‘the historical Jesus is not veiled by the interpretations of him. He is most available for analysis when these interpretations are most pronounced.’

All of which is to suggest that we can best celebrate the anniversary of the Jesus Seminar by returning to the gospels and exploring what kind of person, with what kind of message and, crucially, what kind of relationship to God, might generate these memories and these interpretations.

To answer that question might be to see more clearly the ways that the memory of Jesus can be preserved in the Church today.

Rev Dr Sean Winter is currently the Academic Dean, Co-ordinator of Studies in New Testament, and Associate Professor within the University of Divinity. He teaches across a range of New Testament subjects, is involved in the formation of candidates for ordained ministries within the UCA and speaks regularly at conferences, churches, and other events within and beyond the Uniting Church.

Climate Justice

Published / posted by Sandy
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg meets with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Photograph: Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA

Jeremiah 1:4-8 The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young”. But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Sixteen-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg has been cast as a modern day Jeremiah, lecturing leaders about the imminent catastrophe of climate change in gatherings large and small, and in countries around the world. 

She caught the attention of the world when she boldly shamed climate change negotiators at the UN Climate Summit in Poland, by saying, ‘you are not mature enough’. In her speech, she said, ‘you say you love your children, but you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes… until you start focussing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis withouth treating it as a crisis’. 

At the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, she told delegates, “Our house is on fire”, due to greenhouse gas emissions and rising global temperatures. “Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” She said, people like to tell success stories, but financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag on climate change. We have failed”. 

School students around the world have joined her “strike” each Friday to protest against their governments’ failure to do enough to combat “Climate Change”. They wield such placards as “You’re never too small to make a difference” and “Climate Justice Now”. 

Inevitably, this modern day prophet has been castigated by some in the media including social media. Here is an example in an online post: The idea that some 16 year old kid has insight that is worthy of ‘panic’ is absurd on its face. Like all 16 year olds she ‘knows’ nothing. She has zero life experience, has no idea what money is, has no idea how economics works, has no idea where her own wealth and lifestyle comes from, has never met real adversity, has never accomplished anything at all”. (Yessir Imafat) Others like Andew Bolt have weighed into this space, denigrating her with a statement calling her the ‘”deeply disturbed messiah of the global warming movement”. There will be more pushback, because the stakes are high.

Greta keeps reminding the world the stakes are even greater for her generation. Her passion, courage and plain speaking on climate justice resonates with the prophets like Jeremiah in the Old Testament, chosen by God as a young boy to speak truth to power. God anointed him as a prophet, not to sing the praises to the powers or to uphold the status quo of the politics of his day, but ‘to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’. 

The nations of the world have put profits ahead of the Prophets, who remind us that the Earth is our home, our mother, and our only life support. Greta is a prophet herself, young like Jeremiah, trying to wake her elders to the consequences of their decisions and reckoning that lies ahead if they fail to see the signs of the times.

Greta invites us to be serious about our planet, and act, as the general consensus is that there are only 12 years left to turn things around. After that, it becomes impossible to achieve the global climate targets. She is standing at the door and knocking, trying to wake up the leaders of the world, inviting us to conversion of heart and lifestyle, and reminding us that every other ethical issue is moot if the earth becomes uninhabitable. May we have ears to hear, hearts to open, and hands to fulfill God’s call for us to be God’s companions in healing the Earth.

The UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer has issued a Call to Climate to the whole church, and encouraged people to join in the Climate Strike activities planned for September 20th.  

The NSW/ACT Synods of the UCA which runs a number of high profile schools, passed a resolution in July to endorse its 10,000 students and their teachers to ‘skip class’ for the September 20th climate change rally, as part of a broader push to respond to the “crisis confronting the planet”. Moderator Rev Simon Hansford said, “It’s their future that is at stake and their protests are genuine and informed and should not be ignored. And as a church this reflects the theological truth of God’s calling for us to be carers of the creation.” The church and its advocacy arm, Uniting, is also allowing its 8000 staff to take time off to attend the rallies, and is encouraging its 50,000 members across NSW and the ACT to support the strikes.

(this article has incorporated material from a number of media sources, and Christian Aid UK, and Bruce Epperly)

A Spirituality of Hospitality

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

A Spirituality of Hospitality

by Arlene Scott OP

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” [Matthew 25:35]

I was raised in a home where there was always room for one more. When I was young, my brothers, my sister and I thought that our mother must be a magnet for lonely, elderly people. Our mother would invite people who were alone to come to holiday meals. She would run errands for them and take them to the doctor. She’d see to it that they were cared for and remember them with gifts at Christmas and birthdays. She even invited some of them to stay at our home during hurricanes. She was drawn into their lives in ways she probably never imagined. Helping someone in need is, for our mother, the most natural thing in the world. Our mother has a spirituality of hospitality.

To serve God by serving others, to love God by loving others, that is the heart of a spirituality of hospitality. Joan Chittister, in Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, asserts that, “The biblical value of hospitality has been domesticated and is now seen more as one of the social graces than as a spiritual act and a holy event.” For much of our society today hospitality has become something reserved for those we want to impress. Hospitality is a business endeavour for those who want to please their customers so to increase their revenue. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if hospitality was, rather, a way of showing respect and care for all God’s people with no return required or expected. A spirituality of hospitality is lived out of an attitude of care and respect for all creation and a belief in the dignity of the human person. It is why we do something that is often more important than what we do.

In order to offer hospitality in a spiritual context we have to take a look around. Who is in need and what do they need? Who isn’t included and how can they be welcomed? Who doesn’t seem to have a voice and what will help them to be heard? Most of us prefer to live in our comfort zones. We don’t notice the student always eating alone, the homeless man selling newspapers, the woman counting her pennies to buy groceries. Some people seem so different from us that we don’t recognize them as our brother or sister.

A spirituality of hospitality calls us to generosity and service. Hospitality requires that we consider how our words and actions affect others and our environment. It requires that we reflect on how our spending or use of materials effect people on the other side of our world. A spirituality of hospitality invites us to reflect on how life might be made better for those who are in need. It calls us to take that reflection to discussion and then to action.

A preferential option for guests in our home means that they have clean sheets and towels, that coffee will be ready in the morning. They are kind acts that help people to feel comfortable when they are away from home. Hospitality, in its broader meaning, is a way of living that goes beyond a thoughtful gesture. How does a preferential option for the poor invite us to be hospitable? We can give some of our time and resources to soup kitchens, food pantries or homeless shelters. We can insist with our voices and votes that policies do not punish people for being por. Those, too, are acts of hospitality. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” [Matthew 25:35]

To be hospitable is to be open and receptive to the ideas of another. Do we allow people their opinions? Are we always on the look out for ulterior motives, suspicious that there is a hidden agenda? Do we believe that we have been truly heard only if our own ideas prevail? Are we open to the possibility that others have a piece of the truth? Hospitality is about listening with an open heart to the perspective of another.

Hospitality is about promoting right relationships. Often, hospitality is a reflection of forgiveness. It isn’t easy to extend ourselves when there is a tension between us and the other person. The smallest inclusion or generous action can create space for reconciliation. The openness and invitation to reconciliation can be a most hospitable act.

A spirituality of hospitality is about relating to God through others. Jesus makes it clear, “whatever you did for one of these least of mine, you did for me.” [Matthew 25:40]

 [Arlene Scott OP [1953-2009] was a Dominican Sister. This article was originally published in the Adrian Dominican Sisters Newsletter, Voices in Mission.]

Look for the campfires (of kind and gentle Christian people)

Published / posted by Sandy

Recently, Mike Frost, author and missiologist, wrote this article for Common Grace. It resonated deeply with me, especially as a different lens for thinking about what’s happening in the world. Yes, troubles and strife have always been part of human history. I can understand why people don’t want to dwell on the difficult issues and to focus instead on the positives, to find what is life affirming and not what is life denying.

And yet, Christian faith takes seriously ‘Love God, love your neighbour as yourself’, for those in the midst of the troubles and the strife, and whose situation calls for compassionate care. Christian faith also calls us to advocate for the poor and marginalised, and to address systemic issues that oppress and dispossess people.

Mike writes:
I had just watched the documentary film, The Final Quarter, about the shocking and sustained racist attacks endured by Indigenous football player, Adam Goodes during the last three years of his career, and I was distressed. Initially I wasn’t sure why, but the outspoken displays of ignorance by columnists and broadcasters like Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Alan Jones, as they attacked Goodes and defended the booing mob, really got to me.

Then it occurred to me: I’ve often seen these right-wing commentators being quoted by church people to ‘disprove’ things like gender dysphoria or toxic masculinity. Like their favourite Greek chorus, they’ll retweet Bolt, Devine, Jones and Latham whenever they want to defend religious freedom or slam ‘leftists’ for trying to impose cultural Marxism on society. In fact, in their fight to protect our perceived Christian heritage, some church people take great comfort in the broadcasts and columns of Andrew Bolt and the others.
And here they were, that same Greek chorus, baying for the blood of Adam Goodes.  

Moral outrage, when it has power, is deaf. And it’s easy to feel like neither satire nor the Gospel will stay its brutal hand. When right-wing columnists and shock-jocks speak with the same voice as some Christian voices and church leaders, you can be sure we live in a distressing time for those of us committed to the values of the Kingdom of God like justice, reconciliation, beauty and wholeness.

In these dark days, important moral issues are reduced to smart-mouthed hot takes, which sound for all intents and purposes like homophobia, and racism, and fossil fuel yahooism (while always being denied as such, of course). 

In times like these, it’s tempting to go to ground, to be circumspect, to wait for another day. But if we remain silent now we tacitly play into the general assumption that Christianity is only concerned with ending same-sex marriage, supporting indefinite offshore detention, backing the coal industry, and fighting tooth and nail for its own freedom of speech. And this at a time when Australia is obviously being wracked by the evils of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, islamophobia, systemic poverty and ecological devastation.

In a time as cynical and corrupt as this, you need to look for the campfires of kind and gentle Christian people.

These are those good-souled followers of Jesus who yearn for justice for men, women and children seeking asylum on our shores. Not just yearn, but march and tweet and sign petitions and visit their local politicians and take refugees into their homes.     

Look for the campfires of those followers of Jesus who yearn for justice for and reconciliation with their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, who yearn for an end to family and domestic violence, and who seek protection for our environment, and peace on earth.  

They want what Dr William Barber calls a true moral revival. Speaking about his own country, the USA, he says, “Some issues are not about left and right, Republican and Democrat – they’re about our deepest moral values. And we believe that you have to have a campaign, a movement, that seeks to reshape the moral narrative.” Martin Luther King referred to these people as the moral defibrillators of our time, to shock this nation with the power of love.

We need to show the love of God’s people who remain committed to ending poverty, and violence against women, and offshore detention; to fuel a renewed commitment to creation care and peacemaking, and racial reconciliation.  

I see their campfires in the direct actions of a group like Love Makes a Way, and in the advocacy of people like the Common Grace team, and in communities like Fixing Her Eyes and Parish Collective, and events like the Justice Conference and Surrender. And now is the time for more such campfires to be lit.

As Rabbi Tarfon, a 2nd century Mishnah sage, once wrote, reflecting on Micah 6:8, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” 

(Michael Frost is a Common Grace supporter and the founder of the Tinsley Institute at Morling College. He has written extensively on a missional paradigm for the church in a post-Christian era and has pastoral experience in several Baptist churches across Sydney)

God and Suffering

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

by Sally Douglas

Suffering and death are difficult subjects to talk about in Australian culture, particularly western culture.

I recently spent time with someone who was weeks away from death and asked them how they felt about dying. They said I was the first person to ask them this question.

While sex may no longer be a taboo topic within the context of popular culture, death and suffering certainly are.

The silence around suffering and death is fed by fear and the consistent messaging from social media and advertising that insists we should be happy, pain free and living our “best lives” – that is, consuming and achieving.

When we are not, when suffering takes our breath away and we are not able to be “productive” or “successful”, it can be compounded by guilt in that we have failed at living.

The common language of “battling” cancer or losing the “fight” supports this way of thinking and re-inscribes responsibility on to a person who is actually just ill. Such people are not losers in a battle. Instead, in their very bodies they defy the narratives of our culture and testify to the truth that we would often rather not face: suffering and death are part of life and will come to all of us.

When people are forced to face suffering, the common expectation is to medicate or simply get over it. If a person’s suffering won’t conform to these expectations and persists, platitudes of the greeting card variety are often deployed. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “every cloud has a silver lining”. Such sentiments, which may be offered in genuine sympathy, are greeting card versions of folk Christianity that have little to do with the God of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, such views (again) imply those who continue to suffer, or who cannot see the good in their suffering, have somehow failed, or have been unfaithful.

Our inability to sit with the real – the realities of our own suffering and the reality of others’ suffering – does so much damage in already profoundly difficult situations. Those journeying with ongoing mental health issues, or their loved ones, will perhaps know this better than any others.

While our culture seeks to deny suffering by medicating or placating it away, the way of Christ has something rather different to say. It is not easy and it is not popular. The strange reality of Christian conviction is that the naked Divine enters the very abyss of our suffering and dying in Jesus and does something from within this vulnerable, awful space.

The reality that Jesus endured a state-sanctioned execution was a terrifying embarrassment for many of his first followers. Their hero and hope had been killed in the most shameful and agonising way by the government. Paul responds, not by downplaying the scandalous nature of Jesus’s crucifixion, but by claiming that in Jesus’s apparent weakness the nature of Divine power is revealed (1 Corinthians 1.18-31).

To take this seriously is to contemplate the shocking reality that Divine power is non-violent, Divine power is forgiving and Divine power does not lord it over others.

Instead Divine power gives of self utterly. And despite, or rather because of, this reality, this Divine “un-power” is more powerful than all our cruelty and violence and hate and fear and death and cannot be extinguished.

These claims about Jesus’s death and risen life are not simply intellectual ideas to be agreed with or dismissed. Nor are they claims that relate only to life beyond this life.

Paul is suggesting something far more provocative: that something is able to happen in our own living when we let this Divine One near us in our suffering. For people who follow Christ Jesus – the one who has been to hell and back – when we allow this One close to us in the midst of our suffering, Spirit can give birth to strange, risen life within us and among us (eg 2 Cor. 1.3-7; Rom 5.1-5). This might come in the shape of fresh wisdom, or surprising peace or wide-open compassion.

These are not qualities achieved through an effort of willpower or positive thinking. They are gifts woven together by the Divine in the vulnerable space that is made available when our egos and certainties have been smashed by life’s circumstances.

In my experience, it is about daring to sit in the dark and be with the pain and questions, not numbing or avoiding them, but naming them and letting the Divine sit with me in these frightening places. It’s then – and only then – that She is able to birth grace.

As the Franciscan Priest and spiritual writer Richard Rohr says: “We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning. That is the path, the perilous dark path of true prayer.”

No one else can do this for us. The journey for each of us will be different. However, followers of Christ can trust the Divine who we know and name is the One who knows our pain and suffering from the inside, and who will not let us go, and who will accompany us each step of the way.

At the recent Synod Meeting I spoke on the floor about a Christian theology of suffering. This was because we were being asked, as a Synod, to discern our response to the Victorian legislation that has made allowable, within limited circumstances, Voluntary Assisted Dying.

Ultimately the Synod discerned there was a range of faithful Christian responses to this legislation. While this may be true, it is crucial we hold fast to our theology of suffering, both in discernment about our own living and dying, and as we journey with others in their discernment about their living and dying.

In a culture that is terrified of suffering and that seeks to alleviate or ignore it at all costs, in a culture that values productivity and success above all else, our theology of suffering is a radical and disruptive word of hope that is desperately needed.

We are not failures when we suffer. We are still of value when we are not productive. God is not on the side of the successful or the positive thinkers.

The Divine we give our hearts to enters into the horror of our suffering in Christ Jesus in vulnerable compassion and is with us in our pain, and if we let Her close, she who knows us by name, will labour with us, and within in us, to birth unexpected gracious life.

Rev Dr Sally Douglas is minister at Richmond Uniting Church and an associate lecturer at Pilgrim Theological College.

Intersectionality

Published / posted by Sandy

Intersectionality has become a buzz word in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space. While the theory (coined in 1989 by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw) has been used in the academic and social justice context for some time, it has gained more traction in corporate diversity and inclusion practice. Organisations have been intentional in using intersectionality as part of their common language around diversity, affirming the need to create space for and see employees as their ‘whole selves.’ There have been studies that create the case for organizations to replace traditional diversity and inclusion efforts that subscribe to a “check one box,” monolithic approach to difference and identity, with strategies that take into account the complex nature of our intersections.
(Making it real: equity is intersectional, by Brittany J.Harris)

Intersectionality acknowledges that our social identities overlap and intersect and form new, more specific identities with new implications. The individual identity groups we belong to – race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc – do not exist in a vacuum, and cannot be compartmentalized. Intersectionality acknowledges that a person can simultaneously belong to multiple historically marginalized groups, and that social identities converge with interlocking systems of power and privilege (sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, nativism) and in turn foster engaged, activist work toward social justice.

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

In her book, Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, Grace Ji-Sun Kim applies the concepts and questions of intersectionality to theology, highlighting that intersectionality demands attention to the Christian thinker’s own identities and location within systems of power and the value of deep consideration of complementary, competing, and even conflicting points of view that arise from the experiences and understandings of diverse people. Her book challenges readers to imagine an intersectional church, a practice of welcome and inclusion rooted in an ecclesiology that embraces difference and centres social justice. We were privileged at Pilgrim to have Grace speak at a service a few weeks ago, and she also enlarged upon intersectional theology at a special event at UCLT (theological college).

At the recent UCA President’s Conference in Fiji which I attended, Rev. Dr Sef Carroll spoke about using the lens of intersectionality to respond to issues of justice to ensure that we seek the liberation of all, including all of creation. Creation itself can be considered as marginalised by the utilitarian use of the earth’s resources, especially by big companies.

Earth Overshoot Day each year is the date that indicates when we have used more from nature than the planet can replenish this year, when people will have used up its allowance of natural resources such as water, soil and clean air for all of 2019. It happened this on Monday July 29th, 2019. The so-called Earth Overshoot Day has moved up by two months over the past 20 years and this year’s date is the earliest ever, according to a study by the Global Footprint Network.

In the Psalm reading last Sunday, we read, ‘steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky’. But the fecundity of precious earth has been damaged. Farmers are now trying to find way to grow drought proof grain crops. The mining giant Adani plans to take 12.5 billion litres of water from the Suttor River every year, nearly as much as all local farmers combined. The company has been given a licence to take water at a rate of up to 11,600 litres per second – a rate that would fill an Olympic swimming pool in about 3.5 minutes. This is a world where some gain wealth at the expense of their own workers who are simply trying to make ends meet. This is a world where every hour 300 football fields of precious forest in South East Asia are being ploughed to the ground to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used in everything from snack foods to soaps. It is found in over half all packaged items on our supermarket shelves. In just the last 20 years, over 3.5 million hectares of Indonesian and Malaysian forest have been destroyed to make way for palm oil. Almost 80% of orangutan habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years. Over 6,000 orangutans are lost each year.

By using the lens of relational and inclusive justice and intersectionality, we can ensure that no one, including the earth itself, is left out. As Sef said, ‘this is a call to discipleship that is both rewarding and costly’. Indeed.

The God of Love had a really bad week

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

The God of Love had a really bad week.

by Diana Butler Bass

Diana Butler Bass is the author of 10 books on American religion and cultural trends, including her most recent, Grateful: The Subversive Power of Giving Thanks (2018). She is currently writing a book about images of Jesus.

Shock is not the right word when I heard the crowd at a Trump rally chanting “send her back.” There has been so much shock recently that it is hard to know what to call it anymore.

As the crowd continued to chant, I watched them: They were almost exclusively white, wearing T-shirts and polos, with blonde hair peeking from under MAGA hats. Familiar-looking middle class white people — like my neighbors, classmates, friends, and family. I assumed most were probably Christians. Trump’s “base.”

 “Where,” I blurted out to my husband, “did these people go to Sunday school?”

He stared. “You are worried about Sunday school?”

“Yes. Sunday school,” I insisted. “That song — the one we all learned. Jesus loves everybody.” I quoted what may well be the Protestant Sunday school national anthem:

Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world

Red, brown, yellow

Black and white

They are precious in His sight

Jesus loves the little children

Of the world

I sang it in Methodist kindergarten, the teacher displaying a picture of children of every color holding hands. “Jesus said we are all equal,” she instructed, “God loves everybody and you should, too.” It would take me awhile to figure out that the Declaration of Independence was not in the Bible, but it sounded right at the time.

As the chant died down, the rhetoric of division went on with new words from the President’s speech. That familiar audience — mostly white, probably mostly Christian — continued to howl its approval.

As many have noted, “send her back” is racist, sexist, and un-American. It is also the expression of a certain view of God, one that has slowly shifted the priorities and teaching in far too many American churches, and made it possible for those who would have once sung ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children’ to join this hostile liturgy. How did they get there? Slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, hymn-by-hymn and sermon-by-sermon, one theological step at a time.

I do not feel shock. I feel grief. I do not recognize this Christianity, even if the faces in the crowd were familiar.

Not all Christians support Donald Trump. The president remains wildly unpopular among Christians who are persons of color. A majority of white Christians continue to approve of him. Of white Christians, according to Pew, evangelical support for Trump hovers around 70%; white mainline Christians are split with 48% approval; and around 44% of white Roman Catholics support him.

These numbers demonstrate the strength of white Christian base, but they also suggest something else: America’s white churches are roiled by political division. Although pro-Trump evangelicals are a solid majority, the divides in other white Christian groups are fairly even. Many white Christians are struggling with fractured families and frayed friendships. White clergy friends have reported to me that angry congregants have intimidated them after preaching a political sermon with threats to rescind donations or to have them fired. A recurring feature of progressive Christian Twitter has become white people bemoaning the fact that their relatives and friends have turned away from Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor.

White Christianity right now is a dumpster of discord; internecine warfare has not been this bad since the 1920s when controversy ripped American churches apart on whether human beings evolved from monkeys.

In the last three years, Donald Trump has replaced Charles Darwin as troublemaker-in-chief in many white American churches. Scholars have offered sound theories as to the cause of this sharp divide, especially around issues of race and gender. There are excellent books on how white supremacy shaped American Christianity; and equally solid work regarding misogyny in churches, particularly around abortion politics. The media publishes stories about Christian Democrats pushing back against Trump with liberal renderings of faith and politics.

All are helpful. But none seems to get to the heart of the matter: Too many white Christians have a God problem.

I recently mentioned to someone that my brother had not spoken to me since Charlottesville when we argued about white nationalism and racism. My friend asked, “’How is that possible? That you and your brother could be so different?”

My brother and I grew up in the same Methodist Sunday school. We were confirmed together in the same Methodist church. Same parents, same school, same church. We sang how Jesus loved all children. We learned Golden Rule – “Do unto others” — and the Great Commandment – “Love God and love your neighbor.” Ours was not a scary God threatening sinners with hell. It was the God of the peaceable kingdom.

My brother, as an adult, traded that God for a tougher, stricter one who exercises judgment against all who refuse to bend the knee, a kind of Emperor-God, enthroned in glory. This God has often shown up in Christian history; including in American fundamentalism. But from 1980 onward, he underwent a revival in several strands of American religion including Pentecostalism, neo-Calvinism, traditionalist Roman Catholicism, and some Orthodox communities. He is a masculine Sovereign, and a winner-God for people feeling displaced in a pluralistic world. And after 9/11, this militaristic God became more real.

Meanwhile, the God of Love was not having a particularly good run. In the political age bookended by Ronald Reagan’s culture wars and a devastating terrorist attack, the God of Love began to look like a loser, one fit for liberation theologians, do-gooders, and feminists. The churches that still preached a God of Love declined; those seminaries closed.

In 1865, Abraham Lincoln ruminated on how Americans had read the same Bible and prayed to the same God. Poetry aside, Lincoln was wrong. My brother and I read the same Bible and wound up praying to different gods. His God thunders about lawless mobs and unbelievers. Mine is the mysterious Word, present before the beginning of creation, calling all to compassion, and who welcomes little ones.

This was true in Lincoln’s day as well. In the 1840s and 1850s, major denominations split over the issue of slavery and a deeper political crisis bound up with different visions of God: the God of the Master versus the God of Love. All theologies might come from the same Bible, but they were not then and are not now equally true.

Even as trends point to the decline of religion, Americans are still living with this theological argument — one playing out among Christians of mostly European descent. This argument shapes our politics, its dogma chanted as liturgy in Trump rallies and offered up in pulpits across the land. This is an ancient conflict that never quite seems to go away. For whatever reason, western Christianity has a hard time sticking with a God of love.

But, as a minority of white Christians know, and the majority of Christians of color never need be reminded, the God of love is always hanging around, the brown-skinned Jewish rabbi preaching about the poor being blessed and the broken-hearted comforted. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others. Let the little children come. Faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.

For original CNN article and related links go to:

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/20/opinions/god-of-love-had-a-really-bad-week-bass/index.html

Climate Change – a UCA statement

Published / posted by Sandy

A statement from the President’s Conference, Fiji 2019

“For God so loved the cosmos” (John 3:16)

The good news of Christ is for the whole of creation 
and we are one with all creation in Christ. (Col 1: 23)

We, the participants of the 2019 President’s Conference, gathering in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Fiji have drawn together to bear witness and to draw courage from each other – here where climate change is most clearly seen, most clearly felt, by the people least responsible for its progress.

We acknowledge:

Our connection to Moana, Waitui, Wansolwara people, whose lands and hearts are bound by deep, blue Pacific waters.

We are part of the Pacific, a liquid continent where islands are connected and sustained by the ocean currents.

The need to listen again to the voices of our sisters and brothers, our friends, fellow members of the Body of Christ, the most vulnerable and most impacted, who also demonstrate great resilience, determination, hopefulness and commitment to work for change.

This has inspired us and challenged us to hear God’s call to costly discipleship and we lament the effects of the human sin of greed and particularly its effects on this planet, our home.

Together we affirm:

The Uniting Church’s commitment to the wellbeing of the environment arises out of our belief that God is the Creator of the world in which we live and move and have our being.

This ‘groaning creation’ is God’s ‘good’ creation.

Through our discerning of Scripture, we acknowledge the gospel of creation: all things were made in, through and for Christ and are being reconciled in Christ.

The Uniting Church believes that God calls us into a particular relationship with the rest of creation, a relationship of mutuality and interdependence which seeks the reconciliation of all creation with God.

The Basis of Union expresses this hope and situates it at the very heart of the church’s mission:
“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.”

Together we recognise:

The ongoing concern of the Uniting Church in Australia since its formation in 1977 for the wellbeing of our planet that has been expressed in numerous statements.

The unique place and wisdom of First Peoples of Australia in relation to the land. The Preamble to the Constitution of the Uniting Church recognises that:

The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was finally and fully revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.

The Churches of the Pacific, with whom we are a part of the Body of Christ, and the Pacific Conference of Churches, to which we belong, are leading the response to climate change. We hear their call and witness to us; and recognise their prophetic, practical and pastoral actions among their people.

Dominant forms of the Christian tradition have been complicit in the abuse of creation, often accompanied by the belief that the world is given to use as we please, and the perspective that “more is better”.

The island nations in the Pacific are being disproportionately harmed by climate change, and are among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and climate change induced natural disasters

Climate change induced displacement is already a significant challenge, and grief both to Pacific countries and across the world; disconnecting people from their homes, their culture and their identity.

Climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and across the world, and to all of creation including plant and animal life.

The intersectionality of issues – how climate change disproportionately impacts the poorest communities and on women and children, people living with disabilities, people with different gender identities – calls for relational and inclusive justice.

As participants of this conference, we are called to be God’s co-workers, participants in the work of reconciliation and renewal for the whole creation. We believe that we have a moral responsibility to act, and that God is calling us to be bearers of hope.

Because of this, we commit to:

Working with First Peoples in Australia particularly through the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, sisters and brothers in the Pacific and other communities of faith to understand the impacts of climate change on traditional and contemporary ways of life and pay attention to the Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom of living in right relationship with land, sea and sky.

Being compassionate, active listeners to the environment and people living with the reality of climate change.

Being thankful for all we have, recognising we have enough, enjoying the beauty and bounty of God’s creation, resisting the pressures of consumerism and idolatry of material possessions.

Being responsible for our own actions and our impact on the environment, and calling for a renewed repentance, turning away from seeking more, towards a just sharing and harmony of all life.

Being a green Church by finding creative ways to engage our own communities in climate action, raising aspects of the environment in our worship, replacing disposable with sustainable products, reducing energy use and moving to renewable forms of energy.

Boldly raising our voices to advocate to governments to act on climate change and its effects in Australia, in the Pacific and the global community.

Participants at the UCA President’s Conference: For the whole of creation

For the whole of creation

Published / posted by Sandy

The UCA President’s Conference in Fiji, 13th-17th July 2019, ‘For the whole of creation’ was a thoughtful, engaging time for participants.

The panel on gender justice at the UCA President’s Conference

On one of the evenings, a panel made a presentation on gender justice. Gender justice is actually a huge issue in the Pacific and the UN has implemented a Gender Action Plan (GAP), liaising with church and government.
‘Women commonly face higher risks in responding to natural hazards and greater burden from the impacts of climate change. Although they have intimate local knowledge and are managers of common natural resources, they are often left out of the picture when decisions on climate action are made. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is a pre-requisite to effective conservation, climate action and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. International agreements on biodiversity and the Paris Agreement present new opportunities for engaging women and accelerating equitable action, and climate change gender action plans (GAP), governments, businesses, churches and civil society are now embracing gender-responsive solutions to address the world’s most pressing development challenges, to ensure that women can influence climate change decisions, and that women and men are represented equally in all aspects of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as a way to increase its effectiveness. The UN Development Program’s Pacific Multi-country office, which covers 10 Pacific Island countries, aims to ensure that Pacific women become full and equal partners, and leaders and beneficiaries of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation efforts and overall sustainable development (Vineet Bhatia, UN Development Program)
The Methodist Church in Fiji has implemented a gender action plan, with a dedicated team providing education and training programs. It has been great to learn about this, and that so much great work is happening in relation to addressing climate change.
To finish: the greeting used in Fiji for thanks – Vinaka Vakalevu

The 25th Anniversary of the Covenant

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

Twenty-five years ago the Uniting Church in Australia formalised our commitment to walk together in solidarity with the First Peoples of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) by enacting the Covenant statement.

On Sunday 10 July, 1994, the Covenant Statement was read by then President of the Uniting Church Assembly, Dr Jill Tabart, to the Chairperson, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Ps Bill Hollingsworth.

As we mark the anniversary in NAIDOC Week 2019, President of the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly, Dr Deidre Palmer, and President of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Rev Garry Dronfield, reaffirmed the commitment to be in covenant.

 “We renew our commitment to walk together with our Congress brothers and sisters towards a nation where First Peoples are celebrated at the centre of what it means to be Australian,” said Dr Palmer.

 “We continue to grieve and lament the dispossession, and ongoing injustice for First Peoples.”

 “We continue to seek to journey together in the Spirit of Christ and acknowledge that we are still on a journey of learning what it means to be bound to one another in a covenant.”

 “Walking together means at times putting the interests of the other ahead of our own. It is a particular challenge for us as Second Peoples to preference the needs of First Peoples, thereby enabling justice, equity and healing to be realised in the relationship.”

The Uniting Church has affirmed the Statement from the Heart and its call for Voice, Treaty and Truth – the 2019 NAIDOC theme.

 “In living out our covenantal relationship, we will advocate for First Australians to be given a Voice,” said Dr Palmer. “We seek to be a healing community which fosters truth telling, and we support the treaty negotiations of First Nations Peoples with various governments.”

Rev. Dronfield is a member of the Sovereignty Affirmation Task Group (SATG) established to work through the implications of the 15th Assembly’s 2018 decision to recognise the Sovereignty of Aboriginal and Islander Peoples. For their work, they have developed the understanding that ‘Covenanting is the relationship that shapes how we have conversations about sovereignty and its implications.’

Rev. Dronfield said, “It all comes down to relationships. The need to commit to the relationship, to invest in it, and spend time with one another, to grow the relationship.”

“As the community of Christ this is not foreign to us, this is the way a loving community is able to nurture one another.”

The years between UAICC formation in 1985 and the 1994 Covenant enactment were a time of healing and a growing relationship.

This covenantal relationship was represented beyond the words exchanged through the presentation of a sacred painting.

Dr Palmer and Rev Dronfield gave thanks for those who began to walk together, in solidarity and covenant, so many years ago.


UCA resolutions about recognition and treaty with First Nations Peoples

In 1988 the Assembly resolved:

88.22.22. d. To support efforts to work beyond the concept of the compact proposed by the Australian Government towards a form of treaty – that is an enforceable agreement obtained through formal and full negotiation between Aboriginal political structures and those of the wider Australian community, an agreement which Aboriginal people can use to protect their interests;

In 2000 we resolved:

00.11.02.b. To endorse the idea of a legislated process of negotiation between the leaders of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of Australia towards a formal agreement dealing with the ‘unfinished business’ of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation’s process of reconciliation;

In 2015 we resolved to:

15.22.02.b. Continue to support Recognition as long as the form of recognition offered can be seen as a step towards and not a blockage to the larger issues of sovereignty and treaty,
c. Commit to work with Congress to educate membership of the Church about the need for a treaty.

In 2017 a UAICC National Executive Meeting endorsed the Statement from the Heart.

The Statement from the Heart includes this paragraph:

“We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.”

NAIDOC Week 2019

Published / posted by Sandy

NAIDOC (National Aboriginal Islander Day Observance Committee), 7th to 14th July.
The Australian Indigenous story has many chapters, some coloured with discovery and some blacked out with dispossession, some heartwarming and some heartbreaking, some hidden and some heralded. NAIDOC Week is an annual week-long celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements and is an opportunity for us to recognise the contributions that Indigenous Australians make to our country and our society.
The theme for NAIDOC Week 2019, “Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together” is a reference to the Statement from the Heart. The Statement was made by the First Nations National Constitutional Convention in May 2017 at Uluru. It was a historical moment in Australian history as the coming together of 250 First Peoples’ leaders to articulate the nature of reforms desired by First Peoples.
NAIDOC week 2019 is an opportunity to explore the true story of colonialism and its lasting impact; to engage with the Statement; listen to the voice within it, and work together towards true reconciliation in Australia.

Statement from the heart
We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart: 
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago. 
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown. 
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years? 
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood. 
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future. 
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness. 
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country. 
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution. 
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination. 
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history. 
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. 

First female lecturer a win for equality in the Solomon Islands

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

by UnitingWorld News, Partnering Women for Change (Pacific Region), Women in Ministry (Pacific Region) June 17, 2019

“90% of people in the Solomon Islands believe in God. When a message about women comes from the Bible, their eyes are open, they feel it has more weight. And that’s why we will see a reduction in gender-based violence and increased respect for women in our society.”

If anyone has the insight to comment on what might make a difference to violence against women in the Pacific, it’s Pastor Lima Tura. 

The sole female lecturer at Seghe Theological College in the Solomon Islands, Lima has a Bachelor of Theology from Pilgrim Theological College in Melbourne, she is a single parent and now teaches theology and biblical studies in her home country. It’s not been an easy journey.

Feeling the call to pastor several years ago, Lima was offered a scholarship in partnership with UnitingWorld and the United Church of the Solomon Islands to study at Seghe. A trailblazer, she literally burnt the midnight oil or read under lamps powered by generators, studying third-hand textbooks from Australia as she worked her way through her Certificate. She completed a Bachelor of Theology in Melbourne and has now returned to her college determined to overcome its many challenges.

“We are lucky right now – we have power connected and two light bulbs in most of the homes,” says Lima.

“Our library is small, and we have no Wi-Fi for internet research – we can sometimes use data on our phones but it is very expensive.”

Despite scarce resources, Lima describes her lecturing position as wonderfully inspiring.

“There are fourteen gentlemen and one woman in my classes,” she laughs.

“The men are really great, very open to equality. I mean, sometimes it is probably hard for them. I’m not sure if they have been taught by a woman before except in school when they were younger.”

The first woman to lecture at the college, Lima is bringing new perspectives to students and existing clergy both by example and through her teaching, which draws on gender equality theology work developed by UnitingWorld as part of the Partnering Women for Change program.

Pastor Lima with Solomon Islander Theologian Rev Dr Cliff Bird

“For both the men and the women here, this message of equality and dignity is so liberating,” Lima says. “We held a workshop to teach from the Bible about respect for women and to share what the scriptures have to say about women and men’s roles. People are very excited. When they hear messages from secular women’s rights organisations they can be suspicious and confused. But when it comes from the pulpit, from the church who they trust, it has much more power and influence.”

In July, a group will meet in Fiji to discuss how Bible study material can be brought alive for students in colleges and within church circles. Lima will be among the attendees.

After years of groundwork, our theological workshops with church partners in the Pacific have attracted funding from the Australian Government.

“The Australian Government recognises that overcoming poverty and ending violence against women in the Pacific is about working to see women’s rights and gifts recognised,” says UnitingWorld Associate Director Bronwyn Spencer. “They’ve also realised that in cultures where Christianity is central, churches hold the most influence and authority to create change. As a result, they’ve been funding our work with partners to explore biblical gender equality, so that local leaders are equipped to preach and teach it and help to open opportunities for women in church leadership. That’s actually pretty radical.”

Leaders of women’s fellowship groups at a Gender Equality Theology workshop in Fiji

For Lima, the support of people here in Australia through UnitingWorld is incredibly precious.

“I can’t thank you enough for the scholarship to study and for the prayers you have offered for me,” she says. “Without you, I could not have answered this call. My dream for the students is that they go back to their communities with the wisdom to address through a theological lens all the challenges they face – social, economic and spiritual. We experience so much good here, but so many difficulties as well.”

THANK YOU for supporting our church partners to lead this transformative dialogue among their communities. Pastor Lima’s story is one thread in a fabric we see being woven from country to country, where God’s powerful message of freedom and dignity for all is shaking and sheltering lives.

See original article from UnitingWorld

Refugee Week 2019 #with refugees

Published / posted by Sandy

All over the country, Australians are paying tribute to the contribution made by refugees in our communities.UCA

President Dr Deidre Palmer encouraged Uniting Church members to join Refugee Week celebrations.

“This week we celebrate refugees and honour their strength and courage in taking what was often for them a perilous and life-threatening journey to seek safety and freedom,” Dr Palmer said.

Across the world, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people, including 3.7 million refugees in Asia and the Pacific. Each one is seeking the opportunity for a safe and secure life for themselves and their children.

Despite the urgent need, Dr Palmer said people seeking asylum in Australia faced added challenges as a result of policies focused on border protection, rather than solutions for people in need.  

The Uniting Church has long advocated for a more compassionate response to refugees and asylum seekers.

“It is our vision that people who come to Australia seeking safety are treated fairly, that pathways exist for vulnerable people to start a new life and that they are made to feel welcome,” said Dr Palmer.

Currently, about 800 people seeking asylum in Australian remain in offshore detention in Nauru and Manus. While 300 have been approved for resettlement in the United States, there is no plan for those remaining. The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has expressed its concern for the mental health of those in prolonged detention without any clear path ahead. 

Meanwhile, drastic cuts to vital services for 1200 refugees living in our community have left people without the means to buy food, pay for rent and to access vital health care, including trauma services.

Assembly Associate General Secretary Rob Floyd said the Uniting Church and its members continued to work alongside others to create better outcomes for refugees and asylum seekers.

In a recent meeting with the World Council of Churches, United Nations High Commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi said the role of churches was “phenomenal” in helping refugees, in terms of both direct support and advocacy.

Mr Floyd thanked all those in the UCA who supported refugees, whether through advocacy, support services, as a volunteer, giving financial assistance or in prayer.

“An important way people can make a difference is to build strong relationships within their communities and with their elected representatives to create a more just and compassionate response to refugees.”

Mr Floyd recently attended the launch of a new policy plan from the University of NSW’s Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law which outlines how Australia can develop a more sustainable and humane approach to refugees going forward.

Centre Director Professor Jane McAdam said, “A successful refugee policy not only manages national borders, but also protects people who need safety.”

“Every person has a right to seek asylum. As a matter of international law people who come here in search of protection have not broken the law. Australia is actually breaking the law by not offering people protection when they are in need of it.”

The theme of Refugee Week is #WithRefugees with a focus on sharing stories and sharing food together to help build connections and a better understanding of the challenges facing refugees.

WANT TO GET INVOLVED?

Here are some ideas for supporting refugees:

How we ‘spend our dash’

Published / posted by Sandy

Some years ago, David Hayward reflected on the terms “leader”, “leadership”, and “leadership team”. He commented that “leadership” can give the impression of directing others, telling them how to behave, someone in front of all the others, and that there is a goal to be strived for and conquered. It conjures up images of ambition, competition, manipulation, coercion, exploitation and success. It breeds discontentment for the present reality. It is based on a business model of people-management and is so strongly goal-oriented that it damages the beauty of what is. Love, in this milieu, is in danger of being used as a commodity to achieve the wishes of the visionary leaders.

He was suggesting instead a return to the word “elder”, a term he acknowledges as old-fashioned, but which may be more congruent with the nature of community. “Elder” is not so much about movement outward towards a goal, but is more about growth and maturity. It is about responsibility, service and care. It is about acknowledging the hard-earned wisdom of someone who has a natural influence among the people that isn’t fabricated or artificial, but tangible and practiced. There is less danger of using people to achieve ends. Rather, people are respected as the end in themselves. Love, rather than a means to an end, becomes the end itself.

It may be a good descriptor of Jesus’ ministry.

These reflections came to mind as I pondered the passing of two ‘elders’ in character in our Pilgrim congregation – Brian Jones on the 2nd June and Marjorie Brune this week on the 18th June. Both lived long fruitful lives, and served faithfully for so many years – both in their chosen vocations, and also in and through the church. I have been blessed and inspired by both of them.

In May, former PM Bob Hawke died and there was a public memorial to honour his life. He will be remembered as a remarkable Australian ‘elder statesman’ who served his country with vision, courage and compassion.

I was reminded of ‘The Dash’ poem, about how we ‘spend our dash’ – the small line in a death notice or on a tombstone. The year of birth and death is less important than what’s between those dates – the dash – which represents the years of that person’s life and how they have chosen to live, about their growth and maturity, and about being prepared to take on responsibility, service and care.

The Dash
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we ‘spend our dash’.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
(the full poem can be read here)
© 1996 Linda Ellis

Truth – reflecting the integrity of God’s love

Published / posted by Sandy

Acts 16:16-34 John 17:20-26

Luke tells us that Paul and Silas were on their way to worship in Philippi when they ran into a young girl, a slave, who made a fortune for her owners by telling other people’s fortunes.  As the apostles passed before her, the spirit of divination within the girl registered something of who they were – ‘slaves of the Most High God’ who had ‘a way of salvation’ to proclaim.  Over the next couple of days, the spirit apparently compelled the girl to loudly announce what she had learned to anyone who would listen.  Paul, having listened to the girl for several days becomes very annoyed. He finally orders this truth-telling spirit to be gone in the name of Jesus.  Sure enough, it goes.

Why did Paul cast this spirit out?  It was telling the truth. Paul and Silas were ‘slaves of the Most High God’, and they were proclaiming a ‘way of salvation’. So what’s the problem?  Wasn’t everyone on the same side here?  Paul appears not only to miss a golden opportunity to footnote his own authority with an pagan authority already recognised amongst his hearers, but he also prevents that authority from speaking its truth altogether.  One could quite reasonably conclude that Paul has not been very bright at this point!  Especially when we note that the immediate result is that he and Silas end up in prison!

We shall find some hints toward an answer by turning to John’s gospel. This passage is part of a prayer Jesus is said to have prayed at the Last Supper.  Amongst the many remarkable features of the prayer is the close association it makes between right belief, or ‘truth’, and right behaviour, or ‘sanctity’.  What counts as truth for the Christian, according to John, is conformity with the love of God as it is revealed in the relationship between Christ and his Father.  The truthful life is a capacity for relationship, for loving, which has its origins not in our own, merely human, understanding or experience, but rather in the loving relationship between the Father and the Son. John teaches that truth is not an objective ‘something’ we invent or discover out of our own resources, but a quality of relating that is given by God, given insofar as we allow ourselves to be absorbed and included within the covenantal dance that is the triune God.

Now, what that means for the problem at hand is this; that the truth ain’t always the truth, even when that ‘truth’ appears at first glance to undergird or support our deepest beliefs. Christian truth consists in the bringing together or reconciliation of all reality within the integrating love of the Father and the Son in the Spirit.  If we look at truth from that point of view, then falsity is anything that pulls things apart, that divides us into warring factions, any ‘truth’ which actually carves a fissure through the middle of all those things that God intended for each other: things like belief and holiness, theology and politics, prayer and economics.

Christian truth is about inviting everyone to the table, and recognising that which is God in them.  False truth sees the other as the enemy.  Christian truth is on about reconciliation and relationship, precisely because we are created different but equal.  False truth is uttered by lips unwilling, or unable, to transcend the barriers that divide us.  Christian truth presents a God who would love the world in and through all that is human and material and ordinary, a God who therefore desires to transform the world’s lust for ‘more’ into a holy desire to lay down what we possess for the sake of the other.  False truth, by contrast, is trying to acquire what the other has for itself.  It is a hoarder who is forever exacting a price from all who would sit at its feet to learn.

This, I contend, is the reason why Paul, like Jesus before him, refused the evangelism of the demon, even when it apparently spoke the truth.  The spirit who animated the slave-girl proclaimed a belief in the Most High God.  Yet it also exploited and enslaved the girl for the sake of capitalism, to make a great deal of money for her owners.  This, as Paul and Silas were wise enough to see, made a nonsense of its claim to the truth.  For the God of Jesus is love.  The God of Jesus is not one to use or manipulate another for the sake of personal gain. There was a fatal gap, therefore, between the truth as it was told and the truth as it was lived. 

I put it to you that Paul and Silas were thrown into prison ultimately because they privileged the God of love and liberation over the economic realities of dog-eat-dog capitalism, because they refused the right of that ‘reality’ to colonise the truth of love with its divide-and-conquer business plan. This is exactly what Paul did when he cast out that demon – liberation from the exploitative certainties of capitalism, and the gods invoked to support it, in order to create the possibility of faith in a God who loves, and nurtures, and welcomes all people.

Here there is an immediate response – Paul seizes the opportunity to lead the jailer and his family to become a believer in God and faith in Christ.

Rev Vikki Waller, 2nd June 2019
(with acknowledgement of Nathan Nettleton’s reflection)

“Sovereignty is a spiritual notion”: An unexplored frontier in the freedom of religion debate.

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

The following opinion piece by Rev Dr Mark Brett was posted on the ABC Religion and Ethics web page on Thursday 30 May, 2019.

The current debate about freedom of religion in Australia has been overly narrow in its scope. Various anxieties are circulating about the ways in which the state extends its jurisdiction over religious institutions, or even deny the participation of religious agencies in public spaces. But there are more fundamental questions at stake, and these go to the very foundations of political authority.

In his 2018 Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration, Noel Pearson returned once again to the idea that:

“sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or “mother nature” and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.”

For the full text of Mark Brett’s opinion piece go to:

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/sovereignty-is-a-spiritual-notion-the-freedom-of-religion-debate/11163062

[Mark Brett is Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Divinity, Melbourne, and author of Political Trauma and Healing: Biblical Ethics for a Postcolonial World and Locations of God: Political Theology in the Hebrew Bible.]

Our shared values

Published / posted by Sandy

Our shared values
The victory speech began with ‘I’ve always believed in miracles’.
I don’t much care how our political leaders worship
– or even what faith, if any, they profess.
I do care that they are committed to full equality and inclusion. 
I do care that they prioritise giving opportunity to those who are vulnerable over maintaining the many advantages of the already wealthy.
I do care that the challenges of trans kids are as important to our political leaders as the struggles their own kids go through, that they don’t intentionally weaponise difference – whether race, gender, sexuality or faith – for political gain.
I do care that they have a plan to rescue our environment
from human exploitation and that they believe in science more than the status quo.
I do care that they see refugees and people seeking asylum
as human beings and don’t use cruelty as a measure of their strength or wisdom.
I do care that they see investment in public schools and hospitals as more than something you need to keep the voters happy, but rather an investment in the people that constitute our society and ensures equality of opportunity for everyone.
I do care that workers deserve a living wage, secure jobs
and safe workplaces – and the power to ensure their employer provides this.
I do care that they have a real plan to address homelessness,
fix the broken mental health system, end family and domestic violence and ensure no Australian lives in poverty.
I do care that our political leaders stand in solidarity
with the marginalised, oppressed and excluded
and that they see the economy exists to serve people
and not the other way around, and recognise that every person in our country, and beyond, is just as worthy of justice, opportunity, full inclusion in society, safety, peace and prosperity as we consider ourselves to be.
(Source: Brad Chilcott, Facebook post, Easter 2019, adapted)

Politics and Consensus

Published / posted by Sandy

Rev Terence Corkin, previously UCA Assembly General Secretary, has been working on a project calling ‘Making Church Decisions’, focussed on consensus decision making. In this post, he reflects on politics and consensus, and then considers the implications for the church. A good read – both in the lead up to the Federal election, and in the time of transition in the SA UCA Synod to multiple Presbyteries to be rolled out year.

Politics is full of conflict. Observers call out for greater collaboration rather than political point scoring. People understand that as a society we have too many shared problems to enjoy the luxury of opposing the ideas of others for no good reason. Most people long for our leaders to constructively engage together in a search for shared solutions.

I am often asked if consensus decision-making processes can work in a political environment. Well, it depends!! The first observation that I make is that consensus can only be built if there are shared values. That usually get a knowing laugh and the assumption that consensus processes cannot work in politics.

In Australia, it is very difficult to see shared values between our political parties. Maybe it is because we are in a national election campaign that makes the aggressive rejection of each other’s ideas more strident. The “necessity” to create a product differentiation between the policies of the different parties in order to attract votes at elections brings out the worst in our politicians.

If we understand the political process as the pursuit of power then clearly there can be no shared values. In that context, there has to be a winner and a loser. So is consensus building doomed to be relegated to the fringes of society? Or is there a chance that it could take over the central power centres of our society?

Options for Politicians and Consensus
In the United States until the last 15 to 20 years there was often the capacity for bipartisan solutions to issues. The phrase ‘working across the aisle’ was the real experience of US political life. This is in stark contrast to the Westminster system of government that arose in England and is used throughout its former colonies. In that system parties always vote as a bloc and if a member of a party votes with the other side they can be thrown out of their party.

So in the US, and probably other countries too, there have been experiences of parties working together to achieve shared goals. In countries where this is the experience then there is a history and practices to draw upon which support seeking after consensus.

Even though the Westminster system has built into it the requirement to be oppositional to the other side, not everything is so black and white. There are many things on which all the major political parties in Australia agree. Foreign policy is not a seriously disputed space, opposition to the death penalty is unquestioned, none of the major parties opposes access to free health care and to cheap prescription drugs, and the list could go on. So another ground that might encourage consensus seeking is to recognise those areas where there had once been a difference and now there is general agreement. What lessons can be learned from the past that can encourage us into the future?

In addition to these things, there is also a place for pragmatism as a driver for seeking consensus. Sometimes opponents can agree to work on a common project because it matters to them for different reasons. In the United States, an area where there is an increasing willingness to co-operate across the political divide is in reducing the size of the prison population. For one side the cost of incarcerating millions of people is a burden on the budget. For the other side, they don’t want to see people going to jail for extended periods of time for minor offences. So the shared interest is reducing the size of the prison population. By working together on this project it is possible for people to understand the perspective and concerns of the other side. From this understanding arise strategies that will meet their needs and so help to keep the prison population lower over time.

So, three things that can help
* Remember when co-operation has been possible in the past and learn from this. What made it possible? Perhaps there was a crisis (eg war or natural disaster) that meant other things became less important, or there were genuine goodwill and relationships that enhanced co-operation. Learn from positive experiences.
* Recall where over time, issues that were once contested are now agreed. How have these positions been appropriated into the values system of the “different sides”? What made it possible to move? Why are they not contested now and can we find other issues where collaboration makes more sense than contesting?
* Identify the big issues on which collaboration will be required for both sides to get what they want. What are the things that have to get done or both sides will continue to lose what is important to them?

Lessons for Churches
As you have been reading this post have you been thinking “what has this got to do with the church?” I think that in many places we are in the same situation as the political climate of our times. Many churches are split along ideological lines and in many places co-operation with those who think differently has stopped.

Can consensus work in churches where there is a lack of shared values? No! However, I do not believe that such churches exist. There are always some shared values. There are always some things on which even the most divided Christians can agree. There will always be something to work on together for the benefit of all sides. But we have to be prepared to look for it.

For conflicted churches or denominations I have the same advice as I offered above.
* Remember when co-operation has been possible in the past and learn from this. What made it possible?
* Recall where over time, issues that were once contested are now agreed. How have these positions been appropriated into the values system of the “different sides”? What made it possible to move?
* Identify the big issues on which collaboration will be required for both sides to get what they want. What are the things that have to get done or both sides will continue to lose what is important to them?

The reason that ideologically and high conflict churches cannot use consensus-building processes is because they just don’t want to co-operate. For reasons of power and control, fear, or disrespect of their brothers and sisters in Christ too many Christians will not work together.

Yes, sometimes they cannot work together because of previously unresolved hurt that has been done to them. But good consensus processes include building safe places and dealing with those experiences.

Co-operation is not optional for Christians
Christ has called all Christians into one body. We have to learn to deal with it! We are one as Jesus and the Father are one. To refuse to live out of that reality is to refuse to live out of the identity that we have been given in Jesus Christ. Not good!!

There is insufficient space here to outline the many and effective strategies for seeking consensus in conflicted churches. Feel free to browse the blog posts for where some aspects of this have been addressed in the past. For example: Uniting the Church – Is it Possible?

However, for the present, I just want to challenge you to look for the ways that consensus building can be encouraged. Please do this in even the hardest places for the sake of the witness of the church. In these times more than any other it is an evangelical imperative to seek common ground among Christians. For as Jesus observed, it is through our unity that the mission of the church will be advanced (John 17:21).

The post Politics and Consensus by Terence Corkin appeared first on Making Church Decisions.

Easter Sunday: The highs and lows

Published / posted by Sandy

Christ is risen. Alleluia!
Our Easter Sunday services began with a sunrise service around a fire in the courtyard, so we could appreciate the gathering light of the new day. We celebrated the risen Christ in our other three morning services – in words, and when we shared the Eucharist, and with stirring and inspiring music. We were glad to celebrate together. These 4 services were followed by the Chinese Church (CSACC) and their Easter Day service. And then Stefan and a team of volunteers prepared and served a meal for the homeless and disadvantaged in the Pilgrim hall. (Expecting 200+).
We began our service with worship, and were sent out to continue our worship with service. And so grateful for freedom to be able to worship without fear.
And then, the news from Sri Lanka on Easter Day. Multiple bombings. Many have been killed, and hundreds suffered injury. Massive destruction. Horrifying.
Ordinary people simply celebrating Easter Sunday. Culturally and linguistically diverse people who are unified together as the body of Christ. ‘There is no them and us, only us’ (Jacinda Adern). The memory of the mosque shootings in New Zealand, with people attending Friday prayers, remain vivid in our hearts and minds.
These words from Rev Radhika Sukumar-White, Minister at Leichhardt Uniting Church, and Sri Lankan by heritage:
“This afternoon, churches in my mother country were blown up by suicide bombers. Many were killed. I don’t know what to say. “Thoughts and prayers” seems so shallow and simplistic. But I pledge to teach those in my pastoral care to practise resurrection – to practise love, grace, forgiveness and compassion over and against the tombs of violence, hate, vitriol and fear”.
Amen, Rhadika. And thank you for your gracious and faith-full leadership.

Statement from Dr Deidre Palmer, President, Uniting Church in Australia

And these words from Jon Humphries (heartfelt thanks for putting into words the unformed prayers of our hearts, Jon).
When will we stop blowing each other up?
When will we stop crucifying those
who challenge our belief or authority?
When will we stop hating others
with our judgement and moralizing?
When will we stop being intentionally ignorant
and deliberately biased to avoid understanding and compassion?
When will we stop procrastinating from taking action for peace?
When will we better walk your way of cross- filled sacrifice?
When will we let you challenge our religion
and stretch our belief?
When will we sacrifice our lives for you and your will
as you sacrificed yours for us?
Christ have mercy
Christ have mercy
Christ have mercy
Christ bring peace
Christ bring grace
Christ bring love. Amen.

More prayers for Sri Lanka here.

More prayers on the Pilgrim worship resources website.

Risen indeed!

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

The resurrection of Jesus has always been central for Christian faith and identity.  Belief in God’s resurrection of Jesus is not an optional extra for Christians.  Affirming the central significance of resurrection is one thing.  However, allowing the confession “Christ is Risen” to shape our life is another thing altogether.  Too often Christians have insisted upon doctrinal assent to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection without ever asking the question, ‘What does a risen Jesus mean for the way we live as Christians in the world today?’

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s shout of “YES!” to the way Jesus lived his life and to what he taught about the in-breaking Reign of God.  In other words, the resurrection is God’s approval of the life of Jesus.  At his baptism, a voice from the heavens spoke to Jesus saying “This is my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  When God raised Jesus from death God declared that truth and authentic life are to be found in the life and death of this man.  The one despised and rejected by his contemporaries found God’s ultimate approval in his life of faithfulness that ended in death by crucifixion. God’s raising of Jesus from death proclaims unambiguously that God approved of the way Jesus lived.

Christian faith in the resurrection of Jesus was, and is born, nurtured and matured in the context of discipleship and mission.  Those who believe that God is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are called to participate with the risen Jesus in the continuation of his mission to bring God’s grace and peace to all people.

All four Gospels testify in different ways to the inseparability of resurrection faith and participation in the mission of Jesus in the world.  The empty tomb did not transform the lives of Jesus’ frightened followers.  It led to confusion, fear and disbelief (see Mark 16:1-8; Matthew 28:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-13).  It was when they encountered the risen one for themselves that true resurrection faith was born.  Matthew, Luke and John all tell us that when Jesus appeared to his frightened and bewildered followers he commissioned and empowered them to continue his work in the world (Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-49 and John 20:19-23).  Even in Mark’s Gospel (which offers no account of the appearance of the risen Jesus) we read how the disciples are instructed by the young man at the empty tomb to return to Galilee.  If the disciples wanted to see the risen Jesus they must return to the place where it all began. They would ‘see’ the risen Jesus only as they joined him in his on-going mission.

Jesus invited men and women to follow him, challenging them to live lives that expressed God’s unrelenting mercy, compassion and justice – regardless of the consequences.  Today, this same Jesus, now the risen Lord of the Church, calls us to the same costly but fulfilling way of life.  He calls us to live our lives in such a way that we become people in whom others experience God’s grace and love.

Easter is a time for celebrating what God has done for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Because Jesus lived as he lived, died as he died and was raised by God as affirmation of all he stood for, we too have the opportunity to enjoy the relationship with God for which we were created.  Easter is a time for reassessing our commitment to being people in whom God’s message of love and hope, the message embodied in Jesus, lives on in a conscious and intentional fashion.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Federal budget

Published / posted by Sandy

Leaders from across multiple religious traditions met last week, following the handing down of the Federal Budget, to convey that the #Budget2019, as a statement of our national priorities, does not adequately address the climate emergency we are facing. 

As well as calling for stronger, more coordinated action on climate change, the leaders believe the Federal Budget also falls short in some other key areas, including provisions for the most vulnerable here in Australia, and our regional neighbours. 

Below are just some of the responses from Uniting agencies and other friends:

The resource prepared in the lead up to the election looks at 7 key areas including climate change and first peoples. Invaluable resource and a great catalyst for informed discussion. Check it out here: Uniting Church in Australia Vision Statement.

Our Vision for a Just Australia

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

The Uniting Church in Australia has articulated its vision for a just, compassionate and inclusive nation in a new statement and resource.

In launching the statement, UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer said the Uniting Church’s vision for Australia was a nation where all people and all creation could flourish.

“We believe that our participation in God’s mission calls us toward the transformation that God desires for us all, marked by reconciliation, love, justice, peace, abundance and flourishing for all people and the whole earth,” said Dr Palmer.

The Uniting Church Vision Statement for a Just Australia is a collaboration of those working in justice across the church, including in Synods, Agencies and the Assembly.

The statement’s release has been timed with the lead up to the Federal election.

“Articulating our vision for Australia at this time is critical,” said Dr Palmer.

“Many of the issues identified in this document will be prominent in public debate as Australians consider the leadership they want for our country.”

She urged people to think deeply and engage in conversations about the kind of nation we want to be and to reflect on where our faith in Jesus is calling us to seek out justice for all.

The Vision Statement is expressed in seven foundational areas. It includes witness from the Bible and statements made by the Uniting Church.

There is a snapshot of the current situation in Australia across the seven foundations and key actions that are needed to move us toward the vision.

The resource is intended to assist people who want to think about the issues in small groups or host public forums with local candidates ahead of the Federal election.

Each section of the Statement includes key questions for reflection or to engage with political candidates.

“I commend this resource to congregations and Uniting Church members, as we seek to live out our Christian discipleship in every aspect of our lives,” said Dr Palmer.

“As followers of Christ, each one of us is called to be a voice for justice and hope in our communities, in Australia and in the world.”

Read and download the statement at https://uniting.church/visionstatement2019/

‘Vale’, John Smith (‘Smithy’)

Published / posted by Sandy

Motivational Speaker, Doctoral Researcher of Cultural Anthropology, Author, Advocate, Social Commentator, Academic, Human Rights campaigner, Biker, and Unorthodox Evangelist. He addressed the United Nations, nearly faced execution in the Philippines, founded numerous charities and spent much of his life with outlaws and the marginalised. An impressive bio.

Many people will remember John Smith’s contribution to the God Cares campaign in SA schools in the early 80’s. John died on March 6th, 2019, and a memorial services was held on Saturday 23rd March. Rev. Dr John Smith was an international speaker, author, and founder and President of God’s Squad Christian Motorcycle Club International, Concern Australia and St Martin’s Community Church in Melbourne. He was an evangelist and and a leader of great integrity and authenticity. He had a profound impact on the lives of so many, from bikers to school students, business leaders and academics, church leaders and politicians, university students, the poor and marginalised, and outlaw motorcycle club members. John lived faithfully the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. He somehow found time to complete a doctorate on the Jesus movement in Australia.

Eternity News recently published an article on John Smith which captures something of his passion for sharing the gospel. His leadership was less about self-promotion and self-importance, and more about a humility of spirit that pointed people to God and the life of Jesus. He was a straight talker and a ‘counter-cultural warrior’ – fiery, direct, enthusiastic, prophetic, passionate, and compassionate. In his presentations, he held culture in one hand and the Bible in the other, quoting poetry by Henry Lawson alongside lyrics from contemporary musicians, alongside the words of Scripture.

Rev Dr John Smith (‘Smithy’), founder of God’s Squad

An article by God’s Squad Christian Motorcycle Club: “He taught us how the Bible was not a book to pull ‘proof texts’ from, to justify personal gain. Neither should we conveniently skip over the hard to read passages, like loving your enemies and doing good to those who persecute you. He introduced us to new travelling companions in the scriptures such as Jeremiah and his laments, the counter cultural prophetic voices of Amos and Micah, which saw him at his most animated, in full flight preaching on a festival stage. He highlighted the frailty of King David, and introduced us to the blues songs in the Psalms that pointed to the hope of the gospel”.

John’s ministry with the God Squad seemingly came out of nowhere. At the time, he was an “orthodox” Baptist minister, beginning to feel drawn towards people on the fringes of society.
“While driving towards Bendigo, I passed a bunch of menacing-looking outlaw bikers parked by the side of the road. Oddly, I felt a surge of compassion for these guys who no one really wanted to know. Despite their apparent toughness, I found they were often vulnerable and lost but searching for a better life. Also the more I dug into Jesus’s life, the more I was challenged by the way he ministered to the outcasts of his day. I reckoned the bikers had to be the “lepers” of our society. So I began to pray that God would raise up someone able to get alongside such outsiders and show them something of the love of Christ. I sensed a reply, “Why don’t you answer your own prayer?”, but initially doubted the call. I was far too straight for the job. As time went on, John became increasingly convinced of God’s call to be “the answer to my own prayer”.

In the early 80’s, John spent time in Adelaide for the Godcares school campaign, riding his bike into school grounds and addressing the secondary school students. It had a huge impact on everyone. Geoff Boyce had taken a year’s leave of absence from teaching at the time to work alongside John, and to help make inroads into schools ministry. This led to the formation of United Christian Forum (UCF) which Geoff led for 5 years (leave without pay). UCF, with a team of talented youth workers and musicians, conducted Christian Option seminars in schools around the State. The work of UCF eventually led to the formation of Schools Ministry Group which continues to this day.

I remember at that time, I was involved in producing CTA (Christian Television Association) spots, and we did one with John. Miraculously, we were able to edit a 60 second CTA spot from John’s long monologue (which was brilliant, just hard to edit down to 60 seconds!).

John’s ministry had a profound impact for decades in and beyond Australia. For Smithy, the world was very much his parish. ‘Right to the end, John Smith remained a man of rugged hope, born from his radical commitment to and love for Jesus of Nazareth’. (a line from an excellent article here about John by Sheridan Voysey, including links to Youtube videos).

Well done, good and faithful servant.


#Christchurch

Published / posted by Sandy

Prayers for our sisters and brothers in New Zealand. #Christchurch
The President of the Uniting Church and all Moderators of our Synods are currently in New Zealand meeting with the leaders of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand. They have released the following statement.
“As Moderators and President, we are here in New Zealand with the ex-president of the Methodist Church in New Zealand and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand. We are deeply distressed to hear of the shootings at the Deans Avenue Mosque and the Linwood Masjid in Christchurch, New Zealand. We offer our prayers and support to all those affected, particularly victims and their families. As people of faith our hearts go out to our Muslim sisters and brothers. An attack on people of faith is an attack on us all, who seek to worship in safety and peace.
We invite all Uniting Church members to join members of the Methodist Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand in observing a minute’s silence on Sunday, to pray for the New Zealand community and society and for those most directly affected”.

We Pray in the Wake of the Horror of Violence
God, present with us in Christ,
Supporting and guiding us in the Spirit,
Embrace us in your compassion,
Hold us in your truth,
Infuse us with your love,
For the world can be a dark and violent place,
Where what transpires is unfair and wrong,
And where innocents suffer for the agenda of evil.
Calm our fears and worries.
Give us strength of peace.
And the power of hope.
We think of victims and their loved-ones.
Be with all who need solace and comfort in their time of distress.
Work for healing with all who need it.
When we turn our thinking to the perpetrators,
Smack down any self-righteousness within us.
Teach us how to unclench our souls as prejudice and judgement arise within our mindset.
When we start to label people or name people as enemies,
Corrupt our thinking with your grace, love and compassion,
Reminding us of the teaching of Jesus about such people.
May we not let go of our sense of horror at wrongdoing,
Not seek to excuse acts of cruelty or hate,
But transform these in your grace,
So that understanding, forgiveness,
and reconciliation become the orders of the day.
May we work with you in this world,
So that the day might come sooner than ever,
Where peace is the priority,
Injustice is resolved in good and right ways,
Where no-one dies because of the cause of others,
And that we might live together,
If not in unity, at least with respect and tolerance.
Christ, may we better learn your way,
And better live it together,
So that the horrors of humanity might end.
This we pray,
Now and always. Amen
(Source: Jon Humphries, Prayers that Unite)

Fr Rod Bower writes: From Christ Church Gosford to Christchurch New Zealand….. we join our broken heart to yours. Our thoughts and prayers are with you but they are not enough. Only a wholehearted commitment to truth and non-violence will ensure such crimes against humanity cease to occur. We should not be surprised that such an act of terrorism could emanate from Australia. We have allowed bigotry and racism to infiltrate our national discourse. We have rewarded vilification of ethnic and religious minorities with political success. We have used division to create the illusion of unity. This heinous act of terrorism is the result of the lazy, cheap and divisive political discourse that has diminished our communal soul. This must stop. We must find a better way.
Salam (peace) to the fallen.
Salam to the injured.
Salam to the grieving.
Salam for our future.

Osman Faruqi: “…We begged you to stop amplifying and normalising hatred and racism. But you told us we were ‘politically correct’ and ‘freedom of speech’ was more important. The more you gave the far-right a platform, the more powerful they got. We begged you…”

Brad Chilcott: “What can one say when the hate that has been amplified and validated by political leaders and media spills over into violence and terror? We stand with the victims, with New Zealand’s Muslim communtiy and all New Zealanders in love, sorrow and solidarity. We condemn prejudice and the politics of fear, along with all who weaponise diversity for their own gain. We commit afresh to building a society where all are welcome to belong, contribute and thrive; where leadership is measured in the ability to bring people together not drive them apart; where people of all faiths and cultures are respected and every human is afforded the same right to dignity, justice and opportunity. And again we mourn that this is not yet so – and we grieve with those who continue to suffer until it is”.

Rev. Ray Coster, World Council of Churches Central Committee member from Aotearoa New Zealand: “We share with sisters and brothers in the wider ecumenical family our pain and grief in one of New Zealand’s darkest hours and crave their prayers for the many Muslim families grieving at this time. Some of these families may be migrants or refugees. They are part of us. Many came seeking refuge and safety as Aotearoa New Zealand is perceived as a safe place. As a nation we value compassion, kindness and tolerance. What we have seen today has no place in our culture.”

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches: “This terrible crime against women, men and children at the time of their prayers is an attack on all believers and an assault on the bonds of shared humanity and peaceful coexistence which unite us all. The WCC stands in solidarity with all Muslims at this time, especially the Muslims of Aotearoa New Zealand, and expresses the strongest possible condemnation of these actions and of the hateful and dangerous ideologies that stand behind them.”
Tveit expressed his deep condolences to the Muslim community, and all the people of Aotearoa New Zealand, for this massacre is an attack on the whole nation and its values of inclusion and respect for all its citizens. He added: “We pray that all the communities of Aotearoa New Zealand will come together to support those who have suffered so dreadfully and to reaffirm the nation’s commitment to the safety and flourishing of all its people”.
Tveit concluded: “At this time the WCC reiterates its long-standing commitment to dialogue and harmony with the Muslim communities of the world. We affirm to all our Muslim friends and partners that we utterly reject such actions and call on all Christian people to follow in the way of Jesus Christ by seeking to live in peace and respect with all our neighbours, and especially committing ourselves to the protection of vulnerable minorities.”

A testing time: 40 days in the wilderness

Published / posted by Sandy

Rev Dr John Squires reflects on the Gospel reading for Lent 1 (originally posted on his blog).

The story of Jesus being “tempted in the wilderness” is told early on in three canonical Gospels. The shortest and most focussed version is in the earliest of these Gospels – the account of the good news of Jesus, the anointed one, the Son of God, which we attribute to the evangelist Mark.

This brief and focussed account (Mark 1:12-13) simply notes the bare minimum. The location is “the wilderness”. The duration is “forty days”. Present with Jesus throughout these days were both “wild beasts” and “angels”. What was the purpose of this challenging, difficult experience? Mark says that Jesus was there to be “tempted by Satan”. Under whose auspices did this all take place? The first line of the Markan account is, “the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness”.

So this short, succinct, concentrated version already gives us key pointers to the significance of this story. The forty days in the wilderness stand at the start of the public activity of Jesus, as a declaration of what he is on about. And these days are part of the intention that God has, for Jesus, to prepare for his role.

The story also appears in the book of the origins of Jesus, the anointed one, the son of David, the son of Abraham, which we attribute to Matthew, and place as the first Gospel in canonical order in our scriptures. But this wasn’t the first Gospel written; the author (by tradition, Matthew) quite clearly knew, and made use of, the earlier account of “the good news” which we link with Mark.

So in this later work, the details of the story are expanded and the plot line is filled out (Matt 4:1-11). The forty days in the wilderness becomes a time when Jesus fasted (Matt 4:2; something not mentioned in the earlier Markan account). Here, Jesus engages in a disputation with “the tempter” (Matt 4:3, which uses the language already found in the Markan version)

Of course, the role that is enacted by this figure – the tempter, the devil, the tester, the Satan – is the role of divine advocate, the one we know from the book of Job as the prosecuting attorney, the accuser, the one who puts the case that Job needs to answer. The whole of that book demonstrates how such a courtroom setting plays out, as the argument is investigated, the evidence is explored, the case for a verdict is painstakingly built.

The forty days in the wilderness was undoubtedly an intense experience for Jesus. The role of “the tempter” in this story is not actually to tempt Jesus to stray into immoral or unethical or unrighteous actions. On the contrary, the role of “the tempter” is actually to test Jesus, to probe and analyse his understandings, in to hypothesise and offer alternative strategies, to help Jesus to clarify and focus on what is central for him. It is a test of his character, his core qualities, and of his commitment to the mission to which he has been called.

Indeed, the devil here fills the role more of “the tester” than “the tempter” – and the Greek word used here (peirasmos) is quite capable of this alternative translation. It is most often used in Greek literature to describe the process of testing as to whether something is viable or possible, and that is the way it is intended elsewhere in the Gospels when it occurs. It only gains the secondary sense of “tempting” or soliciting something that is sinful, in relatively few instances, mostly within the letters of Paul and James.

The author of Luke’s Gospel clearly knew the earliest account (in Mark); it may well be that he also knew a version such as we have in Matthew, and he has reshaped and reinterpreted it at various points throughout his account. This may be one such instance. In the version of the story of the forty days in the wilderness which appears at Luke 4:1-14, there are words added, sentences rewritten, and the order of things is slightly varied. But there is still the same process of back-and-forth between accuser and accused, shaped by the scripture texts that are cited.

So Luke and Matthew both give us deeper insight into the testing that Jesus experienced during those forty days in the wilderness. They show that “the tester” utilised scripture as the basis for the trial that Jesus is undertaking. And this, it must be said, is thoroughly predictable – given that we are dealing with a text from the first century of the common era, emerging out of the context of faithful Judaism, telling the story of a faithful Jewish man – Jesus – and his earliest circle of followers – Jewish men and women. They all express the piety and faith of the Judaism of the time, for that was their religion and their culture.

Scripture sits at the heart of Jewish life and faith. Young Jewish boys, like Jesus, were taught to read the Hebrew text of scripture, and to memorise it. They were grounded in the Torah, the books of the Law, which set out the way of life, the way of faithful living, that they were to follow. They needed to know this, to have it deep within their hearts. That would have been the upbringing experienced by Jesus.

As they grew older, these Jewish boys were taught the next stage, the midrashim, the teachings which provided explanation and application of the laws and stories embedded in Torah. There were two types of midrashim: there was haggadah, which was telling stories (and the Jewish teachers, the rabbis, were excellent at telling stories!); and there was halakah, which was discussion and debate about how best to interpret and apply the laws found in Torah.

It is this latter form of teaching that we encounter, in the story of the forty days in the wilderness. The back and forth between the person on trial – Jesus – and the person charged with testing and probing his case – the accuser – is couched entirely in terms of sacred scripture. Each time an accusation is put before Jesus, the accuser quotes a passage of scripture. And each time the person on trial – Jesus – responds, another text from sacred scripture is quoted.

Think about that for a minute: both the accuser and the accused are citing scripture, arguing on the basis of what is found in the tradition and heritage and sacred story of the people of Israel. They are both engaged in this task, to get to the heart of the matter; to penetrate to the essence of the issue, through exploration of scripture and its relevance to Jesus and his mission.

This is typical Jewish midrashic argumentation. This is the way that, throughout the centuries, Jews have sought to encounter the truths of scripture – through discussion and debate, by one posing a proposition and then another arguing back in counter-proposition, through the adding of additional scripture passages into the argument, in a process of refining, sharpening, and clarifying the intent of the initial scripture text.

This was par for the course for ancient Jews. This is still the way that faithful Jews engage with scripture. My years as a member of the Uniting Church Dialogue with the Jewish Community immersed me into precisely this culture on a regular basis. It was quite an experience! To us polite, constrained Westerners, it seems like an unruly mess. To Jews, schooled in this process since their early years, it is natural, and results in deep and profound understandings of scripture.

So this is what was happening in the story that our Gospels recount: a time of testing, a testing which was designed to cut through to the centre of the issue, to engage deeply with the heart of the matter. It wasn’t an attempt by the devil to get Jesus to go off the rails, to misbehave badly, to succumb to unrighteous behaviour, to sin. Rather, this was the way that ancient Jews sought to crystallise the issue and define key matters of faith and life. That’s what was going on for Jesus during those forty days in the wilderness.

Most versions of the Bible, today, put a heading at the beginning of this story: “The Temptation of Jesus”. I wouldn’t label it as such. I would prefer to call it, “The Testing of Jesus”. What is his mission all about? Is he clear about how he will carry out that mission? What strategy does he have, as he enters into the public proclamation of his good news about God’s kingdom? These are the issues that are at stake in this particular story.

The Gospel writers believed that the forty days in the wilderness was a time for Jesus to face testing, and that this testing was mandated by God. The final point that underlines this way of understanding the story, comes when we look at the top-and-tail of each account.

The shortest and earliest account states that “the Spirit drove him into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). There is a violence, an aggression, in the term used here. But it is an action of the Spirit, forcing Jesus to enter this trial. It is something that he had to do, under the impulse of God’s direction.

One later account modifies this, and softens the verb to say that “Jesus was led up by the spirit into the wilderness” (Matt 4:1). We find this in Matthew; and that version ends with “the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him” (Matt 4:11). That picks up on what Mark had said, that “the angels waited on him” (Mark 1:13). So the story ends with an implicit approval, by the divine, through the vehicle of the angels, regarding what has transpired in the wilderness.

Another later account makes this quite clear and explicit. The version we attribute to Luke begins “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). That intensifies the sense of divine guidance and approval in what is about to take place. And the account ends with a similar note: “The devil departed from him … then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee” (Luke 4:13-14). Could it be any clearer?

Indeed, a still later account, which is not in the canon of New Testament books, but was revered by some in the early church, includes a section that reports on something from this story, placed onto the mouth of Jesus: “even so did my mother, the Holy Spirit, take me by one of my hairs and carry me to the great Mount Tabor”—a reflection of the section of the story that talks about Jesus being taken up to a high mountain (Matt 4:8). [That comes from the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and is quoted by Origen in his Commentary on John 2:12.] So in this version, the testing of Jesus is actually carried out, not by the devil, but by the Spirit!

My proposal is that, as we read this story, we need to banish thoughts of “temptation” and the notion that Jesus might choose a false and unrighteous pathway. What is actually taking place, is a strenuous and engaged encounter, in which Jesus is challenged to clarify his divine calling and better equipped to live out the mission that he has been given, by God, during his adult life. He is being tested.

In that sense, this story is not a remote, back-then, archaic account …. it is a living, here-and-now, immediate insight into how we, ourselves are to live out our faith in the hustle and bustle of our own lives. That is precisely the pathway that we are encouraged to enter, as we stand at the start of the season of Lent, and as we experience our own time of re-evaluation and reassessment of our own walk of faith today. What is God calling us to do? Who is God calling us to be? How can we best live that out in our lives?

International Women’s Day – Friday 8 March 2019.

Published / posted by Greg Elsdon

International Women’s Day – Friday 8 March 2019.

“Today is a day to celebrate women and their contribution to our global community in our governments, workplaces, communities, families and churches.” [Dr Deidre Palmer, President of the Uniting Church in Australia]

Check out Deidre’s special IWD video message: http://www.facebook.com/UnitingChurchAu/videos/308136109886268/

Australia’s IWD 2019 theme, More Powerful Together, recognises the important role we all play – as women, men, non-binary and gender diverse people. It takes all of us, working in collaboration and across that which sometimes divides us, breaking down stereotypes and gendered roles to create a world where women and girls everywhere have equal rights and opportunities.

International Women’s Day is a special focus at our 9.30am Service at Pilgrim Uniting Church on Sunday 10 March. Under the theme – ‘Better the Balance Better the World’ – the contribution of women will be celebrated with special focus on some of the amazing women who pioneered the women’s suffrage movement in South Australia in the second half of the 19th century.  Many of these women – including Mary Lee, Mary Colton, Elizabeth Nicholls, Catherine Helen Spence, Augusta Zadow, Selena Lake and Rosetta Birks – considered their commitment to the suffragist movement to be an important expression of their Christian faith.

Spotlight on ‘the church’

Published / posted by Sandy

The verdict that announced Cardinal George Pell was guilty of child sexual abuse sent shockwaves around the world this week. ‘The church’ in general have been cast in the spotlight once again, with society at large left with a negative view of the church as an institution where people, especially children, should be feeling safe.

Uniting Church SA Moderator, Rev Sue Ellis, “The news of the conviction of Cardinal Pell for Child Sex offences serves as a sombre reminder of the sad history of sexual abuse of vulnerable children entrusted to the care of churches and other institutions. It reinforces the importance of upholding the stories of people who endured abuse in a church institution”.

She continues: “As people of the Uniting Church, we are committed to seeking to make amends to survivors and to ensure others never suffer in this way again. The Church is called to be a safe place for all people and we are constantly scrutinising our policies and practices around children to ensure they comply with the Royal Commission’s ‘Key Elements of Child Safe Organisations’.”

In response to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Uniting Church launched their Safe Church initiative that offers procedures, training, screening and reporting avenues to help prevent abuses from happening within our churches. In June 2018 we also committed to join the National Redress Scheme, a Government support programme that assists people who have experienced institutionalised sexual abuse and holds institutions accountable for it.

This week the National Redress Scheme published a list of institutions identified by the Royal Commission who have joined the scheme. The Uniting Church does not appear on this list, but we are mentioned on their website along with other institutions whose applications are still being processed. The Uniting Church in Australia has provided the Federal Government with our application and supporting documents in December 2018.  We have been informed that we will soon be operational as a fully listed institution and ready to begin processing any claims originating from within the Uniting Church.

“We pray for all survivors of child sexual abuse and for their families and the families of those who can no longer share their pain. We pray for a safe society where the rights of children and vulnerable people will be recognised and championed. In Jesus’ ministry, the importance of such people in the Kingdom of Heaven was made abundantly clear to his disciples and followers. May it be so in the life and witness of our church today,” says Sue.

“Our thoughts and prayers are also with the Catholic Church at this time as Pope Francis leads the people into a new era of accountability in their discipleship to Christ.”

(originally published on SA Synod website)

Hymn: O God when trust is shattered
PASSION CHORALE 7.6.7.6 D (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”) – new words to a familiar tune
O God, when trust is shattered
by wolves among your sheep,
when youth and children suffer,
when those remembering weep,
when victims tell their stories,
when leaders hide abuse,
bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!

When leaders side with evil,
when people do their worst,
may we reach out to victims
and put their healing first.
If any member suffers,
we all will suffer, too.
Bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!

We pray that the abusers
will learn sin’s awful cost,
and — making no excuses —
will know that they are lost.
Then may they find redemption —
as we all need it, too.
Bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!

May all who serve in churches
be careful, watchful, wise.
May we prevent abuses
and hear your children’s cries.
We pray that institutions
will seek your way anew.
Bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!
Tune: Hans Leo Hassler, 1601; harmony by Johann Sebastian Bach, 1729 (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”)
Text: Copyright © 2018 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.
Email: carolynshymns@gmail.com New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com/
Permission given for churches to use this hymn in worship

Compassion for those who need our help

Published / posted by Sandy

February 2019: The Australian Churches’ Refugee Taskforce and the National Council of Churches in Australia call for an end to the demonising of refugees and asylum seekers and a humane approach to their care and support.

As people of faith we welcome recent moves to bring all children in detention off Nauru. We welcome the passing of the Medical Transfer Bill by our Australian Parliament of elected representatives. Both these measures are humane and in no way jeopardise our national security. But they do not go far enough.

As people of faith we reject any rhetoric that suggests Australia is facing a border protection crisis and that Australia needs to reopen Christmas Island as a detention facility.

As people of faith we call on people from all sides of politics, the media and society to avoid using language that seeks to demonise groups of people currently held in detention and other people wanting to come to Australia to seek a safe life.

As people of faith we call on politicians from all political parties to outline reasoned and humane policies that will end offshore detention. We want to ensure the dignity and well-being of all in our care, including those people seeking safe refuge who are in Australia and being left destitute in our communities and neighbourhoods by current policy.

We urge the kind of welcome that lifted everyone’s spirits this week, with the return of Hakeem from detention in Thailand, who we all are embracing as one of our own.

Let us be clear. We are helping sick people because they need our help. That is enough to do well, now.

“Our Churches and agencies around the nation, as ever, stand ready to help, in partnership with our Government.”

‘Just Earth’ launch

Published / posted by Sandy

On Thursday 14th February, the free “Just Earth” App was launched (available in Google and i-tunes) at the Effective Living Centre. The app is sponsored by the Environmental Action Group in the Synod of South Australia.

It offers 40 days of Biblical reflections, prayers and beautiful photographs and invites us to prayerfully discern ways we are called to participate in God’s healing and renewal of the whole creation. It is designed for those who care for all aspects of the created world and its beauty and wonders. This app combines wisdom from many traditions and ages, contemporary prayers and potential actions. It is designed to challenge, inspire and encourage all who love the earth and wish to express their love more effectively.

‘The way we see the world determines the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are our biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity – then we will treat each other with greater respect. That is the challenge – to look at the world from a different perspective”. (David Suzuki)

If we only see life from ‘our’ perspective, then we miss the point and the richness of life entirely. Indigenous spirituality demonstrates that creation is alive – the forest, the mountains, the fields and the thousand hills. It sings of the Creator Spirit, is owned by the Creator Spirit. All we need to do is open our inner eyes and view life from another perspective to notice.

 

 

Living with tragedy

Published / posted by Sandy

Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer has asked members to keep residents in disaster-affected areas in their prayers in the days and weeks ahead. After heavy monsoonal rain, Townsville and surrounding areas are experiencing major flooding. Hundreds of residents have been evacuated and thousands of homes have been inundated. It is estimated more than 300,000 cattle have died in the floods. Some churches have opened their doors for people to gather and find support. In Tasmania, homes have been destroyed in widespread bushfires, which have been burning since before Christmas.

“We pray for all those who are suffering through adversity, that they might know God’s grace and love and be restored in hope through it. In times of natural disaster, churches are pastoral first responders to people experiencing the pain and grief of loss,” said Dr Palmer. “I pray for our chaplains as they seek to comfort the distraught, and our local church leaders as they seek to support the communities around them.”

The Assembly’s National Disaster Recovery Officer Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson says support is available for presbyteries and congregations through Uniting Church disaster relief funds. “As we pray and wait to see the extent of damage and loss, we will continue to make sure that local Presbyteries are aware of the availability of peer support, monetary support through Synod and Assembly disaster relief funds and the possibility of extra ministry resources which can follow up in the recovery phase.”

Prayers

God of all comfort and compassion,
We pray for those who are being or have been devastated by flood and rain.
We know that while the rain has come as a blessing to some,
particularly those in our outback areas,
for those whose properties are inundated or lives that have been threatened,
we pray for your protection and mercy.
Strengthen those who are isolated,
Who lay sleeplessly at night concerned for their own
and their neighbour’s safety.
Keep at bay the spread of disease
And show mercy and give strength
to emergency services and SES volunteers.
Protect those who are trapped in floodwaters,
particularly visitors to the region
and have no home in which to find comfort.
May our response to the suffering of others be generous and bring you praise.
For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
(Source: Rev. Garry Hardingham, Chairperson and Presbytery Minister
Presbytery of North Queensland)

Loving God, in the midst of what nature brings us,
we thank you for the deep wells of community life;
we pray that people will be kept safe;
that property damage be minimal,
that we might support and help one another through these challenging days.
(Source: Rev David Baker, Moderator, Synod of Queensland)

Compassion in the midst of disruption

Published / posted by Sandy

Australian sociologist Hugh Mackay gave the 2019 Australia Day address. It’s worth reading in full, or listening online. Here’s some of what he had to say:

“We humans are not at our best when we are trying to cope with a heightened sense of disruption, uncertainty, insecurity and anxiety, especially when we lack a vision, a sense of direction, an explanatory narrative. At such times, we tend to become less compassionate, less tolerant, less forgiving, more self-absorbed, more prejudiced, more vulnerable to fear and generally harsher in our social attitudes. That’s what feeds our obsession with security; it’s what drives our unrealistic yearning for simple certainties; it’s what encourages misplaced faith in so-called ‘strong’ leaders; it’s what pushes some of us in the direction of political and religious extremism. Compassion, tempered by justice and fairness, is the only truly rational response to an understanding of what it means to be human.

Hugh Mackay says we need a radical culture-shift in the direction of more compassion – more kindness, more tolerance, more generosity, more forgiveness, greater mutual respect – in our public and private lives.  We need to abandon the relentless and fruitless quest for personal happiness and, adopt, as a way of life, a greater responsiveness to the needs of those around us. As Mahatma Gandhi put it: ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ (Jesus had a thing or two to say about that as well!)

What would a more compassionate Australia look like, according to Hugh Mackay?

* A culture of compassion would address, finally, the need for serious reconciliation between Indigenous and other Australians, perhaps via a treaty. It is never too late for a treaty. It would mean responding respectfully and generously to the Uluru Statement’s call for Indigenous Australians to be given a formal advisory voice in matters that directly affect the well-being of Indigenous people.

* A culture of compassion would address the cruel and unconscionable way we treat people who come to us, by whatever means, seeking asylum and refuge.

* It would encourage a greater concern for the educational welfare and development of children in our most disadvantaged public schools.

* It would mean that inequality – of income and opportunity – would become an urgent focus of public policy. The thought of 3 million Australians living in poverty would scandalise us.

* In a culture of compassion, we would not tolerate the present distortions in our housing market – including our level of homelessness – especially when, on Census night, one million Australian dwellings stood empty.

* In a culture of compassion, we wouldn’t allow ourselves to become too busy to spend time with the people who need our undivided attention, nor too busy to notice when our neighbours need help.

* A culture of compassion would mean paying at least as much attention – and devoting at least as much of our public discourse – to the health of our society as to the health of our economy. In such a culture, we would think of ourselves more as citizens than consumers. We would acknowledge that people thrive because their lives have meaning and a sense of purpose; they thrive when they feel as if they are being taken seriously and their voices are being heard; they thrive when they feel loved and supported; they thrive when they feel safe; they thrive when they feel they are part of a society that recognises and includes them.

He concludes: On Australia Day, we like to acknowledge and celebrate Aussie heroes. Let me suggest that, this year, we also acknowledge the unsung heroism of all those people who are already helping to create a culture of compassion; people who are quietly devoting themselves to the wellbeing of others. Do you dream as I dream of a kinder, more compassionate, more generous, more equitable Australia? If enough of us are prepared to act as if we are already living in that kind of society, that’s the kind of society it will become.

Hugh Mackay’s wisdom resonates deeply with the Jesus mandate, and our call to be people of the Jesus Way, where all find welcome and a place of belonging, healing and wholeness. The church has much to offer for the common good and human flourishing in the midst of fragmentation, division and suspicion, if it could grasp its identity as the embodiment of Christ, if it incarnated the compassion of Christ, and if it could recover its DNA as the community of Christ with a place for people from a diversity of backgrounds – without differentiation and denigration according to status, ethnicity, gender or sexuality.

May we live with the audacious hope that we can, in small or large ways, be the change we want to see in the world as part of the Jesus community, the body of Christ here and now, for the sake of the world. Amen.

Day of Mourning 2019

Published / posted by Sandy

This is the full text of a sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce on Sunday 20th January 2019

Sunday 20th January 2019 was set aside as a ‘Day of Mourning’ in the Uniting Church in Australia…. a time to reflect on the effect of invasion and colonisation on Australia’s First Peoples and our identity as a nation. The observance of a Day of Mourning was endorsed by the Fifteenth Assembly of the Uniting Church at the request of our sisters and brothers in the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), and allows us to stand together in remembering the truth of our history and honouring the culture of Australia’s First Peoples, their families and the next generations. The Day of Mourning will be held each year on the Sunday before Australia Day.

Our Gospel reading is The Wedding at Cana. I might have chosen another that more directly reflects the Day of Mourning theme. But one thing stood out from the gospel – there was a need, someone noticed, and did something about it. In this case, Mary noticed that the wine had run out at the wedding celebration. It was a particular pressing need with particular people in a particular place. Mary, mother of Jesus, is the one to verbalise the need once she had recognised the problem, and called on Jesus to help. Chung Hyun Kyung and other Asian women theologians suggest that Mary is more important to this story than we usually think, and we shouldn’t hurry past this “Mary factor” in the story. According to Chung, Mary’s actions express a “compassionate sensitiveness to other people’s needs” that is often found in women, perhaps because women have an acute sense of need and vulnerability that can nurture a compassionate approach to life. Jesus was raised by a woman like Mary to practice “compassionate justice”.

I wonder, as you reflect on your life, the ways you have also played this role of compassionate justice and awareness of other people’s needs, and of nurturing compassion in others. What would those stories and experiences be? How you have partnered with God in expressions of divine compassion, and point others to God as the source of divine love? Those stories and experiences of compassionate justice and service continue to provide a solid foundation for our mission and ministry together here at Pilgrim Church. 

Rev Francis Cox

Let me mention the names of a couple of people associated with our Pilgrim history. (There are many more who could be named as well).
The Rev. Francis Cox was born in London in 1817, trained as a teacher and later as a Congregational minister, and was ordained in 1852. In 1857 aged 40 he was invited to South Australia and became pastor of the Ebenezer Chapel, off Rundle Street. His congregation grew and in 1857 they built a large church in Hindmarsh Square. Following the death of Rev TQ Stow*, the first Congregational minister in South Australia, Cox came to be looked on as the local figurehead of the Congregational Church. He was associated with the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association for many years, and championed the rights of Aboriginal people.

George Taplin, Raukkan

Rev George Taplin worked with the Aboriginal people at what is now called Raukkan (The Ancient Way) near Meningie, on the shores of Lake Alexandrina. He was recruited for the ministry by Rev Thomas Quinton Stow* in 1851, and the Aborigines’ Friends Association appointed him as their first missionary-teacher. For a settlement, he chose a traditional camping ground known to Europeans as Point McLeay, on the traditional lands of the Ngarrindjeri people.

It is interesting to note that this week some of the participants at the UCA National Young Adult Leaders Conference (NYALC) participated in a ‘Walking on Country’ experience at Raukkan, led by Ngarrindjeri Elder Rev Ken Sumner and younger leader Sean Weetra, and with the UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer present. Deidre’s 2019 Survival Day message was filmed on Ngarrindjeri land, at Raukkan.

In setting aside land at Raukkan for his mission with Aboriginal people, George Taplin immediately met immediate with opposition from John Baker, a politician and wealthy property owner, briefly to be SA Premier in 1857. Baker was antagonistic towards George Taplin and the establishment of the Point McLeay Aboriginal Mission there in 1857. As the leaseholder of land adjoining Point McLeay he objected to Taplin’s choice of location there as an Aboriginal Mission there would be “prejudicial to his interests”. The government intended making a grant for Mission from the leasehold lands of his Lake Albert station. To try and prevent it from happening and as a state politician he initiated the first Royal Commission by an SA government into the conditions and welfare of Aboriginal people. He had hoped to have Taplin and the Aboriginal Friends’ Association ousted from his land. Baker also claimed that Taplin only wanted the salary and was not interested in Aboriginal welfare, that he was lazy and that he bribed the Ngarrindjeri to attend church – all patently false. Baker was clearly a mean spirited man. The Commission found no reason to relocate the Taplin Mission, and Taplin worked on with vigour – teaching, building, sharing the gospel, establishing farming, dispensing government rations and acting as a mechanic and district physician.

He was keenly interested in Ngarrindjeri culture, and learned their language, used it in preaching, and translated and published Bible tracts. He published invaluable anthropological studies which were considered to be far superior to other contemporary work of the time on South Australian Aboriginals. A chapel was built at Raukkan, and you probably carry the image of the church in your wallet or purse from time to time – it’s on the old $50 note, along with an image of David Unaipon, a preacher, author and inventor, who was born in 1872 at Raukkan, then known as the Point McLeay Mission. His father James was the mission’s first Aboriginal convert.

Even so, Taplin was a man of his time and culture, and adhered to the contemporary view that Christianity and Europeanization should be adopted and Ngarrindjeri civilization abandoned. His moral code was rigid. His attempts to erase traditional initiation and burial rites faced dogged resistance from tribal elders. His insistence on imposing western ways served to undermine the government and social structure of the Ngarrindjeri people, further weakened traditional discipline and morale, and provoked strong opposition from conservative tribal members. But, they had already been dispossessed and persecuted before his arrival. Taplin’s efforts to teach literacy and numeracy, and trades, enabled them to survive and flourish briefly in European society.

Rev Francis Cox and Rev George Taplin, along with many others, showed great compassion for the Aboriginal people here in South Australia. However, more broadly, compassionate care and respect was not always evident in the colony.

The South Australian Colonisation Act passed by the British Parliament in 1834 declared the lands of the new colony to be ” unoccupied”. The Act’s clear denial of rights for the Aboriginal people to their lands met with considerable opposition from humanitarian circles in Great Britain (including Lord Glenelg, Sir George Grey and other influential men in the Colonial Office in London). The Colonial Office subsequently enshrined the principle of Aboriginal land rights by inserting in the Letters Patent, the document issued in 1836 to formally establish the colony of South Australia, a clause which recognized the prior rights of the Aborigines to the land and guaranteed that “any lands now actually occupied or enjoyed by [the] Natives’ would not be alienated.” After protracted negotiations with the Colonial Office, it was agreed that a Protector be appointed to safeguard the Aborigines’ interests. Among his duties, he was required to ensure that any land opened up for public sale had been voluntarily ceded and fairly purchased from the Aborigines. The Commissioners agreed to set aside 20% of the proceeds from all land sales in the colony to be used for the benefit of the Aborigines and also committed the South Australia Company to protect “the natives in the unmolested exercise of their rights of property should such a right be found to exist”.

In the new colony, these commitments were soon forgotten and all the lands were declared open for public sale – thus making the Aboriginal people landless. In fact it contributed to the Aboriginal people coming to grief with the law, because if Aboriginal people could not provide a satisfactory account of their place of residence and their means of living, they were to be categorised as ‘a rogue and vagabond’, and could be jailed. (Register, 1 December 1855, p2)

One reporter at the time gave an interesting insight into the inherent lack of Christian charity within the dominant European population: “The drinking and begging of these (Aboriginal) people render their presence about Adelaide very undesirable and it is a fruitful source of evil to them. The Commissioner of Police has issued instructions that in future their camps will not be allowed at or near the city”.

So, while the Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri people and many other First Peoples were denied access to their lands, flogged, degraded, abused, socially ignored – and more, Adelaide and the suburbs and the pastoral areas grew slowly upon their old tribal land.

From colonisation in 1836, Aboriginal people’s use of the land, together with customs going back for thousands of years, was to be slowly, but surely, all but exterminated by the intrusion of the British settler and the accompanying laws and diseases of their so-called “civilisation”. The numbers of Aboriginal people would continue to decline.

Geoffrey H. Manning’s A Colonial Experience, and quoted in the Adelaide Times (24 May 1851, p2) responded: “Shame Upon Us! We take their land and drive away their food by what we call civilisation, and then deny them shelter from a storm… What comes of all the hypocrisy of our wishes to better their condition?.. What can a maddened black think of our Christianity to deny him the sod on which he was born… You grow hundreds of bushels of corn on his land but deny him the crumbs that fall from the table… They kill a sheep, but you drive his kangaroo away. You now drive him away from his own, his native land – out upon it; how can God’s all-seeing eye approve of this?”

In its preamble, the Uniting Church’s Constitution acknowledges “a community of First Peoples and of Second Peoples” and that Aboriginal people remain “the traditional owners and custodians” of the land. It goes on to address the history of colonisation, the church’s mistakes in dealing with the Aboriginal people and its responsibility for the suffering it caused, “including paternalism and racism towards the First Peoples”. Church members “were complicit in the injustice that resulted in many of the First Peoples being dispossessed from their land, their language, their culture and spirituality, becoming strangers in their own land”. It is important to address the way Aboriginal people view the role of the church as a contributor to their dispossession and disadvantage, as uncomfortable as that may be for us, the Second Peoples of this land.

Pastor Ray Minniecon wrote a prayer in 2009 which became known as the ‘Redfern Prayer’ and I would like to quote it, as sobering and challenging as it is for Second Peoples in Australia.

God of our Dreaming. Father of all our Aboriginal nations in Australia.
You have lived among us since time immemorial. We have always known You.
You gave this land to our Aboriginal nations. You have not dispossessed us nor destroyed us.
People from other lands, who do not understand our unique culture,
our unique lifestyle and our unique heritage have come and destroyed much of our way of life.
Many of these people from other lands now want to understand and reconcile with us.
But for many of us Aboriginal people, we find this reconciliation business a little difficult.
Too many of our children are still in jails.
Too many of our children are still living in sub-standard housing.
Too many of our mothers are living on the streets or in refuges.
Too many of our children are still uneducated.
Too many of our children have no land and no community to go back to.
Too many of our children have not got good opportunities for good employment.
Too many of our children are living in extremely unhealthy environments.
Too many of our children are living among violence and abuse.
Too many of our children are dying to drugs and other soul-destroying substances.
God our Dreaming and Creator of our people, we sometimes feel overwhelmed by these things.
Many of us feel like we are refugees in our own land.
Today we are coming together again on one of our battlegrounds to cry out to You
for mercy and justice for our children, for our families and for our land.
We pray that more resources will be given to our local community organisations
to help us grow healthy and strong.
We pray that the peoples from other lands will be given a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone
so that they can understand us and support us properly.
We pray that your Spirit will help and encourage us to grow good strong Aboriginal leaders.
Father we want to grow strong and healthy again in our own land.
We want to take our rightful place in our land and make our contribution to the re-building of our families, our communities and our nation.
Please hear our cries for justice. We ask these mercies in the name of Your Son. Amen.

And so the story continues of dispossession and disadvantage continues. Like Mary, we have a role in the story – to notice, to seek forgiveness, to listen and support, to participate in acts of compassion and justice. If we are convinced of God’s goodness and generosity, we can nudge God with our observation when there is need, as Mary did in our reading today. We can intervene on behalf of and alongside others. We can recognise our responsibility to embody God’s own compassion and mercy for one another; to share in bringing God’s intent for new life to birth. May it be so. Amen.

*Rev TQ Stow was the first Congregational Minister in SA, and Pilgrim Church was originally named Stow Memorial Church in his honour.

Sources
George Taplin
http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taplin-george-4687
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Taplin
https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/spirituality/redfern-prayer
G. K. Jenkin, published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976
http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taplin-george-4687
Struggle to Be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women’s Theology

Day of Mourning

Published / posted by Sandy

In the spirit of our Covenant relationship with the UAICC, the Uniting Church in Australia has declared the Sunday before Australia Day January 26 as a Day of Mourning.The observance of a Day of Mourning was endorsed by the Fifteenth Assembly at the request of our sisters and brothers in the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC).

All three morning services at Pilgrim Uniting Church (8am, 9.30am, 11am) will focus on the Day of Mourning on Jan 20th.

Our declaration of a Day of Mourning allows us to stand together in remembering the truth of our history and honouring the culture of Australia’s First Peoples, their families and the next generations.

This will be an annual fixture on our liturgical calendar that invites us to reflect on the effect of invasion and colonisation on Australia’s First Peoples and our identity as a nation, reminds us of the dispossession and violence against First Peoples, and laments that as a Church and as Second Peoples we were and remain complicit. We acknowledged this in our Church when we apologised to the Stolen Generations in 1997. We acknowledged this by revising the Preamble to our Constitution, which was approved by the Ninth Assembly in 2009. We acknowledged this in affirming First Peoples as the sovereign peoples of this land.

Rev Denise Champion, a Deacon in the UCA and an Adnyamathanha woman speaks of the new community toward which we are called as the Uniting Church:
“I have been challenged, in my work in facilitating reconciliation between First and Second Peoples, to create a safe community. A community where people can come together, sit and talk, and experience healing and forgiveness for the past, finding a new destiny together”.

As the Uniting Church we affirm that ours is “a destiny together” acknowledging the wrongs of the past and the present and committing ourselves to take action to bring about a more just Australia. As the Uniting Church we hear Jesus calling us into the light of reconciliation.

Dr Deidre Palmer, President, Uniting Church in Australia, reflects:
I pray that the whole nation may fully acknowledge our history and take a significant step towards healing for our nation. May we together continue on this journey of confession, forgiveness and working toward justice and healing‘.

(adapted from the introduction to the worship resources prepared for the Day of Mourning)

Prayer for the Uniting Church in Australia

Published / posted by Sandy

PRAYER FOR THE UNITING CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA
Written by President Dr Deidre Palmer six months after the Fifteenth Assembly (scroll down further for the President’s pastoral letter updating the decision on marriage)

Gracious and loving God,
We thank you for the Uniting Church in Australia,
for the ways your Spirit empowers us to participate in your liberating mission in the world.
You call us to be your Pilgrim People, responsive to your leading, as we witness to your reconciling love in our communities.
At this time in our life as the Uniting Church,
May your Holy Spirit weave us together as the Body of Christ, a community of grace and hope.
Renew and strengthen us as your Church –
Where there is hurt and pain, bring your comfort and healing.
Where we have caused hurt to one another, bring forgiveness and reconciliation. Where our community and unity are strained, give us patience to listen to one another, to see your presence in one another, and to love our sisters and brothers in Christ, as you have first loved us.
Where there is uncertainty and confusion, bring your guidance and light. Lead us forward in ways that are faithful to your mission in the world.
We pray for our Congregations and Faith Communities,
that they may be a source of your healing, hope, compassion and love, and welcoming and hospitable places to worship and serve.
Send your Holy Spirit upon us, fill us with passion for Christ’s mission, so that we will be courageous bearers of God’s good news of love, justice and healing in your world.
Through Christ we pray. Amen.

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

TO ALL CONGREGATIONS AND FAITH COMMUNITIES

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Greetings in this new year, that brings fresh opportunities, as we serve Christ together as the Uniting Church in Australia. I am greatly encouraged by the ways the Uniting Church is engaging in mission and exercising ministry through our local churches, Presbyteries, Synods, our Agencies, schools and the Assembly.

On this Sunday the 13th of January, six months will have passed since the members of the Fifteenth Assembly gathered in Melbourne to discern prayerfully the national priorities and directions of our Church.

Decisions of the Assembly
During this time, members of Synods, Presbyteries, Congregations and Faith Communities have heard about and discussed the decisions we made in Melbourne. In many parts of our Church, our members are living out the hopes and vision that relate to our decisions on domestic and family violence, sovereignty of First Peoples, care for creation, access for people with disabilities, and support for seasonal workers.

Our Decision on Marriage
In respect to our recognition of two statements of belief on marriage, there have been a variety of responses. Across our Church, there are many people who have embraced the decision as a wise way of moving forward as a Church, respecting the different views we hold on marriage, and giving freedom to Ministers and Congregations to hold to a view of marriage, that they believe is faithful to the Gospel of Christ. Leaders in our Church have journeyed alongside those Uniting Church members, Congregations and Presbyteries, who have difficulty in living with the decision of the Assembly.

In 2009 an additional Clause 39 (b) was approved by the Assembly, which allows Presbyteries and Synods to ask the Assembly to reconsider a decision it has made.

Clause 39 (b) of the Uniting Church Constitution states:

(i) If within six months of a decision of the Assembly, or its Standing Committee, at least half the Presbyteries within the bounds of each of at least half the Synods, or at least half the Synods, notify the President that they have determined that in their opinion

• a decision includes a matter vital to the life of the Church; and
• there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision

the President shall notify the Church that the decision is suspended until the Assembly has undertaken further consultation.

Six Presbyteries chose to exercise their right to notify me as President, that, in their opinion, the matter was “vital to the life of the Church and there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision.” There were five Presbyteries in Queensland and one Presbytery in the Northern Synod. On Saturday the 5th of January 2019, the Presbytery of South Australia met, and decided that the majority of members did not support the proposal that the Fifteenth Assembly marriage decision was a “matter vital to the life of the Church and there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision.”

This means that the threshold for the suspension of the Assembly decision has not been reached.

As a result, the Assembly decision on marriage stands, and will continue to be lived out in our Church, in various faithful expressions.

At this time, I would like to acknowledge with deep gratitude, the many Uniting Church members who have listened to one another with open hearts, and who have entered into challenging conversations, as you have responded to the Assembly decision and what it means for your particular community – and in many cases for your families and friends.

During this first six months as President, I have had many opportunities to meet with Uniting Church members, Congregations, Presbyteries and leaders of National Conferences and listen to their concerns and their hopes for our Church. Some of our conversations have focused on Assembly decisions, including our decision on marriage. Our broader focus has included the ways we can witness to God’s reconciling love, which is beyond measure and has power to transform people’s lives and the life of our society.

I know that there are Uniting Church members who have been hurt and have felt distress – either by the decision on marriage, or the possibility of the suspension of the decision. Let us remain conscious in the weeks and months ahead that this is a time for us as a Church to pastorally support one another, to act compassionately toward one another, and to hear Christ’s invitation to love each other, as Christ loves us, with grace, healing and hope. This call for us to love as Christ loves is at the heart of God’s mission.

A Prayerful and Loving Community

After the Fifteenth Assembly, I noted that I was proud of the way our Assembly members modelled a loving Christian community, by holding together and caring for each other as they exchanged strongly and faithfully held views from different theological and cultural perspectives.

In the months ahead, I pray that we will reflect the marks of the Christian community that Paul speaks of in his letter to the church in Philippi: “encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, sharing in the Spirit, compassion and sympathy.” (Philippians 2:1-3).

I invite you to pray for the Uniting Church, and for each other, that we may faithfully embody the Gospel of Christ in all we do and say. I have included a prayer for our Church, that I invite you to pray in your congregations and faith communities.

May we all know God’s abundant grace and liberating hope as we seek to journey together, shaped by God’s reconciling love.

Grace and peace.

Dr Deidre Palmer, President
Uniting Church in Australia Assembly