Messages of Hope

Month: July 2017

Call to prayer: a response to reports on domestic violence

Published / by Sandy

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

During the past week there have been several articles and documentaries on the ABC that have addressed domestic violence and religion in Australia (including this one by Julia Baird).

As Moderator of the Uniting Church in South Australia, I want to assure all members that the Uniting Church does not condone any form of domestic violence. Any form of violence is totally against Jesus’ teachings and is incompatible with God’s mission.

The significance of this stance has been demonstrated through our Code of Ethics and Safe Church training programs (which contain domestic violence modules). Code of Ethics and Safe Church training is mandatory and requires ministers to attend regular refreshers as part of their ongoing professional supervision.

The Code of Ethics and Ministry Practice states that all pastoral relationships in our Church should be characterised by the love, care and compassion that was embodied in the life of Jesus Christ.

The Uniting Church in South Australia was also the first to launch the ‘Beyond Violence‘ campaign under the leadership of Dr Deidre Palmer, the past Moderator of the Uniting Church SA and the President-Elect.

Beyond Violence aims to raise awareness of, and educate Church communities about, the dynamics of domestic violence, provide guidance for pastoral workers on how to respond to victims and perpetrators, and highlight the importance of respectful, gender-equal relationships as a protective factor against family violence. The campaign also promotes the widely-used Domestic Violence Handbook for Clergy and Pastoral Workers which was created in conjunction with Uniting Communities.

Many people living with domestic or family violence suffer in silence and are unsure of where they can safely turn for help*.

I would like to call church members to join me in praying for anyone who has been, or continues to be, subjected to or affected by family or domestic violence. I pray that God will enlighten those living in violent situations and provide them with wisdom to see when things are not right within their relationships. I pray that ministry leaders can create safe, respectful and supportive environments so that women and men experiencing domestic violence feel safe to seek help.

Grace & peace,

Rev Sue Ellis

Uniting Church in South Australia

*Lifeline (131 114) is a 24-hour helpline that offers support and counselling for personal crisis. Other organisations, services and helplines addressing domestic violence are listed on the Beyond Violence website here.

Can a place be truly ‘godless’?

Published / by Sandy

An excerpt from a sermon by Rev Christy Capper, 23rd July 2017

“The most godless place under heaven” (Rev James Denny, describing Sydney in 1824).

Can a place be truly godless? The ancient people of the Middle East did not think so. To them it was vital to find out who the local god was when travelling to a new area. Gods were seen as regional. To have success in a place you needed to know what god governed that particular location. This was the god that would need to pray to in order for the land to be fertile and produce crops, in order for your wife to be fertile and produce children. This was the god who brought good weather and kept your family and friends safe and well fed. This is not the way that we think anymore. When I moved from Melbourne to Adelaide, I was more concerned with finding good coffee shops and the local supermarket. These days we scout out different things when we move to a new area.

Jacob had been sent away by his father, Isaac, to find a wife. He leaves his family and their land and journeys away from the familiar places of his youth. One night when Jacob breaks his journey to sleep he lies down and has a dream. In his dream he sees a ladder set up, angels are ascending and descending the ladder and God promises Jacob that his descendants will be numerous, that they shall spread over the land, that God will go with them. When he wakes up Jacob realises that God is in this place – none other than the house of God. For a man who lived in a world of regional gods this is a bold statement, this is a new way of looking at the world. Jacob realizes that the God who has made these promises to him is bigger than he previously realised, that this God is in more than one place. As the Hebrew Scriptures continue we see the prophets and the psalmists proclaiming the reign of God all over the creation, a belief that is continued in the New Testament.

As time has gone by, and as Christians have engaged in mission, there have been times when we have forgotten Jacob’s profound statement – that God is in this place. Missionaries have, at times, engaged in mission as though they were bringing God to a Godless land, a land devoid of the divine. Empty of civilisation, empty of humans, empty of God.

There is nowhere that we go, nowhere in creation, that God is not already present. God is in all places. Sometimes our actions in mission can make it seem as though we do not believe that God is already present and working in our world. Sometimes the way that we think about mission makes it seem as though we believe that we are the bearers of God, God’s only way into a world that is ‘godless’.

This is a fallacy and a show of pride.

Mission is not taking God into a world because God is unable to get there without us. Mission is looking at the world around us, finding places where God is at work and calls us to join in.

(Christy’s full sermon is available on the ‘hear here’ link on the home page)



Something seems to be slipping

Published / by Sandy

(Sermon at Pilgrim Uniting Church, Sunday 16th July 2017)

Something seems to be slipping…

As you may know, I’ve been in North America, and the last part of my travel related to my role as President, DIAKONIA World Federation, culminating in a very successful DIAKONIA World Assembly in Chicago, an event held every four years. It was interesting to be in America and to experience first hand how things seem to be slipping. Not just there, but here. Attitudes have become hardened about ‘them and us’. Actions have been emboldened in the changing landscape of our culturally and religiously diverse world.

DIAKONIA World Federation celebrated 70 years since it began, with diaconal associations pledging to work together in post World War II Europe. This didn’t happen in isolation. The war was certainly a catalyst to firm up the commitment to work together. But the movement towards collaboration that would transcend political borders and cultural boundaries had been happening for decades. It was also reflected in other efforts to work together – the formation of the World Council of Churches (1948), the formation of the Church of South India from several Protestant denominations (1947), the United Nations (1945), the Lutheran World Federation (1947), and so many more formed in the immediate post-war period. There was a hopefulness about the way human societies would choose to work together.

But something seems to be slipping, notch by notch…

At one of the gatherings of diaconal workers that followed the DIAKONIA Assembly in Chicago, we came to learn about behaviour towards workers (mainly African-American and Hispanic people) in the university cafeteria that left a lot to be desired. Yelling, derogatory and demeaning comments, and a sense of white privilege and entitlement. Completely incongruous with the espoused values of diaconal workers. When one of the leaders learned about this situation, she reflected that the behaviour seems to have been unconsciously absorbed – as if by osmosis – from the rhetoric of political leaders, media commentators, as well as broad societal changes. People now felt they had permission to behave differently towards others who are ‘not like us’. It was deeply distressing: even committed and faithful Christians can lose their bearings, be swept along by the currents of change rather than be the lighthouse reflecting God’s way of truth, justice, compassion and mercy.

Something seems to be slipping, notch by notch, day by day…

And back home, I became aware of public behaviours that should outrage us but somehow have become part of the new norm. You may know about Yasmin Abdel-Magied, a 26 year old mechanical engineer who was named Queensland’s Young Australian of the Year for her work in founding Youth Without Borders, an organisation that helps young people work for positive change in their communities. She is also a Muslim. On ANZAC Day she dared to suggest that it may be appropriate to remember other people fleeing from and suffering as a result, of wars today. It’s not such an extraordinary thought, but the reaction against her has been extreme. Yasmin became a target. A media commentator (Prue MacSween) said if she had a chance she would run over her! She endured daily death threats, changed her phone number, moved house, and now has left Australia altogether. (Julia Baird, ABC’s The Drum) said: “Her savaging has been so grotesque in its meanness, ugly in its intolerance and alarming in its violence, that it’s obvious something else is going on, too – something has been legitimised and unleashed. Racism, sexism and Islamophobia make a potent brew’.

Something seems to be slipping, notch by notch, day by day, media story by media story…

One of the speakers at the DIAKONIA World Assembly, Rev Dr Michael Kinnamon, has recently published a short book, ‘The Witness of Religion in an Age of Fear’. The introduction reads:
‘…contemporary (American/western) society is saturated with fear, fear that is out of proportion to the actual threats we face. Such excessive fearfulness leads to attacks on the wrong targets and to the misdirecting of finite public resources. It turns suspicion into a virtue, thus making it harder to interact constructively with others’.

Kinnamon quotes former President Obama (1): ‘Fear can lead us to lash out against those who are different, or lead us to try to get some sinister ‘other’ under control. Alternatively, fear can lead us to succumb to despair, or paralysis or cynicism. Fear can feed our more selfish impulses and erode the bonds of community…it can be contagious, spreading through societies, and through nations. And if we let it consume us, the consequences of that fear can be worse than any outward threat’. Kinnamon noted that when a nation is afraid, it allows an incredibly elaborate security apparatus to be set up that then has a stake in keeping the public perpetually afraid.

People of faith have an important word to say to a fearful culture. How we do our theology matters in the incredibly fast-paced and pluralistic world we live in. And how we deal with our own fear.

Today’s reading from Romans can easily lead us into a simplistic, dualistic way of understanding our human nature. On the one hand we’re doomed because we’re mere flesh, a physical being, trapped in sin. On the other hand, the spirit is good, but requires us to deny the flesh, or to see the sinfulness of the flesh. And therefore we need Jesus to rescue us from our sinful state. And thereby hangs many a conversion conversation. Familiar?

But let’s begin with God. God is love. Source of all being. Mother. Father. Parent. God’s love is infinite and eternal. And when we speak about God’s love as divine energy, we speak in terms of Spirit. And when we speak about God’s love embodied, we speak about the one we name as Christ, revealed in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who lived in a particular time and place. God’s energy appeared as matter. Word made flesh. The embodiment of God’s love.

Now here’s where it moves to us… we too are finite reflections of God’s infinite love, just as Jesus was. God’s spirit, which we see in him, is in all of us. We, you and I, all of us, are part of God, members of the cosmos, instances of the embodiment of God’s eternal and infinite love. We find our place of belonging in God. We can let God’s goodness be our goodness: our goodness is our Godness. Christ appearing as Jesus comes to show us this. (2)

Paul believes that here and now humans can live in the Spirit, that believers in Christ live in a new eco-system, a new place structured by Christ, by the Spirit, where the orientation is towards life and peace. It is the best expression of faith in God, when we allow the focus of our lives to be about God’s life and peace. Paul contrasts this with the way that denies life, denies love, denies peace, denies freedom. When our lives are preoccupied by fear, and fulfilling our own needs, wants, and desires, we cut ourselves off from the joy and love that is all around us.

Something is slipping. Surely we see the signs all around us. We need to name them as such, rather than being persuaded by and swept along by them. When we limit our own understanding to that of being ‘mere mortals’, we restrict ourselves to the power of our fears and desires. It takes a leap of faith to open ourselves to life – to take the risk of opening ourselves to the wonderful and unpredictable Spirit that flows so freely and with such life all around us. To live in the Spirit is to allow God’s infinite power to live in us, to be able to love others as Jesus loved.

Let us spend some time in silent reflection, to be aware of God’s Spirit in our company, beckoning us to recognise ourselves as those who carry within us and between us the hope of God’s infinite love within our finite lives and the seeds of love, justice, mercy, compassion, hope and forgiveness.

It will change our lives, it will change the world.

May it be so. Amen.

(1) Presidential prayer breakfast, Feb 4, 2016
(2) adapted from reflections by Steve Garness-Holmes, Unfolding Light

Census – what really counts . . .

Published / by Peter

Census 2016 figures have been released and much has been made of the rise of  people professing “no religion”.

Here’s UCA President Stuart McMillan’s reflection:

The 2016 Census figures released today show that a majority of Australians (57.7 per cent) still identify as Christian amid a long term trend of falling religious affiliation.

When asked to list their religious affiliation, more than 13.5 million Australians chose Christianity, almost twice as many as chose the No Religion response.

More than 870,000 people – 3.7 per cent of all respondents listed their religious affiliation as Uniting Church.

This 2016 figure is down by a total of 195,611 from the 2011 Census – and down from 5 per cent as a total of all respondents in the 2011 survey.

It is the first time in the Uniting Church’s history that the Census figure has slipped below one million, although other major Christian denominations have also experienced drops in membership in line with the generally ageing demographic profile of Australian Christians.

Despite the drop, the result will most likely see the UCA maintain its position as the third largest Christian grouping in Australia and the third largest religious grouping overall.

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan described the Census result as expected, and spoke of the transformation taking place.

“The Uniting Church is already embracing a future as a welcoming, vibrant, culturally diverse, post-denominational church with the same passion for justice and ecumenism we’ve always had,” said Mr McMillan.

“As Rev. Prof. Andrew Dutney observed at the 14th Assembly, we mustn’t be so mesmerised by decline that we can’t lift our eyes to see the wonderful thing that the Spirit is doing in gathering the church afresh from the edges.

“Our Church remains a vital expression of Christ’s mission on the Earth and a source of hope and comfort to the vulnerable and oppressed, and we will continue to work through our congregations and other councils of the Church, our schools and community service agencies to share the good news of Jesus Christ through action and word in the world.

“The steady increase of people of other faith traditions through migration to Australia also underscores how vitally important our interfaith friendships and conversations are for a harmonious community,” said Mr McMillan.