Messages of Hope

Month: July 2020

‘The World Service’

Published / by Sandy

Geoff Boyce, Pilgrim’s Chaplain at Large, is our guest contributor to Messages of Hope. I wonder what you think Pilgrim is known for, what its reputation is among other churches, and within the wider community? And what is the word or phrase that first comes to mind if I were to say the words, ‘Pilgrim Uniting Church’, to you?

During my time as Chaplain at Flinders University I quickly found out about attitudes to the chaplain, and to the Churches, and religion in general. The vast majority were politely disinterested or suspicious. A few were antagonistic – ‘there is no place for religion in a secular university – we didn’t invite you – we don’t need you’.

Of course, the Christian turf wars, the cultural battle for students’ hearts and minds, did not help – particularly between religious conservatives and the more open, and theologically progressive. But the other 99% of the university couldn’t have cared less! Histories of complicity of the churches in colonial violence and genocides, rumours, then current, of corruption and sexual abuse perpetrated by trusted church leaders, and the unexamined hubris and sense of entitlement by some church leaders, made the pastoral role of the chaplain within the university well-nigh impossible.

All that began to change as the university began to internationalise in the late 90’s. Money from overseas students gave the university a financial source to prop up its research sector as successive governments slashed university funding. A senior manager commented to me, ‘Meeting the needs of local students is easy – beer and sports. But overseas students bring their faith with them’. Suddenly we were needed!

I discovered that without embracing the outsider – whatever religion, creed, colour or race – we slowly die. We die in comfort, yes, but not in joy. We are trapped in our own bubble.

This pandemic period of radical disruption from routine gives us an opportunity to re-assess along with the rest of the community. For us – what does Pilgrim stand for? And how free do we feel to say to anyone in the public sphere – ‘I’m a member of Pilgrim Church’ and expect a warm response? And if a barrier, how far out do we go to build the trust needed for the outsider to see that their barrier from potential abuse is not needed?

‘The World Service’ may not be your cup of tea. Equally, other Pilgrim services may not be theirs! It is an attempt to reach out to the on-line majority to provide spiritual support and encouragement, to expose the Jesus values that lead to wellness and life, and to give witness to expressions of God’s activity in the world – without the cues that enliven the barriers I have mentioned, particularly religious forms, language and dogma. Rather, creating a hospitable space, ‘empty signifiers’ that prompt the viewer to make their own meaning and create their own life-giving rituals. And then for me to be regularly available for conversation by Zoom to make more personal connections.

It may turn out to be yet another Pilgrim service with its own congregation.

Check out an episode at geoffboyce.com and let me know what you think.

Geoff Boyce
Pilgrim Chaplain at Large

How Love Shows Us the Way During Difficult Times

Published / by Greg Elsdon

How Love Shows Us the Way During Difficult Times

Bishop Michael Curry asks “what would love do” in a world upended by racial protests and the coronavirus.

Today, like Peter and the disciples, we must discern a new normal. The continued rise in cases of COVID-19 and the raising of voices in the streets following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have left us disoriented, uncertain, and confused, afraid of what we know and anxious about what we do not know. Our old normal has been upended, and we hunger for its return.

I do not say this from a lofty perch. I get it. There is a big part of me that wants to go back to January 2020 when I had never heard of COVID-19, and when I only thought of “Contagion” as a movie. Looking back through what I know are glasses darkened by loss, I find myself remembering January 2020 as a “golden age.”

But of course, January 2020 wasn’t perfect, not even close. And anyway, I can’t go back. None of us can go back. We must move forward. But we don’t know for sure what the new normal will be. Fortunately, God’s rubric of love shows us the way.

We’ve all been trying, making mistakes, learning, regrouping, trying anew. I’ve seen it. I’ve quietly read Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline online with you. I’ve seen soup kitchens, pantries, and other feeding ministries carefully doing their work in safe and healthy ways. There are Zoom coffee hours, Bible studies, and small discipleship groups. I’ve seen people of many faiths stand for the moral primacy of love. I’ve seen it, even when public health concerns supersede all other considerations, including in-person worship. That is moral courage. Who knows, but that love may demand more of us. But fear not, just remember what the old slaves used to say, walk together, children, and don’t you get weary, because there is a great camp meeting in the Promised Land. Oh, I’ve seen us do what we never thought we would or could do, because we dared to do what Jesus tells us all to do.

As our seasons of life in the COVID-19 world continue to turn, we are called to continue to be creative, to risk, to love. We are called to ask, What would unselfish, sacrificial love do?

What would love do? Love is the community praying together, in ways old and new. Love finds a path in this new normal to build church communities around being in relationship with God. Love supports Christians in spiritual practices. Prayer, meditation, study. Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest.

What would love do? Love calls us to care for our neighbors, for our enemies. Love calls us to attend to those in prison, to those who are homeless, to those in poverty, to children, to immigrants and refugees. Love calls us to be in relationship with those with whom we disagree.

What would love do? Love calls us to be gentle with ourselves, to forgive our own mistakes, to take seriously the Sabbath. Love calls us to be in love with God, to cultivate a loving relationship with God, to spend time with God, to be still and know that God is God.

A few weeks ago when so many things were happening, both in our country and in our wider world, I was on a Zoom call with a member of our staff working on videos and interviews and it was so much and so chaotic, I remember just saying, “Let’s just stop, and pray.”

And the prayer I prayed was a prayer from The Book of Common Prayer. It’s toward the end of the prayer book on page 832 called “For Quiet Confidence.” This prayer is based on a time in the life of the prophet Isaiah, when the people of Judah and Jerusalem were living in a time when their country was in turmoil and things were uncertain and chaos seemed to be ruling.

The prophet Isaiah said, “You must remember that it is in returning and rest, that you will be saved; in quietness and confidence, you will find your strength.”

And this is the prayer we prayed and I offer it for all of us. Let us pray:

Oh, God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and in rest, we shall be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength. By the might of thy Spirit, lift us, we pray thee to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

God love you and keep the faith.

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry is Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church. He is the Chief Pastor and serves as President and Chief Executive Officer, and as Chair of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church.

This online column has been shared with Church Anew with permission by the Office of the Right Reverend Michael B. Curry, The Episcopal Church, in its entirety as it appeared on Today.com July 15, 2020.

‘We are a multicultural church’

Published / by Sandy

1985-2020: Celebrating 35 Years of Cultural Diversity
The Uniting Church rejoices in diversity of races, cultures and languages as God’s gracious gift to the human family. In 1985, the Uniting Church Assembly made the declaration “We are a multicultural church.” We continue on our journey to fully realise what it means to be a multicultural church, living faith and life cross-culturally.
We do this by:
* building relationships that are based on mutual respect, collaboration and recognition of the gifts and calling of peoples of diverse cultural and language backgrounds
* assisting the Church to fully utilise the gifts and calling of members from culturally diverse backgrounds
* continuing to develop respectful and reconciling relationships with First peoples across the life of the church
* developing culturally sensitive and appropriate policies that respond to the needs of UCA members
* fostering models of cross-cultural ministry and mission, outreach and evangelism that reflect the hospitality of God

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Dr Deidre Palmer, has prepared the following statement for the One Great Sunday of Sharing, which celebrates the 1985 statement that the Uniting Church is a multicultural church (the accompanying video can be viewed at the top of this post).
“From the traditional custodians of this land, the First Peoples, to the many who have come from countries around the world, Australia is rich in culturally and linguistically diverse peoples, and fortunate to benefit from the richness of the many cultures that make up our nation. The Uniting Church rejoices in the diversity of races, cultures and languages as God’s gracious gift and seeks to be a truly multicultural church living its faith and life cross culturally’ and interculturally.
This year marks 35 years since the 4th National Assembly declared ‘the Uniting Church in Australia is a multicultural Church.”
It is a Pentecost vision that people hear and share the good news of Christ in their own language and cultural context, as the Holy Spirit weaves us together as God’s beloved community.
Today we worship in 49 languages other than English. We have more than 201 groups, who worship in a language other than English and we have 13 National Conferences which support congregations and communities from across our cultural diversities. This One Great Sunday of Sharing held on the third Sunday in July, gives an opportunity for Uniting Church congregations, faith communities and fellowship Groups to celebrate that our present, and our future as the Uniting Church, is Christ-centred, Spirit led, intercultural and intergenerational in its leadership, ministry and expression of faith.
It has been a joy for me as President to share with Uniting Church communities across our country in different languages in a diversity of cultural contexts. It has been so encouraging to participate in National Conference gatherings, where we have celebrated in worship, in singing and dancing, our praise to God and our joy at being one in Christ. We have encouraged one another in God’s mission of love, justice and reconciliation.
We live with a common identity in Christ – followers of Jesus, infinitely loved by God, gifted with God’s grace. We honour the cultural contexts in which that common identity in Christ is nurtured. We are committed to being who God calls us to be – a “Church for all God’s People”
In this time of global crisis, where we are witnessing tragic losses of life and devastation of communities and health and economic systems, we need more than ever, to remember who we are called to be as Christ’s Church – a loving, inclusive, multicultural community.
In this time, where the sin of racism continues to undermine our common life, creates fear and threatens the safety and wellbeing of individuals and whole communities of diverse cultures, races and religions, we need to stand in solidarity affirming our call to live out the way of Christ, who breaks down all the barriers that would separate us, and speaks the good news of God’s inclusive welcome and love for all cultures and races.

Pilgrim Uniting Church has also prepared a video for the One Great Sunday of Sharing, with contributions from some of the many cultures represented by people in the UCA. Some of the video will be shown in the 9.30am service on Sunday 19th July.

One Great Sunday of Sharing 2020 video

The Sower and the Seed and Black Lives Matter

Published / by Greg Elsdon

The Sower and the Seed and Black Lives Matter

by Dr Raj Nadella

The Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13) is a familiar parable that is most often interpreted with a focus on the sower (he is too generous and even profligate in sowing everywhere) or on the soil (some soil is more receptive to the word than other). The parable highlights the disparate locations where seeds fall and juxtaposes the final fate of various seeds. While most seeds perished because they fell along the roadside, on rocky places, or among thorns, a few that fell on good soil flourished.

Parables by nature have many different meanings and occasionally call for readings different even from allegories that accompany them. A key aspect of this parable is the arbitrary manner in which the sower scatters seeds resulting in their contrasting fates. Where they fall and each environment—birds, scorching sun, and choking thorns—determine whether they perish or flourish. Seeds that fall on the path, or on the rocks, or among thorns have the odds stacked against them from the outset. None of the seeds in the parable have much, if any, agency. No doubt people should be good seeds, but can we really attribute failures or successes to seeds themselves if they have little agency in their destiny?

The parable takes on a new meaning when read in the context of growing economic disparities and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Many individuals and communities cannot grow, pursue their dreams, or realize their full potential as humans because they are excluded from systems (fall by the wayside), lack access to sufficient resources (fall on rocky soil) or are stifled by oppressive structures (choked by thorns). It sheds light on the role social determinants such as race, rather than hard work, ethos, and commitment, play in one’s flourishing or perishing.

In Matthew 13:7, Jesus describes seeds that were choked by thorns. The Greek word for choking—πνίγω—refers to strangling, throttling and suffocating. When read in the context of Black Lives Matter movement and the brutal killing of many African Americans like George Floyd by chokehold, it brings to memory a disturbing phrase we have been hearing too often—”I can’t breathe.” The fate of seeds that were choked by thorns parallels the plight of individuals whose lives and aspirations are crushed by thorns in the form of police brutality and dehumanizing economic structures.

But the parable in Matthew also highlights seed that fell on good soil and produced a crop—a hundred, sixty, or thirty times. Read in current political and economic contexts, it exposes the American Dream that enables some to flourish on account of their social location but turns into a nightmare for others as they are pushed to the margins and suffocated. In some cases, the few thrive precisely by pushing others to the margins, scorching them and strangling them—figuratively and literally. Octavia Butler’s 1993 novel, The Parable of the Sower, set in a context of climate catastrophe, growing economic disparities and police brutality in 2020 aptly captures some of these disturbing social realities.

In a culture that celebrates seeds that fall on good soil and calls them blessed but blames less fortunate individuals for their own economic and political misfortune, it is hard to expose the extent by which social determinants impact one’s success or failure. It is even harder to reduce their ability to choke individuals and remove impediments to growth of the marginalized.

But that is precisely what lies at the center of Jesus’ mission in the Gospel of Matthew.

Within the literary context of this parable (Matthew 12), Jesus heals many and empowers them to realize their full potential. Prominent among them is a man with a withered hand that Jesus restores to its fullness. The Greek word for withered hand—ξηράν—is semantically connected to the Greek word for withered seeds in the parable. Such a close link illuminates the plight of the seeds that are cast on rocky soil and scorched by the sun when they attempt to grow.

The blessed in Matthew are not those who are fortunate enough to fall on good soil, benefit from favorable structures, and flourish. In the Beatitudes (5:3-11), Jesus proclaims blessed are the ones who mourn, the meek, the marginalized, and the persecuted.

The blessed in Matthew are precisely those who fall by the wayside, on rocky soil, and are grasping for life.

In most Beatitudes, the agency in the second half is in the passive voice (they will be comforted, they will be fed, they will be shown mercy, etc). The passive voice leaves the agency open-ended and calls for human agency—the church and community—in addition to divine agency.

Accordingly, it is the church’s job to advocate for the interests of those who are scattered by the wayside and move them to fertile soil. The community has an obligation to safeguard the interests of the seed that fall on rocky soil and are scorched by the oppressive sun. The Church is invited to participate in and with the Spirit as it breathes over the breathless and challenges imperial forces that seek to choke individuals and entire communities.

Blessed are those who are cast by the wayside for they will no longer be excluded by structures.
Blessed are those who fall on rocky soil for they will be moved to good soil.
Blessed are those who fall among thorns for the Spirit, the ultimate breath, will let not thorns throttle them.


Raj Nadella is the Samuel A. Cartledge Associate Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary.

This article was posted on 7 July 2020:
https://churchanew.org/blog/posts/raj-nadella-the-sower-and-the-seed-and-black-lives-matter