This Refugee Week from 14-20 June, Australians are encouraged to help make Australia a more welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers with the theme “Celebrating the Year of Welcome.”
UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer said this Refugee Week, in the context of COVID-19 and the growing momentum of the Black Lives movement, highlighted the need for us to work harder to combat all forms of racism and inequality in Australia.
“For many refugees and asylum seekers, the experience of racism and inequality is not new, it has been part of their lived reality, both in their home country and sadly, also here in Australia. As Christians, we believe that all people are created in God’s image and all people should have the opportunity to enjoy God’s gift of abundant life. Our life in Christ calls us to create communities that are characterised by love for one another, and of welcome and inclusion.”
In recent times, the impact of COVID-19, has meant new levels of desperation for refugees and asylum seekers in Australia who have faced even greater levels of hardship and destitution. One service provider, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia, has experienced a 224% increase in demand since 1 April and is currently providing emergency food relief to more than 600 people each week.
As well as food insecurity and the inability to meet rent payments, there has been a spike in mental health concerns with the pandemic leaving so many unable to work. Charities providing emergency accommodation say they’re being stretched to breaking point.
The Uniting Church joined with a number or organisations in calling for a financial safety net and access to Medicare to be extended to already vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees living in Australia. Thankfully, a number of States have provided some relief funding to support temporary visa holders, but the impact of the pandemic is likely to extend for many months ahead and more is needed.
More broadly, the Uniting Church has called for pathways to permanent protection for asylum seekers as well as an end to indefinite mandatory detention and a fair and timely process for accessing claims for protection. Read more in our justice Vision Statement
One thing you can do this Refugee Week is call or write to your MP to express your concern for refugees and asylum seekers in our community.
You might also like to take the opportunity to listen and learn from refugees who will be sharing their stories and perspectives.
Here are a number of ways you might like to get involved:
=> Listen in to the Working for Justice Circle Conversation with a person seeking asylum on the Assembly Facebook page.
=> Come and enjoy an evening to ‘Celebrate with Refugees‘ at Pilgrim Uniting Church on Tuesday June 22nd.
=> Book in to a movie night to see ‘Scattered People’ at the Welcoming Centre on Friday 25th June.
=> Join one of the many Refugee Week events taking place online this year
=> Watch, listen or share some of the suggested films, podcasts, poems, videos, songs on the Refugee Week resources page
=> Join the Refugee Council of Australia community dinner project, Share a Meal, Share a Story
=> Share a message of support on your social media account – use any of the hashtags #RefugeeWeek2020 #justice4refugees #NobodyLeftBehind #GameOver
=> Call or speak to your MP about extending the safety net and Medicare benefits to refugees and asylum seekers impacted by COVID-19
=> Find out more from the SA Synod website, and the Pilgrim Social Justice website with resources for Refugee Week.
As we mark 44 years of the Uniting Church in Australia on 22 June, President Dr Deidre Palmer has encouraged UCA members to take time to pause, give thanks for what is past, and reflect on where God is calling us into the future.
In her final Anniversary message, Dr Palmer reflects on how the disruption and devastation of COVID-19 has caused us to think in a new way about what it means to be the Uniting Church.
“Over the past year, we have had cause to reflect on who we are as the church, when our regular rituals, ways of being with each other, our advocacy, and our planned events have been disrupted by a wave of devastation caused by the pandemic that has worked its way across the world,” said Dr Palmer.
“We have at times felt isolated, and powerless in the face of such suffering and grief. We have also been encouraged by the ways people have acted compassionately toward others.”
Dr Palmer said the anniversary was an opportunity to give thanks for who we are as the Uniting Church , who we’ve become and where we are going.
In particular, Dr Palmer gives thanks for the journey we are on together as First and Second Peoples, our work towards becoming an intercultural Christian community, the vision and hope of our young people and prophetic voices calling for justice and healing in our nation and for all creation.
“On this anniversary of the Uniting Church, I invite us to move forward in faith, opening our hearts to the actions of the innovative, creative Holy Spirit, forming and transforming the Uniting Church into a community in Christ embodying God’s abundant grace and liberating hope.”
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
I once was at a church where people used to say if the sermon was boring they’d start counting the holes in the timber roofing. Thankfully no holes in our timber roofing, nor – hopefully – a need to count holes.
But I do want to talk about ceilings. In some older style churches the roof is designed as if it is an upturned boat. The wooden beams are deliberately left bare. And this architectural tradition is said to come from this Gospel story that recounts when Jesus stills a storm while on a boat at night with his disciples. It really must have been quite a storm for the experienced fishermen on board to be terrified. We are told that the geography around Lake Galilee means that the winds can quickly churn up the inland lake and make it treacherous for boats. Now there are storms, and then there are STORMS. And this one is huge, an apocalyptic boat ride from hell.
What’s going on in this story? You may have heard many a sermon on this text and there is much that can be said about this text. I offer these brief reflections.
The writer of Mark’s Gospel is said to have written sometime from 66CE when serious trouble was brewing up against the Roman occupiers with a Jewish rebellion in Judea. All sorts of measures were used to quell the rebellion include systematically starving the people to force order to be restored. Mark’s Gospel could have been written as late as 74CE, a few years later after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. At that time, Roman soldiers had surrounded and then systematically ransacked Jerusalem, culminating in the burning and looting of the Temple that had been the heart of Jewish religious and cultural life. One can only imagine the horror, the chaos, the destruction, with the slaughter of thousands of people in the city of Jerusalem. The historian Josephus writes, ‘Through the roar of the flames streaming far and wide, the groans of the falling victims were heard; such was the height of the hill (on which the Temple stood) and the magnitude of the blazing pile that the entire city seemed to be ablaze; and the noise – nothing more deafening and frightening could be imagined’. Thousands were butchered, with bodies piled up in the street. Many people were taken into slavery in the mines of Egypt or dispersed to arenas throughout the Empire to be butchered for the amusement of the public.
Now, the writer of Mark’s Gospel was like an early journalist writing an account of Jesus in the context of the political world 30 or 40 years after the death of Jesus, and in the shadow of Rome’s enormous power. Then, as now, a writer and journalist can be in serious danger for writing against Empire and the powers of the day. So this story of an apocalyptic storm on the lake might be read in much the same way as the parables that immediately precede this story in Mark’s Gospel – hinting at something beyond the literal story it tells. A chaotic storm threatening to overwhelm the occupants of the boat is an entirely appropriate way to write about the might of the Roman Empire threatening to crush the Jewish people.
Until the destruction of the temple, the early followers of Jesus remained as a group within Judaism, the religion of the Jewish people. Christians were also under threat, terrified for their lives. They had to find safe ways to practice their religious life, with symbols and signs and codified writing like we see in Mark’s Gospel, the earliest of the gospel writings.
The world as they had known it had come to an end. There was terrible ongoing chaos. This description of a small boat caught in a chaotic storm works brilliantly as a symbol for the political chaos at the time. And here’s what sustained hope for the early Christians amidst the chaos – that Jesus was with them, in the ‘boat’ that was caught in such a perilous situation. That even though it appeared he was sleeping, inactive, unaware in the ‘boat’, he had the power to control these storms. And he was present with them.
Like the disciples, those who read Mark’s Gospel may have thought God was indifferent to their hardship and suffering. The writer of Mark’s Gospel was saying to those early Christians – have courage, have faith, because Jesus is in that boat with you. There will be winds and storms again, but the hope of this story is that the Reign of God extends over even the most daunting expression of chaos. It offers the hope that even the chaos can be brought to order.
The boat became a symbol of the early church. During times when Christians needed to disguise the cross, the boat’s mast formed the cross. The depiction of a boat is incorporated into the logo of the World Council of Churches, to represent the world wide Church. It is a potent metaphor for the church tossed around by the storms of this life.The symbol of the boat is literally built into the architecture of many older churches. When we see the exposed beams we are meant to see the keel (bottom) of a ship. Imagine a ship stripped of everything expect the bottom structure, then turn it upside-down and stick it to the ceiling. That is what we are intended to see. We call the part where the congregation sits the ‘nave’, from the Latin navis, or ship (from which we get the word navy), and was meant to portray the reality that the Church itself is a ship or a boat, protecting those inside it from the waves and buffets of the world. The church offers a sanctuary, a safe place, a refuge. We are in that boat, and Jesus is with us, journeying with us through the inevitable storms of life we must go through. Sanctuary has been a place marker of bricks and mortar but over the centuries it’s also been about practice, offering a tangible witness of God’s justice-seeking love.
What does this mean for you, here in this safe place, a sanctuary where Jesus is present with us, where the boat is literally over our heads?
When the service concludes, we are sent out again with the words of benediction. We take the stillness, calm and peace we experience here to give witness to Jesus in a world that knows too much chaos.
Spend a few moments in quiet reflection as you find your place in the boat, name the chaos you know to be present around you, and find your hope in Jesus who is present with you. Amen.
The Uniting Church National History Association 3rd Biennial Conference was held in Sydney over the June long weekend 2021.
Participants were invited to consider what it meant to be ‘Growing up Uniting‘ in a secular age, or growing up ecumenically, theologically, spiritually, proudly, liturgically, multiculturally, hopefully and joyfully.
Young people from various Uniting Church CALD communities explored what it meant to be growing up Tongan Australian, Korean Australian, Fijian Australian, Samoan Australian etc in the Uniting Church.
As well, there was an opportunity to consider what it means to grow up disciples or to explore growing old gracefully in the Uniting Church.
A new book, Growing Up Uniting, was launched at the conference. It is a collection of reflections by young people in the Uniting Church, edited by Rev Dr William Emilsen (available through MediaCom).
Image: Rev Dr William Emilsen (editor) and Rev Ellie Elia (contributor)
Dr Judith Raftery, President of the Uniting Church (SA) Historical Society, and a member at Pilgrim Uniting Church, commends the book:
“This collection of lively and thoughtful essays is instructive reading for anyone who cares about the present and future of the Uniting Church in Australia. The contributors write with candour about their experiences of “growing up Uniting.” The UCA’s contribution to their lives – its open and welcoming style, its encouragement of their questions and its capacity to respond with conversations that open up rather than close down further enquiry, its provision of loving and practical mentoring, its embrace of diversity and inclusiveness, its witness to radical gospel values of justice, compassion, servant leadership and rejection of oppression – is enthusiastically acknowledged. But they are not blind to their church’s shortcomings – its failure to always live up to the best impulses of the Basis of Union, its growing tendency to replace conciliar and consensus models of decision-making with corporate and managerialist ones, its loss of its early enthusiasm and imagination in the provision of youth ministries, its preference (sometimes and in some places), for hankering after old and past-it certainties rather than grasping the uncertainties of new challenges. These are the young people of our church, speaking to us all. We would do well to heed what they say, allow ourselves to be reproved by it, and let their insights and hopes temper our sometimes fearful predictions about the UCA’s future”.
A book well worth reading as we celebrate the 44th anniversary of the Uniting Church (inauguarated on 22nd June 1977).
All three morning services (8am, 9.30am and 11am) on Sunday 30th May included reference to Reconciliation Sunday and Reconciliation Week. Reconciliation Sunday is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements with our Aboriginal sisters and brothers, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.
The 2021 Reconciliation Week theme, More than a word – reconciliation takes action, asks people to take their awareness and knowledge, and use it as springboard to more substantive, brave action. For reconciliation to be effective, it must involve truth-telling, and actively address issues of inequality, systemic racism and instances where the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are ignored, denied or marginalised. Yes, there is greater support for reconciliation from Australian people than ever before, but we must continue to be determined in order to achieve the goals of the movement – a just, equitable, reconciled Australia. Justice stands at the heart of God. Justice is nothing other than love which seeks to understand, resist and overcome the structure of oppression. Bearing witness to the love of God involves working for justice.
As part of the 9.30am service (which can be viewed on Youtube here), Mr Allen Edwards was invited to play the didgeridoo and to offer Welcome to Country, following the video of the song by Geoff Boyce (Listen to the Whisper), sung by Tim and Aly Solly. We have used the video many times before in the service, but it was particularly emotive this time. Tarlee Leondaris (Covenanting Officer, SA UCA Synod) offered the message. A new book, Realisations and Reflections: Stories of transformation by members of Pilgrim Uniting Church engaging with Australia’s First Peoples*, includes contributions by some of the 8am and 9.30am community and edited by Geoff Boyce. Geoff Boyce wrote a new song, Realisations, for the occasion, which was also launched on Reconciliation. Very meaningful. The book was launched by Hon Kyam Maher, Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The new book can be purchased from the Pilgrim office, or via Lulu online. All funds raised will go to support Covenanting projects.
The Reconciliation Sunday service (and book launch) was a very memorable and moving occasion.
This prayer was used in the Reconciliation Sunday service: Together, let us create brave space. Because there is no such thing as a “safe space” — We exist in the real world. We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds. In this space: We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world. We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere. We call each other to more truth and love and reconciliation. We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow. We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know. We will not be perfect. This space will not be perfect. It will not always be what we wish it to be. But, it will be our brave space together, and we will work on it side by side. (Source: Micky ScottBey Jones, adapted)