The theme of the conference was “to be a witness”. It was the second time GKI Perth Congregation hosted this important conference between Indonesian language speaking congregations within the Uniting Church. Over 30 Uniting Church members from around the country gathered for three days, the first time many had travelled to Perth or participated in a National Conference.
A welcome to the conference was extended to all present by the Rev. Ciptomartalu Sapangi, the Minister of GKI Perth.
The GKI Congregation was formed in 2001 through a memorandum of understanding between the Uniting Church and the Indonesian Christian Church, or GKI (Gereja Kristen Indonesia). It is one of nine Uniting Church Congregations in Australia which worship in Bahasa Indonesian.
Representatives came to the conference from the Philadelphia Congregation, the Indonesia Missionary Church, the Living Water Congregation in Darwin, St Andrew’s Gardiner Uniting Church and Caulfield Indonesian Church in Melbourne, and GKI Uniting Neutral Bay, which also has links with the Wentworthville Uniting Church (Indonesian Language Service), in Sydney.
National Director for Multicultural Ministry Rev. Dr Apwee Ting brought a message from the President on the opening night and participated throughout the conference. The Consul General for the Republic of Indonesia in Perth, Mr Ade Padmo Sarwono, offered greetings to the conference participants during the opening event.
Moderator of the Synod of Western Australia Rev. Steve Francis brought a greeting from the Synod. Drawing from Psalm 15, he reflected on conferences as a time of much talking. He encouraged those who tend to talk too much, to listen more, and those who talk very little, to speak up and share their stories.
Elder Bosta Pratama from GKI Perth led a Saturday morning Bible Study in which he encouraged members of the conference to celebrate diversity, pursue unity, and prioritise continuity in the life of their congregation. He reflected how multiple generations can exist in an active congregation, especially in a multicultural congregation.
We joined in singing, in songs both familiar and unfamiliar to me, in both English and Bahasa Indonesian. (I don’t speak Indonesian, but it seemed quite easy to sing along.)
Rev. Jotje Karuh, General Secretary of the GKI West Java Regional Synod, gave a stirring and impassioned address to the conference exploring ways that minority cultures might relate to the dominant culture. They could develop a reactive response, continue with the status quo, go with the flow or intentionally contextualise into the present.
He affirmed that the mission of the church is grounded in God and requires a response from people that is positive, active, critical and realistic. We need always to ensure that we are prepared “to be a witness”.
Rev. Karuh noted that losing touch with the community and becoming exclusive means losing touch with that part of life that can challenge the church to be the caring, life-giving body that it is called to be.
He reported the mission statement adopted by the GKI West Java to “develop the renewal of its life by sharing common spaces with the community”. Whilst affirming that God is the Creator, human beings of faith are called to participate with God in creative actions. That is the challenge for the church today.
The GKI has undertaken a number of initiatives in recent years. Rev. Karuh told of how the church is working intentionally with other churches in Java, developing constructive interfaith relationships, and providing a youth-oriented initiative every year.
He closed with reference to Ephesians 2:10, stressing that God has created us in Christ Jesus “for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life”. The presentation was very well received and led to a spirited and engaged discussion amongst conference participants about the shape and direction of their ministries in contemporary Australian society.
Dr Apwee Ting then reflected on what it means for Indonesian Christians “to be a witness” in the multicultural Australian context. He gave an overview of the history of the Uniting Church and then explored the complexities of the “interconciliar relationships” which are at the heart of how the Uniting Church is structured.
Apwee gave a snapshot of the multicultural nature of the church: there are 12 national conferences, 193 specific language groups connected to Uniting Church Congregations, worship which takes place in 26 different national languages, as well 15 Indigenous languages and 59 Congregations which have explicitly determined that they are Cross-cultural Congregations. There is one Presbytery in NSW/ACT which is solely for Korean Congregations.
Apwee traced an important development of understanding within the national church. The national body, the Assembly, had previously declared that “we are a multicultural church” (1985) and “a church for all God’s people” (2006). In 2006, the Assembly also adopted a national property policy which affirms that we are all stewards of our church property. In 2012, the Assembly reaffirmed the call to the Australian church to be a truly multicultural church, living its faith and life cross-culturally, while in 2015 it affirmed the notion that our debates and discussions need always to provide “space for grace” to enable respectful, empowering and inclusive decision-making which is open to all the people of God.
Multicultural Ministry is alive and well in the West, as indeed it is right across the continent of Australia. WA Consultant for Multicultural Ministry Rev. Dr Emanuel Audisho addressed the conference and referred to the recent acceptance of the Perth Samoan Church as a Congregation of the Uniting Church.
He traced the development of cultural diversity amongst the Congregations of the Uniting Church in WA where there are Congregations and associated faith communities worshipping in Perth Samoan, Marhaba Assyrian, Romanian Fellowship, Korean Yeon Hap, Burmese Karen, Beth Shalom Tongan, Fijian, and Afrikaans.
Dr Audisho explained the work of the national Multicultural Ministry Reference Committee. It encourages us all to celebrate our diversity as a gift from God and to work and pray for the hope of peace and unity amongst people across the world. He indicated that a focus of his work in 2018 will be to work with second generation leaders to equip and encourage them in their leadership roles in the church.
The place of the second generation in the life of churches from cultural and linguistic origins is a lively concern for the congregations represented at the conference. St Andrew’s Gardiner Congregation in Melbourne has recently moved to a larger church building and is now offering two worship services each Sunday, one in Bahasa Indonesian, and one in English. The congregation is intentionally welcoming to people from cultures other than Indonesian.
For the GKI Perth Congregation, the development of a new strategy to remain connected with second generation people is currently being considered.
Thresi urged those present at the conference to encourage the younger members of their Congregations to attend events like Yurora and the National Young Adults Leadership Conference to gain a sense of the breadth of diversity and giftedness across the Uniting Church.
Two sessions of the conference were allocated to enable representatives of each Congregation present to report on the life and activities of their own Congregation. This was filled with, for the most part, colourful photos and energising reports of the strong faith life of each group. Some Congregations reported on the struggles they were facing through a specific situation in their communal life, particularly the change in ministry personnel which always presents challenges to negotiate. However, the overall picture is one of hope and joy: the Spirit obviously communicates clearly and without language barriers, to members of the Indonesian Congregations!
A planning session was held at the end of Saturday, during which the outgoing executive, led by Rev. Ciptomartalu Sapangi and Mr Alvin Gunawan, was thanked. A new executive was elected for 2017-2019, led by Rev. Ajub Jahja as the new Chairperson and Mr Alfian Oematan as the new Secretary, both from St. Andrew’s Gardiner Uniting Church in Melbourne, which means the next INC will be held in Melbourne in 2019. A Steering Committee was also formed with membership drawn from each state with an IndonesianCongregation: Mr. Yanuar Darmadinata (WA), Mrs. Chrstine Tan (VIC), Ms Darmi Messakh (NT), and Mrs. Maudie Deanne Vera Rindorindo-Gusti (NSW).
The Conference placed their hope on these Steering Committee members to work closely with each other, build bridges to solve some problems identified and raised in this conference, particularly Indonesian-language minister resources and second generation.
The conference came to a close on Sunday morning, with a lively worship service with the GKI Perth Congregation. Apwee Ting brought the conference to a climax with his preaching, drawing from the prophet Jeremiah, who instructed the people of Israel, when in exile in Babylon, to “seek the welfare of the city” and take an active role in the life of the local community. This scripture guides the way that Indonesian Christians are “to be a witness” in the Australian community and reassures people that God is still at work in their lives.
The conference proceedings were conducted in two languages. Most presentations were offered in Bahasa Indonesian, with some occasional references in English, but a few presenters used English as the main language for their session. I was certainly engaged in many fascinating conversations with people which, because of my limitations, had to take place in English. I am always amazed and humbled when in the presence of people who are able to operate with equal facility in two different languages!
At the start of the conference, we were each invited to share something that we had in common with person next to us, and then, something that was unique about us. I was able to identify that very easily: I was the only person in the room who could not speak Bahasa Indonesia! I am very grateful, then, for the skilled translation and nuanced explanation and interpretation provided for me by Apwee, Yane, Leo, Thresi, Alvin, Mario, Christy, Cipto, Doddy, Maudie, and others. It is because of their skills that the whole church is able to share, through this report, in appreciating the vibrant ministry of Indonesian Uniting Church Congregations in Australia.
Rev. Dr John Squires is the Director of Education and Formation and Principal of Perth Theological Hall for the Synod of Western Australia