President of the Uniting Church Stuart McMillan offered words of welcome.
“As Paul says in his letter to the Church in Philippi, ‘Whenever I pray for you, I pray with joy because of the partnership we have in the Gospel’. Today I am speaking these words to you, as Middle Eastern people of the Uniting Church.”
“The Uniting Church in Australia rejoices in our shared partnership in the Gospel, and in the wisdom and deep understandings you bring to our Church as we together glimpse something more of the mystery of God.”
There was also a significant time of sharing of people’s experiences, particularly those who had arrived in Australia as refugees and been welcomed and supported by Bankstown District Uniting Church.
Bashar is one of five new arrivals who shared with the whole group some of their experiences of the war in Syria.
He recalled how he prayed for his family as soldiers kept him captive. When they realised he was Christian, he said they allowed him to leave.
“I feel that God protected us as a family in the war and my purpose here in Australia is to share my story,” Bashir told the Conference.
“Death is not a separation of the soul from flesh but for us as Christians, death is being away from God. This encourages me every day to stay connected with God.”
Throughout the weekend, there was singing, both traditional and contemporary, in English, Arabic, and Armenian, led by the Bankstown Youth Band and a choir made up of the newcomers from Syria. On Sunday, choir member Julia shared The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and still spoken in her Syrian village, Maaloula.
Middle Eastern food was shared together over lunch.
Assembly National Consultant Rev Dr Apwee Ting spoke on the key bible passage for the conference (Philippians 1: 2-11) and how faith in a loving God has sustained many Christians in the midst of great suffering in the Middle East.
“The confidence which Paul speaks about is a faith statement. It reflects a firm belief and a firm truth that God’s love for us goes beyond the suffering we are experiencing.”
Assembly Associate General Secretary Rob Floyd spoke about the emerging partnerships between the Uniting Church and partner churches in the Middle East.
The President, Mr Floyd and Middle East National Conference executive members met with leaders of Christian Churches in Lebanon in January. As a result of that trip, UnitingWorld has been supporting Syrian children living in Lebanon as refugees to access education.
Rob Floyd thanked the leadership of the Middle East National Conference for their work in establishing the newest National Conference of the Uniting Church and bringing people together in the Uniting Church from the Middle East region.
“The Middle East National Conference is a reflection of the diversity of us as a multicultural church. You offer an example of what it means to hold people together from a region which contains many different language and cultural groups as one body in Christ.”
Travelling from Perth, MENC Executive Member Rev. Dr Emanuel Audisho spoke about the Middle East community in WA. He reported that the Assyrian and Arabic Faith Community which he founded in 2003 is now in full membership with the Uniting Church.
“As a National Conference we need to establish a strong and fruitful connection between Uniting Church congregations and the UCA,” said Rev. Dr Audisho.
“We are now living together here in Australia in one community and facing the same challenges and this creates a need to work together to achieve the same goals.
“We need to invite our church members and leaders to come together and share in activities together. Also, we need to continue to help new arrivals from the Middle East by providing a place of fellowship and welcome.”
An executive committee of the Conference was elected over the weekend. The members are: Rev. Dr Emanuel Audisho, Mr Levon Kardashian (Secretary), Rev Dr Krikor Youmshajekian (Treasurer), Rev. George Fattal and Rev. Gaby Kobrossi (Chairperson) and new members Mrs Shireen Chidiac and Mrs Maral Sarkissian.