Uniting Church in Australia Assembly - News

President Dr Deidre Palmer has voiced the Uniting Church’s concerns about the latest draft of the Religious Freedom Bills on the ABC’s national radio program Nightlife.

“We have concerns that this Bills may establish a hierarchy of rights so that religious expression is privileged over other human rights,” Dr Palmer told Nightlife host Philip Clark.

“The Uniting Church believes in the protection of people’s freedom to express their religious faith. So where this legislation seeks to strengthen and protect that we support it, but we don’t support a bill which may undermine the human rights of other people.”

By Colleen Geyer
Leadership and Theology Symposium, Adelaide, February 2020

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The Uniting Church was built on an innovative and forward-looking idea, though built in a particular time and context. Still only a young church, it has grown and become more than could have been imagined at its birth and faced many challenges along the way. As we look to the future what type of leaders do we need and what challenges will they face? Can we as the Uniting Church be bold enough to listen to our history, step away from what has always been, be open to where God is leading us and step aside for the leaders who will take us there?

An increasing number of congregations and agencies marked the Uniting Church’s Day of Mourning in January.

Since 2019, the Church has asked its members to set aside a day to lament and acknowledge the ongoing impacts of invasion and colonisation on Australia’s First Peoples. People gathered for worship in a variety of ways on Sunday 19 January 2020 and in the week leading up to 26 January.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

2020 Vision for Refugees

I recently attended the annual Refugee Alternatives Conference in my capacity as Chairperson of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce.

Hosted by the Refugee Council of Australia, the event gathers advocates and organisations supporting refugees together with people with the lived experience of seeking asylum. The two-day program facilitates conversation about how Australia can do better in providing refuge and safety in our nation.

It was great to be there as part of the Uniting Church. Creating a more welcoming community and better outcomes for refugees is an important part of our vision for a just Australia.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Fire crisis brings flood of prayer

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Dr Deidre Palmer has expressed heartfelt thanks to overseas partner churches for their extraordinary compassionate response to the recent bushfire crisis.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity and compassion from churches all around the world, who’ve kept us in their prayers right through the bushfire crisis,” said Dr Palmer.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Welcome to Country Fijian style

“Created in the Image of God – Who am I?” was the theme for the 2020 Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) Fijian National Conference (FNC).

We want to share with you the profound and powerful exchange we witnessed, where First and Second Peoples honour and respect each other’s understanding of country or vanua (land). Indeed of our connectedness in creation.

Uncle Frank in the opening worship on Thursday welcomed those gathered on the land and waters of the Kaurna Nations (marni naa pudni).

For our sisters and brothers from Fiji it is custom to ask permission to come onto a tribal vanua or country that does not belong to them, just as it is for First Peoples of this ancient land.

This is why Fijians honour First Peoples as sovereign custodians of the place where they are meeting. If a Welcome to Country has not been possible, Acknowledgment of country and the sovereign First Peoples is important.

In asking Uncle Frank to bring a Welcome to the Adelaide Country, the FNC was paying respect to the Kaurna Nations sovereignty and seeking permission to be on their lands and waters.

This happens at many UCA gatherings. However, what happened next was deeply moving.

At the conclusion of worship, we walked across the park to Lincoln College where a formal Fijian Welcome ceremony (veikidavaki) was to happen before the evening meal.

This welcome was to honour the President and his wife from the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma, the UCA President and the Moderator of the UCA Synod of South Australia.

You will see from the picture that something more, something greater happened for the first time at a UCA national conference gathering. Namely, the First Nations Elder was included in this welcome and honoured.

Uncle Frank Wangutya Wanganeen (Elder Kaurna Nations), Rev Bronte Wilson (South Australian Moderator), Dr Deidre Palmer (Assembly President) and Rev Charissa Suli 

Uncle Frank in reflecting upon what happened at the FNC said: “It was a privilege and an honour to perform the Welcome to Country for this wonderful event."

"I was overwhelmed by the kind, generous hospitality shown by the Conference organisers.”

Reflecting on the Kaurna welcome he gave and the Fijian welcome he said: “I was reminded of how my ancestors would have done business, that there would have been the Ceremony with exchanges of gifts and sharing of food and songs. It was a wonderful experience.”

This is what we saw - an exchange of respect and honour as ancient as the lands from which all who gathered had come. 

This is one instance where, by observing the sovereign First Peoples’ culture, Fijians recognise elements of their own ancient tradition and respond by intentionally seeking a Welcome to Country on vanua that does not belong to them.

To not seek this permission would be dishonouring the vanua and its sovereign First Peoples. It would be wrong.    

The question of “who am I?” cannot be separated from the land, the vanua which we are part of and which is part of us.

Uncle Frank Wangutya Wanganeen is a Kaurna Elder born at Wallaroo on lands and waters of the Narungga Peoples. He has lived in Adelaide for most of his life. Uncle Frank has been involved in various committees that deal with reconciliation, Aboriginal heritage, native title, social justice and the revival of the Kaurna language. He is a passionate cultural educator and has led the Kaurna Cultural Walking Tours in the Adelaide CBD, including for the SA Covenanting Committee for members of the UCA in 2015.

Leaders of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), the Uniting Church and UnitingCare Australia have described as a lamentable failure today’s revelation that Australia will not meet most of its Closing the Gap targets, while at the same welcoming the Federal Government’s promise of a more inclusive approach to First Peoples’ issues.

The President of the Uniting Church Dr Deidre Palmer has joined UAICC National President Rev. Garry Dronfield and UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little in lamenting today’s Closing the Gap report as “a serious humanitarian crisis”.

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison launched the 12th annual Closing the Gap report in Federal Parliament today. In his address to the Parliament, Mr Morrison made clear that five of the seven Closing the Gap targets were not on track nor would they be met in the expected time frame.

More than 300 Fijian members of the UCA gathered together in joyful fellowship for the Uniting Church’s 2020 Fiji National Conference (FNC) from 6-10 February in Adelaide.

Delegates from across Australia travelled to the conference held at Brougham Place Uniting Church and Lincoln College, bringing together those who identify with Fijian culture in the Uniting Church to celebrate their culture and nourish their faith.

Over four days, participants were invited to unpack the theme, “Created in the Image of God, who am I?”

Special guests President of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma Rev. Dr Epineri Vakadewalosa and his wife Titilia attended the whole conference along with UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer.

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