I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of Frontier Services for as long as I can remember. So I was personally delighted that the very first invitation I received upon becoming President-Elect in 2009 was to preach at the Frontier Services centenary celebration in 2012. I was looking forward to making support for this wonderful organisation a central part of my term as President.
And so it has turned out to be, although not in a way that I expected.
On July 1 Frontier Services reached an important milestone in one of the most difficult periods that it has experienced in its long journey of ministry in remote Australia. On that date the aged care facilities formerly operated by Frontier Services were transferred to two other UCA agencies. The facilities in Western Australia were transferred to Juniper, the aged care agency of the Western Australian Synod. The residential aged care services in the Northern Territory were transferred to a new service group of UnitingCare Queensland, called Australian Regional and Rural Community Services (ARRCS).
Every Synod has contributed to achieving this outcome. It represents the whole of the Uniting Church coming together to ensure that ministry and community services in remote Australia will be sustained into the future. Not only has the future of these regional and remote residential aged care services been secured, but the remainder of Frontier Services has been put back on a sustainable footing – the iconic Patrol Ministries, the valuable Outback Links program, and the more than 60 community service programs operating in remote regions of Australia.
But it has taken a tremendous amount of work and commitment from across the Uniting Church to make it happen. Let me offer some background to the story.
In recent years Frontier Services accepted responsibility for a range of aged care services in remote Australia – primarily within the Northern Synod. It did not actively seek to extend its ministry in this area but, on the strength of its reputation for ministry in difficult areas, Frontier Services had been approached to take on operations that providers found they could not sustain. Rather than see people in remote Australia deprived of aged care services, especially Indigenous communities, Frontier Services took on these difficult operations with the intention of restoring them to financial viability and handing them back to the communities they served.
It was a risky undertaking driven by passionate commitment to maintaining Flynn’s vision of a “mantle of safety” in remote Australia in the changing circumstances of the 21st century. Over time, about 80% of Frontier Services’ business was directly linked to aged care (approximately $60 million per annum).
In the event, however, Frontier Services did not have the financial capacity, the systems, or the specialist expertise to achieve its goals. Early in 2013 two of the residential aged care services failed to meet government requirements and had their accreditation status removed. Sanctions were issued. In this situation the facilities began to lose income very quickly and to incur significant expenses in the effort to restore accreditation and have sanctions removed. This soon resulted in the accrual of a worrying level of debt. There was no quick or simple way out of this situation and it was clear that millions of dollars would be lost in the process – putting at risk, not only the residential aged care services themselves, but the rest of Frontier Services’ ministry and the community services it delivers too.
In addition, the fact that another of Frontier Services’ aged care facilities had received sanctions in the previous two years meant that the responsible government department (the Department of Health and Aging at the time, but the Department of Social Services now) advised the Assembly that if we did not take the aged care facilities out of the hands of Frontier Services and find a suitable alternative service provider they would move to revoke Approved Provider status altogether. The Assembly Standing Committee began managing the matter from April in 2013 – initially at the request of the Frontier Services board and subsequently by introducing a new, interim system of governance for Frontier Services while the crisis was worked through.
It has been a costly process on many levels – not just financially. Individual church members with the necessary expertise have contributed thousands of hours of work. So too have the resilient and dedicated staff of Frontier Services nationally. Other activities and projects have had to be given less priority in order to meet the demands of this challenge. Overworked, stressed and anxious people have sometimes bumped against each other, putting a strain on relationships. Once again we have some of that Romans 12 “body work” to do.
Even so, the outcomes are ones we thank God for. Firstly, residential aged care services for the people of remote Australia have been secured. That really matters – to all Australians, and to we who have inherited Flynn’s vision especially. Secondly, the broader ministry of Frontier Services has been maintained, including the community services it delivers. It is now on a footing which should see it strengthened and refreshed for the years ahead. To this end the ministries of Frontier Services continue to be reviewed, refined and re-focused in order to more effectively and efficiently serve the people of remote Australia. And thirdly, we have discovered in a time of great difficulty that we are a truly national church – and that the people within our agencies and the rest of the church are all genuinely committed to working together in ministry and mission in the Australian nation.
The 13th Assembly resolved to “commit the Uniting Church in Australia anew to the people of remote Australia” (12.13). It has been testing, but truly heartening to see that commitment in action over the last eighteen months.
I was fortunate to attend the Basis of Union – Catalyst for Renewal conference at the Centre for Ministry in Sydney recently. My reason for attending was to have the opportunity to meet again with the Rev Dr Lin Manhong who will deliver our Cato lecture at the 14th Assembly next year. It was also a delight to renew the relationship with the Rev Dr Wen Ge. The China Christian Council (CCC) and the Uniting Church have entered into a relationship which is mutually enriching. A sign of this relationship at this conference were the papers delivered by Rev Dr Geoff Thompson and the response by Rev Dr Wen Ge, and by Rev Dr Ji Zhang together Rev Dr Lin Manhong response. The contextual richness of these theological reflections is life giving. Fresh insights from the Chinese understanding of ‘The Cosmic Christ’ i.e. “Christ who extends his providence to the whole universe, and the nature of his providence is love” (Wen Ge). Rev Dr Lin spoke of Diakonia (service) as being rooted in the gospel, “it is a theology of inclusiveness”.
There is also a wonderful relationship growing between the social service arm of the CCC and Uniting Care within the UCA. This again is a mutually enriching relationship. Our weekend of fresh insights concluded with Rev Dr Lin, Rev Dr Ge, Rev Dr Zhang and myself spending some time exploring the Opera House, Sydney and Darling Harbour and then to China Town for a meal. The Chinese theologian T.C. Chao said that the answer to the question: “What is life?” is “Life is friendship”. Time enjoying the city and one another’s company was life giving. The growing friendship between the China Christian Council and the Uniting Church in Australia is life giving.
Recently I was in a conversation with a denominational leader from a small overseas church and hearing about some of the challenges that they face as they seek to exercise their ministry.
This Christian community there is subject to many restrictions and disadvantages. Examples include not being able to access government support for relief measures although persons of other religions in their community can. They can only build churches with permission which is hardly ever granted. Christians have been told that they cannot use the local cemeteries and are subject to random acts of violence. It is hard for many of us in Australia to imagine what it would be like to like with such restraints and pressures because of our Christian faith.
Paradoxically one of the other challenges facing this church is growth in the numbers of persons who are coming to faith. This church is growing at 5% a year and has about 10 times the number of candidates for ordained ministry (on a per capita basis) than the Uniting Church. People are flocking to join a persecuted minority community that is pushed to the edge of society. How come?
Observations like this challenge me to think about what it is that mainline Protestant churches in western industrial democracies are missing when we experience what appears to be inexorable decline from our vantage point of safety and privilege. It would be too simplistic to say that we should get ourselves persecuted more and be more evangelical. However I am challenged to think about what I offer to people as a reason to become followers of Jesus Christ. Would the focus of our congregations’ evangelical preaching be sufficient to call people to take on such risks and disadvantages?
I am reminded of the phrase from the Basis of Union which talks about how Christ in his own strange way renews and constitutes his church and calls people into the fellowship of his suffering. Maybe there is a clue there that the call of the gospel is not to safety, comfort and privilege but to join a fellowship of people who follow a crucified Lord into new life through suffering.
Twenty years ago I answered the call to ministry and became a Deacon. I didn’t imagine that one day I’d be on the edge of the Simpson Desert flipping pancakes. But there I was with 20 other Uniting Church members and one Anglican priest cooking and selling pancakes to raise support for Frontier Services and feed the Birdsville Race crowd. Frontier Services and its predecessor the Australian Inland Mission have had a presence in Birdsville since 1923. During race week the old Birdsville Hospital Museum becomes the Pancake Palace and race goers can eat in air conditioned comfort. Birdsville is an iconic Australian town – its in the middle of nowhere, its beyond the Black Stump and just north of Woop Woop. Thousands of tourists visit annually, mostly in race week. But it’s also a living, breathing community with a resident population of around 100. When our first nurse arrived in 1923 she was offered hospitality and friendship by a local family. That family continues to be part of the fabric of Birdsville.
During my brief visit to Birdsville I saw our commitment to remote communities in action. I spoke with Remote Area Families Services (RAFS) team and with our local Patrol Minister. I was humbled by the willingness of my fellow pancake cooks to travel thousands of kilometres to support Frontier Services. Most of all I found the resilience of the people of Birdsville to be inspirational.
Greetings from Relations with Other Faiths!
We hope you're enjoying our Interfaith September resources.
The theme for this week (Week 2) is Forgiveness and how it is understood in other religious traditions.
You can download Interfaith September resources from the following link: http://assembly.uca.org.au/rof/resources/int-sep
We hope that you enjoy this enriching experience that is Interfaith September. Relations with Other Faiths is also on Facebook at: http://on.fb.me/1wgJ8H2
Basis of Union Conference 22-24 August, Centre for Ministry
“The Basis of Union – Catalyst for Renewal” conference examined the continuing role of the Basis of Union in the Uniting Church. Nearly 70 people came to hear from a range of presenters. The conference was especially enriched by the presence of two Chinese theologians from Nanjing Union Theological Seminary.
President Rev. Prof Andrew Dutney opened the conference relating the Basis of Union to the recent census of the Uniting Church pointing out that our church now is very different to what it was in the 1970s. Geoff Thompson spoke of disciples of a crucified Lord referring especially to paragraph 4 of the Basis. Wen Ge gave a perceptive response and spoke about the cosmic Christ. Michelle Cook and Ken Sumner sought to ground the Basis in lived experience. As an aboriginal person Ken said he found it hard to find where he came in the Basis as it does not mention indigenous people. Drawing on his South African heritage, Ockert Meyer dealt with how the Basis fits loosely into the category of creedal documents and confessions. Ji Zhang from UnitingWorld and Lin Manhong shared a session about partnerships and service. She spoke about diakonia and responded to questions about the church in China. Rebecca Lindsay related the Basis to Moses as we go forward as a pilgrim people.
The conference concluded with a panel of the presenters. Candidates from UTC led the worship sessions. We left the conference having been enriched by the papers and discussion.
Preaching for Transformation Conference 25-28 August, Centre for Ministry
The “Preaching for Transformation” conference with Lutheran Clay Schmit was a time of stimulation for the over 70 people who took part. He emphasised the urgency of preaching and the need to ensure we really do bring good news to people which can be used by the Holy Spirit to change lives. Utilizing an engaging conversational approach, he drew people into considering how scripture can come alive. He dealt with using appropriate art and performance in preaching as we seek to embody the Word. In the public lecture on the Wednesday night he spoke of the five engagements of preaching: engaging the text, context, theology, the mind and heart of the listener. He pointed out the preacher’s paradox which is that we have to use words to attempt to describe that which is finally too deep for words. His practical approach was helpful as he dealt with the poetry of preaching and the use of pulpit materials including preaching without notes.
The conference enjoyed sharing in worship and music led by different members of the organising task group. Alan Robinson used his drawing skills in bringing a story sermon to people. Nine electives were offered on four occasions with choices ranging from Finding our Creativity in Preaching to Preaching the Prophets, from Reformed Preaching for today to Preaching in a Multicultural Congregation. The conference concluded with a panel discussion with Clay Schmit and the elective leaders responding to questions. We left with a heightened awareness of the preaching task.
National Young Adult Leaders Conference 2014
I am amazed at the team in place for the National Young Adult Leaders Conference in December this year! The President, the Chair of Congress, Moderators, National Directors, Young Adult Ministry specialists and gifted peer mentors! All coming to NYALC just to be with UCA young adult leaders to share life, faith and leadership together. UCA Young Adults from all over Australia are gearing up to register. It’s exciting! Please encourage your young adult leaders to come and experience the growth in faith, discipleship and leadership that will come from NYALC 2014. They’ll love it!
Info and registration at www.nyalc.org.au
About FACE is another amazing opportunity for growth and development. Your young adults and older adults will have their world view expanded, their cultural competence developed, their discipleship deepened and they will make wonderful new friends!
More info at www.aboutface.org.au
Please, encourage your people know to register now before registrations close soon.
UnitingWorld launches Kashmir Flood Appeal in support of our Partner Church
More than 250 people are feared dead and 400,000 are anxiously awaiting rescue after the worst flooding in sixty years triggered massive landslides and submerged hundreds of villages in the North Indian regions of Kashmir and Jammu. In an email we received on Thursday September 11, Reverend PK Samantaroy of the Diocese of Amritsar, Church of North India, expressed his grave fears for thousands of people in the region who have lost their homes, water supplies and livestock. Roads have been washed away hampering relief and rescue operations. The Church has set up a Relief and Rehabilitation Initiative called “Love in Action” to reach out to the people of Kashmir. As Uniting Church partners, we have launched an appeal to support this vital work through UnitingWorld.Included is a prayer for our friends in North India. Reverend Samantaroy writes: “I am thankful to all our friends and partners who have expressed their concern through prayer and letter and are willing to help. In this time of great calamity God wants us to show our love to the whole people of Jammu and Kashmir through out meaningful presence and action of solidarity.” You can support relief efforts by donating to this appeal through our website www.unitingworld.org.au or by calling 1800 000 331.
A prayer for people experiencing flooding in India
God who silences the storm
We pray now for our friends in India:
For those who have lost family
Lost friends, homes, possessions
In the midst of this darkness
We pray light
We pray for those who bring rescue
For relief workers, medical staff and all who bring shelter
In their weariness
We pray strength
We pray for those who bring comfort
Warm meals and gentle words,
In their caring
We pray hope
God who silences the storm
We pray for our friends in India
How Christianity has taken China by storm
UnitingWorld's Communications Officer Cath Taylor recently accompanied our Manager for Church Partnerships, Rev Dr Ji Zhang on a visit to the China Christian Council in Shanghai. Here she talks about the groundbreaking changes occurring in China right now, and how you can become a part of the fastest growing church on earth...
I have a hazy memory of thinking that ‘Bible Smuggler’ might make a pretty cool job. I pictured clandestine gatherings in locked rooms. Secret parcels passed along mountain trails. I was torn between feeling awful about the suffering of the believers and slightly thrilled by the subterfuge.Gone are the days of wholesale persecution for Christians in China. Closed for twelve years during the Cultural Revolution, the Church is now growing at a staggering rate, with anywhere between 23 and 70 million people worshipping every Sunday. 400,000 new Christians were baptised in China last year alone. Obviously, it’s no longer happening secretly. The Chinese Government grants land to churches to build centres for of worship and outreach. They appreciate that churches are willing to help care for those who are being left behind by China’s rapid economic development. And the Bible Smugglers? China recently printed its one-millionth edition of the Scriptures and is now the biggest exporter of Bibles to the rest of the world. Bible smugglers are well and truly out of business. Christianity is taking China by storm.It’s a great story, but why should you care about it?Well, first up, China’s story is a staggering good news item. Millions of people are deeply resonating with themes of forgiveness and grace, love and hope, inspired by a generation of Christians who lived through the Cultural Revolution.
Given the chance, they won’t only regard their faith as some kind of after-life fire insurance. They’ll allow it to transform their lives, here and now – impacting the way they care for people and the planet. Christianity in China has the potential to be a people-movement for good of epic proportions! Yet right now there is only one ordained minister for every 18,000 Christians in many parts of China. If you’re a member of the clergy, you’ll be cringing at the mind-boggling workload and if you’re a member of a congregation you’ll be wondering how many years it might be before you’ll get a pastoral visit.Our brothers and sisters are in urgent need of pastoral care and good teaching, right here and now. And as members of a global church, we have resources that can easily be shared to relieve this burden, helping create a massive change in the direction of China’s story.Think a little broader though. In a few years China will be one of the most influential players on the global Christian stage.
A hundred years ago 80% of all Christians lived in the Americas and Europe. Today that number has declined to 36% and the heart of the Christian Church, still the largest and fastest growing religion in the world, beats strongest in Asia, Africa and the Pacific. The Church in China, with its millions of grassroots believers, will literally help shape the future of Christianity.
In partnering with the China Christian Council to offer scholarships and exchange of students and lecturers, the Uniting Church in Australia through UnitingWorld is committing to the development of the next generation of leaders for the Chinese and global Church. You can join us in this historic partnership and give a gift today that will:
- Support pastors in a remote or developing area of China
- Provide scholarships and resources to train new candidates for ordination
- Facilitate Australian and Chinese students, lecturers and congregations as they share knowledge and learn from one another
Good news. Lives changed. Society transformed.Thanks for joining with us.
I have recently celebrated the anniversary of being in the role of National Disaster Recovery Officer. During that year, a great deal of good work has been happening across the Synods in terms of preparation for disaster response. Half of our Synods now have disaster response committees. These have developed protocols to ensure that churches and ministers are well supported through emergencies, relief funds can be distributed readily and - where chaplaincy is factored into the disaster welfare response of the state - that the church is connected through the organising bodies. I have been pleased to be alongside some excellent work developed in the Western Australian and Queensland Synods.
One of the great advantages of this role is my ability to help synods share good work that the others have done, and help adapt this for their local needs, benefitting all concerned. Last month I hosted a meeting of representatives of Synod disaster recovery coordinators, or representatives, in Sydney over two days. This was a very fruitful time which allowed us to work together, share resources and lessons and develop ways of working across state and synod boundaries during and beyond disasters. This is the time to do this work, ahead of a fresh season of flood, fire and cyclone over the late spring and summer months. As always, I value your prayers as this ministry continues to bear fruit and evolve.
Social Justice Sunday
The theme for this year's Social Justice Sunday, 28 September, is gambling. The National Council of Churches in Australia has produced a resource which explores some of the devastating effects of gambling on individuals, families and our society.
UnitingJustice Australia has made a response to the Interim Report to the Minister for Social Services from the Reference Group on Welfare Reform chaired by Patrick McClure. We recommend that poverty alleviation and social equity be articulated as key pillars of reform, that all payments (especially the Newstart allowance) be reviewed for their adequacy and that income management should not be extended without a full consideration of the evidence about the effects of the program. You can read our submission here.
Welcome to Aletia Dundas!
It's great to be able to welcome Aletia Dundas to UnitingJustice. Aletia is our Policy Officer.
Aletia has come to us from APHEDA, the international aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions where she was Pacific Project Officer. Prior to joining APHEDA, Aletia was working for Quaker Service Australia as the Aboriginal Concerns Project Officer/Education Officer and before that as Program Assistant on Peace and Disarmament in the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva. Aletia has also worked for the NCCA. She is a member of the AFTINET Management Committee and has had experience on a number of Quaker social justice committees. Aletia has an MA in Peace and Conflict Studies.
We hope Aletia has a wonderful and rewarding time here with us!
New funding model already proving successful
Good news from the UnitingCare network! UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families has pioneered Australia’s first Social Benefit Bond with the NSW Government and results in the first year have exceeded what we hoped to achieve.
Social Benefit Bonds are a new model for funding great programmes. Instead of the Government contracting out services to community organisations, providers enter a deal with the Government. They say, “If our programme succeeds in preventing future costs for you—through preventing future crime rates, or children needing to be taken into care, for example—you pay us a portion of your savings.” Investors then give the provider the up-front costs to deliver their services and they are paid back if the initiative proves to be successful.
The UnitingCare Social Benefit Bond is the first of its kind in Australia. The Bond is for funding NewPIN, a programme that aims to restore children to their families from out-of-home care, or prevent them from entering care in the first place, through creating safe family environments. In its first year of operation the Bond has returned 7.5% to investors. More importantly, it has enabled 28 children to safely return home to their families and has prevented 10 at-risk children from needing to be put into care.
While the technicalities of funding contracts can sometimes seem removed from the worship life of the church, in reality they are a core part of the identity of the Uniting Church in Australia. Pioneering better ways to serve children is one part of the way that we use our “Worship, witness and service to God’s eternal glory through Jesus Christ the Lord.”
Building Bridges in our churches and communities
The Assembly Multicultural and Cross Cultural Ministry Unit has published a new resource for members, groups and congregations to explore what it means to live faith and life cross culturally. Building Bridges: Living God’s Gift across cultures was launched by President Rev. Prof. Andrew Dutney at his National Minister’s Conference in Western Sydney on 24 July 2014.
“The stories in Building Bridges come directly from our own ministers and their communities,” said Rev. Prof. Dutney.
“It’s wonderful to have these very immediate stories from our sisters and brothers in communities like ours to tell us what’s been going on in their area.”
“The Uniting Church as we’re aware is really committed to area of life and ministry, living the faith, following Christ and being in ministry, cross culturally and inter-culturally. It’s important that we make this commitment at a time when the character of the Australian nation has become so multicultural and will continue to. That’s why we need to be in it, to be committed to it, but that’s not the primary reason.
“Progressively in the years to come, the Uniting Church is going to be more multicultural and multilingual, we know that - but that’s not why we’re in it either.
“The reason we’re committed to this area of being a multicultural and cross cultural church is because that is what the gospel is about. The gospel of God and Christ reconciling the world to himself, transcending all those barriers that divide human beings from each other - barriers of language, class, culture and race. This is what we hear in the New Testament constantly.
“The calling to love one another is important because of the gospel and that in Christ, all of those barriers have been transcended and we have to learn a way to be one body together.
“So this commitment to being a multicultural and cross cultural church is about us entering more deeply into our faith that we hold.”
The resource comes in the form of two DVDs and a study guide. Contributors include Rev. Amel Manyon of South Australia’s Dinka-speaking faith community, Rev. Emmanuel Audisho of the Synod of Western Australia, and Rev. Eseta Meneilly of the Presbytery of Port Phillip East in the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. National Director of Multicultural and Cross Cultural Ministry, Rev. Dr Tony Floyd thanked all those who had contributed to the production of Building Bridges.
“My prayer is that this resource can strengthen our commitment to respectful listening and sharing together and provide an impetus to sharing in our own contexts.”
“Resources like Building Bridges move us further into action on our 1985 declaration that we are a multicultural church and help us sharpen our focus on what it really means to live faith and life cross-culturally,” said Dr Floyd.
The end of formal operations in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of Australian troops reflects another turn in the geopolitical outlook for Australian military chaplaincy. The implications of Middle East operations continues in the lives of service personnel and their families and will do so for many years. ADF Chaplains are very aware of this in terms of the impact of PTSD, moral and physical injury and spiritual (re) - alignment, all of which involves the chaplains themselves having been subject to the vagaries of service life.
The whole church has a responsibility to care for returning personnel and their families, some whom now may be in civilian life. Local congregations are invited to take a special interest in former serving personnel and their families and in so doing continue the work of UCA chaplains, begun in earlier years. With that the local church is also encouraged to involve ADF chaplains in their congregational life in a way that affirms all chaplaincy.
To find out about what is happening across the country visit the Synod news sites below:
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