2014 Christmas Message
“…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (John 1:14)
On behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia, I greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this day; Jesus, the incarnation of God. You probably know the stories – shepherds and angels, a star, a stable and the wise men. But it’s still astonishing to me that the Almighty God entrusted the mystery of the incarnation to an ordinary teenage girl and her husband. Delivered into the world in the usual way, with all the drama and risk inherent in childbirth, the Son of God had to be fed, washed, clothed comforted, kept safe like any vulnerable little baby. That simple first century Jewish family had to teach him to speak, to say please and thank you, to behave himself, to share with his siblings.
But first they had to flee to Egypt, barely escaping the slaughter of children in Bethlehem. They became an ordinary refugee family – entrusted with the mystery of the incarnation. And that’s what I’d ask you to think about today. The revelation of the nature and will of God, the fulfilment of the hope of the world, was entrusted to the care of an ordinary refugee family. And when, as a grown man, Jesus taught and healed and suffered and was killed, and when he was raised from the dead, it was as the child of an ordinary refugee family.
He called us to welcome the stranger, knowing a thing or two about being a stranger himself.
He commanded us to love our neighbour, knowing how essential neighbours are to daily survival, let alone peace.
He commanded us to love our enemies, knowing about being “the enemy” as well as having enemies, and how love can transform our relationships and our world.
Jesus, the child of an ordinary refugee family is being remembered and celebrated today, in a world with a record 50 million refugees, more than half of them children. As a people blessed by wealth and peace, we Australians need to be very mindful of the needs of our neighbours who seek asylum and find ways to do more. We also need to expect more of our political leaders. The Uniting Church with the other Australian Christian Churches continues to speak out against the inhumane treatment of refugees and their families under the policies of successive Australian Governments. We urge the Australian Government to increase the annual intake of refugees, and to redouble efforts to secure the safety of the thousands of new refugees throughout the world and especially in the Middle East. In the course of this year many Christians and people of other faiths have joined together to make sure that decision-makers hear our voices on this important issue.
Over the last few months I’ve also been heartened by the number of Australian Christians reaching out in solidarity and friendship to their neighbours of the Muslim faith. Violence and conflict elsewhere in the world is a reminder that we must always be working for peace where we live as well. From church signs and neighbourhood parties to sharing meals or chores, I encourage you all to reach out to your neighbours of every faith or none in the year ahead. God has given us a great bounty of cultural, linguistic and spiritual diversity to share and enjoy. So let’s not accept or create unnecessary barriers between us and our neighbours.
Let’s make today and the year ahead a time of peace and goodwill among us all – in celebration of the birth of Jesus, the child of an ordinary refugee family and the incarnation of God.
Thank you for sharing your time with me and I wish you all a safe, happy and blessed Christmas.
Mission Prayer Handbook is now online!
The prayers and reflections prepared for the 13th Assembly Life Overflowing are online for all Uniting Church congregations to share. So please visit the new Mission Prayer Handbook site and let us know what you think.
Cuts to ABC Religion
I've joined 36 other Church leaders in writing to the ABC Chairman and Managing Director to ask for an urgent meeting to discuss planned cuts to the ABC Religion and Ethics Unit.
The role of the ABC in broadcasting religion is particularly important, as it is the last mainstream media organisation in print, radio, or television to maintain any discrete religious coverage.
As I am writing this piece it is on my mind that shortly I will be going on annual leave. Perhaps it is because we are approaching an Assembly year, or maybe it is just that it has been a very busy year anyway, but I am looking forward to having a few weeks off.
Looking back over 2014 there is a great cause for thanksgiving for the work that we are able to see God do among us. I get around the church enough to know that not everything is rosy in the garden all the time but all in all there is so much in the life and ministry of the Uniting Church for which to be grateful.
As we move towards 2015 I ask that you be in prayer for the Uniting Church in its many expressions and ministries. And I encourage you to look over your year of the experience of God's faithfulness, commitment and opportunity to serve and to celebrate the joyous season of Christmas in the knowledge that surely God has come to us and brought joy to the world.
Throughout this time of challenging reform in the 102-year life of Frontier Services and its predecessors, it is perhaps sometimes easy to overlook the exciting new developments that have taken place and which continue to inspire great hope for the future.
Frontier Services has delivered fundraising initiatives such as Buy a Bale and Farm Rescue in the drought-stricken centres of Queensland and NSW; volunteer programs such as Outback Links and Work Party groups who annually traverse the four corners of the outback; vital childrens', family and community health services operating from Karratha to Cunnumulla, Andamooka to Atherton and from Mutitjulu to Marla; and a network of Patrol Ministry that extends throughout the length and breadth of the country, from Oatlands in Tasmania to the Pilbara in Western Australia.
All these services exemplify the hands-on practical, passionately-driven and theologically-grounded approach to providing support for remote Australia. Wherever, whenever and however that support is called upon. Probably at this time more than any other in recent history, it is absolutely vital for us to reflect upon the ethos that first inspired the creation of this great organisation: the oft-quoted “Mantle of Safety”. Flynn’s vision of course was to overcome the tyranny of distance across the vast Australian landscape, and in doing so to connect the people of the outback with a range of services and support. The kinds of services and support that the majority of urban-dwelling Australians have come to expect over time, and indeed in many cases have simply come to take for granted. The kinds of services and support that bring hope and comfort to people who sometimes have so little, in places where other entities often fear to tread.
And so as Frontier Services is set to move beyond 2014 and into a brave new future, there are three critical questions that we must continue to ask of ourselves.
What do we do? Why do we do it? How can we do it?
By constantly reinvigorating our commitment to the mandate in answering these fundamental questions, Frontier Services will always enjoy the heartfelt appreciation and support of all Australians, both within the Uniting Church and beyond.
Interfaith leaders unite in Sydney
Interfaith leaders from across Sydney came together at St Mary’s Cathedral on Friday 19 December to pay their respects for the lives lost in the Martin Place siege. Leaders from the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Christian and other faiths came together in unity and prayer at the Interfaith Memorial Service.
I attended the service on behalf of the Uniting Church, as Assembly Acting General Secretary responsible for Relations with Other Faiths. The Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, addressed the gathering and expressed his condolences to the victims:
"First and foremost, we convey our deep regret and heartfelt sorrows for the families of the innocent victims. We send our wishes of full recovery to the injured and their families, and we ask Allah, the most merciful to heal their wounds, to guide their hearts and to ease their hardship."
In a poignant candle-lighting ceremony, I joined other religious leaders in lighting a candle to remember siege victims Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson and their families, the other hostages, police and emergency services, the community of Sydney and Australian and all those affected by violence and terrorism.
Chairperson of the Buddhist Council of NSW Mr Brian White was one of the interfaith leaders to offer a reflection. His words resonated with what many were feeling: “Often it's a tragedy which wakes us up to what is important in life - family, friends and even strangers all connected by kindness. We realise that we're all connected. We depend on each other.”
We continue to hold in our hearts the victims, their families and all those involved in the Martin Place siege.
The gathering of interfaith leaders united in prayer was a tangible sign of our solidarity and friendship. We move forward, heartened by the compassion and unity present at all levels of the community, and knowing that in trying times like these, these ties will only become stronger.
A colloquium on the teaching of worship was held on 1-2 December in Adelaide. This was an opportunity for teachers of worship across the UCA to come together to discuss the ways worship is taught and how to do so most effectively. It was a valuable time of sharing which will influence the way worship is taught. It will also provide helpful input to the Worship working group as it seeks to foster good worship in a variety of styles across the Uniting Church.
There have been over 500 responses to the Discussion Paper on Marriage from presbyteries, congregations, groups and individuals. The responses have been looked at by the Doctrine working group and a report is now being prepared by Rob Bos. It will go to the Assembly Standing Committee in March who will decide what to take to the next Assembly. The studies for the Season of Teaching and Learning have been well used in many congregations. Congregations who have yet to make use of them are encouraged plan to do so in 2015.
National Young Adult Leaders Conference (NYALC) 2014
Rev. Tom Kerr, the Assembly's National Faith Development Consultant for Youth and Young Adults writes:
“I feel like now I have been to church,” Unga said at The Wayside Chapel in King’s Cross. Unga has a fresh vision of the church as an inclusive community where there is no “us and them”, where church and community connect with vibrancy and grace.
From 7-12 December, 47 young adults and 11 adult mentors gathered at Naamaroo Conference Centre in Sydney for the National Young Adults’ Leaders Conference. Each day young adults were visibly and profoundly moved, influenced, encouraged and blessed. Tilisa returns home looking for ways to help her church share God’s love more inclusively and deeply in their community. “King” David, Nyaluak, Jackline, Samuel, Joya and many others now know that the UCA values them. All across Australia, a sprinkling of UCA young adult leaders will reengage with the church and the world with new enthusiasm, perspectives and love because of NYALC 2014. The young adults were given plenty to inspire them - input on contextual mission, God’s economy of life, developing leadership for the future church, and the centrality of love in Christ-like leadership. Speakers included UCA President Andrew Dutney, UAICC elder Ray Minniecon, Rahnee Tsetsakos, Rev. Elenie Poulos, Lin Hatfield Dodds, Dr Deidre Palmer, Adrian Greenwood, Rev. Nicole Fleming, and Bradon French. Mentors played a key role throughout the week.
NYALC participants came from indigenous communities including Ngarrindjeri, Wongai, Noon Gar, Adnymathanha, Thursday Island, Yolgnu from Gapiwiak and Raminginging, as well as from Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, South Sudanese, Korean, Filipino, Indonesian, and Anglo backgrounds. From this rich diversity, a strong sense of community was built from the first day.
NYALC is a powerful, transforming experience of Christian community and of growing disciples.
NYALC is hosted by the Assembly Formation, Education and Discipleship (FED) unit. We appreciate the work of Rev. Nicole Fleming, Bradon French and Adrian Greenwood as part of the organising team.
The FED Annual Report is now online at FED News.
In 2014 many of you supported disability inclusive education in Sri Lanka through Everything in Common. Stay tuned to hear more about this exciting work in 2015.
At this time of year we celebrate the coming of God to earth, and to recall the promise of God to bring new life, peace and hope to the whole creation. For UnitingWorld, this is a special time as we celebrate Christmas with our church partners around the world.
I’d like to thank everyone who purchased gifts through UnitingWorld’s Everything in Common Gift Catalogue in the lead up to Christmas. Thanks to your donations, people living overseas will be empowered to break the cycle of poverty and equipped to participate in the mission of God. And wherever your family and friends are, they will be blessed to receive gifts which help bring new life, peace and hope.
As we enter the New Year, UnitingWorld will be focusing on our partnership with the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka. Living out their faith in a complex, post-conflict environment, the Methodist Church recognises the challenges the country still faces. From ensuring children with disabilities can access education, to facilitating interfaith dialogue and cooperation, the Church is working hard to equip a new generation of people with the skills to contribute to fullness of life and peace in Sri Lanka.
UnitingWorld is committed to working with the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka to support the country’s most vulnerable people and ensure a positive, peaceful future for all. I invite you and your families and congregations to keep an eye out for how you can support this renewing, life-bringing work in 2015.
In closing, I’d like to share with you a prayer written by one of UnitingWorld’s staff, Cath Taylor. I hope it offers you an opportunity to pause and reflect as we enter into another New Year.
It’s here again God –
The dawn of another year, full of promise and potential.
Already we have broken our resolve to be kinder and stronger and more aware
Already the days rush by with small hurts unnoticed
While the huge hurts of the world calling to us from radio and television
Are switched off, turned down, shut away.
God give us courage.
Help us see this broken and beautiful world
And our place in it –
Our place beside children eager to learn
Beside mothers desperate for doctors
Beside those who share the joy of their faith
Beside those who know that new beginnings are possible
This New Year we want to live more lightly
Love more freely
Give more openly
Hope more deeply
Make us new, our God
Wishing you all a blessed and joyous Christmas and a New Year in 2015 filled with hope and peace.
Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation for the coming of Christ remembered at Christmas. For me, the sense of anticipation is amplified by the onset of the disaster season, when we expect fires, floods, storms and cyclones through summer. Australia has a record of these striking around Christmas when everyone is away or very busy. Can I urge you and your congregations to be mindful of the need to prepare for them? There are some excellent resources available to help with this. A new campaign just launched called “Get Ready for Summer”, while prepared for NSW, brings good advice for us all.
While on NSW, I was pleased to be connected with the signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding between the Uniting Church (Synod of NSW and ACT) and the state government, extending its work of coordinating multi-faith chaplaincy during disasters (a similar role to that played by the Synod of South Australia).
At this time of the year it is also a timely reminder of the Assembly Disaster Relief Fund. This is important in our work of supporting communities across the country. Be aware that it is available for worthwhile projects and support of communities affected by natural disasters and please continue to support it with donations. I am also available to help support the church’s work in this area, including creating disaster recovery strategies and aiding in establishing projects. Given the volatile nature of summer, even if not in the office, I will be available on my mobile phone on 0412 820 848.
I've started blogging recently, sharing my thoughts on ministry during difficult times. Have a read and leave me a comment. My most recent post was on chaplaincy after the siege in Sydney's Martin Place.
May you have a safe and blessed Christmas.
Changes to Asylum Seeker Laws
On 25 September 2014, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection introduced the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 to Parliament. In the early hours of Friday 5 December, the Bill was passed by the Senate. The President published a Media Release expressing disappointment at this outcome.
While this Bill was passed with a number of conditions, including that children on Christmas Island would be released into the community, the Minister could have released children at any time. Now they and their families face years of living in limbo on Temporary Protection Visas and the children on Nauru will not be released. This Bill legislates the policies of Operation Sovereign Borders including so-called ‘Fast-Track Processing’ which risks seeing people sent back to torture, imprisonment or death. The Bill undermines international human rights by removing references to the Refugee Convention from our Migration Act and granting the Minister permission to ignore both international law and the rulings of the courts. UJA made a submission to the Senate Committee inquiry expressing our concerns about these aspects of the Bill and more.
Review of Stronger Futures
The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights conducted a review of the Stronger Futures legislation (the latest iteration of what began as the Northern Territory Intervention). UnitingJustice and the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress made a submission to the Committee outlining our concern that the legislation disempowered Indigenous Australians in basic aspects of their everyday lives.
Refugee Policy High Roundtable
In September this year, Elenie attended a High Level Roundtable on the future of Australia's refugee policy. The Roundtable was a collaborative project of Australia21, the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law and the Centre for Policy Development.
The aim was to develop some alternative policy options for a more humane and generous response to asylum seekers and refugees.
The Report from the Roundtable - Beyond the Boats: Asylum seeker policy for the long term can be downloaded at the CPD website.
Working Together with our NGO Partners
In October and November, the Assembly endorsed a number of media releases with partner NGOs and an open letter about fossil fuels which was published in The Courier Mail:
- NGOs: clear path to a referendum held no later than 2016 is needed, racial non-discrimination must stay with ANTaR;
- Coalition Calls for Immediate Release of Children in Detention on the 25th Anniversary of the Rights of the Child with the Australian Coalition to End Immigration Detention of Children; and
- Fossil fuels and global poverty at the G20, under the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change
Although Christmas is generally a time of joy, it can be very stressful for some. Over this holiday season, an overwhelming number of families in Australia have experienced anxiety over the lack of resources with which to buy Christmas gifts for their children. These families often turn to UnitingCare agencies for help.
A key campaign for many UnitingCare agencies across Australia is the UnitingCare and Target Giving Box appeal. The appeal, formerly known as Operation Santa, has been supporting people who struggle at Christmas time for the last 23 years.
Thanks to the generosity of the Australian community, UnitingCare and Target have collected over 1.7 million gifts in the last 23 years, with 30,260 gifts and $78,665 worth of gift cards donated at Target stores across the country last year. There were also an additional 31,228 gifts donated by very generous community groups, bringing the gift total to 61,488 gifts.
The 2014 Giving Box was launched in Target stores on 6 November 2014. The final tally for gifts collected in 2014 will be made available on the Giving Box website after Christmas.
I would like to thank all of those individuals, churches and community groups who have made a contribution this year, either by donating a gift or volunteering to distribute those gifts to very grateful families. Your support makes a real, tangible difference to the lives of many.
I hope you all have a very peaceful Christmas.
Joyful commissioning for Rev. Charissa
The sound of Tongan voices lifted in worship resounded in St David’s Church in Dee Why in NSW as Rev. Charissa Suli was ordained as a Minister of the Word on Saturday 20th December.
Hundreds packed into the Church as Rev. Suli was formally welcomed into ministry surrounded by her extended family, the Tongan community, members of the Sydney North Presbytery, and others from across NSW/ACT and beyond.
Very proud family and friends travelled from New Zealand, the US, and interstate for the occasion. Equally proud was the community of Cecil Gribble Tongan Congregation in Dee Why, which is home for Rev. Suli and her family. Many Tongan UCA Ministers were present as well as Rev. Suli’s colleagues from the United Theological College.
The Sydney North Presbytery presided over the ordination. I had the privilege of the giving of the charge, a wonderful highlight as I have shared the journey of Charissa and Langi and their girls since its beginning at the NSW/ACT Cross-cultural gathering in October 2007. Rev.Jason Kioa, Chairperson of the Tongan National Conference, and mentor to the emerging leadership among UCA leaders from Tongan background, preached the sermon.
Following the two-hour ordination service, afeastwas held and the celebrations continued into the night.
In fact, it was a double celebration for Rev. Suli who in the same week graduated from a Bachelor of Theology.
Rev. Suli has been a key leader in the nXtgen team ministering with youth and young adults in the Tongan National Conference and for three years was Cross Cultural Consultant with the NSW/ACT Board of Mission while she was a candidate for ministry.
Rev.Suli will take up ministry at Dapto Uniting Church early next year.
The President's Christmas message now has a Fijian translation - watch it here. Stay tuned as there are more languages to come.
Defence Chaplaincy is like any other ministry or chaplaincy in lots of ways – primarily it is about walking beside people on the journey of life. I guess the difference is where that journey takes members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The lifestyle of members of the ADF is unique in that it may require them, at times to risk their lives for their country. It may require them to be away from their families for long periods at a time, whilst engaging in armed combat. It certainly requires them to be away from their families on exercises for weeks at a time, and it also requires them to be moved around the county to different bases every few years.
This presents unique challenges for family life – and as a chaplain, I am called to walk with ADF members and their families through all of these challenges. My sense of call to defence force chaplaincy in part comes out of my experience as a defence spouse. Our family experiences the challenges of service life, with Tim having been deployed overseas several times, and having been posted from Amberley in Qld to Edinburgh in South Australia. I have a sense of what it is like for other defence spouses, and so I want to help others who experience the fear, loneliness and stress of being part of the defence family.
In a typical day at the base, we will see members who may be struggling with relationship issues, or personal problems, members who have workplace difficulties or who just need a friendly chat or some advice. We go out and visit units or squadrons, building relationships with members and executive staff. The Commanding Officer usually uses the chaplain to gauge the morale of the unit/squadron and may seek advice in dealing with particular issues. We also conduct training in values. There is also the ceremonial aspect of the role – conducting memorial services and leading ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day services. One of the most fun parts of defence chaplaincy is conducting weddings and marriage preparation/ marriage enrichment sessions.
Chaplains are well respected in the ADF, due in large part to the fact that we are the only support service who are in uniform, and are deployed with soldiers/ sailors/ airmen and women on operations. We are there to support them overseas or at home, and consequently, can relate to their experience of service life. We care for members regardless of their faith. Probably the majority of people we see do not currently express their faith actively, although many have a Christian background. Each base usually has a chaplaincy team – one or more full time chaplains, plus a number of reservists, working ecumenically. Like ministry life in general, defence force chaplaincy is a great privilege. You are invited into peoples’ lives sometimes when they are at their most vulnerable, and it is a great honour to walk beside them, sharing God’s love, and helping them find new life.
Mother, Minister, Military Chaplain - Rev. Sue Page
In this trinitarian expression of my three main ‘roles’, there is a dance, a dialectic, and many many diversions. Each informs the other, each enriches the other, and all three challenge me on a daily basis.
As we prepare for Christmas worship in my congregational setting, we are shaping a ‘Blue Christmas’ service, to remember those who are not with us this Christmas. For some members of the congregation, it is the death of a loved one they will mark, but in our planning, we have been mindful that our prayers must also be for those who are separated from their loved ones for a number of reasons. We stop to remember many families separated because of a defence member’s deployment on operations overseas. My work as a defence chaplaincy informs my congregational ministry in this way.
As a wife and mother, I reflect on the 2 Christmases my children and I have been separated from my husband due to his overseas deployments. My experience informs my chaplaincy – walking beside families facing this kind of separation.
As 2014 ends and a new year begins, and I work with defence families who are posting out of my location, and then others who are posting in, I am reminded of that our God is a God of endings and new beginnings, and my congregational ministry, walking with folk who are living this reality in their lives, informs my chaplaincy as I encourage defence members to take hold of the new life they have before them.
I encourage those in congregational ministry to consider serving as a reserve defence force chaplain – it is a great challenge and great gift.
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