Thursday, 06 June 2019

Tales of Christian Unity

Rev Dr Stephen Robinson (centre in yellow rain jacket) at Tathra NSW with local ministers and chaplains Rev Dr Stephen Robinson (centre in yellow rain jacket) at Tathra NSW with local ministers and chaplains

This week (2-9 June 2019) is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Australia.

Ecumenism is often said to be a defining quality of our life in the Uniting Church.

To mark the Week we talked to three people at the Assembly about how they work with other churches, and asked them to suggest some prayers for their ministry.

Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson, National Disaster Recovery Officer

“An enormous amount of my work is ecumenical,” says Stephen Robinson.

In New South Wales, Stephen oversees the Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network, which incorporates chaplains from ten Christian denominations and four non-Christian faiths.

His work in helping the UCA and other churches responds to local disasters and understanding the dynamics of this demanding ministry has taken him to almost every corner of Australia and across the Pacific region.

“I delight in seeing chaplains from very different faith backgrounds learning together in recovery chaplaincy or post-disaster training workshops, and watching them work together in the field,” says Stephen.

“There is an extraordinary sense of unity, when Catholic nuns, Pentecostal pastors, Anglicans and Uniting Church ministers from across the theological spectrum work as a single team wearing the “Disaster Recovery Chaplain” tabard in an evacuation centre.”

“In the NSW town of Tathra, following the devastating fires of 2018, I was able to support and train the ministers of the Bega/Tathra valley in recovery, connect them with the government’s recovery processes and set up a jointly funded recovery position between the local Anglican Diocese and the Canberra Region Presbytery of the UCA.

“One of my highlights this year was going back to Tathra a year after the fires and preaching at a service with all churches worshipping together, giving thanks, and praying for their community’s further healing.

“Disaster is non-partisan and affects people of all backgrounds and beliefs; correspondingly, people of faith are strongly motivated to respond to the needs of people and communities which have been disaster-affected.

“I love being able to see the love of Jesus Christ both extended and received when I visit ministers of any denomination who are doing it tough after a disaster, and the barriers of denomination fall away as we simply share, care and pray for each other in the name of Christ.

“No one denomination can do this work alone, so we work together.”

Stephen’s Prayer

That all of Christ’s people might act as one in support of each other, and in support of our communities in their most difficult of days, as disasters change so much for those affected.

That we rise above bureaucratic, doctrinal and denominational barriers and realise the blessing of caring for each other in the name of Christ.

Tales of Christian Unity UnitingWorld PNG for web

[Caption: Members of the Gender Equality Theology Community of Practice in PNG at their most recent gathering in February 2019.]

Dr Sureka Goringe, National Director, UnitingWorld

Partnerships with other churches are at the very heart of the work of UnitingWorld - the Uniting Church’s accredited relief and development agency.

“In Australia we are an active member of the Church Agencies Network (CAN). As part of CAN-DO - the Church Agencies Network Disaster Operations, we work with seven other church agencies responding to humanitarian emergencies and building community resilience,” explains Sureka.

“In Papua New Guinea, through our Church Partnership Program (CPP), we work with six other Australian Christian agencies and their PNG-based Partner Churches.

“As lead agency on Gender Equality within this group, we facilitated the agreement of a shared Theology of Gender Equality, which was launched by the seven PNG Church Leaders in 2016.”

“This theological statement brings together biblical messages that challenge interpretations of the Bible that have in the past enabled violence and discrimination against women.

“We now bring together theologians from all of the seven mainline churches in Papua New Guinea as well as other ecumenical institutions like the Melanesian Institute twice a year to share experiences of including this theological framework in their various contexts.”

“Our partner, the UCPNG, has also brought together representatives of CPP churches to participate in Male Advocacy training.”

The Church Agencies Network also worked together to respond to the PNG Highlands Earthquake in February 2018, using the already-established CPP network to coordinate the distribution of relief to communities most affected.

UnitingWorld’s International Program Manager for PNG Aletia Dundas says her most rewarding ecumenical experience has been the passionate engagement of theologians.

“I am always touched to hear Pastor David Maine from the Baptist Theological College speak about his aim to make positive changes in the value and belief systems of his Highlands culture, where gender-based violence is common,” says Aletia.

Sureka’s Prayer

For sisters and brothers in churches across Papua New Guinea who are speaking up against gender-based violence, breaking out of old social norms, and standing up as incredible leaders and advocates for gender equality.

Rev. John Cox, Director, National Safe Church Unit

Keeping churches safe for children and adults has long been an area of shared endeavour between churches.

“Work flowing form the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has seen a lot of ecumenical engagement,” says Rev. John Cox.

“The whole Australian community learnt so much from the Royal Commission.”

“Best practice for organisations looking to ensure safety has never been clearer.” “Australian churches collaborated around the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations, including resource sharing and reviewing.” “There’s also been tremendous work through the National Council of Churches.

“Safe church training is being updated, with training about grooming behaviours rolled out.”

“I’m very encouraged by the way Australian churches are tackling the challenges of safety together.”

John’s Prayer

That we maintain our focus on understanding and implementing the learnings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sexual Abuse.

That God grants us the strength and wisdom to ensure we honour our pledge to be the safest church we can be for all children and adults in our midst.