Record-breaking dry conditions and high winds sparked a major bushfire emergency across New South Wales and Queensland over the last week, with scores of homes destroyed, many more threatened and hundreds of people evacuated.
The Uniting Church has co-ordinated chaplains to offer pastoral care and congregations have stepped in to support those communities impacted across both states.
The final edition of National Update for 2014 brings to you the latest from the life of our Uniting Church. We wish you all a safe, happy and blessed Christmas.
Men’s Health in Remote Australia – The Great Divide
There's a romantic notion of an Aussie bloke from the bush: rugged, indestructible and tough. While this may be true, there's another side to the real life story of men living in remote Australia. Research shows that men in remote Australia are in poorer health; both mentally and physically, compared to their city counterparts. Some of the statistics are staggering. For example, men living outside major cities are 26 per cent more likely to have a substance use disorder at some time in their lives. They are 18 per cent more likely to report a recent injury. More rural men report diabetes and they are more likely to smoke and drink heavily. Suicide rates are 10 times higher for never-married men in remote and very remote areas compared with married men living in major cities.
Coordinator of Frontier Services Dalrymple Rural Family Support Service in North Queensland, Jeanie Brook, has been working with families on the land for more than 30 years. She has seen men struggle with their mental well-being in the face of drought, floods and through financial difficulties.
"It is a challenge to get men to look after themselves, even to see a GP. They won't come in. Even kicking and screaming."
"Men on the land find it very difficult to express themselves. Often they just hang about with another male they trust not really talking about the issues, but feeling somehow accepted in their presence."
Recently, Jeanie has been working with families impacted by the drought and has seen farmers experience heart-wrenching guilt as the bank forecloses on their properties. To get men talking about their health, Jeanie is grateful for the Frontier Services Patrol Ministers.
"The male Patrol Ministers who drop in to the properties for a chat are an invaluable resource for men in the bush. I cannot speak highly enough of them."
Parkin Patrol Minister Gary Ferguson, based in Hawker, SA, has struggled with depression himself. He says men in the bush tend to brush off the signs of poor mental health.
"A typical country approach is, 'she'll be right mate, I don't need a doctor', mostly because of their belief that men have to be strong."
"In the city there are more places to go and drink your problems away. Out here there are not as many distractions. There is no emergency access to services – it can be a five hour trip just to see a professional.
"We need to find creative ways to support people in remote areas, we need community education around the signs of depression and we need to encourage men to speak up and seek help."
Interfaith Prayers for Peace
Around 200 UCA members and interfaith guests packed the Fellowship Centre at Parramatta Mission’s Leigh Memorial Church on Sunday 21 September for an Interfaith Prayer Service to mark the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. Representatives of 14 different faiths or denominations “from A to Z” shared prayers, starting with Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress representative Pearl Wymarra and finishing with Zoroastrian Dr Pheroza Daruwalla, a senior lecturer at the University of Western Sydney. In between came prayers from Baha’i, Brahmakumari, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Islamic, Jain, Jewish, Mandean, Sikh, Sufi and Uniting Church traditions. Each prayer was punctuated by the line from Mother Teresa’s international peace prayer, “Let peace fill our heart, our world and our universe.”
The interfaith service was presided over by Rev. Dr Manas Ghosh of Parramatta Mission, who has held similar services at St David’s Lindfield for more than a decade. Young people from the local community were well-represented in an audience that included many familiar faces and friends of the UCA Relations with Other Faiths network. The prayers were interspersed with cultural performances by local Tamil and Chinese Dance groups and the screening of a video by students at Parramatta High School, all coordinated by the Community Migrant Resource Centre. Dr Zenaida Edwards of the United Nations Association of Australia also addressed the service, thanking participants for their commitment to peace. Candles were lit, doves were released, friendships renewed and faith in humanity restored on a delightful afternoon on which too much peace was barely enough.
The Christian Unity National Conference met on 24-25 October at the Centre for Theology and Ministry in Melbourne. People on the Christian Unity working group, those representing Synod ecumenical committees, and people representing the dialogues, came together to report on what has been happening and to think together. Ji Zhang from UnitingWorld led two excellent Bible studies drawing on his Chinese experience and knowledge. We heard what was happening ecumenically in each synod. While the ecumenical imperative is not given as much attention as in the recent past, nevertheless there are positive things happening in different places. For example, in the Northern Territory the Council of Churches is meeting regularly again with activities taking place. In WA a service for anti-poverty week led by younger leaders was excellent. In Victoria ecumenical awards were given out at synod. In Queensland a lecture in honour of Bishop Michael Putney will be held with Robert Gribben as the guest speaker. In NSW receptive ecumenism is being encouraged through the document “The Gift of Each Other.”
We also heard about the dialogues currently taking place. The Anglican and Uniting Churches have affirmed the document, “Weaving a New Cloth” which will facilitate working together. The Lutheran – Uniting dialogue is a mature one looking to take on some points of disagreement. The Salvation Army – Uniting dialogue is aiming to produce a teaching document on holiness and justice.
The Uniting Church belongs to a number of ecumenical bodies: the World Council of Churches, the United and Uniting Committee of the WCC, the World Methodist Council, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the National Council of Churches, the Christian Conference of Asia, and the Pacific Council of Churches. We have people involved in each of these. The Christian Conference of Asia will meet next May in Jakarta, Indonesia and five Uniting Church people will attend.
We also spent some time considering the important WCC document, The Church: Towards a Common Vision. Some members of the Doctrine working group came to share in the discussion. A response will be prepared for the next Assembly.
The Uniting Church is strongly committed being ecumenical and often takes a leading role. The conference affirmed the importance of being ecumenical at all levels of the life of the church.
The Working Group on Doctrine met in Sydney 28-29 October to read and analyse responses to the discussion paper on marriage and same-gender relationships. Approximately 300 responses were received from Presbyteries, congregations, networks and individuals. A draft summary report will be presented at the forthcoming Assembly Standing Committee meeting after which further work will be done, including formulation of possible recommendations for the Standing Committee to consider at its March 2015 meeting. The Standing Committee will determine what, if any, recommendations to bring to the Assembly meeting for consideration.
Short biographies for people listed in “A Calendar of Commemorations” found in UIW 2 are being written. The first 50 or more are on the Worship resources section of the Assembly website. They are useful for sermons, groups and personal reflection. A colloquium involving teachers of worship and preaching will be held on 1-2 December in Adelaide. This will be an opportunity for such teachers across the UCA to come together to discuss the ways worship and preaching can be taught effectively.
In recent months I have been visiting synods and presbyteries to see what is happening in the resourcing of congregations for lifelong discipleship. It has been enriching to hear of both the opportunities and challenges in the Riverina, Port Phillip West, Western Victoria, Tasmania, Loddon Mallee, and Western Australia, as well as engaging with synod staff in education and mission. The FED unit is seeking to work collaboratively across the church so we can learn together about how to be effective in formation and education.
FED Stories is an intitiative to get people talking about how their congregations form disciples, and to date events have been held in Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane. You can follow our work and discover fresh resources at our new online newsletter at www.fednews.org. This link also gives you an update on About FACE and the National Young Adults Leaders Conference in December 2014.
Every year I’m encouraged by the opportunity to sit down with my children and decide how we should spend our money on Christmas gifts for family and friends. One of the things I most enjoy about Giving Catalogues like UnitingWorld’s Everything In Common is the opportunity they provide to ‘give twice’ – once to family and friends and again to people we’ll probably never meet but for whom we can provide the resources to help overcome poverty and lack of opportunity.
Over the past five years, this kind of inspired thinking has injected more than $1.3 million into life-giving UnitingWorld projects throughout Asia, Africa and the Pacific. It’s helped local dentists in Vanuatu travel through remote provinces fixing broken teeth and offering dental care. It’s provided Mali in Zimbabwe with young goats to breed so her family can eat three meals a day instead of one. And it’s providing Chloe and Joseph with seedlings to plant in Tuvalu to help protect their shoreline from high tides that erode their land and livelihood.
At the same time, mothers, brothers, sisters and school teachers here in Australia have been delighted to know that in their name, these gifts are providing others with the resources they need to care for their families, earn an income and make sure more children are in school. I think that’s what’s at the heart “Everything in Common”. It’s the spirit of the early church, holding possessions in common so no one in the community suffered. It’s also the knowledge that no matter what divides us, what we have in common is the desire to love and provide for our families and communities. I encourage you to take a look at our new catalogue and invest in a gift that gives twice. Call the team at UnitingWorld on 02 8267 4267 and we’ll send you your copy or visit www.everythingincommon.com.au to buy your gifts on line. Thank you, once again, for standing with us as we connect communities for life.
During September I had the pleasure of visiting the Northern Synod for the first time and spending some time in Darwin running disaster recovery training with ministers from as far west as Derby in WA, and South as far south as Alice Springs. Historically, Darwin is the most heavily disaster-affected city in Australia, between the air-raids of 1942 and the devastation of Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Despite this a disaster recovery chaplaincy program is only just coming together, area by area. It was a blessing to join with like-minded people in helping with training and resourcing interested ministry agents for this work ahead of a fresh cyclone season.
I ended the month with a meeting in Queensland with people representing the Local Government Association, the state government department concerned with disaster welfare, the heads of churches and Queensland Churches Together. This was a significant milestone in first discussions about establishing an ecumenical disaster recovery chaplaincy network and response for the state. We have just marked the anniversary of the Blue Mountains fires of mid-October 2013. As the season heats up, please remain prayerful for those still recovering, and for the work of disaster recovery ministry as we transition from training and preparation to facilitating disaster response.
Welcome to Cynthia Coghill!
Aletia and I have had an exciting couple weeks as we welcomed Cynthia Coghill to the UnitingJustice team. Cynthia is our new Administration and Communications Officer. Cynthia comes to us with considerable experience in administration in the corporate sector, community sector and within the Uniting Church. Her last position was as the Executive Assistant to the Director of the Aurora Project, an organisation that works to strengthen Indigenous organisations through training, education and work placements. Prior to this Cynthia worked for six years as the Secretary of the Presbytery of Sydney. She is a member of the Assembly National Disaster Relief Committee and was a member of the Business Committee for the Assembly meetings in 2006 and 2009. She attends Mortdale Uniting Church.
Working Together with our NGO Partners on Human Rights
In September, the Assembly, through UnitingJustice, together with over 60 other NGOs, signed an open letter to the Attorney General, the Hon. George Brandis, urging the Federal Government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). Ratifying OPCAT would signal that Australia was committed to improving and safeguarding the rights of all people in places of detention.
On 16 October, UnitingJustice was one of 77 organisations to endorse a report on Australia’s policies and practices as they uphold our obligations under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). The report, prepared by the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) with input from NGO partners, has been sent to the UN’s Committee Against Torture ahead of its review of Australia’s compliance with the Convention in November. It covers such issues as refugee policy and law, prison conditions, the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the criminal justice system, violence against women, anti-terrorism laws and more.
UnitingJustice was also among 43 academics and religious, community, legal and human rights organisations to sign a public statement calling on the Government to delay the passage of new counter-terrorism legislation. This legislation proposes some major changes to our current laws which could unnecessarily threaten democratic rights and freedoms. The statement calls for more time for public debate and consultation.
Earlier this year, the Government tasked the Productivity Commission to look into the early childhood education and care sector. They had two priorities. One was to find ways increase parents’ participation in the workforce, and the other involved looking after the developmental needs of young children. Given the long waiting lists for many childcare centres, the significant number of children starting school with developmental delays and the widespread suspicion that public spending on childcare could be better targeted, this is an important review. But it is not a simple one. We need to acknowledge that in the two priorities set by Parliament, the Commission are in a tug-of-war. If workforce participation and the economic benefits that flow are the primary goal, it makes sense to keep childcare costs low, to make it easy and financially viable for families to access care for their children. But if, as we believe, the well-being of children takes priority, greater investment is needed, even if that leads to rising costs.
Caring for children is costly, regardless of whether or not it is done by parents, wider family or professionals in a paid environment. When it comes to formal care services, it is important that we don’t erode the quality that we are offering children. One of the recommendations the Productivity Commission is thinking of making, is to reduce the qualifications and standards for people working with children under the age of 3. Given that this is the most significant time for child’s brain development, to do so would be a serious mistake. Across the country, UnitingCare agencies are delivering quality services to young children and their families. This is an investment in the future of those children’s lives, and the future of our nation. The welfare of children needs to be the highest priority in this debate. Our young children need to be properly invested in.
I was sent a reflection from the Samoan National Conference held over the weekend of 16-19 October by Rev. Seforosa Carroll, UnitingWorld's Manager Church Partnerships, Pacific. You can find many photos from the event here.
Samoan National Conference
The Samoan National Conference was held at Samoan Lidcombe Uniting Church over three days beginning with an opening service on Thursday evening 16 October. The President, Rev. Professor Andrew Dutney, preached at the opening service and commissioned the office bearers for their work for the next three years (2014-2017). The annual conference brings together all the Samoan congregations and faith communities within the Uniting Church in Australia to share stories of celebration, challenges and to map areas of work for the next three years. A vibrant young contingent from Queensland made their presence felt by their impressive uniforms. As many Pacific Island diaspora communities still have some ties to churches and communities in the home of origin, the National conferences provide avenues for UnitingWorld to share news of the home partner church and to explore opportunities for collaboration.
The emergence of the Islamic State (IS) has refocussed strategic geopolitics, yet again. Australia's commitment to UN resolutions and the deployment of ADF assets inevitably involves military chaplains, both at home and as chaplains in the field. Having just wound down from operations in Afghanistan to centre on rehabilitation, resilience and reflection, so are chaplains now setting a different set of priorities than that envisaged just months ago. For military chaplains flexibility is the gift in a fluid environment, which summons all spiritual, relational, professional and physical resources to cope personally and to minister wisely. (Similarly spouses and families of chaplains carry tremendous loads in weary waiting).
The ADF Chaplaincy College (at ADFA in Canberra) prepares chaplain at all divisions to meet the immediate requirements of a ever changing strategic world. The UCA Defence Force Chaplain's Committee seeks the prayers of the whole church for ADF chaplains (and their families) so that they may know their church is behind their every endeavour. All ADF chaplains live in tenuous world, prepared to be, yet always prepared to take the call and respond to any short notice to move (SNTM). UCA ADF chaplains act for the church in this corner of the vineyard.
This year 11 November marks the 96th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War in 1918. UCA Defence Force Chaplain Rev. Matthew Stuart has put together a resource booklet for any congregations or faith communities looking to participate in an official "Act of Remembrance". The resource contains prayers, blessings and hymn suggestions and is available here in the Latest Resources section of the Assembly Home Page.
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Welcome to the September edition of National Update with latest news from the Assembly.
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Welcome to the November edition of National Update with latest news from the Assembly.