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Uniting Church in Australia Assembly - News
Thursday, 13 January 2005

South Australian Bushfires

Please pray for people on the Eyre Peninsula. We particularly pray for those who have lost loved ones. Please also pray for the small congregation at Wanilla, and for the ministry teams at churches like Port Lincoln, and Tumby Bay as they offer pastoral care.

The Moderator of the Uniting Church SA, Rev Dr Graham Humphris, has Written a pastoral letter to church members in the affected region in which he says: "It is in this awful situation that we, as part of your extended family known in the Uniting Church in South Australia, want you to know that we are grieving with you, praying for you and wanting to stand by you and support you in any way that we possibly can."

The President says that in this Sunday of mourning he makes the sad request to our congregations to now include at least one member of the Uniting Church who died in the fires and remember the many other families who are grieving in Southern Eyre Peninsular and beyond.


Thursday, 13 January 2005

President meets Immigration Minister

This is a statement by the National President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Dr Dean Drayton, following a meeting with the Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone, in Adelaide on Friday, January 7, while he was attending the National Christian Youth Convention.

A baptised member of the Uniting Church was forcibly deported from Baxter Detention Centre on the night of January 3, the New Year’s Day public holiday.

I immediately emailed both Senator Vanstone and the Prime Minister to express the Church’s disappointment at the decision

I was able to meet the Minister Vanstone personally while I was in Adelaide for the National Christian Youth Convention to personally explain the concerns we had.

I was encouraged by the meeting. The Minister was gracious, warm and open to our concerns.

Neither the Minister nor the immigration authorities will reconsider material which has already been examined in any case. But we have authenticated and documented the conversion of some asylum seekers who are baptised members of the Uniting Church.

We believe this should be considered ‘new information’ and so allow a new stage in their applications for humanitarian visas, permitting the Minister to consider them on a case by case basis.

The Minister also left the way open for further communication between us, which we appreciate.

It is my fear that members of the Uniting Church who are forcibly returned will face persecution and possible death at the hands of fundamentalist Islamic governments or groups.

Religious persecution is a reality in many parts of the world. It is expressly prohibited under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and as President of the Uniting Church in Australia, I have a duty to see that members of our church are not persecuted for their faith. This is not matter of choice, but one of deep pastoral responsibility.

As I said at the National Christian Youth Convention: “We are most concerned about former Muslims who have converted to Christianity being forcibly returned to fundamentalist Islamic countries.

“It’s hard for Christians in these countries. It’s even harder for people who have converted from Islam to Christianity. Under Islamic law they are seen as apostates – people who are traitors to Islam. In some countries this may be punishable by death.

“The Minister acknowledged that the Uniting Church has been careful and thoughtful in the way we have authenticated people’s conversions.”


Monday, 31 January 2005

'One Nation Under God' Program

Friday 25th of February 2005
Place: Woolley Common Room, Woolley Building A20, Science Road, University of Sydney NSW 2006


9.00 - 9.30 Registration.

9.30 - 9.40 Welcome and Introduction by seminar convenor
Dr Christopher Hartney.

Morning Session: Overviews

9.40 - 10.10 Professor Garry W. Trompf: (Professor in the History of
Ideas, University of Sydney) "The Interface of Religion and Politics in
Australia: An Overview."

10.10 - 10.40 Mr John Nijjem: (Department of Philosophy, University of
Sydney) "The Unholy Family; a Theological Critique of Christian

10.40-11.10 Reverend Elenie Poulos (National Director Uniting Justice
Australia [Uniting Church]) "Christianity and 'Family Values' Discourse."

11.10-11.30 Morning Tea

Mid-Morning Session: From the British and American Models to the
Australian Family Movement.

11.30-12.00 Dr Christopher Hartney (Lecturer, Studies in Religion,
Sydney, Department of History, UNSW): "Owning the concept of 'family' from the American Family Foundation to Fred Nile, The Festival of Light
and on to Family First."

12.00-12.30 Dr Carole M. Cusack (Chair, Studies in Religion, University
of Sydney): "Bellah's Second Model of Religion's Future and contemporary Australia."

12.30-13.00 Ms Frances Di Lauro (Postgraduate, Studies in Religion): "On Christian Particularism and Australian Politics: Positioning the
'Secularity' of Family First."

13.00-14.00 Lunch

Afternoon Sessions: The Australian Case

14.00-14.30 Ms Amber Sparrow (Griffith University), "A New Kid on the
Block: Political Representation of the Christian Right in Australia."

14.30-15.00 Dr Marion Maddox (Victoria University, Wellington) "Religion
Under Howard and the Resurgence of Christian Politics"

15.00-15.30 Afternoon Tea

15.30-16.00 Professor John Warhurst (Professor, Political Science
Discipline, ANU) [reading a paper by] Haydon Manning (Flinders
University) and John Warhurst (Australian National University), "The old and new politics of religion [in the 2004 election]"

16.00-16.30 Mr Philip Quadrio (Philosophy, University of Sydney) topic:

16.30-17.0 Final Comments and Discussion.
Chair: Chris Hartney


Wednesday, 02 February 2005

2005 Lenten studies

A range of small group Lenten studies are available for UCA members to access this year, including a series from the Synod of Queensland, the Presbytery of Tasmania, a series from the NSW Synod’s ELM Centre for Lay Ministry and one from the Catholic Education Office targeting Christians from different traditions meeting together.

ELM Centre studies
Co-authored by Rev Dr Chris Walker and Amelia Koh-Butler, ELM Associate Director, these Lenten Studies are available on http://boe.resources.org.au/ They specifically seek to respond to the visit by Tom Bandy last year, so focus on the question: “What is it about my experience of Jesus Christ that this Community cannot live without?” Anyone who would like an emailed version please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. ELM is asking for a $5 donation per copy made or $10 per hard copy.

Queensland Synod Lenten Studies 2005 series
Experiencing Jesus, is now available for use by small groups in congregations for study and reflection during Lent. They may also be used at other times during the year. The series of five studies will open up Biblical reflections on different ways people experience Jesus through change, healing, freedom, a second chance and real purpose. The studies will work best for small groups but may be used by individuals. These studies are provided free and can be photocopied for each member of your congregation or group. Congregations might encourage existing groups to study this material or plan to establish short-term groups which can meet in the time leading up to Easter. The studies are available for free download at http://www.journey.ucaqld.com.au/specialsynod/lentstudy05.php
For other questions about this study series please contact Bruce Mullan, Mission Consultant on email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (07) 3377 9801.
This year, for the second consecutive year, the Presbytery of Tasmania has produced a 24-page booklet of five Lectionary-based Bible Studies for Lent. It is a project of our Discipleship Development and Education committee. We have already sold over 200 copies - mostly to Tasmanians, but some to mainland congregations. We charge $3.00 per copy, or $10 per set of master sheets. We also have advertising posters @ $2 for A4 size and $4 for A3 size. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., phone 03 6331 9784, or mail Presbytery of Tasmania, 96 Margaret St, Launceston Tasmania 7250.

"One Light, Many Journeys"

The Catholic Education office in Brisbane has prepared these studies with the possibility in mind of Christians from different traditions meeting together. Participants are invited to listen to the scriptures, reflect on their experiences and share their faith journeys. The overall theme is "Communion" and the six studies are: 1. Light for the journey. 2. To shine like the sun. 3. Sharing the light. 4. Light of the world. 5. To see the light. 6. Journey through darkness. Children's materials are also available. For sample lessons and ordering go to http://www.bne.catholic.edu.au/lentprog, phone 07 3840 0599 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Thursday, 31 March 2005

The Tsunami Wall

“The Tsunami Wall” is one creative response to the Tsunami being offered at the Flinders University of South Australia by Uniting Church Chaplain, Geoff Boyce.

Geoff and Rabbi Patti Kopstein, members of Flinders Multifaith Chaplaincy, invited staff and students to paint, draw or scribble their thoughts and feelings on “The Wall” during the month of March.

“Asian students, in particular, have stopped to paint and draw using their own languages and symbols,” said Rabbi Patti.
‘Some students have been touched by this opportunity and have said that they are going away to ‘think about it before returning to add their expression”.

Panels will now be hinged together to form an artistic installation as a memorial to those who lost their lives and a tribute to those who have donated their money and lives in the rebuilding effort.

“The Tsunami has had a big impact on Universities because of the number of students, past and present, who come from affected areas and because university staff and graduates are rising to the challenges in >response to the devastation,” said Geoff.





The inaugural President of the Uniting Church in Australia Rev Davis McCaughey died on March 26 at the age of 90.

Dr McCaughey, who was also Victorian Governor from 1986 to 1992, died at his North Melbourne home with his wife Jean and his family by his side. A service of Worship celebrating the life of Dr McCaughey will be held at St Michael’s Uniting Church Melbourne, at 2.30pm on Thursday, March 31.

Dr McCaughey was a theologian, master of Ormond College at the University of Melbourne, and inaugural president of the Uniting Church in Australia.

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 12, 1914, John Davis McCaughey came to Australia in 1953 to be Professor of New Testament Studies for the Theological Hall at Ormond College.

Dr McCaughey was a key architect in bringing together the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches to form the Uniting Church in Australia and and was president of the first Assembly of the Uniting Church in 1977 to 1979.

He was the primary author behind the Basis of Union, the foundational theological document that led to the formation of the new denomination.

Uniting Church President, Rev Dr Deam Drayton, said Davis McCaughey has had a lasting influence on the shape of spiritual and social consciousness in Australia.

“He provided much of the vision, wisdom and intellectual strength behind the union of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches.

“We see his graceful and intellectual touch on the Basis of Union, the foundational document of the Uniting Church. His insight and commitment was in response to the real movement of the Holy Spirit to bring the Uniting Church into being.

“Dr McCaughey also served the people of Victoria with compassion and distinction as Governor of Victoria.

“His commitment to education and learning was also profound.

“He served as Master of Ormond College for twenty years, was Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, sat on the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and was responsible for the theological formation of many hundreds of Ministers in Victoria and Tasmania.

“We give thanks to God for a man of great insight, wisdom and gentle spirit. I extend the whole of the Uniting Church’s condolences to Jean and all the McCaughey family.”

Dr McCaughey is survived by his wife of 64 years, Jean, and by five children - including former National Gallery of Victoria director Patrick McCaughey - 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A service of Worship celebrating the life of Dr McCaughey will be held at St Michael’s Uniting Church Melbounre, at 2.30pn on Thursday, March 31. The McCaughey family has respectfully requested no flowers and asked that donations be made to Uniting Church Overseas Aid for its project to develop a secondary school in Leos, East Timor.





For some time various people have been telling me that I must read Don Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. So I did.

It does not pretend to be a great literary work, just a novel; a thriller about a Harvard professor in search of the Holy Grail. On the surface it is just another tale that captures your attention and holds it, as well as any John Grisham novel.

Its extraordinary success and controversial content, however, have made it more than a best-seller. Some critics are calling it a ‘phenomenon’. There are a number of web sites devoted to discussing Brown’s view of theology and history. There are TV documentaries that will be aired this year to examine the books claims.

The book promises to reveal secrets about Jesus, secrets long suppressed by the church and other religious organisations; secrets that debunk traditional and orthodox views of Jesus and early Christianity. While we live in a culture that is still fascinated by the person of Jesus, there is wide spread biblical illiteracy. Fewer and fewer people are able or equipped to discern fact from fiction. Moreover, the novel’s first page declares ‘FACT…all descriptions of art, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate’. Thus, most readers are likely to think that the book contains more fact than fiction. It is possible, unless challenged, Brown’s views will become mainstream, and the credibility of historic, authentic Christian faith will be further eroded.

Without going into much detail, here is a short tour of the seven deadly historical errors in the book, drawn from Ben Witherington’s excellent book The Gospel Code.

Error 1: The canonical Gospels, that is Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are not the earliest Gospels, rather the earliest are the suppressed Gnostic Gospels such as the Gospel of Philip or the Gospel of Mary. This claim is made several times in the book, by the fictitious experts Teabing and Langdon. There is, however, no credible evidence to support such a view. The Gnostic Gospels were written in the late 2nd or even the 3rdcentury AD, while the gospels in the New Testament were written in the second half of the first century.

Error 2: Jesus is a great man, but was never proclaimed divine until the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century. This is patently false. Jesus is called ‘God’ (theos) seven times in the New Testament, including in John’s Gospel, and he is called ‘Lord’ (kyrios) in the divine sense on numerous occasions. All the Council of Nicaea did was formalise what the New Testament has clearly taught.

Error 3: Emperor Constantine suppressed the ‘earlier’ Gnostic Gospels and imposed the Canonical Gospels and the doctrine of divinity of Christ on the church. Simply not true. Neither the Western nor Eastern Church ever accepted the Gnostic Gospels, because they were clearly fictional. It was not a case of suppression, simply one of recognising the major historical flaws in the ‘late’ (not ‘early’) Gnostic Gospels. By 130AD most of the New Testament, as we have it, was seen as authoritative. Irenaeus reports this, as does the Muratorian Canon from the second century. Constantine certainly presided over the Council of Nicaea, but there is no reason to believe he shaped its conclusions. Certainly he helped spread Christianity, but he did not engineer the canonizing process.

Error 4: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. The New Testament is completely silent on this issue. Brown quotes the late 3rd century Gospel of Philip, but on further examination, this seems highly unlikely. The Gospel of Philip uses the term ‘companion’ which does not mean ‘spouse’. The suggestion of a ‘kiss’ in the Gospel of Mary, is the common ‘Holy Kiss’ referred to by Paul in I Cor:16. This is simply an early form of Christian greeting, not evidence of romance.

Error 5: Jesus must have been married since he was an early Jew. This argument again is flawed. Most Jewish men did marry, but several ancient Jewish authors attest to the fact that some early Jews were called to celibacy. There is no reason why Jesus could not have been one of them. (see Matt. 19. v10-12. for further reasons).

Error 6: The Dead Sea Scrolls along with the Nag Hammadi documents are the earliest Christian records. What a howler! The Dead Sea Scrolls are purely Jewish documents, there is nothing Christian about them. There is no evidence any of the Nag Hammadi documents existed before the late 2nd century, with the possible exception of the Gospel of Thomas, which is mid 2nd century.

Error 7: The Church suppressed the ‘sacred feminine’. Brown contends God was organically a female deity. Nonsense. The God of the Bible is neither male nor female, rather God is Creator and God is Spirit (John 4:v24).

In Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, Part Two, the king rebukes Prince Hal, who is contemplating his father’s death and his own assumption of the throne, saying ‘Have you a ruffian that will ….commit the oldest sins in the newest kind of ways?’ There is nothing very new about the religious agendas underlying The Da Vinci Code. It is simply a bad amalgam of paganism and, strangely enough, old Gnosticism brought back to life by a masterful storyteller. It can be quite entertaining, but also misleading. We need to treat this book as what it really is – not historical fiction, but almost entirely fiction, at least when it comes to its assumptions and assertions about Jesus, Mary Madgdalene and early Christianity.

A fascinating read, but riddled with historical and theological distortions. Buyer and reader beware.

Steve Francis


Darwin resident Sharon Davis has been awarded the prestigious Louis Ariotti Award for her role in developing aged care services in the Territory and the Kimberley.

The award was presented at the 8th National Rural Health Conference held in Alice Springs over the last 4 days. It recognises innovation and excellence in rural and remote health in areas such as research, policy, leadership and service development.

Mrs Davis is the Northern Regional Manager of UCA Frontier Services – the organisation that was founded as The Australian Inland Mission in 1912 by another legend in innovative care for Outback communities, Rev John Flynn (“Flynn of the Inland” – who appears on the $20 note).

“We have a great example to follow in our founder, John Flynn”, said Mrs Davis. “He was not one to take no for an answer when it came to the health and welfare of people in the bush. I hope I have been able to demonstrate some small measure of his passion in developing care services for the elderly in the Territory.”

Mrs Davis was nominated by the National Director of Frontier Services, Rosemary Young. “For over a decade, Sharon has made an outstanding contribution to the development of services for the frail and aged and to training those who provide that care in the remotest regions of the continent,” said Mrs Young.

“Sharon joined Frontier Services in 1993 at a time when there were very few services, residential or otherwise, for older Territorians. She became the strongest and most passionate advocate for a variety of aged care services to meet the needs she identified, particularly for older indigenous people.”

“She has been instrumental in the development of dementia services and has taken a lead in ensuring accreditation standards are flexible enough to accommodate culturally appropriate care and remote service provision.”

“Sharon has developed partnerships with indigenous communities, developed training programs that can be delivered to remote communities and developed innovative programs that allow elderly people to remain at home even in very remote communities. She has encouraged and enthused our staff to stretch the system to its limits to ensure provision of quality care no matter where it is to be delivered.”

“I believe Sharon Davis has been instrumental in changing the face of aged care in the Northern Territory,” said Mrs Young. “Ten years ago, services for the elderly were minimal indeed in the Top End and the Centre. Today, a full range of care services can be accessed in most regions in the Territory, and that is due in no small part to the tenacity of Sharon Davis who constantly insists on ‘thinking outside the square’ when it comes to ensuring quality services for frail and aged in Northern Australia.”

Sharon Davis will take long service leave this year and plans to spend the time in Chenai, India, where she will provide advice on the development of aged care services in a very different, yet equally challenging environment.

“I hope they are ready!” said Mrs Young.