Assembly Working Group on Relations with Other Faiths

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Rev Michael Barnes, Convenor (Executive)
Rev. Michael Barnes was appointed Convenor of the Assembly Relations with Other Faiths Working Group by the 14th Assembly held in Perth in July 2015. Rev. Barnes has served as a Minister of the Word in a number of congregations in Sydney and is currently Minister at Gordon Uniting Church.  He has a Masters of Theology degree with a focus on New Testament Studies. He was a member of the UCA Christian Jewish Dialogue with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) for 10 years and was the UCA Convenor of the Dialogue for a number of years. Rev. Barnes’ experience of different cultures and different religious beliefs has enriched his understanding of his Christian faith. In 1979, he lived and worked on a Kibbutz in Israel with volunteers from many different cultural contexts. The following year, he spent three months with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. He has returned to India many times and been immersed in the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. In 2002, he spent eight weeks in North East India on a ClergyExchange program run by the Council for World Mission in London. He has participated in and led a number of interfaith activities. In 2015, the Interfaith September program at Gordon Uniting Church included speakers from four different faiths, a visit to Gallipoli Mosque in Auburn and a tour of Indigenous sacred sites in Cromer.


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Debra Porter, Co-opted Member (Executive)
Debra has been involved continuously with the Relations with Other Faiths (ROF) Committee/Working Group for more than 20 years.  From 1993-2001, Debra was a staff member of the UCA Assembly Social Responsibility and Justice agency (now UnitingJustice).  It was during this time that she first became a member of ROF.  In the years 2004-2011, Debra worked for the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) as the Communications Officer and Assistant to the General Secretary.  Debra has participated in a number of other interfaith groups and activities, including the Australian National Dialogue of Christians Muslims and Jews (representing the NCCA and the UCA at different times), APRO (Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations), WIN (Women’s Interfaith Network), as well as various interfaith conferences and overseas interfaith exposure tours. Among other qualifications Debra has a Bachelor of Theology.  


Wilma Bio
Wilma Viswanathan (Executive)
Wilma is the longest serving member of the Relations with other Faiths Working Group. She first joined the group in the early 1990s. Wilma has represented ROF at two Assemblies. She planned and convened the Chat Show - Come Meet the Neighbour held during the 10th Assembly in 2003 in Melbourne which included an interfaith panel. She has participated in many interfaith gatherings. Some international highlights include speaking at the women's program of the International Conference of Christians and Jews in Jerusalem in June 2008,  speaking in Turkey while touring places of interest as a guest of the Affinity Foundation, leading a workshop and speaking at an interfaith summit in Thailand organised by the  World Buddhist Federation in 2012 and speaking at an international conference at Sydney University in 2013 to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekenanda. She is a member of the Women's Interfaith Network (WIN), the NSW Ecumenical Council's Interfaith Commission, NSW Religions for Peace Committee and is also a member of the Anti-Slavery Project in NSW. Wilma worked at the National Council of Churches in Australia for 15 years and was an elder of Paddington Uniting Church. Born in Sri Lanka, Wilma came to Australia in 1983. She was a member of the Student Christian Movement of Sri Lanka, the Church of Ceylon Youth Movement and the YWCA of Sri Lanka. The Parliament of World Religions chose Wilma to be its Australian Ambassador for the Parliament's meeting in Melbourne in 2009.


Matt Wilson Bio

Rev. Dr Matthew Wilson (Executive)
Rev. Dr Matthew Wilson joined the ROF Working Group in 2009. He is the Convenor of the the UCA Christian-Jewish Dialogue with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ). He has been a member of Dialogue since 2009.  Working as a chaplain in university and prison ministry led Matthew to an increased awareness of the pivotal role of interfaith relations to the social cohesion of Australian society. This sparked his PhD research and his active involvement in interfaith relations in the community. Matthew is committed to increasing educational and theological awareness of the issues within the life of the UCA.  He is a member of the sessional faculty of Charles Sturt University School of Theology in biblical studies and theology and has a PhD in biblical studies and interfaith relations. He was the principle author of the UCA response to ‘A Common Word’, an open letter from Muslim Leaders, and has interests in the interfaith practice of scriptural reasoning. Matthew is minister at Nowra Uniting Church.


Neil Smith Bio
Rev. Neil Smith (Executive)
In 2008, Neil went on a multi-faith study tour to India where he met people of many faiths, some became friends for life. As minister at New Lambton Uniting Church, Bankstown Uniting Church and the supply minister at Hamilton-Broadmeadow Uniting Church, he has built close ties with the Newcastle Muslim community and the Muslim community in Western Sydney. In Sydney and Newcastle, Neil has encouraged Uniting Church congregations to host Iftar meals, providing an opportunity for members of the Christian and Muslim communities to get to know each other. As part of his involvement with Sydney Alliance, Neil worked with people of different faiths in Western Sydney. On several occasions when the Newcastle Muslim community came under attack by sections of the public, Neil and members of the Uniting Church responded by sending a letter of solidarity, attending public meetings to offer support and organising a multi-faith show of solidarity at themosque. Neil continues to maintain friendships with people of many faiths in India.


Geoff Boyce, SA Synod Representative
Geoff Boyce is Oasis Coordinating Chaplain at the Flinders University of South Australia. He was first appointed as Uniting Church chaplain to Flinders in 1997. Formerly he was a secondary school teacher in state schools in South Australia, initially in Science and then Social Sciences. During his time as Uniting Church chaplain, Geoff built a model of chaplaincy that explored the notion of collegiality among chaplains of many faith traditions and established Oasis as a centre for meeting the religious and spiritual needs of its students, based on the practice of hospitality as making space for the other. This movement is recounted in his book, An Improbable Feast – the surprising dynamic of hospitality at the heart of multi faith chaplaincy (2010). In 2013 Flinders University embraced Oasis and appointed Geoff as its coordinator. Since then he has guided its further transformation into the public domain as a faith-friendly centre inclusive of the spiritualities of all, and an asset to the wellbeing of the university and wider community.


Rev. Heather Griffin, QLD Synod Representative
Heather is a retired Uniting Church Minister who has served in the Brisbane Valley and Sherwood Uniting Churches in Queensland. Prior to that she was Minister of the Word at St David's Uniting Church Holland Park. She holds a research Masters degree in Geology, a Diploma of Education and a Bachelor of Theology. In all of these areas, Heather has worked with many people of various faith perspectives. As part of the local Christian community, she and her congregation felt particularly challenged to stand in solidarity with the Holland Park mosque after an attempted petrol bombing in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. She is now secretary of the Queensland Synod Interfaith Relationships Committee, a member of the Queensland Forum for Christians, Jews and Muslims, and a member of Believing Women for a Culture of Peace. She believes strongly that true religion is a powerful force for good, and looks to further the cooperation between various faith traditions for the enrichment of our communities.  In October 2015, she participated in the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City.


Rev. David Pargeter, VIC/TAS Synod Representative
Rev. David Pargeter is the Executive Director of the Commission for Mission in the UCA Synod of Victoria and Tasmania and a member of the UCA National Assembly Working Group on Relations with Other Faiths. David has long had a passion for multiculturalism and its associated social justice issues: personal and structural racism, inclusion, cross-cultural understanding and multifaith dialogue. David was co-founder of Justice for Asylum Seekers and an outspoken supporter of the State Government's controversial Racial and Religious Tolerance legislation. In partnership with other church and academic colleagues, David has nurtured close relations with the Muslim community, and pursued several initiatives designed to promote meaningful dialogue between religions including the Centre for Dialogue in association with LaTrobe University. David is also co-founder of the Alternative to Empire Project and the Synod's interfaith initiative Uniting Through Faith.


Revd Marie Wilson
Rev. Marie Wilson, WA Synod Representative
Marie Wilson is a Minister of the Word in the UCA. Marie has been a member of the Executive of the Council of Christians and Jews in WA for over 12 years and is a member of the UCA National Assembly Relations with Other Faiths Working Group. She has a background working in Christian Education with the Victorian Presbyterian Church. She completed Deaconess training and was sent to Whyalla, SA, where she ministered in a multicultural setting. During her life, Marie has had close friendships with people of other faiths, and has shared in prayer and deep and open conversations about faith with those from other traditions. She has found her own faith greatly enriched by her interfaith encounters. When in conversation with people of other faiths, she has been required to define her own beliefs more strongly. Marie is motivated by her conviction that faith and love grow as we encounter people from other backgrounds and that understanding and respect are essential to peace in the world.


April Robinson Bio 2

April Robinson, VIC/TAS Synod Representative
April has served on the ROF Working Group since 2013. She is the Interfaith Network Developer with the Victoria/Tasmania Synod’s Commission for Mission. She has been involved in a number of interfaith activities including multiple workshops looking at violence against Muslim women and a poetry slam which involves working with young people to develop poetry through conversations of faith, identity and belonging. April has played a role in building relationships and understanding with Islam and the wider community by initiating conversations on faith, identity and belonging. She has written about the impact of government rhetoric/policies on a multi-faith society and the rise of far-right ‘neo fascist’ movements. Working alongside various cultures, customs and faiths has deepened her appreciation for the importance of one’s sense of belonging and the wisdom of dialogue as part of the faith journey.


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Rev. Helen Richmond, Northern Synod Representative
Rev. Helen Richmond is a minister in the Uniting Church with rich experience working among different cultures and faiths. For six years Helen worked as Tutor in Mission Studies at the United College of Ascension, Birmingham, UK. She has served as the UCA National Director for Multicultural and Cross Cultural Ministry and for the last seven years has been a theology teacher at Nungalinya College, an Indigenous training Centre in Darwin. In October 2015 she published a book Blessed and Called to Be a Blessing: Muslim-Christian Couples Sharing a Life Together which explores how Muslims and Christians in interfaith marriages embody living dialogue between faiths.


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