Letters to the editor – September 2016

Keeping faith

Paul of Tarsus was a man with the courage of his own conviction and he lived out that conviction right to the very end. During his time he was a rebel with a cause; today he would be somewhat of a hero’s hero. He went on preaching and starting churches in faraway lands despite being imprisoned more than once, “thrice beaten with rods, once pelted with stones, thrice shipwrecked and once spent a whole night and day adrift at open sea…” (2 Corinthians 11:25). Talk about getting the right man for the job!

When I see old and frail Christians making their way to church every Sunday, come rain or snow (I don’t think they will falter a step for hell-or-high-water either), I can see a reflection of that same unstinting spirit of conviction. Though they don’t have to face angry Jews or hostile Romans, they do have to contend with the daunting cold of Ballarat’s winter mornings and insubordinate bodies. In true grit fashion, they persevere. Grudging mobility, arthritic-ridden joints and dimming sight are but a mere inconvenience, never an excuse for not attending. In going to church, they know that they are acknowledging the primary purpose of why we are created – and fulfilling it: To worship God.

Such are the folks that will share in Paul’s defining account of his life when he declared in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Kimmy Fam
Ballarat, VIC

Major challenge

There has been some concern expressed about the introduction of a single board for the amalgamated UnitingCare agencies in that it may lead to a lessening of the local relationships that currently exist between individual UnitingCare agencies and their communities. But there is one major opportunity – and challenge – that will come about from the creation of a single board and management structure. That opportunity has been argued as one of the real benefits of the amalgamation process – to redress the unbalanced nature of the Uniting Church’s support for local communities between the eastern and western suburbs of Melbourne.

By the best measures available, Wyndham should be a state priority for a homelessness response.

Homelessness services have recorded a doubling of demand from Wyndham residents in the past three years and homelessness figures have quadrupled in the last two Censuses. The area has the highest number of forced rental evictions in the state and two of the top eight postcodes for ‘mortgage delinquency’ in Victoria. Wyndham has one of the highest numbers of family violence incidents in the state, and there are no local accommodation options within the shire for young people exiting the care of DHHS when orders are terminated on their 18th birthday.

Wyndham has had a huge increase in rough sleepers over the last six months. In the past six weeks, there have been nine separate occurrences of individuals and couples sleeping in their cars in the rear car park at UCWS&H including four single adults sleeping in swags under our verandas for protection from the elements. Similar stories have been reported from other local support agencies, the local football club and Werribee Equestrian Centre, and Wyndham Council’s local laws team say they’ve never seen this number of people sleeping rough previously.

A recent article in the Herald Sun noted that many people sleeping rough in the Melbourne CBD come from the outer suburbs. It is understood that this is a result of a lack of resourcing in our local area. Even though Wyndham is the size of Geelong (and will soon grow to the size of Canberra), many services are out-reach from inner-metropolitan areas.

It will be important to see how the newly appointed CEO and board of UnitingCare in Victoria addresses this terrible situation where the western suburbs’ needs have been largely ignored by governments both state and federal.

Robert Renton
Presbytery Minister (Administration)
Presbytery of Port Phillip West

Wrong on Access

I have written a couple of letters to Crosslight concerning chaplains in Victorian Government schools, and following the 2016 Synod, I write another letter with a very deep concern for the attitude shown by the Uniting Church towards our students in government schools. How can a Uniting Church, with the emphasis on ‘uniting’, propose the resourcing of a chaplaincy program, when all we have to do is support the existing Access Ministries program?

Sure, there may be aspects of Access that we do not agree with but it should be our aim to work with Access to make changes that improve the work of Access Ministries in our government schools. When I met with the Moderator in August 2015 he agreed with many of my points and I offered to be part of the committee looking at chaplaincy in schools but for some reason this offer was not taken up.

One of the main reasons for the breakdown in the relationship between the Uniting Church and Access Ministries was due to the wrong people in our negotiating team. Look at the Synod proposal number 28 and consider the wording. At no stage is Access Ministries mentioned and to put this in context, 30 years ago the Uniting Church was one of, if not the main supporter of Access Ministries (then CCES).

For the Uniting Church to have a website that states ‘Are you looking for a values based school?’ implying that government schools might not have decent values, and then to sever our connection with government schools (via Access Ministries) must have people wondering.

We should also note that Access Ministries has 11 supporting churches and ask, why are we the ‘one so correct’? My opinion is that we are the one so wrong! We are a church with a great awareness of the needs in our society – how did we get this one so wrong!

Geoff Scott
Bendigo, VIC

Praise for church

I am troubled by the comments made by the Rev Dr Philip Hughes in the August edition of Crosslight. He criticises the present form of church worship and buildings as not connecting with most people. He apparently advocates a community living centre in which, “we offer a whole range of activities in which we say we are building community and pointing to the spiritual”.

But is this worship? How does it differ from a spirituality class at our local U3A or Council of Adult Education? Surely if the figure of Christ does not emerge from the liturgy, it is not Christian liturgy? The writings of Geoffrey Wainwright in his book, Doxology: the praise of God in worship, doctrine and life as well as the works of the theologian Douglas Hall, supply an underpinning for the proper understanding of this topic.

Most churches already provide for the nurture of members’ sense of the spiritual as Dr Hughes urges. There is now greater use of art and craft skills and drama in worship service. For example: liturgical banners, visuals on the church’s overhead screen, dramatic portrayal of Biblical stories or the revival of the devotional practice of writing icons. Music for church services can be as diverse as the congregation wishes; it need not be the communal singing which he deplores. Ancient Celtic practices like meditation, Taizé-style services or ‘messy church’ are seamlessly incorporated into worship without having a community living centre devoted to the cult of the spiritual.

The yearning for the transcendent and authentic Christian worship can be satisfied within our present structures, practices and community. We only have to glance at the pages of Crosslight to see churches who have a variety of worship styles and who also engage with their communities.

Alan Ray
Mont Albert, VIC.

Chaplains

Just a quick email to say how nice it was to read your article in Crosslight this month. I am a 21-year service man from the army.
One of my co-workers at Harrison said to me today ‘what is that helicopter on the front page of Crosslight?’ I hadn’t read the article at that stage but every soldier knows what that cross is and its location.

I read the introduction where you write that padres in the military are sometimes met with disapproval.

I found the same sort of greeting when I went to uni to get my diploma. Most of the lecturers didn’t approve of a soldier attending the social work course they were running.

I think most of the lecturers were from the Vietnam activist era and most likely thought of me as a baby killer. The funny thing is I joined the military to protect people from any walk of life regardless of race or religion.

I hate the way people assume because we wear a uniform we are something we are not and it still goes on today with people I meet.

At Harrisons we have three ex-services members. I wouldn’t be in this job if it wasn’t for the army and wouldn’t be the person I am today without that uniform.

I had to leave the army due to injuries and chose social work. I was lucky enough to be noticed by Harrisons and offered a role here.
I love the work, the humanitarians I work alongside and the massive mixture of people I get to help in their struggles.

I always say to my clients who are struggling in life with employment, AOD, domestic violence “keep your chin up and keep fighting the good fight”.

I have the fondest memories of all padres I have met in the army and no matter how tough it got for a Digger in the field there was always a padre who would drop in and have a chat, smoke, beer, coffee.

Keep fighting the good fight.

Mark Jones
via email
Congratulations on your wonderful feature on army chaplains in the August Crosslight.

It was my great privilege many years ago to work alongside such chaplains.

Frank was a young Anglican priest when he enlisted in the army in 1940. From then on he was the padre sometimes in the vernacular known as ‘sky pilot’.

The battalion was sent to the Middle East where they sustained heavy causalities. Frank served alongside his men, going out to help bring in the wounded and dying – sometimes only a body part. Thus he could then write to family to give them the peace of knowing their son, husband, father or brother had been given a Christian burial.

The battalion was returning to Australia but was diverted and landed in Java. They were captured and Frank spent the next years as a POW on the Burma Railway.

He was with his men – the uniform was gone – but the padre was there. He survived.

He then donned the ‘uniform’ common to the clergy of the day – a suit and clerical collar.

He was wounded in mind and spirit but his men still needed the padre. He well understood the challenges of returning to a ‘normal’ life.
Frank spent the rest of his life at the repat hospital with the sick and the dying; quietly day after day giving what peace he could.

In a peaceful war grave cemetery in France, one grave bares the simple inscription: “Think what a man should be, he is here.”

The padre/chaplain is always there. Honour them.

Marie Rowland
Glen Iris, VIC
I write in response to Penny Mulvey’s excellent article, ‘Ministry of War’ in the August Crosslight.

Now here’s a really dangerous idea. Instead of a Ministry of War, let’s have a Ministry for Peace. The Carter Centre in the US reports that the elimination of the world’s total social, health and environmental problems would cost less than one quarter of its spending on war. Our own government outlays many billions of dollars annually on the military and profits from selling arms overseas.

The cynics and pessimists say it is unrealistic and naïve to rid the world of war, and yet it is the dream of almost everyone on the planet. Why then do we not have a Ministry for Peace? We spend vast amounts on defence and effectively nothing on promoting that which is our greatest yearning.
Perhaps the Uniting Church could be really radical and become a flag bearer in lobbying for such a ministry. If a multicultural country like Australia took such an initiative, it could be the beginning of a visionary journey to peace as people see the futility and obscenity of the arms race, and the hope of world order without arms.

Ghandi stood for peaceful non-violence. Martin Luther King had a dream. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ A Ministry for Peace! How foolish! Oh that we might have the foolishness to pursue such a dream.

Bryan Long
Balwyn, VIC
The significance of the day I write this is not lost on me. 50 years ago today (August 18) as the caption on page 2 (Crosslight, August) notes, the Battle of Long Tan was fought.

It is against this background that Penny Mulvey’s timely piece (‘Ministry of war’, August) was important in so far as it brought to the fore the value of military chaplains and the role they fulfil in what some see (it appears) as a conflict with their view of a Christian response to war. I am sure that during the Vietnam War, as in many other theatres, men and women of our armed services valued the presence of a military chaplain.

For two years our congregation at Wesley Castle Hill NSW was blessed with a Uniting Church chaplain based at RAAF Richmond. His wife and daughter brought a new dimension to our understanding of armed conflict and the spiritual needs of our servicemen and women. He took services and they participated in the life of our fellowship. During his time with us he was deployed to the Middle East conflict. During his deployment his wife organised a card-making day to provide cards for all occasions for those service personnel to send back home. Additionally she enlisted the support of the congregation enabling sweets to be shipped to her husband that he could give to those he encountered in his day-to-day life in the field.

As a broad church the Uniting Church brings together many and varied opinions. Whilst as a church we encourage peace, our people surely must recognise that as much as they abhor war as corporate citizens we also have a responsibility to support those who risk their lives in the service of a chaplain. They play a vital role both at home and abroad.

I had the pleasure of leading the service the day we farewelled our fellow congregant in his capacity both as a Minister of the Word and an officer (chaplain) in the RAAF.

The occasion was also the opportunity for me to select as one of the hymns God is our strength and refuge, the Royal Airforce hymn to the tune of The Dam Buster’s March.

Allan Gibson OAM
Cherrybrook, NSW
I refer to the Ministry of War feature in the August 2016 issue of Crosslight.

After reading it through I felt sick and ashamed of what had occurred at the meeting.

It appears the Vietnam War still continues to this day in this country.

The men came home from that war – a war which was not their fault – only to be rejected and betrayed by their own nation. They suffer PTSD and moral injury brought on by the conflict and the added trauma of rejection. Any who have suffered trauma or abuse whether severe or at a lesser level will certainly understand their pain.

I watched the ABC, ‘Australian Story’ of Little Pattie (22 Aug, 2016) telling her story. She felt Australians should hang their heads in shame for the way those who returned had been treated by some.

The treatment of our Vietnam Vets is a very black mark on our recent Australian history.

I cannot put all this aside and just continue on with my life. The pain is too great. The pain, not only for those who knew conflict in Vietnam but those men and women who, with the love of God in their hearts, go as chaplains to difficult areas of conflict just to be a support and help to others. They suffer too in their role.

I attended the commemoration of the Long Tan battle on August 18 in Corryong. That small and simple but very moving service is something I will never forget. I know the veterans who were there – we live in the same district.

Nobody wants war and conflict but it is a reality of life. Just consider the conflict in families, in communities… Conflict is all around us.
I cannot be one of those who pass by on the other side.

Connie Carlyle
via email

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