Sometimes good ideas and projects run out of steam and need to be given a good Christian burial. Sometimes they can be resurrected in a form more appropriate to a new or different context.
Pleasant Sunday Afternoons (PSAs) were a feature of life at Wesley Church in Melbourne since 1893 when a packed church gathered to address the issue of ‘sweat labour’. Later conferences that year focussed on a range of social issues such as unemployment, the opium trade and gambling.
These PSAs aimed to contribute to social reform and relate theology to current issues. The radical social thought fostered and expressed in these meetings informed much of the early program of the newly formed Wesley Mission.
The PSAs reached their zenith under the leadership of Sir Irving Benson who took over at Wesley in 1935. Benson enlivened the programs and attracted high profile social and political leaders. Speakers included the likes of Billy Hughes, Robert Menzies and Arthur Calwell.
He also introduced artistic performances, including artists performing in shows at the nearby theatres (such as Gladys Moncrieff) and the Mission’s own orchestra. The weekly meetings were broadcast all over Australia and were by a significant margin the most widely listened to broadcasts on the airwaves. At their height, the gatherings attracted 2000 people into the church with loudspeakers outside for the overflow.
That was a very different era and, today, the church is a much more marginal voice in the public space. But there is still a need to have forums for public conversation, including theological perspectives, on the issues facing our community.
So Wesley Church, in partnership with Wesley Mission and the Justice and International Mission Unit of the Commission for Mission are planning a Sunday afternoon gathering in this same tradition, on Sunday 25 May at 2.30pm, which happens to be the anniversary of the conversion of John Wesley.
The focus this time will be on Constitutional Recognition of Australia’s First Peoples, a move that is being supported by all major parties. The Uniting Church’s own experience with our Constitution can hopefully contribute to this public discussion.
A panel of speakers including Rev Ken Sumner, national director of the National Council of Church’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission (NATSIEC) and Candice Champion from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC/Congress) is being assembled, as well as musicians. And the odd Wesley hymn might find its way into the program.
Rev Alistair Macrae
Minister at Wesley Church Melbourne
For more details on the event, or to RSVP, please contact email@example.com