November letters

In May 2009, with the support of St John’s Essendon Church Council, I established an outreach ministry at MIDC. For five-and-a-half years since then, I have exercised this ministry through which I provide pastoral care to all and any clients who are open to share in conversation and I conduct a simple Holy Communion service in their Multi-Faith room each month.

My time commitment has been approx half a day a month and I’m grateful to St John’s for their support to make this happen.

At the end of 2014 I will be concluding my time at MIDC – so this provides an opportunity for someone else to step up for a season and take this on. I’ll welcome enquiries and gladly assist in a hand-over, explaining what I’ve done to enhance the effectiveness of this ministry.

My pattern has been attendance at least once each month (normally on a Friday at a pre-arranged time) to move through the centre making myself available for pastoral conversations before conducting an advertised Communion service.

A full Federal Police check is required to gain the clearance necessary to be unaccompanied in this high-security facility.

At Easter and at Christmas I have facilitated wider participation (gathering up a group of volunteers from local congregations) with music/gifts being shared. At other times I’ve sourced and distributed language-specific Bibles.

I have gathered up and delivered many small musical instruments donated to facilitate the teaching/learning of music as a therapeutic pastime for clients.

I believe this incarnational ministry brings a precious connection to clients who are often sad, lonely and anxious. I hope and pray that this greatly valued ministry may go on.

I work through MIDC’s Mr Hussain Mosavi (Religious Liaison Officer) and Ms Sue Nevin (Education & Programs Manager) who are keen to meet the next MIDC UCA visiting chaplain.

If you are interested, please be in touch.

Grace & peace, Mark.
Rev Mark J Dunn
(St John’s Uniting Church Essendon)    
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I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia for his courage in publicly acknowledging the terrible impact on Aboriginal Peoples as a result of early British settlement.

It is of extreme importance to us that we now work together for better outcomes and this can happen when a Prime Minister is prepared, as you have been, to recognize the pain and suffering that has taken place. This is a beginning point and we thank you for it very sincerely.
You say that we should be recognized as first class citizens in our own country.
We believe this to be true and we also believe that determining our own future is our right. With your determined support we look forward to realizing this in the not too distant future.
Your support for the recognition of Aboriginal Peoples in the Constitution is greatly welcomed and it is our wish that changes will also include provision of a framework for incorporating treaties as they are negotiated.

Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM


In the classic 1951 movie Quo Vadis, Peter Ustinov’s Nero strums on a lyre while the inferno consumes Rome. The term ‘fiddling while Rome burns’ probably rests on a fiction, but has become a classic metaphor for missing the more important issues. This is abundantly demonstrated in the manufacture by an Assembly group of bizarre material on same sex marriage, while most faithful members know their minds already – and cannot make sense of the document anyway.

The real issue confronting members of the UCA, as with other theistic communities, is whatever we mean today by the formula ‘G-O-D’.  Thinking pew-sitters and their descendants have long found pre-scientific, medieval discourse in hymns, prayers and sermons incongruous and unpersuasive, and have waited patiently for something better. Can one speak today with integrity, albeit in metaphor, about this ineffable Mystery: about his/her/its nature, how he/she/it relates to this 14-billion-year-old cosmos?

Godtalk (theology) in the Christian west, as manufactured and marketed by the franchisees, has lost credibility. Yet a high proportion of people believe there must be something to call ‘the Holy’, ‘the Transcendent’, ‘the Other’ – describing themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’ (SBNR). Meanwhile, the movement of peoples back and forth across once set boundaries means that persons of all faiths are faced increasingly with such questions.

Meanwhile, ‘the Name’ (Ha Shem in Hebrew) is invested with all manner of weird features, invoked to justify loathsome customs and conduct, and identified with the suspension of reason and commonsense. Defenders of ‘G-O-D’ make claims to infallibility, and assert the right to judge in the Name who is OK and who is not. The time is overdue for humble scholarly interaction, both within and across theistic faiths, on this most basic religious question of all.

My plea is for initiatives toward convening not one but a series of consultations among theologians, philosophers and cosmologists on whatever we all think we mean these days by ‘G-O-D’.

Rev Dr John Bodycomb
Doncaster, VIC


I am writing to express my concern that the connection between the Uniting Church and Access Ministries is being challenged at the moment. Access Ministries (previously The Joint Board of Christian Education) has been around since 1945. So for 70 years there has been this wonderful ecumenical work happening.

The purpose of Access Ministries, and the desire of the 12 different Churches which support and work in partnership with them, is surely to give children the opportunity to learn about God and Jesus, teaching them appropriate values and responses which are motivated by their faith. It provides children with an opportunity to learn, ask questions and seek some answers.  This would surely be a common goal from Access Ministries, the 12 affiliated Churches and all the CRE teachers.

I would hope that what has been going on over the past 75 years can continue, to show a strong sense of unity and understanding between all parties. We have a need to provide our often rather disenchanted communities with strength in purpose and resolve to reach common ground so that we can all move forward together, continuing as the best example of ecumenical presence today.

Kerryn Conabere
Traralgon, VIC


I am writing concerning the relationship between the Uniting Church and Access Ministries. I write as a past Access school chaplain and a member of the Uniting Church. I was saddened to read the outcome of Synod and this has prompted me to talk to Mark Lawrence in the synod office and Karen Danes at the Access Ministries office.

It amazes me that the two organizations have not been able to come to some compromise and it begs the question – have we had the appropriate people negotiating? From Access Ministries point of view there has been a change in CEO and this has seen a new direction in terms of negotiations. Now it is up to the Uniting Church representatives to show they want to find a solution.

A Christian presence is allowed in our government schools through Access Ministries, both through the chaplaincy program and the RE program. If the Uniting Church does not support Access Ministries, it is saying it does not care about the government schools.

The general membership of the Uniting Church trust the leaders and synod staff to do the right thing by the whole church. Sometimes they get it wrong, as shown by the Acacia College project.

If the Uniting Church withdraws its support from Access Ministries this will be another time when the executive have ‘got it wrong’. (To say the Synod have voted on the matter is short sighted because the Synod representatives were given a one-sided account of the situation – did they hear from an Access representative at Synod? )*

We are a Church that sees less young people involved every year. Please do not jeopardise one of the meaningful ways our Uniting Church can have contact with young people in Victorian government schools.

Geoff Scott
Bendigo, VIC
*Two Access Ministries board members delegated by the Uniting Church had a significant voice at the Synod.


I welcome Penny Mulvey’s report in September’s Crosslight on the Royal Commission’s hearings in Melbourne and her thought-provoking editorial expressing concern over the failure of Australia’s people to be equally concerned about the fate of children in detention.

I was a little surprised to see the heading of the editorial: ‘Suffer the little children.’ I would hope that the Church would not use this phrase. It comes from the King James translation of the Bible and has nothing to do with suffering. It means “allow/permit the children to come to me”.

As it is Jesus speaking, I am concerned that people may assume that it is Jesus talking about the suffering of children, as if such suffering of children is to be expected. This old usage of the word ‘suffer’ was dropped in the Revised Standard translation in 1946 and in subsequent translations. The New Revised Standard Version gives: “Let the little children come to me…”

Hilary Christie-Johnston
Ventnor, VIC


UCA Funds Management prides itself on being an ethical investor. This includes (per its 360 degree ethical investing mantra) adhering to “a comprehensive, clearly enunciated ethical investment policy” and being a “leading example of how an ethical financial institution should operate.”  Further, UCA Funds Management’s mission statement refers to how it “upholds the ethical values and policies of The Uniting Church in Australia through responsible investment practices….”

UCA Funds Management publishes a list of ‘excluded stocks’ on its website, detailing companies that do not meet its ethical standards. Accordingly, UCA Funds Management does not invest in companies on this list.

One company listed among the excluded stocks (up to 30 September 2014) is Leighton Holdings Limited.

As many will be aware, the Church has recently appointed Leighton Properties as its ‘preferred developer’ for the Wesley Lonsdale Street redevelopment (Wesley Upper Lonsdale Q&A document, published on the Synod’s website).  Leighton Properties is a 100 per cent subsidiary of  Leighton Holdings.

Given the relationship between Leighton Holdings and Leighton Properties, how can the Church enter such a significant contract with Leightons when it has ethical objections to sharing in its profits?

What sort of “separate independent ethical review of Leighton Properties” (per the Wesley Upper Lonsdale Q&A document) was undertaken to appoint Leighton Properties to this project?

It appears that while the Church wants no part in profiting from Leightons’ activities on ethical grounds, it is more than willing to contribute to the profits that support these same ethically questionable activities.
Is this a case of the Church having double standards?

Michael Watkins
Blackburn, VIC


Net Balance, Australia’s leading dedicated sustainability advisory service, was engaged by the Uniting Church to undertake an Ethical Supplier Review of Leighton Properties. The findings were positive and the Development Agreement requires the Developer to provide and update a Sustainability Management Plan throughout construction. This plan implements the recommendations of the Ethical Supplier Review Report.

Leighton Holdings is an excluded company in relation to UCA Funds Management’s investment portfolio because of corruption practices in its international division which were widely published and debated, mainly during 2013.  There is new management at the company and the Church has yet to see the extent to which these practices have been addressed.

UCA Funds Management does not have any major ethical issues with its Australian subsidiary Leighton Properties.

Michael Walsh, UCA Funds Management and David Parker, Property Board

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