Letters – September

Reaching out to the Muslim Community

A matter of concern within our congregation (Congregation of Mark the Evangelist, North Melbourne) is the increase in anti-Muslim sentiment being reported in the news media and expressed in occasional (mercifully) public protests by radical groups.

Contact was made with the Islamic Council of Victoria, followed by an invitation to the Imam at the Melbourne Mosque to address one of our monthly after-worship conversations.

The address by the Imam, Shaikh Moustapha Sarakibi, was well received. In response to a question that was posed as to what practical step towards reconciliation we as a congregation might make, the Shaikh warmly invited us to visit for Friday Prayers at the Melbourne Mosque. The Melbourne Mosque is atypical in that attendees comprise workers, students and travellers, thus it does not have a fixed congregation in the sense to which we are accustomed in our worship. Also, the mosque facility is incorporated within the office building that houses the Islamic Council of Victoria. There are two Friday prayer sessions in order to accommodate the number of worshippers (around 1000 people, the vast majority being male).

Two small groups have now visited and attended the Friday Prayer service, and found it a worthwhile experience. For those not familiar with the general order of service, at the Melbourne Mosque the call to worship is given in Arabic, the sermon is delivered in English, followed by prayer, again in Arabic.

At the conclusion of the prayers, we were offered a Q&A session with the Imam, and were told how much our visit was appreciated, and that we are most welcome to return.

This has been a small act, however it seems important to share it with the wider Uniting Church community. Others might wish to consider whether they might be able to reach out to a local Muslim community.

Heather R Mathew
North Melbourne, VIC

Liberation theology

The Rev Professor Andrew Dutney, in his valedictory address as president of the Uniting Church Assembly, indicated that we should attend more to theology of the Southern Hemisphere than the North, because the Northern Hemisphere (North America and Europe) was fatally weakened by secularisation. By theology of the Southern Hemisphere he meant the theologies of Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.

He might also have mentioned the Liberation Theology of South America. This was originated by Gustavo Gutierrez in his A Theology of Liberation (1971). Further theory was supplied by Clodovis Boff in Theology and Praxis. Other leading figures were Leonardo Boff and Pablo Richard.

What was Liberation Theology opposed to? Imperialism of every kind. What was Liberation Theology in favour of? Social and political justice. Liberation Theology has been hugely influential. Many Uniting Church ministers would call themselves Liberationists.

The following are Japanese theologians:  Kosuke Koyama has been influential throughout Asia.  His books are Waterbuffalo Theology, Three Miles an Hour God , Mount Fuji and Mount Sinai (the last is the most important). He went to teach in New York. Kazoh Kitamori has troubled many Western theologians with his Theology of the Pain of God written in the shadow of Hiroshima.

African American theology in the United States (black theology) is liberationist, whose leader James Cone recently retired from a prestigious position in New York City. He wrote the enthralling book Martin and Malcolm on Martin Luther King Jnr and Malcolm X.

Where is Australia in this? We have always been part of the north and have been very secular. My belief is that we will continue to take our theology from the 1950-years of theology in the Northern Hemisphere, but we ought to be very attentive to the world on our door step and seek to dialogue with emerging theologies in our region so that they will be theology for their localities. Theology in the Republic of South Africa would be a start.

Rev Rowan Gill
Altona, VIC

Alcohol advertising

As a grandparent and the son of an alcoholic parent, I become more and more concerned about the pressure teenagers – especially of my granddaughter’s generation – are exposed to encouraging them to consume alcohol in its various forms. This includes peer pressure and excessive alcohol advertising.

With the stroke of a pen, the government can legislate to restrict advertising as it has done for tobacco. You do not need to be a genius to realise how effective this has been in saving lives and improving the wellbeing of so many.

I am yet to be convinced that excessive alcohol consumption is not a greater health risk than tobacco.

One stroke of a pen or the press of a button the Government can delete the word tobacco and substitute alcohol.

Can you imagine what benefit this would bring? The only ones affected by this would be the alcohol and advertising industry.

Let us hope there is a federal politician out there who can implement a private members bill in an endeavour to restrict alcohol advertising and thereby save lives and improve the wellbeing of others, especially of our teenagers.

We can do it if we have the will and the concern for our children.

Ron Roberts
Cranbourne VIC

Unbalanced content

I write with concern about the July edition of Crosslight. The editorial waxed lyrical about the cathedrals, basilicas, and churches of Europe, with one described as ‘a place of unerring beauty’.

As Australians, many have become obsessed with soaking up the European culture and heritage and its perceived magnificent structures. However, these buildings are mere hundreds of years old and often stand as monuments to a bygone era and the excesses that created them.

We can all appreciate the fine architecture and history of any culture, but when we spend so much time standing in awe of European culture – at best we pass over, and at worst we disrespect, the heritage and culture of our Indigenous people. Where is our awe, our desire for learning, and our longing for understanding, when it comes to our own Aboriginal heritage – a heritage that is incredibly diverse, amazingly intricate, and for many years has been quietly waiting for the people of this country to recognise it as legitimate, valuable, and vital to our understanding of what it means to be Australian.

Our Indigenous Australians may not have built superb structures with magnificent stain glass windows – but any willing observer who listens to their stories or stands at the base of Uluru, or Cathedral Gorge in Pernululu National Park, or many other sites of significance in our magnificent country – will surely be moved by their timeless beauty and their sense of the sacred. Where is the balance?

My other concern is that the last issue of Crosslight contained two full pages of entertainment reviews. It seems breathtaking that such priority is given to one person’s opinion about a particular book/ film /or TV show.

Somehow we have created an imbalance in the space used for opinionated infotainment – that some may read – and wandered away from human-interest stories of our people – the faithful and true servants to our church. Again I say, where is the balance?

Rev Bruce Wood
Minister, Warragul Uniting Church

Wrong decision on ACCESS

I would like to express my disappointment at the decision of the Standing Committee to withdraw the Synod’s membership of ACCESS Ministries.

True, the insistence by ACCESS Ministries that volunteer Student Religious Instruction teachers raise their own funds through prayer partners to be able to teach is not fair. However, I find the other reasons given for withdrawing support for ACCESS Ministries quite tenuous.

Are we as a church going to withdraw our support for other ecumenical commitments whenever we don’t like the theology within the group? What would happen if all the different churches who make up ACCESS Ministries demanded special consideration for their theological colleges to be a part of the training of SRI teachers or chaplains as our Synod appears to want to – especially when ACCESS has their own capable training facilitators?

I suggest that if people in our church  really value ministry in government schools that they offer to serve on a local chaplaincy support group or become a genuine prayer partner for a volunteer SRI teacher.  I think that they would find the experience most rewarding;

Rev Frank Tuppin
Minister Sunraysia
Chaplain Red Cliffs Secondary College


Building inspiration

Thank you for your beautiful description of your visit to La Sagrada Familia.  My husband and I visited it a few weeks ago as part of a tour of Barcelona, the interior is stunning and I will always remember it. Your description put into words what I could not and I can only wonder at Gaudi’s design and inspiration.

Thank you again for bringing back those memories to treasure.

Jo Mitchell-Lewis
Via email


Rethinking church structure

Our church is currently exploring the possibility of moving to establish a faith community within a nearby UC school. This offers a unique opportunity for mission with students, their families and the wider community.

Despite its many laudable efforts the church has little impact in today’s world where institutionalised religion is largely ignored. In consultation with presbytery and synod we have been told, quite rightly, that we must use ‘outside’ or professional consultants to ensure the viability of such a restructure.

In the light of synod’s poor decision-making with Acacia College, and then its even worse management of the divestment process, why does synod not exact the same process on itself?

I have seen no mention in the terms of the Major Strategic Review to examine the actual structure of the UC, which is basically a system of non-hierarchical, interrelated committees where no-one is ultimately responsible, and where decisions are often lost or delayed between committees.

I’m no organisational theorist but, just as one example, I would abolish the large and unwieldy presbytery system which we can no longer afford and replace it with small clusters of churches with a designated senior minister in each cluster. Now that might or might not be a good idea, but having been a member of Synod Standing Committee and presbytery and having seen how they operate, I believe it is essentially the structure of the UC which has failed.

If our viability as a local church is to be subjected to professional consultants, so should the viability of the wider church also rest on such requirements.

Bryan Long,
Balwyn VIC


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