November letters

Animal story project

Many of you would have attended a ‘Blessing of the Animals’ service in October, or been part of a ‘Blessing of the Animals’ service in the past.  I always love hearing stories about the animals that make up peoples’ families. What better way than sharing some of these stories with the wider church? If pets are part of our family, then, by extension, they are part of the church family.

On a recent visit to a book shop, I noticed a book that was composed of letters from owners to their pets. The letters spoke about how they acquired their particular pet, some of the shared adventures, what is special about them etc. One even mentioned why they didn’t want to have a new addition (but they are now glad they did let another being into their homes/hearts).

If you would like to share the story of your animal family member, then please either send it either as an email, or via post. If you need a word limit, 300-500 words (but, like a good sermon, it will be as long as it needs to be).

If you see a religious or spiritual connection, please include this. What has your pet taught you about God? About un-conditional love?  Does your dog/cat/bird/fish/rabbit etc make you a better person? How?

At this stage I am uncertain how we will print/publish, as it will depend on responses etc.  Please include your name, address, email address and phone number.

Deadline: December 31st, 2015.

Rev Barbara Allen
Spirituality and Creation Project Worker
Commission for Mission
130 Little Collins St Melbourne 3000
t  (03) 9251 5257


Better to give

I am a volunteer with UnitingCare Bendigo and each year we distribute Christmas gifts to hundreds of children in the local community through our Emergency Relief service.  We have always relied heavily on the Share/Target ‘Operation Santa’ contribution to our gift-giving program, in addition to contributions from local individuals, schools, churches and community groups. In 2014, we distributed gifts for 594 children.

For many years, people wishing to give through Target were able to place a gift under a Christmas tree. When the tree was replaced by a ‘Giving Box’, we noticed a decline in the number of gifts we received from this source. A number of people expressed disappointment to us that children had wanted to put a gift under a Christmas tree, not into a box – which wasn’t readily visible when they visited the store anyway! In some cases, this meant that they decided to go to another store to give their gifts – to another charity.

This year, we have learned that, instead of a tree, or even a box, Target customers will be prompted to donate $1 on top of their purchase to contribute to the Christmas appeal, although there will also be an opportunity to give a gift – via the lay-by counter! (The money raised will be “directly distributed through the agency and church network”. This will need to happen promptly and regularly, if the agencies are to have a chance to use it to meet their gift-giving needs.)

While I can accept that the new arrangement may mean that UnitingCare agencies will have money to buy the type of gifts that they are needing, I think this approach takes away from families in particular, the opportunity to encourage children to see Christmas as a time of giving, as well as receiving. When children go shopping for a gift to place under the Christmas tree, they have the experience of choosing something for another child and thinking about what that child might like. I doubt if many parents (or grandparents) will want to take children to Target to hand a gift over at the lay-by counter or give an extra $ or two at the check-out.

It would be sad if a pragmatic approach to our agencies’ Christmas gift programs succeeded at the expense of a sense of ‘connection’ with those for whom we are giving.

Judy Causon
Bendigo, VIC


Minimum cost

Whatever UCA administration ‘costs per church member’ happen to be, as queried by Alan Ray (October Crosslight), those costs would be considerably higher if a cost factor for volunteer service involved in ‘UCA bureaucracy’ were taken to account.

Professionals advising large commercial enterprises give their time freely to all aspects of UCA, including finance and administration, was my experience during my 10 years with one of UCA’s ‘many committees’ Alan Ray refers to in his letter.

Apart from volunteers, I have only praise for the dedicated UCA staff, that applied best practice to limit ‘overlap and duplication’, to make sure there was ‘clear demarcation of reporting and decision making responsibilities’, and to make sure UCA administration costs were kept to a minimum. Including that costs were no more than any other similar organisation around the country.

David Stannard.
(Chartered Accountant)
Brighton, VIC.


Reaching out to Muslims

Reaching out to Muslims (September Crosslight) must involve asking them to visit us in our churches and affairs, not only taking up their invitations to us.

They are likely to know little of other religions in our midst – the Christian, Buddhist and Hindu etc – which are all more numerous than Islam in Australia.

They must not be left knowing none except their own.

We must be able to present other religions to them.

As their speakers speak to us at our meetings, our speakers must speak to them at their meetings.

This also applies to schools which must teach in religion knowledge of other religions beside their own schools.

External exams in religion such as VCE must always include other religions beside that of pupils’ own schools.

Valerie Yule
Mount Waverley, VIC


Still questions

The reply of Rev Dr Lawrence to Alan Ray (October) is a good illustration of what causes so much frustration among the rank and file of the Uniting Church. Clear and specific questions are fobbed off with an explanation of the corporate structure which so alienates members.

Yes, we have long abandoned a spiritual for a corporate structure. Corporate structure? you ask. The remote Standing Committee now runs the Church; the ‘gang of four’ given oversight of future property sales remains anonymous; a glance at current vacancies with its predominance of country congregations suggests that the voices of spouse career and child education speak louder than the Holy Spirit in the placement process … (Jesus may have shifted his ministry from Galilee to Jerusalem but the fore-mentioned were not the reasons!)

Rev Dr Lawrence and others charged with oversight of the Church appear to miss the pastoral issues behind questions such as Alan Ray asks: we feel alienated; we are pressed financially and are given no clear information re. how money is being spent. We feel powerless when the Church divisions support so strongly left-wing issues yet ignore things close to our heart (e.g: while our leadership does much to embrace all types of gender relationships it is silent re. support for heterosexual marriage – the concerns in the pew are not only financial)

When questions of genuine concern are asked, we need more than a reminder of the structure that so alienates and obscures.

Leigh Pope
Via email



I am delighted with the September and October editions of Crosslight. There are far fewer distracting backgrounds to the printed word, thus providing easy reading particularly for anyone with sight impairment.

On another issue of inclusiveness I note that in October all but two of the notices have phone numbers as well as internet contacts. This is an improvement on previous editions.

Given the average age of congregations there are still members who do not use the internet and are excluded from gaining information about events if there are only web addresses or email contacts. I understand that this is up to the people who provide the notices, but perhaps phone contacts should be included in guidelines for advertising events.

Rosemary Lade


Largely in response to the publicity in the September Crosslight, on 26 September at North Balwyn Uniting Church, I hosted a workshop on hymn-playing for ‘reluctant’ organists and keyboard players – pianists and others who had been asked to play hymns in a church service on a pipe organ, an electronic organ or a keyboard of some sort without any advice or training. This was an attempt to locate such people and offer support and help.

More than a dozen enquiries came in, and it was gratifying that 10 were able to attend the two-hour session. They came from various parts of Melbourne and beyond and ranged in age from 20s to 70. Their willingness to demonstrate their abilities and their enthusiasm in the following discussions, made the two hours pass rapidly. But what impressed me most was their dedication to their positions as church musicians and the desire to do the best they could. They were unanimous in asking for further sessions.

Each participant gave a personal introduction, explained what they were being asked to do at their churches and then played a hymn. Nearly all chose ‘traditional’ hymns. We discussed the place of hymns in worship services and the pros and cons of each performance against the idea of leading rather than just accompanying congregational singing.

In the last 10 minutes I gave a brief demonstration of how the pipe organ can be used in that capacity. What impressed them was the range of sound and atmosphere as well as the powerful leadership the organ can give in worship – as no other single instrument can.

I am sure that it is the lack of good organists which has led to the view, particularly among some clergy, that organs are dull and outmoded in church services. This view is alarmingly common (in both senses). None of the participants would agree with it!

A follow-up session to this workshop is planned for early Saturday 14 November at 10.30 am at North Balwyn Uniting Church (Melway 46 F3).

Bruce Steele
Via email


Answers needed

In the October issue of Crosslight Alan Ray refers to Bryan Long’s letter in the September issue and asks 12 very relevant questions to which answers have not been supplied.  He was a member of the Standing Committee and a Presbytery representative so he would be in a privileged position to be able to answer these questions himself.  That he doesn’t, and presumably can’t, is emphasising the seriousness of Bryan Long’s assertions.

Some members of the Lay Preacher’s Association asked the same questions and Dr Lawrence says, “The Major Strategic Review is addressing a number of issues raised in this letter.”  Which issues and why not tell the members?

The MSR was put in motion because the Synod had decided that ‘Steady as you go’ was no longer an option.  The problem is that ‘Steady as you go’ is the status quo and that is not going to be changed by the vested interests who are saying, “We know what is best for the church.  We will ask you, meet and talk with you and if we agree with you then we will listen to what you say.”

Bryan Long asks why the MSR does not use its results as a measure of the synod’s own performance.  The synod has lost the place in the governance of the Church.  If they were concerned then many answers to Alan Ray’s questions would be transparent and available for all to see and the members of the Uniting Church would be able to watch what their synod was doing.  Alan Ray asks how many (sub)committees exist and what is their purpose.  Their purpose is to postpone making any decision until the committee has the report ‘on the table’ and the membership of that committee then changes so the report is lost.  In that way synod looks after itself and if they are brought to task then a committee will be formed to report back to synod.  Time lapse?  A year, or two or even more.  Action, if any?  Panic!  Hence the debacle of Acacia College and the fire sale ramifications that followed.

This cannot continue.

Alexander Drysdale
Via email


Church response to dementia

Last month’s Crosslight showed the wide range of services provided by Uniting AgeWell; work in independent and assisted living, day therapy programs, respite and residential care, including units for specialist dementia care. These programs are well recognised and valued in the community.

But many people with dementia or other forms of cognitive impairment are not involved in these settings. They are living in their own homes and being supported by their immediate families. It is likely that just about every Uniting Church congregation will have a number of such people in its membership. In light of the research showing that the number of Australians diagnosed with dementia is expected to rise significantly in coming decades, it seems timely to consider how the local church can also provide care and support.

One of the outcomes of a diagnosis for many of those with dementia and their carers is loneliness. This is why we need dementia-friendly churches. If we can get being dementia-friendly right; if we are truly welcoming, inclusive and nurturing to people who have dementia, then this could influence all that is done for every person who comes into our churches.

It is easy for any church to assume that they are friendly to all. But dementia un-friendliness can occur because most people either do not recognise that something needs to be done, or just do not know how to begin.

A dementia-friendly church would intentionally adopt a ministry that would

  • Accept and value people regardless of cognitive abilities
  • Ensure that the person who has dementia and those who support them are cared for through all the stages of the illness
  • Make sure the person who has dementia and their carer are both spiritually and pastorally supported
  • Look for strengths and abilities then support and encourage the use of these gifts, so that participation in the church community is continued.

This is a challenging ministry but dementia-friendly churches can offer an opportunity to reach out to those who are vulnerable and to show the love of God in action.

Joan Waters
Blackburn, VIC.

Sad end to SRE

The decision of the Synod to withdraw from membership of the Access Ministries was a surprising and disappointing one. It was foreshadowed in our congregation on the very day we were celebrating the anniversary of the Uniting Church. How sad that on a day when we were expressing our unity with other believers in different communions, with whom we may someday have closer links, our church should be planning disuniting from an ecumenical organisation with which it has cooperated for decades.

During much of that time, members of the Methodist and then the Uniting Church had leading roles in the organisation (then called the Council for Christian Education in Schools). The theological ‘flavour’ of the CCES in earlier times was one with which the Uniting Church apparently felt comfortable. Other groups who were members of the CCES at that time may not all have felt as comfortable with that approach (as I was aware since I was at that time a writer of the CRE curriculum), but chose to remain and exert their influence from within.

It may well be that, as Rev Dr Bob Faser (October Crosslight) suggests, the current curriculum materials have considerable flaws. They always have had. What a pity that the Uniting Church has become so theologically exclusive that it is unable to remain in fellowship with a Christian organisation which has a different style or emphasis, and by remaining, be in a position to help shape the material.

As to the future, the decision of the State government to remove Special Religious Education from the classrooms of Victorian schools will mean that thousands of children will no longer hear the Good News that God loves them. How does the Uniting Church plan to redress this lack?

(Dr) Helen Joynt
Wattle Glen, VIC


I support Rev Bob Fraser’s views in his letter ‘Right Decision’, (October Crosslight) on Synod’s recent decision to withdraw from ACCESS Ministries.

As a school primary school VP & principal in Ferntree Gully (1975 -92), like Bob, I recall experiencing relatively few problems with the content of the religious instruction curriculum or the conduct of the volunteer instructors (then under the direction of the Council for Christian Education in Schools). At this time my school’s policy for admittance to religious education was  an ‘opt-in’ one  – on enrolment, parents were specifically asked  if they wanted their child/children included in the RE lessons offered.

On one (rare) occasion I received a complaint from a parent of a child in Grade 5, that a new RE instructor was causing her son to have nightmares, because of his depiction of ‘eternal hellfire’ in a recent RE lesson. After notifying the RE co-ordinator at the school, I promptly summoned the instructor to my office, showed him my copy of the upper school curriculum RE syllabus, and asked him to show me where there was a reference to a ‘hell’ in the material.  Of course he couldn’t identify one, and vaguely complained that he found the set curriculum “too restricting”. I then told him of the consequences (dismissal) of straying from the lesson material to such a degree in the future, but he really couldn’t control his Christian fundamentalist zeal, and after a further complaint soon afterwards, and with the co-operation of the co-ordinator, he lost his position at our school.

So l can appreciate what could happen under the rules of ACCESS Ministries if (as has been alleged) the curriculum is narrowly defined, and their instructors are allowed to proselytise in class. Which is a great tragedy, because the opportunity for the teaching of religious education in Victorian government schools (since the 1872 Education Act) is to be withdrawn from the beginning of next year.

As Bob Fraser correctly laments of the former system, it “reflected an ecumenical understanding of the Christian faith … including people of faiths other than Christianity, as well as people of non-religious viewpoints”.

Dr Max Waugh
Wesley Church, Lonsdale St
Melbourne, VIC


Clarity needed on marriage

Sometimes our church finds it hard to know what it believes or to say anything that puts it at odds with popular culture or values. I note that the Catholic Church of Australia, the Anglican Primate of Australia, the Presbyterian Church, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and many other Christian groups are not slow to publicly support traditional marriage. In fact 38 religious leaders sent a letter to the Prime Minister to that effect. Then there are Aboriginal, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh communities. What a pity that the Uniting Church 2015 Assembly was not prepared to publicly confirm the definition of marriage it clearly adopted in 1997 and 2012. The perception now is that the Uniting Church is not as ecumenical as it says it is and it is uncertain about what it really teaches and believes.

Rev Ted Curnow
Langwarrin, VIC


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