Traveller’s tales

people, places, planesBook | People, Places and Planes: Presidential Field Notes and Reflections | Andrew Dutney

Review by DAVID SOUTHWELL

The alliterative title promises a blur of meetings, travel and activity, which is what you largely get in this collection of Andrew Dutney’s on-the-go articles, speeches, sermons and blogs from his term as President of the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia from 2012 to 2015.

Andrew (the personal and personable nature of his writing invites a first-name familiarity) wears his learning lightly, even though for him a ‘fast’ consists of denying himself theological books from the Northern Hemisphere and only reading those from the more regionally and demographically appropriate South.

As the sub-title ‘Presidential Field Notes’ suggests, this book does sometimes read as the scholarly inclined sketches of someone on a glorious adventure.

It is not a detailed analysis of the Uniting Church during the term of Andrew’s presidency. Nor is it particularly political, but does include a couple of forcefully written condemnations of Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers.

Andrew is a thoroughly engaging storyteller, one who revels in recounting the ‘interfaith dialogues’ he has with taxi drivers.

He says the question most asked of him during his presidency was: “How is the Church going?”

With the Basis of Union, a subject he has authored books on and taught extensively, thoroughly ingrained throughout the book it’s no surprise that he answers this question with something of a theological overview.

Andrew says it is not numbers that matter (overall  they aren’t encouraging) but that the Church is fulfilling the divine plan as outlined in the Basis of Union (paragraph three) to be a pilgrim people acting as agent and witness to God’s reconciliation with the world. On occasion he also gives the counter-intuitive answer that for Christians death is nothing to be feared.

The upbeat eschatological essence of Andrew’s understanding of his presidential experience is captured in his final address to Assembly where he says: “Thank you for giving me the privilege of seeing for myself that the Holy Spirit is already making us in the Church God calls us to be.”

Available from www.mediacom.org.au
RRP: $19.50

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