Letters – October 2016

Learning from Islam

The remarks made by Senator Hanson in her maiden speech are as astonishing as they are predictable (sadly).

I’m proud we are a multicultural society including many Muslims from a variety of cultural backgrounds. And not just for their fashions and food!
As a retired minister I must say I think Islam potentially has much to teach a declining and decaying Christianity which (to me) is losing its way.
Muslims assert the oneness of God in a way we now seem unable to.

Jihad gets a bad press, but Christians should be able to see how it relates to our concept of the spiritual journey (incl. the ‘dark night of the soul’), of making a ‘decision’ for Christ and the life of discipleship.

Islamic forms of prayer could remind us of our traditions of mysticism and the Islamic ‘pillars’ of sacrifice and pilgrimage should remind us of (pretty much) lost aspects of our lives of faith.

Ramadan, too, could help us re model our Lenten observance.

If Christianity is seeking to renew itself, it could do worse than to listen to some thoughtful and devout Muslims.

David Brown
Glen Huntly, VIC.
State of play

What a state we are in! Another election coming up for local governments –79 local councils, 600 or so local councillors.

What decisions will they make? Our state government declared a public holiday for a football match! Did our politicians not even reflect on the fact that we have more than one code of football?

The worldwide tradition for public holidays has been to elevate creative leaders past such as Martin Luther King Day in the US. In our multi-cultural society we must do all that is reasonable to be inclusive.

Here is a great opportunity – the world’s 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice (an agreement for peace) to end the First World War will be the 11 November 2018. A great opportunity to develop a plan (and implement it) for a public holiday and a festival of peace and harmony.

We must start now.

Bill Chandler,
Ringwood North, VIC

Worthy worship

Alan Ray (Letters, September) made some significant points about the source of the UCA’s continuing doldrums, which I believe need to be discussed by congregations across our church.

I know a number of UCA congregations where worship, rather than being the centre of the congregation’s life and providing focus and energy for the whole of the congregation’s life together, has become merely one of a number of activities related to the congregation. Sadly, this is particularly found in congregations that are presented as missionally ‘cool’ role models for other congregations.

As well, another issue is seen in the over-emphasis placed on teaching and learning as a dimension of worship within the UCA. This problem is found in many congregations of a variety of theological emphases, worship styles, sizes, and levels of missional coolness. The teaching-learning dimension of worship (whether seen in a traditional sermon or in some other format) frequently dominates everything else we do in worship.

I believe that the average person who attends a service of worship in any faith context (either as a regular or as a visitor) does not do so, primarily, out a desire to learn things about religion. As Mr Ray reminded us, there are many other contexts that provide better occasions for such learning than a worship service.

I believe the person who chooses to attend a service of worship does so out of a desire for some level of communion with the God worshipped by the congregation. If (in our commendable intention to make our worship gatherings opportunities for teaching, learning, and mutual fellowship) we continue to disappoint this desire, we will persist in our ongoing malaise as a church.

Rev Dr Bob Faser
Claremont, TAS.

Thank you for your centrepiece article by Penny Mulvey on the Ministry of War and particularly for your examination of the Vietnam War.
I lived through this troubled time as a church member and found myself moving from support of the military campaign to being involved in the moratorium marches. Through the intervening years I have been increasingly saddened at the community reception given to those who served in Vietnam upon their return and their being advised not to wear their uniforms while commuting to work.

But sadder still has been successive governments falling well short of their responsibilities of caring for them (including nurses) to the stage where, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 returned services people are believed to be suffering from mental illness from their war experiences.

Penny’s article was well researched and presented and walked your readers along this sorry road, giving several of those involved the chance to present their story. It’s a story that can be summarised in the comment, many years later, by United States secretary of defence at the time, Robert McNamara, that the US should never have become militarily involved in Vietnam.

Jim Foley
via email.

Heeding the Pope

When asked to comment on Islam and terrorism in early August, Pope Francis caused some unhappiness when he made less than inflammatory statements, saying the world is at war but it is not a religious war and that in all religions there is always a small group of fundamentalists capable of violence. He also said something seemingly odd and incongruous when he remarked that greed is the root cause of terrorism.

He said (verbatim): “Terrorism grows when there is no other option, and when the centre of the global economy is the god of money and not the person – men and women – this is the first act of terrorism. You have cast out the wonder of creation – man and woman – and you have put money in its place. This is basic terrorism against all of humanity. Think about it!”

Thinking about it, the Pope is following Christ in speaking truth to power (re Christ’s declaration before Pilate in John 18:37).

When no other world leader would, Pope Francis is courageously pointing a papal finger at a Western super-power who, with the backing of allies, has started wars in oil-rich countries, killing off hitherto governments and supplanting them with crony regimes, so that it can, and has, indirectly colonised them through war debt when it sends in the re-building team. The same super-power who rallied its allies and sent in the troops upon false cries of “WMD!” and then “Oops, sorry” after none were found. After almost half-a-million bombs were dropped in Iraq, killing over one million men, women and children and making war refugees out of 5 million more. After that it was Libya, now Syria.

Kimmy Fam
Ballarat, VIC

Mission memories

I have read with very great interest and satisfaction in the September 2016 issue of Crosslight of the recent signing of the historic partnership agreement between the Uniting Church in Australia and the Methodist Church in Fiji, as it follows on from the wonderful work done by early missionaries and other overseas church workers over many years.

Among the latter group of servants were my great uncle and great aunt, Mr and Mrs MJ Jenkin. Uncle Nick was the lay treasurer of the Methodist Overseas Mission Department here in Victoria for many years until just prior to his death in 1942. He had originally been accepted for overseas work here at the LMM Conference at Geelong in 1917. His wife, Hettie Jenkin, was state president of the WAOM (Women’s Auxilliary of Overseas Mission) for 11 years and completed 60 years in the service of Overseas Missions in England and Australia in 1941, passing away in New Zealand in 1948 aged 80 years.

Their home, ‘Gracedale’ at 50 Elizabeth Street, Malvern, stills stands virtually unaltered and was always a loving sanctuary for many islanders from Fiji, Tonga, New Britain and the Solomon Islands when they visited on deputation work. One of my everlasting memories is of meeting these strangely attired but godly people from other lands when I was about five or six years old. These experiences elicited my own deep personal love for these island people which will never wane, and to my life-long support for all missionary work.

Mr and Mrs Jenkin’s direct descendants will live in Mount Gambier, Hamilton (Vic) and in New Zealand. I thank God for the inspiration of Mr and Mrs Jenkin (who I dearly loved) and those other men and women who have given true Christian witness on the mission field and I pray that the partnership between the two churches bears great fruit. If God is with us who can be against us?

Trevor Richards
Reservoir, VIC
ACCESS decision

Many people across our synod are passionate about ministry with state schools including chaplaincy. My own congregation runs a program in our local secondary college with at-risk students and we are currently developing a mentoring program with a local primary school. I was a state school chaplain for nine years between 2005 and 2014.

The decision made by the 2015 Synod to cease our support of ACCESS Ministries came about after years of work with ACCESS to address Uniting Church concerns. What Geoff Scott (September Crosslight) doesn’t seem to understand is that the changes that had taken place in ACCESS’ governance over the last 15 or so years didn’t allow for a Uniting Church voice to be heard. Countless Uniting Church people had tried to work ‘with’ ACCESS as Geoff suggests only to be endlessly frustrated. It was because of both this frustration and concerns about CRE that the initial task group was established.

Further changes to ACCESS’ governance model will be required in time to adhere to current corporate governance requirements, and this will further diminish the voice of supporting churches. Simply, the kind of representational governance ACCESS had been established with no longer works. It was time for this organisation that we had helped birth to stand on its own feet.

The decision made to cease being a supporter of ACCESS is purely an institutional one and doesn’t preclude any member of the Uniting Church supporting ACCESS in the way many church members support para church organisations like Scripture Union or Tear. Nor does it prevent local churches working alongside local schools.

The more recent report presented at the 2016 Synod encourages the Uniting Church to consider how state school chaplaincy sits alongside the many other forms of chaplaincy the Uniting Church already offers in its own right to church schools, aged care, prisons, hospitals, agencies and the defence forces. The Uniting Church’s broad and inclusive theology means we understand the nuance required to be in secular institutions in the 21st century and I believe we should work towards adding state school chaplains to this vital ministry we offer the wider community.

Rev Cameron McAdam
via email

Christianity on Nauru

Nauru and Nauruans. Much has been written and said about the Island of Nauru. Little has been said about the fact that there are Christians on Nauru. Also there are Nauruan Christians who are Australian citizens making a real contribution to our churches and community.

Some years ago my wife and I were sent by the then Commission for Mission to support the Congregational Church on Nauru. It was a learning experience. Very few of us are familiar with the history of Nauru.

Before independence, Nauru was under German, British and Australian administration. Wealth generated from phosphate mining led to exploitation of Nauruans. Nauru was invaded by the Japanese in WWII. Men were taken to work as slave labourers on Truk. Sufferers of leprosy were eliminated. Later the island was bombed by the Americans. Returning from Truk, the men learned of the terrible suffering the families endured during their absence, called the Exile.

Due to the missionary influence of the London Missionary Society, and the Society of the Divine Word, centred in Germany, Congregational and Catholic churches have been established on Nauru.

Today, there are Sunday schools, women’s and youth groups. RE is taught in the schools. The sensitivity and support for Nauruan Christians by the Uniting Church is essential. Pastorally, and as a nation, we have a responsibility to do something about a terrible situation.

Bill Pugh
Sandringham, VIC.
The body of Christ

The digestive system takes up a lot of body, from the lower part of the head all the way to the end of the abdomen. Possibly nothing involves all five senses so much as eating: we can see, smell, taste, feel and even hear (as in the clinking of tableware) food. Anatomy and sensory-satiation aside, eating as part of social activity is what spices are to curry. Without a meal to cement it, occasions of camaraderie and fellowship are hollow, deficient and incomplete. Nothing picks you up and gives you back your perspective quite like eating with good company.

It is interesting to note that significant events and messages in the Bible involve eating or having a meal. From the Fall (the silly first couple and the forbidden fruit, remember?) to the triumphant “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” of Psalm 23:5, to the feeding of the five thousand to the Last Supper. From temptation to redemption. The Creator sure knows what may get us and how to get to us.

Still not convinced we have a God after our own hearts? Take a look at the compelling message in Revelation 3:20 where Jesus’ gentle and reassuring promise comes with an uncanny understanding of the power of a shared meal: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and sup with him and he with me.”

Note our Lord didn’t say He’ll come in have a game of backgammon or singing or Bible-reading session with you. He says he’ll eat with you. Food for thought.

Steven Ching
Ballarat, VIC.

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