Ascension Day hymns
What does Ascension Day mean to us in 21st century Australia? We have often seen classical paintings of this scene where Christ is rising to heaven watched by anxious or adoring disciples. Some even show just his feet at the top of the picture frame surrounded by clouds.
Together in Song has several entries by Charles Wesley [TIS 369, 371, 374] on this church festival. Each of these employs rather florid 18th century language of a three-tier universe with earth in the middle and heaven and hell on either side. Described are physical thrones above the skies with Christ rising with a triumphant noise, while clarions of the sky proclaim the angelic joys. This trope is continued in lines such as: “High on his holy seat, he bears his righteous sway; his foes beneath his feet shall sink and die away.”
Or this? “Before the throne my Saviour stands, my friend and advocate appears; my name is graven on his hands.”
This literal, dramatic imagery may no longer be appropriate for some worshippers. Indeed, Ascension Sunday is often not observed at all, perhaps for this reason.
A contemporary hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, an American Presbyterian minister, entitled O Christ, when you ascended, blends the lectionary [Acts1:1-11, Psalm 47 & Ephesians1:15-23] with an application to today’s world. Verses 2 & 3 will illustrate this point.
We look at earthly rulers and see what they command:
We note their years of power, the borders of their land.
Yet, Lord, you are not bounded by things like time and space;
Your reign is never-ending, you rule in every place.
We’re tempted, Lord, to leave you in stories nicely told;
Sometimes we don’t believe you and say your ways are old.
Sometimes we feel so lonely and live in doubt and fear –
But your ascension means, Lord, you’re present with us here.
I believe that this language may reclaim the power and relevance of the Biblical texts and give fresh expression to the doctrine of the Ascension for 21st century congregations.
Mont Albert, VIC
Has the Uniting Church lost its “raison d’etre”?
Are we victims of the opposition? Surely fear and love are opposites and the recent insistence by the church that anyone with any responsibility at all in the church should have a ‘working with children’ check is fear based. Aren’t we here to save the lost, to bring stray sheep into the fold, to love with a transformative love? Have we forgotten who we are called to be?
And what would we do with a person who came up with some “bad history” through doing the check? (Or are we sending needy people away from the church and forbidding them entry by asking them to have the check done?)
I have seen troubled people’s lives totally changed through their involvement with people from the church who were not afraid of them, and who shared the love of Christ. And it was through my involving these people in the life of the church (helping them to share responsibilities) that they grew as people who God loved, and as followers of Christ.
Isn’t that what Jesus told us and showed us through his calling of his disciples? If someone has been in prison, or in trouble with the police does that exclude them from reading the Bible in church? Or playing a musical instrument? Or giving out the hymn books? Or even attending church?
Come on Uniting Church! Fear is killing our church. Real Christ-centred love casts out fear and changes lives. Let’s get with it!
Rev Adelene Mills BD BA Dip Ed
We in the synod’s Culture of Safety Unit are grateful to Ms Mills for the opportunity to speak to this important issue.
As the people of God, we do not want to live in a place of fear. Rather, we are called to a place of both love and justice – and must offer love and justice both to adults and to children who might wish to be part of the church.
For this reason, everyone is welcome in the Uniting Church – no matter what their past.
But not everyone can be an appointed leader. All appointed leaders are required to have a Working With Children Check (Vic/NSW) or Registration (Tas).
The WWCC/R process screens applicants for offences relevant to the safety of children, such as serious sexual, violent or drug crimes. We need to know that we have done all we can to ensure children in our church are safe. If a child wants to sit with the organist or the person running the sound system or emulate the lay liturgist or Bible reader, we need to know that those appointed leaders have been screen appropriately and are safe people.
The Working with Children Check/Registration may be an imperfect system and it may be improved over time. But as we all learn more about the horrible crimes that have been committed against children in churches and community groups, we must use the tools we have to keep our children safe. That is the only way to treat them with love and justice.
Rev Sue Clarkson
Ethical Standards Officer – Culture of Safety Unit
It is disappointing to learn from the current issue of Crosslight that a correspondent, Mr Alan Ray of Mont Albert, has still not received a comprehensive reply to his letter published in Crosslight October 2015 (repeated in part in the latest issue). These are perfectly reasonable questions for a concerned member of the Church to ask.
Part of the answer that he did receive refers to the Major Strategic Review however to date there is no visible sign of this important document being or becoming available. In a letter dated 30 March 2017 which was distributed widely by Dr Lawrence we are advised of progress relating to the implementation of various related synod matters but not the plan itself. In time, it will be interesting to see just what shape the Strategy Plan takes. The strategy plan is critically important and an urgent necessity as it will guide all future decisions.
Unfair to compare
In May Crosslight, Alan Ray, queries “duplication and overlap of administrative functions” within the Victorian synod.
The answer is the same for all large organisations, that is, there are continual ongoing reviews to improve administrative efficiencies, including preventing where possible any overlap.
Alan Ray goes further and requests, “the comparative costs per church member of running UCA bureaucracies in the various states”.
How do you determine number of church members? Do you include adherents? How do you take to account different services provided in each state? How do you evaluate the value of volunteers involved?
It would be like attempting to compare services of providers of communication, energy, finance, etc.
However, there are some key factors to watch for. One factor is the quality of the people involved.
There is no argument to be made about the safety of children and adults in all, or any, of our church buildings.
As the moderator reminds us in Penny Mulvey’s article in the May edition of Crosslight, all congregations must provide a safe, inclusive environment for all people who come inside our doors.
The article points out that the church is about people, then makes the staggering statement: “If people do not enter the doors of the church, it will cease to exist.”
What sort of dreadful ecclesiology is that? The church does not now, and never has, depended on buildings of any sort for its existence! The church was begun without buildings and may well need to do so again in the future.
That such a statement should pass unchecked in Crosslight is very puzzling. Even our children sing with enthusiasm the hymn by Avery and Marsh: “The church is not a building… All who follow Jesus all around the world, we’re the church together.”
Hopefully there will be some sort of clarifying statement by Penny Mulvey in a future edition.
The value of hope
In Ray Higgs’ letter (May) the point is rightly made that the $100 billion (in today’s terms) spent on the Apollo program would have better served justice in the world “to eradicate world poverty…in this decade”(1960s). Right here Bob Hawke envisaged just such a utopian ideal for Australia during a time of great hope in future progress. Most of that hope seems to have evaporated in times of decreasing overseas aid budgets.
Go back two millennia and a man named Jesus told his disciples “the poor you will always have with you”. I would put to you that this was not so much exercising his glorious ability to foresee future events. Without doubt he was well able to see into the unknown past, like the life of the woman at the well, or into the future as he prophesied the destruction of the temple. More it was just expressing one inevitable result of the sin nature of every man on Earth (beside himself) being productive. Coming as it did at the end of a story where very valuable perfumes were poured over Jesus’ head, to the horror of the disciples present, we would do well to take a long hard look at both stories together, to see what we can learn, before jumping to a conclusion that could well leave us sorely disillusioned down the track.
I for one would dearly like to see readers submitting their view as to what they learn from meditating upon the two stories side-by-side.
Heidelberg Heights, VIC