‘God’s love knows no borders.’ The title of the closing prayer summed up proceedings for the roughly 60 people who attended two days of intense study and discussion at the ‘Wisdom’s Feast’ conference, held on the borderlands of the Murray River at Yarrawonga over the weekend.
The event was a collaboration between the Uniting Church’s Centre for Theology and Ministry (CTM) and the North East Presbytery, and involved the CTM staff ‘hitting the road’ to attend as a team.
Beginning with a keynote address by Prof Sean Winter titled ‘Jesus the Transgressor’, the theme of the conference ‘Crossing Borders’ flowed into exploring areas of identity, respect, faith and culture.
Prof Winter used the notion of how Jesus’ physical travel into new areas aligns with new spiritual insights along the journey of ministry. In this Jesus becomes the ‘transgressor’ stepping across once rigid social and spiritual barriers, “pressing against the usual boundaries supported by the establishment”.
For example, Jesus is called a ‘sinner’ and feasts with other ‘sinners and tax collectors’ – but he also presumes to ‘forgive sinners’.
At another level, the whole notion of the Kingdom of God leads to the ultimate transgression, where the division between ‘heaven and earth’ collapses in Jesus’ ministry: “God has crossed the boundary between Godself and us, to be ‘near us’,” Prof Winter said.
The program included two challenging key-note sessions on:
- ‘Crossing Borders and Finding Our Identity in Christ’, with Dr John Flett who wrestled with issues of being an immigrant within a dominant culture, the notions of ‘purity’ of a nation and theological reflection on border crossing. “These investigations are not simply theoretical because neither refugees nor borders are theoretical. These are difficult questions of who we are in Christ as we seek his justice and his kingdom,” Flett said.
- ‘Ecumenical Accompaniment – Crossing Borders In Solidarity’ with Rev Joan Fisher, who offered reflections on her three-month experience in the World Council of Churches’ ‘Ecumenical Accompaniment’ program along the Palestinian/Israel border.
Later workshops covered a wide selection of border and transitional issues for individuals and congregations.
Topics included barriers to congregational development today (Rohan Pryor), understanding the meaning of LGBTI issues (Damien Stevens), ‘crossing borders in communication’ (Rev Jean Beale), intergenerational resources for congregations (Chris Barnett) and a workshop responding to the photographs from the Crossing Borders Photo Challenge, led by Christina Rowntree.
The discussion flowed freely, provoking deep insight as the participants came back again and again to new concepts, challenging ideas and discovering fresh enthusiasm for the ‘edgy’ ministry of the church along the borders experienced in life.
In the wrap up session, one participant said she had now gained more confidence to speak up on issues of marginalisation – “to be a disciple of Jesus the transgressor”. Another person wrote how they were pleasantly “surprised” to see LGBTI issues, amongst others, “discussed so openly in Yarrawonga Uniting Church!”
Border crossings, indeed.