The Christmas Bowl is the Christmas appeal of Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia.
It began on Christmas Day in 1949 when Rev Frank Byatt of Victoria brought an empty bowl to the dinner table and asked his guests to give a gift to bring relief and hope to refugees who had fled the horrors of World War II.
Since then it has grown to become a much-loved ecumenical tradition. It unites thousands of churches across denominational boundaries every year to act together in response to Christ’s call to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and welcome the stranger.
Last year, churches raised $2.1 million through the Christmas Bowl, providing food, shelter, medicine and healthcare to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
The theme for this year’s Christmas Bowl is: When did I see you hungry? When did I see you sick? When did I see you a stranger?
Saide Cameron of Brunswick Uniting Church spoke about what it means to take part in the Christmas Bowl.
Can you tell us more about how the Brunswick Uniting Church came to support the Christmas Bowl appeal?
SC: As a congregation, Brunswick Uniting Church is firmly committed to supporting social justice. As well as supporting our own local programs, we try to think about how we can attend to issues of justice beyond the church and our own community, which the Christmas Bowl allows us to do.
We have been taking part in the Christmas Bowl appeal since two previous congregations came together in 2005. It allows us as Christians to respond to the needs of many, just as Jesus calls us to do.
Why do you think it’s important to work ecumenically?
SC: Jesus had no borders. And the Christmas Bowl has no borders. It takes us beyond where we are now and reminds us that the world is bigger than ourselves, our own space, and our own families.
Christmas Bowl supports so many people across different countries. It’s not just about charity, but giving a gift that helps to empower people. We are living Jesus’ ministry, basically.
Christians in Australia have been supporting the Christmas Bowl appeal since 1949. What does it mean to you to be continuing this tradition?
SC: It’s part of our DNA, it’s part of what we do. And it means that we’re participating in something that connects Christians of all denominations all around Australia.
We love the idea that we are connected to people in need throughout the world, working together to make a difference. The partnerships created by Act for Peace give us the assurance that what we are doing is worthwhile.
Do you think that participating in the Christmas Bowl is an expression of God’s love and faith?
SC: In terms of faith, I think that as Christians we are called to love and care for all people. We live such comfortable lives here in Australia and sometimes the suffering of other people can feel so far away.
The Christmas Bowl is a way that we can make a difference to the lives of people that we will never meet, and who are experiencing difficulties that we can barely begin to imagine.
What is the meaning of giving at Christmas time?
SC: I think people are instinctively willing to be generous, but at Christmas this desire to be generous can be overwhelmed by the impact of our consumer culture. So within our church we give at Christmas to honour the gift that has been given to us.
Do you have a final message?
SC: Conflict and sadness affects the lives of so many people. By supporting the Christmas Bowl, we know that we are contributing to the work of Act for Peace, bringing hope and new life to people in need. It’s a simple act but one that we can all contribute to and be a part of.
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