Life begins at 41

iftar sharon hollis

This month we commemorate the 41st anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia. It’s not nearly as exciting as last year’s 40th birthday. There will be fewer cakes and parties and events I imagine.  After the excitement of last year, this June’s anniversary reminds us that the life of the church is mostly lived out in its ordinariness. As I’ve visited congregations on weekdays and on Sundays I’ve witnessed so many wonderful examples of people living their faith in ways that participate in what God is doing in the world – day in day out, week in week out, year in year out.

One of the great privileges of being moderator is to worship with congregations across the synod. From small to large, rural to inner city, regional to suburban, I’ve been able to participate in a diversity of worship. We gather regularly around word and sacrament to recall God’s mighty saving action in the world, for the sake of the world.

Week-by-week we are reminded of God’s goodness and mercy, God’s love and justice, God’s grace and forgiveness. We hear stories of faithful Christian discipleship from across the ages. In all of this our hearts and minds, our lives and imagination are shaped to God’s ethic of costly reconciling love. We are nourished for our own discipleship which we live out in our homes, our workplaces, and our community engagement.

It shapes how we live and act as children, as friends, as parents, as colleagues, as members of society. This discipleship expresses itself in the daily decisions we make and in the regular habits and practices of our congregations.

The church is called to participate in God’s work to renew creation, healing and regeneration of the Earth. God’s word called the world into being and God’s love has continued to sustain the world in all its beauty and woundedness. God’s care for the least and the marginal extends to care of the Earth and all that fills it and calls us to be active participants in God’s redeeming work in creation. As I’ve visited congregations I’ve seen churches hearing this call in so many ways – community gardens, compost bins, reduction of single use plastic, solar panels on church buildings, advocacy for the Earth, lobbying of politicians and business, repairing cafes, and staging eco fairs.

Congregations everywhere are showing us how we seek community, compassion and justice for all creation and inviting all of us to consider how we might be part of God’s renewing of creation.

God lives amongst us in order that we might find a home in the heart of God and live that hospitality out in the world. I have seen so many generous acts of hospitality. I think of the way many congregations welcome each new person and seek to get to know them, helping them grow as disciples as we embrace the gifts they bring to the life of the community. There are congregations that not only feed the hungry and homeless but make friends with them, creating communities where companionship can be found and every person’s humanity and worth is valued.  Many congregations welcome community groups to use their buildings and engage with them to enhance their services and grow friendship. Several congregations are offering hospitality to their Muslim neighbours and welcoming them to an Iftar meal to break the fast at the end of a day during Ramadan. Many Uniting Church people will accept the hospitality of their Muslim neighbours to share an Iftar meal.

A particular form of hospitality I’ve been thinking about is the hospitality that makes space for difference. I recently had the chance to gather with a group of ministers and discuss tough things with a tenderness towards each other and ourselves.

We talked in multiple languages and remained aware of the diverse cultures that nurtured and shaped us, welcoming each minister’s unique gifts. In this way we created a community of welcome and hospitality that allowed us to listen to each other and grow in commitment to our shared faith.

As we enter our 42nd year, I encourage us all to continue our commitment to discipleship in our daily life, formed and nourished by our Christian worship together. 

Sharon Hollis

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