Posts Tagged 'Assembly'

assembly posting 4 … a hard place for all

We’re at a hard spot in the life of the Assembly … indeed the life of the church.

Prior to breaking for dinner last night, and a free evening – which was less than free because of what preceded it – we, after commmunity group discussion, began discussing a proposal seeking:

  • a replacement for the current preamble to the UCA constitution
  • a change to one clause (49) of it.

Some background.

ShayneDespite us being virtually at consensus when it came to Assembly being right behind the preamble; so many others came to the fore, the longer we discussed together …

issues of many (both indigenous and non-indigenous) feeling that we were not in a “safe place”, issues of language, the problems of word-smithing, the vast gulf between cultures when it comes to meeting procedures & decision-making,  theological issues – especially as it relates to Spirit theology, where do multi/cross-cultural congregations of the UCA fit into the bigger picture, the sense of bewilderment by Congress that we, having entered into Covenant back in 1994 and restating it just days ago would be even debating at length a proposal like this …

By late yesterday afternoon, having sensed our meeting place was not safe, Congress moved outside for a time.  This was a painful thing – without them we are incomplete as a church.  Eventually. we resolved to move out of the auditorium and with Congress, move back in together.  A couple of the Congress elders shared powerful insight at this point.

This morning, the vote will be “put” – without any further discussion.  I feel really saddened by this – the hope and promise and unity offered in the preamble will “get up”, but it’s tainted goods now.  Tainted goods.  Tainted relationship.   Adjusting the words of the 60s folk song: When will we ever learn?  When will we ever learn?

Yesterday morning, most of us went to a range of Uniting Church congregations around central Sydney.  For me it was Wesley Mission, right in the heart of Sydney in Pitt St.  I could have just-as-easily gone to Pitt St UC just up the road, but I went Wesley Mission’s “international service” – 800 people, most of them Asian, though the service was quite Anglo in style.  Music has been notable for its scarcity at Assembly (Wednesday night excepted). Glad I went.  I was soooo tempted to have a quite morning … catch a bus to Maroubra beach … whatever.   Didn’t like the stretched out (we’ll sing the chorus one more time) altar call near the end, but the teaching, music, welcome, informality, sense of the Spirit was all good.

assembly posting 3

Just a shorter post today.

dutneyTwo significant events stand out.  Firstly, the election of Andrew Dutney (Rev Dr) to the position of President – Elect.  Andrew is the Principal of the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology (Adelaide) and an Associate Professor at Flinders University. He’ll take up the role in 3 years time.  From the Assembly website, comes these words:

(Andrew) has been one of the leading interpreters of the history and theology of the Uniting Church, and is widely published in the areas of theology and ethics. From 1996 to 2006 Rev. Dr Dutney was the chairperson of the South Australian Council on Reproductive Technology. Added to that, he was the foundation Director of the Centre for Theology, Science and Culture, a joint activity of Flinders University and the Adelaide College of Divinity.

Announcing the decision to the Assembly the President, Rev. Alistair Macrae, said that the President-elect would “bring abundant gifts to the role”.

Looking to the future, Rev. Dr Dutney said, “Reconciliation is what we’re all about. So we must be a church that transcends whatever fractures and divides our world”.

“It means being a church with a passion for and practical commitment to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“It means being passionate about sharing the message of God’s love for the world, confident that the Gospel still has the power to heal and transform broken lives and societies.

“It means being a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, cross-cultural network of congregations and agencies with genuine relationships with people on the edges of Australian society and with Christian communities in Asia, the Pacific and Africa.

“It means working harder at enabling the participation and leadership of women in the church.”

The three other nominees included Ms Rosemary Hudson Miller (WA), Rev. Jason Kioa (Vic/Tas), and Rev. Dr Rob Bos (QLD).

I’m thrilled about this, not only for the chief reason that I believe Andrew has the gifting in abundance for the role, but alongside this, Andrew is a longtime peer of mine.  We’re roughly the same age and go back a long way – back to the mid/late 1970s when we often found ourselves in the same “space” in Christian music circles, as well as Presbyterian/UCA youth & children’s camping programs.  I count him as a friend, though we don’t rub shoulders all that often.  Also, though grew up, churchwise, at Toowong Presbyterian/Uniting.  His parents Neil and Beth Dutney are still active members there.  Please keep Andrew in your prayers.

danielsmith-christopherTonight was a night I almost missed.  I really wanted an early night; a night to put my feet up, read a bit, pray, and toss around some song ideas (really hard without a guitar, but I have done it before!).  I almost missed a lecture by Daniel Smith-Christopher – Professor of Theological Studies and Director of Peace Studies, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.  Daniel is an American Quaker, and presented the triennial Cato Lecture – a feature of Assemblies for many years.  Daniel’s topic was: Overboard with Jonah; Over the Line with Ezra: Biblical Themes for the Church in Exile.

I stayed awake!  I’ll unpack this some more in a future posting OR give a link (not yet available) to the Assembly site for the full text, but basically Daniel Smith-Christopher suggests that we need to be on about developing a Biblical theology of exile; to ask the question “What does it mean to be in exile?”  “What does it mean to read the Bible as a people in exile?” AND that rather than the Exodus narrative early in the Old Testament pages, it is in fact the exile to Babylon – out of which both Jonah and Ezra were written that forms the central/defining narrative.  Interesting.  I’m still mulling over all this, so don’t stress if this makes little sense.  Stay tuned – there’s some reflection necessary here.

On a different note, I wish I could have also been in Brisbane to hear Katie, Joy, Matt and Toby – Remember Seven – launch their CD at Brisbane City Council – for Zambian Orphans & Vulnerable Children Project fundraising etc.

I should have brought that guitar!!!   Well maybe.  Dale and I ended up bringing back on the flight home from the States, 4 items of hand-luggage AND four large  suitcases.  Enough for today.

living water … thirsty land … assembly posting 2

I’ve found today a demanding one.  It hasn’t been helped by the fact that I still haven’t caught up on sleep lost on the long journey back from eastern-USA to Brisbane.  The past 24 hours I’ve felt really sinusy.  Is that a word?   It’s 9.27 and I reckon I’ll be in bed and asleep by 10.  I sure hope so.

There has been some light and thanksgiving and joy amid the day:

  • conversations with various Assembly folk
  • singing a song in Arabic during morning worship
  • giving thanks to God for the contribution of Lee Levett-Olson and Marelle Harisun (Lois Campbell’s sister) with Coolamon College – the now-disbanded distance education network of the UCA nationally
  • hearing folk from the vast range of Assembly agencies respond to a huge range and number of questions reminded me of the diversity of ministries in the life of the national church – multicultural ministry, Christian Education, worship … and so on
  • discussion on proposals on property-sharing in multicultural contexts; and a statement on Jewish-Christian relations
  • approving the extension of the term of Assembly General Secretary – Rev Terence Corkin for a further 3 years.  Terence has really loosened up in the last few years … sense of humour etc

The demanding aspect is two-fold:

Ultimately I think I’ll enjoy my community working group.  Great people in it unafraid to speak their mind, but the discussion was one – not that I didn’t have things to say – I struggled to offer a comment into.  I did eventually – it was all surrounding a proposal to set up a process to review the Constitution of the UCA.   You see, we are in a very different time in the life of the church and the world than we were prior to 1977 when the church is founded.  The institutionalized church is crumbling.  Denominationalism as we knew it is crumbling.   What sort of church is God calling us to be?   Someone in the group commented that the UCA started as a “movement”, became a denomination, and is fast becoming a movement once again.  It’s a potentially exciting time to be church, when God calls us to lay aside “what was”.  Do we dare?

Secondly, tonight we heard a report, originating from the Congress, seeking a major amendment to the “Preamble” to the UCA Constitution – one in which the place of indigenous folk as the first people of this land is acknowledged, but also acknowledged the place (both implicit and explicit) of the church in perpetuating a myriad range of acts of injustice on these first peoples.   Congress is seeking, in this preamble to acknowledge the Covenant entered into in 1994 (and restated yesterday).  So far so good.

My problem was with the manner in which one of the presenters – a key person in Congress spoke to this proposal.  I felt that if I went to the microphone to raise a query in any way (not that I’m likely to) I would really struggle.    Not the ‘safest’ environment. I could say more … need to do some more praying, reflecting, struggling with all of this. Click this link and go to Proposal 55 for more detail.

Time for bed.  My head is about as comfortable as Mitchell Johnson’s bowling form at the moment.  Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

living water … thirsty land … assembly posting 1

I resolved weeks ago, before spending leave with Dale and Jeremy in the USA, to blog some of the experiences, joys, struggles and insights at the 12th National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, which is meeting from 15-21 July, on campus at the University of NSW.  So … while probably not blogging every day, here’s a start … something from the first 24 hours or so.

03The theme of Assembly is Living Water Thirsty Land – a theme so excellently shared and engaged last night as Rev Alistair Macrae from Melbourne was installed as President – a three-year fulltime position, following on from Rev Gregor Henderson.   Al began his sermon – based on Jesus’ John 4 encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well with these thoughts …

The inspiration for the theme of this Assembly came from a photograph in the Melbourne Age some years ago. It depicts a ute on a remote outback road. It is a poignant story. Two men set out to travel from Perth to Alice Springs on the Great Central Road. The vehicle runs out of fuel. They subsequently run out of water and days later are found dead in the shade of their vehicle.  Subsequent investigations by indigenous trackers reveal that the men had ranged considerable distances from the vehicle in a fruitless search for water. The trackers point out that had they known where and how to look, the men could have accessed life saving water within 200 metres of the vehicle.

The story has subsequently has become something of a metaphor for me for both contemporary culture and the church’s mission. There is a significant spiritual thirst amongst many of our neighbours in this land. Consumerist capitalism, the dominant ideology, doesn’t yield on its promises. Jesus knew that 2,000 years ago. People do not live by bread alone. Bread at least, yes. And Christian people should be in the forefront of providing for people’s physical needs. But not bread alone. Our thirst for meaning, for the giving and receiving of love go largely unrequited. And the church? Claims that the church is the repository of living water, or less grandiose, the dispenser of it, have been revealed as hollow.

But how about thinking of the mission of the church as pointing people to the source of the living water? Church as witness. Our woman from Samaria has much to teach us in this regard because she is an evangelist.   Click here for the full sermon

Please keep Al in your prayers.  A great theme song called Holy Spirit Rain has been written by two NSW ministers.  Hope to use it at Indooroopilly in the coming weeks; chorus goes:

Rain on us, Holy Spirit. Rain on us, Holy Spirit.

Cleanse and renew us in the way of grace,

Let us in joyful praises seek your face,

so that the name of Jesus fills this place

Holy Spirit rain. Holy Spirit rain.

cov1Through much of today, apart from some time in working groups (groups of about 14), we have sought to connect with our sisters and brothers of the Uniting Aboriginal & Islander Christian Congress.  This morning, we revisited the covenant made with Congress back in 1994.  Former President Jill Tabart reiterated her words of apology and openness.  The words of Congress’ then-Chair Pastor Bill Hollingsworth were also shared.  We sang, we prayed, we lamented, we confessed, we resolved to move forward together in Christ.   Tonight, as Congress gave their report and their National Administrator Shayne Blackman shared, we were brought up short as we reflected on the “intervention” program currently mounted with aboriginal people in the Northern Territory by both the territory and federal governments.  I find it disgraceful that there has clearly not been appropriate negotiation, listening and conversation (far more than consultation) with the first peoples of this land about this.  The governments’ intentions may well be honourable – the way they are going about it seems a long way short of what it needs to be.

Rev Gregor Henderson as outgoing President is a man of great faith, vision, humanity, depth, sincerity and love for God and God’s church.  He has made a great contribution to the live of the churchGregor1these past three years, and now returns to congregational ministry in Canberra.

Covered a bit in this post.  A good start!  Shalom.


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