In April, I conclude seven years as National Director of UnitingWorld to take up congregational ministry. As I look towards that role, one of my first thoughts concerns how I will enable the congregation to engage globally.
How will I support children and adults who have been baptised to meet, at least in their imagination, their brothers and sisters in faith across the globe? How I will I help those coming for confirmation to have a deep sense of being bound to people beyond their locality? How will I help nourish disciples to act with the people suffering injustice not reported in popular media? How will I guide the congregation in experiencing God beyond the constraints of Western culture?
Yes, some of these things will happen as they meet their neighbours, people of diverse cultures and faiths, right on their doorsteps. And their relationship with the First Peoples will remain fundamental. Yet there is much more.
The last seven years have populated my life with fellow pilgrims. I now journey with the young woman in Maluku, Indonesia, who with her family ran from their long-owned home, alerted by the sound of an approaching angry crowd. They never returned. They made it to the wharf, the women crossing the bay by boat and the men swimming, with the sound of bullets pinging the water around them. She spent five years in a refugee camp, initially with intense fear and hatred of Muslims. However, she gathered the courage to reach towards Muslim people and formed with them a group for reconciliation.
I journey with the group of women I met in Juba, South Sudan. Their country has known more than a generation of war and the statistics suggest hopelessness: the worst maternal health figures in the world; 90% illiteracy outside the three main centres; and poor infrastructure typified by the less than 100km of sealed road in a country the size of France. The older women I met knew all this, for they had experienced it at its most agonising. Yet their hope was evident, feeding a quiet and fierce determination that they would do their best to make it different.
These people and many others have led me to understand my faith, the Bible and the church differently. My temptation to lassitude now has the antidote of countless stories of courage.
My doubt, such a natural part of faith, runs up against my experience of changed lives now bringing change in the most unpromising circumstances. A safe, placid and compliant faith makes even less sense now. Perhaps most of all, amid the secularity of Australia and New Zealand, I have a strong sense of the burgeoning dynamic nature of the Christian movement world-wide. 80% of the world is publicly religious.
Australia, New Zealand and other descendants of the Enlightenment are islands of secularity in a vast sea of religion, especially in our part of the world. Even Western scholarship no longer propounds the long-held view that affluence and education inherently secularise. The faith handed to us via largely Western thinking is changing. The silverfish will finally consume the fading posters of a Scandinavian Jesus pinned to the walls of our church halls. Instead, we are engaging with a Christ seen through Asian, African and Latin American eyes, through the sheer dint of population numbers and their dynamism. A new church is built in China every three days, following Africa’s experience of Christ.
Even from New Zealand, where I am going, I will look to UnitingWorld to give me stories to tell week by week, the names of people to pray with, churches with which our older and younger people can volunteer, issues about which to advocate, justice to be part of, opportunities for sacrificial giving, and most of all for a sense of the dynamic, life-changing, burgeoning movement of which our congregation is a part.
What’s next for UnitingWorld?
The Uniting Church in Australia’s Assembly Standing Committee has approved Rob Floyd’s appointment as UnitingWorld’s next national director. UnitingWorld National Committee chairs, Dr Andrew Glenn and Dr Sureka Goringe, have welcomed the announcement. Rob Floyd, who has worked for UnitingWorld’s Relief and Development Unit for eight years and has led the unit since 2010, is honoured to take up the role of national director and is looking forward to continuing the Uniting Church in Australia’s long term commitment to the global church.
Top image: Kerry Enright with Pastor Berlin Guerrero from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.