Moderator’s column: Prayerful action

The focus for this edition of Revive concerns Action! The Uniting Church in Australia has a strong reputation in the community for action, especially in areas of social justice and  rightly so, although I have the feeling that for many of us a lot of that action is by proxy. On the whole I think we are pleased to see election resources published, wellinformed critique  made of public policy by the President and the occasional public demonstration such as that in which the 13th National Assembly engaged on the steps of Parliament House  in Adelaide nearly two years ago. I think more widespread in the Uniting Church, as far as the practical engagement of members is concerned, is quiet, behind-the-scenes service to  those in need through our many and varied community services.

So why does the church engage in such action? Is it coincidence that those who are committed to church membership are also concerned about the struggles of those who are doing it  tough? Or is there a fundamental connection? I think it is the latter.

There are plenty of mandates for action to be found in scripture. The Letter of James puts it quite bluntly: “If a  brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your daily fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the  good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2: 15-17) Or, as an example in the area of public demonstration, we might think of Jesus overturning the tables in the  Temple. And to reflect theologically, we might even see the Incarnation of our Lord as the ultimate example of action, namely, Divine action.

But is action inevitably good? I don’t  think so. There is a little adage from the corporate world that plays on an old cliché: ‘Don’t just do something, sit there!’ Some inexperienced managers can be so ‘pumped up’ that they  don’t take the time for proper reflection first. We can all fall into that trap, especially when circumstances are making us feel anxious. Yet we should be the very best at  ‘contemplative action’ because we are people of prayer, aren’t we?

The Benedictines remind us of the importance of listening when we pray. In fact, the  word ‘listen’ is the very first word of the Rule of St Benedict. It seems to me that in our tradition we are quite strong on making our concerns known to God in prayer but I think we tend to  ‘under-do’ the listening side of prayer. When we listen in prayer, then we open ourselves more fully to the call of God through the Holy Spirit, especially when we do this in Christian  community. This requires discipline, time and silence. However, the call of God, welldiscerned, then finds response through our action, and our action actually becomes an expression  of our prayer.


Rev Ken Williams, acting moderator of the Uniting Church in WA

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