70 years of the Christmas Bowl: Australian churches unite

1300 churches spanning 15 denominations across Australia have come together to stand-up to injustice and respond to the urgent needs of men, women and children who are fleeing conflict and disaster worldwide.

“It is heart-warming to see that in an age of increasing division, churches in Australia from a wide range of faiths and traditions have pledged to take action together in order to share God’s love with our brothers and sisters in urgent need around the world,” said Hannah Montgomery, Act for Peace, the International aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia.

The pledge has been made to support the 70th anniversary of the annual Christmas Bowl appeal – a pioneering fundraiser launched in Australia in 1949 to provide support for the millions of refugees suffering after WWII.

The Christmas Bowl appeal was founded by the Rev Frank Byatt, who, as he surveyed the abundance of his Christmas dinner, felt the strong contrast between our abundance in Australia and the needs of others around the world.

He felt that he had to do something, so he came up with a simple idea – to place a bowl on the Christmas dinner table “to see if you can get everybody round the table to make a generous gift so that you can share your good dinner with hungry children in other lands.”

“Sharing a meal with loved ones at Christmas time and taking a moment to remember those less fortunate than ourselves is a fundamental expression of our faith, hence why thousands of people still come together through this much-loved tradition and rally around Frank’s vision to provide practical care to people who are struggling,” said Hannah.

The very first Christmas Bowl raised £1,808 – no small sum for a congregation at that time.  Today, churches have raised more than $100 million through the Christmas Bowl, illustrating the incredible impact that Australian churches can have when they work together.

“70 years since the first Christmas Bowl appeal, we are facing the biggest refugee crisis since WWII, with more than 70 million people uprooted from their homes because of conflict and disaster.  Christ’s call to ‘love thy neighbour’ has never been more poignant,” said Hannah.

“’Love thy neighbour’, this year’s Christmas Bowl theme, is a powerful invitation to extend our love, concern and compassion to all persons, everywhere, as our neighbours.  Like the unselfish Samaritan man of Jesus’ parable, we are called to put our faith into practice; to truly love and care for and about people throughout the world, especially those less fortunate, living in some of the most impoverished and dangerous places in the world—especially South Sudan,” said Ann Zubrick, presiding clerk, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Australia.

“Most of us take it for granted that Christmas will bring good food, good friends, family and festivities. Our shopping centres are festooned with Christmas decorations, Christmas music plays and the shops are piled high with presents ready to be bought. How blessed we are!  Yet overseas there are over 65 million people forced to flee their homes to escape conflict and disaster: more than any time since World War II. Families have lost everything. They struggle to feed their children, watch them die for want of medical care and as for a future – rebuilding their lives, education – it is too distant to even contemplate.  These are the people aided by Act for Peace and the Christmas Bowl Appeal,” said Dr Joe Goodall, moderator of the Congregational Federation of Australia and New Zealand.

“Supporting the Christmas Bowl Appeal is one way we can all share the good things we have at Christmas. To us, it is a small sacrifice. To people in need, it is more than the aid they are receiving. It is a reminder that they are not alone and that people they do not know care for them. What better gift can you give?”

The Christmas Bowl runs from Christ the King’s Sunday to the first Sunday after Christmas; 24 November – 28 December.

“We welcome the support of worshippers from all faiths to respond to injustice and support communities threatened by conflict and disaster around the globe,” said Hannah Montgomery.

To register your church for the Christmas Bowl and receive a resource kit visit: https://www.actforpeace.org.au/Christmas-Bowl/About/get-involved

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Deborah Ivison, for Act for Peace Australia

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