Travelling north: our new president

On 12 July, Stuart McMillan was installed as the new president of the Uniting Church in Australia at the 14th Triennial Assembly. Matt Pulford interviewed him recently and shares Stuart’s  journey with Revive.

Six weeks after being interviewed in Sydney for an accountant position at the Uniting Church in Australia’s (UCA) Northern Synod, Stuart McMillan found himself standing alone with his swag on the edge of a dirt airstrip at Ramingining, 560 km east of Darwin. No one got the message that he was coming. No one knew who he was, and more practically, no one was there to pick him up. So he hitched a ride into the community with some locals.

The year was 1982. Stuart McMillan was 27 years old. He and his wife Ros, a behavioural scientist, had made the big decision to leave their comfortable community in Sydney’s suburban northwest to move to Darwin with their young family. For some time, Stuart and Ros had known that they wanted to do something in their lives that would make a difference in the world and to live out the values of  their shared Christian faith.

Stuart remembers feeling a deep concern for Australia’s First Peoples from the time he was in primary school in the 1960s. By the early 1980s Stuart and Ros were active in social justice issues at the Chester St Congregational Church in Epping, and keenly followed news about Aboriginal land rights that would filter through from Darwin via Rev Jim Downing, a local minister there. From time to time Jim would send telegrams to his friends down south, urging them to advocate for various Aboriginal causes to their local Members of Parliament. After consideration and discernment, Stuart and Ros’s opportunity came when they spotted the Northern Synod’s job ad in the newspaper one Saturday. Six weeks later, as he stepped off that deserted airstrip in the middle of Arnhem Land, Stuart McMillan began to live out his lifelong passion, and form his personal covenant – to use the modern UCA expression – with the First Peoples of Australia.Continue Reading

Taking the challenge to live God’s call


Kris Halliday is the kind of guy who lives his life for others. Whether he’s giving out hot meals on the street, chatting with someone whose preparing to sleep it rough, or working with the  Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD) when he sees need, his automatic response is to help out where he can.

As a Salvation Army officer at the Perth Fortress Corps  in inner city Northbridge, Kris works with some of the city’s most vulnerable people out of an intense understanding that this is where  God wants him to be. He knew from a young age that he was called to be an officer with the Salvos.

Growing up in a loving non-Christian family, Kris began attending a youth group organised by the church and was drawn to its values, soon becoming a committed member. As a young adult in the 1990s, he approached the organisation about entering training for ordination, but was told that there was no place for him as an officer, as an openly gay man.

“That was devastating for me. That broke me,” Kris said. “While things were tough at school, three things kept me going; a loving family, a welcoming faith community at the local Salvos and  knowing that I had my one calling in life – which was to be a Salvation Army Officer.

“When that was taken from me because of something I had no control over, nothing in my life made sense any more. So I really hit the wall and found myself experimenting with drugs and  drinking and a whole lot of stuff I wouldn’t normally have done because there was no reason not to, and I just had no hope.” Continue Reading

The hands and feet of Jesus

Upon the retirement of Robert Watson late last year, UnitingCare West put the call out for the next suitable candidate to fill this unique role. Rev Daniel Viljoen has answered that call.

The role of mission development officer at UnitingCare West is a specific one, designed to continue and grow the existing relationships between the organisation, its staff and volunteers, as well  as members and groups of the Uniting Church. UnitingCare West, an agency of the Uniting Church WA, is one of the state’s largest providers of community services, offering professional care,  love and support in a range of areas.

Daniel and his family moved to Australia from South Africa around ten years ago. After completing compulsory military service in 1993 with the South African Defence Force, Daniel decided his calling was as a military chaplain with the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, after being elected in the nation’s first democratic election. Working for the military throughout the transition to end Apartheid was an interesting time.

“It basically meant that former enemies became colleagues,” said Daniel.

Daniel first worked with a congregation before taking up a position coordinating chaplaincy at Bethanie, an aged care facility of the Churches of Christ. Daniel talks fondly of his previous  positions, as he recalls how they have all guided him on the journey of growth towards his new role at UnitingCare West. Continue Reading

Tragedy brings forth passion

Can you identify an event or a time in your childhood that impacted so hugely it defined your life from then on?

Alison Xamon links her passion for mental health and its effect on family members, especially children, to the suicide of her father when she was 11 years old. Alison’s father, Rev Alan Miller,  was the minster at Duncraig Uniting Church at the time of his death. His illness and death rocked, and continues to define, Alison’s life – emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

Today Alison is a lawyer, happily married with three children, and a member of the Star Street congregation. A former  member (2009 -2013) of the State Parliament Upper House for the  Greens, Alison’s focus is now on advocacy for mental health and suicide prevention. She is president of the WA Association for Mental Health, the peak body for mental health services in this  state, and vice-chair of Community Mental Health Australia, a national body. She is also on the board of Mental Health Australia, the peak body nationally, and sits on the Ministerial Council  for Suicide Prevention. She is excited to be a co-leader of the newly established Mental Health Network under the auspices of the Department of Health. This network brings together mental health clinicians, NGO’s, carers and mental health consumers and aims to address cultural change and drive the need for mental health reforms. Continue Reading

Changing and growing on a life-long journey

Although he’s just started in a newly created role, Craig Mitchell is no stranger to the Uniting Church, having worked in the organisation in various ways for over 30 years.

As the new national director for Formation, Education and Discipleship (FED) at the Uniting Church in Australia, National Assembly, Craig’s job is to resource synods, presbyteries and congregations in their journey as lifelong communities of discipleship. Engaging people in a lifelong journey of faith has been something the Uniting Church has struggled with over recent decades – it’s part of the reason the church is declining.

Craig is hoping to turn that around into the future, building a Uniting Church with members who are active and thoughtful in their faith, from the cradle to the grave.

And it’s no easy task.

Craig said that a culture change is needed in the way the Uniting Church approaches faith formation.

“It’s not just about Sunday school or just about raising the next generation of church members,” he said. “Let’s have a more dynamic view of people growing in faith to be on about what Gods’ on about in the world.”Continue Reading

Loving our neighbours through language learning

I first met Purwanto when he helped me translate an interview I was conducting with a minister who had just moved to Australia from Indonesia. He helped me out a lot and the interview may not have  been possible without him. I quickly learnt that he’s helped many people in his time, from all walks of life in his role as an interpreter and translator.

Dr Purwanto Danusugondo grew up in Java, Indonesia and as a child learnt Javanese, Dutch – which his parents spoke in the home – and Indonesian. English is his fourth language, but he speaks a total of seven languages in all.

Having now travelled and studied all over the world, Purwanto didn’t actually leave Java until after completing his first degree, in 1963, when he was offered a job in Melbourne working for the ABC’s Radio  Australia program, English for You. Since then, he has also studied in Hawaii – where he completed a PhD in German – Texas and Indiana.

As a translator, Purwanto has worked with large companies including mining and insurance companies, as well as helping people in a range of ways within the local community, usually translating English  to Indonesian or vice versa. Continue Reading

Education journeys in the North West


Just four weeks before this edition of ‘Revive’ went to print, Gail Cresswell packed up her things in Margaret River, in WA’s south west, and moved to Mowanjum, a remote Aboriginal  community in the north of WA on the outskirts of Derby. With a passion for education in Indigenous communities, she is starting up a Montessori program for kids under three.

Montessori is an alternative form of education that encourages independence by creating an environment for children to learn at their own pace. Gail said that the system focuses  heavily on learning by observation and involves lots of one-on-one interaction. “It’s about each child,” she said. “It’s a learning journey for each child.”

“It’s about the kids learning to be resilient and learning to be responsible to themselves.”

It is also a system that has been highly successful in Indigenous communities around Australia. Towards the end of August, Gail and her assistant, Daphne Gilbey, a member of the  Mowanjum community, will be attending the Thursday Island Montessori Summit where they’ll be exploring the benefits of the Montessori approach in Indigenous cultures. Continue Reading

Learning, leading and passing it on

The chamber is full of representatives from countries located all over the globe. They mingle about the room, negotiating amendments to Resolution 2155  of the United Nations (UN) Security Council: The question of the rules of war. A young man with a suit and pony tail announces it is time to sit back down for the debate, and a representative from China stands and puts forth her case.

I’m sitting in the Legislative Assembly at Parliament House of Western Australia where 15 teams from schools across WA, including three teams from Presbyterian Ladies’ College  (PLC) a Uniting Church in WA school, battle it out in the finals for UN Youth’s Evatt competition – a model UN debate. Sam Herriman, a 19-year-old media and communications  student from the University of Western Australia, strolls around the room making sure everything is running smoothly and occasionally collects notes from members of the Council. Continue Reading

Welcoming the stranger: Putting it to the test

A journey in faith is so rarely put out there in public for all to see. But as Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber writes in her new book, “Pastrix: The beautiful cranky faith of a sinner and saint,” the  truth is so much better than just trying to be good all the time.

Raised in the Church of Christ in America, Nadia always felt uncomfortable with the strict rules of her church and the dismissive ways women were treated. While her journey has led  her to becoming a Lutheran Pastor, there was a time in her life when she felt so hurt by Christianity that she wanted nothing to do with it at all. Continue Reading

Cipto: The love of Christ through peaceful action


The Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) Perth, a Uniting Church congregation in Mosmon Park, has much to celebrate at the moment with the commissioning, in December last year, of their new minister, Rev Ciptamartalu Sapangi.

Rev Ciptamartalu Sapangi comes to Perth from Bardung, Indonesia, with many years experience, including building interfaith relationships in Indonesia’s multi-faith society. Continue Reading