Prayers for a lasting peace in South Sudan

Uniting Church members are urged to join Christians worldwide in praying for peace in South Sudan in the days and weeks ahead.

Warring parties in the 20-month civil conflict recently resumed peace talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.  The conflict has taken a heavy toll on the world’s youngest nation, with thousands of lives lost, 1.6 million people internally displaced, and millions more facing severe food shortages.

As the peace talks resumed, the South Sudan Council of Churches, which includes Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) church partner the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and Sudan (PCoSS/S), renewed its call for an immediate and unconditional end to what it called the ‘senseless’ civil war.

In a powerful statement, church leaders have warned the warring parties, “Do not miss this opportunity to end the evil which has befallen our country.”

Uniting Church in Australia President Stuart McMillan says the UCA stands in solidarity with its Christian brothers and sisters in South Sudan.

“We pray for peace to prevail in South Sudan and for an end to the suffering of the South Sudanese people,” said Stuart.Continue Reading

Weapons to change the world

There aren’t many meetings that will change the world, but for a few young lives in a tribal village in West Bengal, this is one of them…

On a dusty patch of ground outside the village leader’s home, the community gather to consider which children are most in need of support for schooling this year. They’ve prepared a survey of  the needs of children in their village, and together they’ll decide which children will be attending the Study Centre. Nelson Mandela wrote that education was one of the most powerful  weapons you can use to change the world. He had decisions like this one in mind.

Today, the community has decided that Sumi’s three daughters will be among those receiving the extra support the Study Centre offers. Seated in the first row of the meeting, she breathes a  sigh of relief. Education might be free, but with another baby at home and no husband to provide income, school books and uniforms are proving very expensive. Not to mention the fact that Sumi, with limited education herself, is struggling to provide her girls with the support they need. Continue Reading

Nepal earthquake: churches respond

Churches have responded with a number of appeals after a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, followed by a second earthquake weeks later. Over 8000 people have died in the disaster, and  many thousands more left injured, homeless and vulnerable.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) issued a joint statement calling on churches around the world to pray for the families of those who have died,  and for those who have been injured or been affected by property loss and damage.

“We offer our heartfelt condolences to the people of Nepal and northern India who lost loved ones in their families and among friends in this powerful earthquake and its aftershocks. Our  thoughts and prayers are with all those who are affected by this disaster,” said the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC. Continue Reading

Australian Christians call for boycott of goods made in Israeli settlements

The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network (PIEN), an organisation of Christians nationally who advocate a just peace for Palestine and Israel, is asking consumers to pressure Australian companies selling Israeli settlement goods.

“Illegal settlements are unilateral Israeli land-grabs that now control nearly half of the Palestinian West Bank,” said Uniting Church’s Rev Gregor Henderson, co-convenor of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network. “To buy or sell goods made in these settlements is to support the military occupation of Palestine.

“Guided by the proud history of moral nonviolent movements that have used peaceful boycotts as a tool for seeking justice, we are calling on Australians not to buy goods from these illegal settlements and we are asking Australian businesses not to trade with these illegal settlements and sell their products,” Gregor said.

The boycott call comes in the wake of a Human Rights Watch report that revealed exploitative child labour conditions in many settlement farms, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.Continue Reading

Sign up today for the Ration Challenge

In December 2013 and March 2015 I travelled to Mae La refugee camp on the border of Burma and Thailand as part of my work for Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia. The people of Burma have lived through the longest running conflict in the world. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes for neighbouring Thailand and now live in refugee camps, like the one I travelled to.

Whilst there I met Than.

Than was just a boy when he saw his village being burnt to the ground by the Burmese army. He walked day and night with his family, with no food or water, finally finding safety here, in Mae La refugee camp.

I remember so clearly Than talking about the safety he had found in Thailand yet the desire to go back home, “Life in Mae La camp is better than in Burma. Because I grow vegetables I can support my family.”

Like many refugees Than has been living in Mae La refugee camp for more than 21 years and he desperately hopes that one day, it will be safe enough to return to Burma.Continue Reading

Civil society including churches again denied access to disarmament forum

“With governments spending record sums on arms, the world desperately needs a multilateral negotiating forum dedicated to disarmament,” said Peter Prove, director of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).

“It used to have one, here in Geneva. It is called the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) and it has just tried – for the 18th year in a row – to agree a program of work. It has failed again, spectacularly,” said Prove following the collapse, early in the 2015 session, of concerted efforts to agree on the year’s work, civil society participation, expanding membership and repairing the CD’s chronic dysfunction.

The Geneva-based CD is the world’s only permanent multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. It was established in 1979 as a belated response to the high-stakes nuclear arms race of the Cold War.  The CD’s successes include a 1996 treaty banning all nuclear tests, its last achievement to date.Continue Reading

Perth vigil for reformed prisoners

On the evening of Wednesday 18 February, Uniting Church in the City, Wesley Perth, played host to a moving vigil for two Australian men, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who are likely to be executed in Indonesia as a result of drug trafficking charges.

The event was held as part of the Mercy Campaign, and included a number of speakers who shared their passions and mercy for the men, branded as two of the Bali 9. Performances were also made by local musicians Kav Temperley from Eskimo Joe and Abbe May.

Myuran and Andrew have been in an Indonesian jail for almost 10 years and have since changed their lives, now devoting their time to the rehabilitation of other prisoners.

Over 178,000 people have signed the Mercy Campaign petition so far, asking that the penalty for Myuran and Andrew be a jail sentence rather than execution. Many millions of people have voiced their disapproval of the planned executions of these two reformed men and there is still hope that they will be granted clemency. Continue Reading

WCC commission on international affairs addresses issues related to religion and violence

Violence perpetrated in the name of religion was highlighted as “a defining issue of our generation” by Canon David Porter when he spoke to members of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Porter, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as director for reconciliation at Lambeth Palace in London, joined the WCC meeting via Skype on 17 February. The meeting has brought together CCIA members who will set directions for the work of the Commission in coming years.

At the meeting, David said that religiously sanctified violence is a global challenge, and not just an issue of the Arab world.

“The reality is that those promoting such violence are looking deep into their own religious traditions and are attempting to find justifications for their actions,” he said.

“It isn’t just a façade; for many it comes with a deep ideological commitment from their tradition, as they understand it. Therefore the challenge for us is to look again into all religious traditions and see how traditions and texts are used to justify violence,” David added.Continue Reading

Act, reflect, connect: Getting the balance right

At 11.45 every morning, three soothing bells chime out from my iPhone. “Do you want to meditate?” comes the helpful enquiry from my screen, sent each day without fail by my ‘Mindfulness’  app (with handy alerts and tools to track my progress as an enlightened member of the human race).

I glance at my screen. “Seriously? Meditate now? I’m driving/typing/hanging out washing/reading at my child’s school/masterminding the incoming reign of peace and justice for the world.  Maybe later…”

The philosopher Socrates famously suggested that the unexamined life was not worth living. It’s a pretty bold statement. Are we all to be philosophers, floating through life clad in yoga pants, clutching our Mindfulness apps and gazing earnestly at our navels? Or did Socrates have something more balanced in mind?

Church communities have typically been big on reflection – worship, preaching, Bible study and prayer all encourage us to examine our lives carefully. For me, no matter what chaos the week  has held, our lay preachers seldom fail to produce the gem of an idea to polish throughout the week. Too often, though, nothing much happens beyond mental activity. I find it relatively easy to ponder. It’s harder to act. And there’s been no shortage of criticism fired at the church over exactly this tendency.

How do we get the balance right between thought, belief and action? Continue Reading

Religious leaders unite to denounce violence

In an unprecedented demonstration of multi-religious solidarity, leaders of Christian, Muslim and other religious communities from Iraq, Syria and the larger Middle East region have denounced with one voice all violence in the name of religion, and have called on the international community to protect religious and cultural diversity in Iraq and Syria.

Religious leaders from Sunni, Shiite, Christian, Mandean, and Yazidi communities across the Middle East jointly issued the Vienna Declaration, United against Violence in the Name of Religion, at the international conference organized by the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID).

The religious leaders emphasised the right of all to be treated with dignity and  humanity regardless of their religious tradition. Atrocities committed in the name of religion are crimes against humanity and crimes against religion. The declaration also rejects and denounces the support or sponsorship of terrorism. Continue Reading