Connecting with church, community and God

A lot of people struggle with turning 40. Perhaps the thought of walking over the hill and into the unknown is a little daunting for some. In a society where aging is seen as something to be feared, rather than valued, you can’t blame people for feeling this way.

I must say, however, that when I turned 40 a few years ago, I was in a great space. I felt very comfortable in my own skin and felt positive about walking over that ridge into the next stage of my journey. Somehow the connections between my upbringing, my experiences in life and my hopes for the future started to gain clarity at this time in my life. I lived with less fear and more peace with the person I had become.

I wonder whether communities go through this same angst in certain seasons of their life. As the Uniting Church in Australia turns 40, do we approach the next chapter with trepidation or with strength and conviction? As I hear people talk about the church in today’s world, I certainly hear a great deal of fear, but also much hope and anticipation.

At the beginning of May, I attended the SacredEdge Festival at Queenscliff Uniting Church in Victoria. Being my second year at the festival, I was particularly looking forward to the great sense of community I had experienced in 2016.Continue Reading

Sorry Day: learning form culture and deepening faith

Sorry Day is a time to mend relationships and acknowledge hurts. Sorry Day is held annually on 26 May to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of Australia’s Indigenous people.

It is an important moment, to remind ourselves of the importance of building respectful and honest relationships. For myself, as a member of the Second Peoples of Australia, Sorry Day is also a  day to remind myself of the importance of learning from the First Peoples of this continent and its islands. There is much we can learn about relationships with others, about living in Australia, and about faith in God.

In February, I commenced in the role of director of Education and Formation for the Uniting Church WA. A large part of my brief is to encourage the people of the church, and especially the lay  leaders, lay preachers, pastors, and ministers of the church, to commit to being lifelong learners. And there are many ways that we can learn: through reading, attending seminars, enrolling in  courses, serving people in need, reflecting on experiences you have had or working with people who come from cultures or backgrounds which are different from our own.

Learning is something that we can always undertake. As we deepen in our relationships with the First Peoples, we can learn much. Our land is greatly blessed by the long and faithful heritage of  these people. For millennia, across this continent, and in the adjacent islands, the First Peoples have cared for the land, nurtured their law, and showed resilience. They are gracious enough now to  seek continued relationship with those of us whose forbears have invaded, colonised, and decimated their lifestyle.Continue Reading

Everybody wants to be transformed, but no one wants to change

Often, the promise that we can ‘change the world’ comes wrapped in suggestions that “For the price of a coffee a day, you can change Sanjay’s life forever.”

Is change really that easy? If it was, everyone would be doing it. The promise of transformation is attractive, but the hard work required to get there; the discipline and commitment? Not so much.

So how does real change take place?

Whether you begin with seven minutes or seventy, creating change begins with deep conviction and small steps, incorporated into daily routine. And that’s where spiritual practises can be  genuinely helpful. Continue Reading

Missio Dei?

When one thinks of mission, how many of us immediately think of these words from Matthew 28; what we’ve come to understand as the Great Commission?

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

For many years I believed that ‘going,’ ‘baptising’ and ‘teaching’ were mission instructions from the king and head of the church to all of us. Lately, however, I am beginning to understand these
words as more of an invitation from God to us for the sake of the world.

Let me explain. Continue Reading

Love, care and non-judgemental acceptance

Edith Smirk is a Uniting Church chaplain at Bentley Health Service. She reflects on her role offering pastoral care to people living with mental illness.

People with mental [illness], like other people, have a need to relate to a god or a philosophical world view that allows them to place themselves and their lives within a larger context. However, for a person who has  been diagnosed with schizophrenia this can be problematical for a number of reasons. For one thing, the onset of the disease often occurs during the same period of life when religious and philosophical beliefs  are in great flux. For many during the early stages of their illness, they may believe they have been specially chosen by God. When auditory hallucination is experienced, these beliefs are usually reinforced. It is  important not to encourage such beliefs, just be present. E Fuller Torrey MD 2006

Jesus listened and told stories. This is something I can do. Just to be there and to listen non-judgmentally is the greatest gift we can give at times. Working in mental health can be very challenging and at the same  time very rewarding; I believe for me it has been a true calling. I believe God has in some way been preparing me for this role throughout my life.

Working with the patients brings me such joy. Hearing their stories sometimes touch on my own. Jesus knows our pain, he suffered and was tempted by the devil, he knows our weaknesses and by trusting in the  Lord we grow strong. When we reach out to Jesus, he touches our hand, and his hand touches God, which gives us life, love and hope. And it is this hope and love I try to bring to our patients. Continue Reading

Towards a theology of welcome

The city of Birmingham in the UK is perhaps one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Some years ago, in response to the question “Is Birmingham a welcoming city?” the city developed a social inclusion process giving hope to locals.

Places of Welcome describes themselves as “a network of small community organisations, including faith communities, who offer an unconditional welcome to local people for at least a few hours a week.”

The program has a set of guiding principles, known as the 5 Ps:

Place: An accessible and hospitable building, open at the same time every week.

People: Open to everyone regardless of their circumstances or situation, and staffed by volunteers.

Presence: A place where people actively listen to one another.

Provision: Offering free refreshments (at least a cup of tea and a biscuit) and basic local information.

Participation: Recognising that every person coming to a Place of Welcome will bring talents, experiences and skills that they might be willing to share locally.Continue Reading

Truth and life for those worn down

In Micah 6:8, the prophet challenges us, “What does the Lord require of you? Surely it is to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Six years ago, my daughter – who is a professional midwife – was advised that her unborn child had a high risk of Down Syndrome and was advised to consider abortion. She struggled with this advice and in her prayers turned to this text. She and her husband decided to go ahead with the pregnancy and to face whatever consequences may lie ahead; acting justly, loving mercy and walking with God. As it turned out their son, who has been named Micah, was born without Down Syndrome.

I write this because we so often make our choices for our own personal benefit, rather than for justice, with mercy and in humility. It is a difficult balance and we often get it wrong.

Jesus set us an example of how to walk this balance. It did not mean that his view of equity for all made him a soft touch. Indeed not! He was angry at injustice, he rejected favouritism, and he overturned the tables of the crooked moneylenders. And yet he called a tax collector, loves sinners and forgave those who killed him.Continue Reading