Remembering Joseph of Nazareth

As we move towards Christmas we think about the coming of Jesus. The baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a
stable. Many people and churches have nativity scenes, which goes back to a practice started by Francis of Assisi in the thirteenth century to help people recognise the significance of God becoming a baby born among us in Jesus.

In theological terms we speak of the incarnation; God became human in Jesus. John’s gospel puts it in lofty terms, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” God’s Word, the logos, became a person in Jesus. Theologian John Macquarrie suggests the incarnation is ‘inhumanisation’ meaning the same thing, namely God taking on being a human in Jesus, God’s Son.

Jesus is the central figure of Christmas.Continue Reading

Time for a new Reformation?

500 years ago, on a day in October 1517, the Reformation began.

That day, a German priest, Martin Luther, sent his ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ on the ‘Power and Efficacy of Indulgences’ to the Archbishop of Mainz, Germany. In these theses, Luther criticised the common practice of his fellow priests, who sold indulgences to their parishioners.

Luther also disputed the teaching of the church about purgatory (an intermediate state after death, before entering heaven or hell), and criticised the authority which had been claimed by the  Pope. As a result, he was excommunicated by the Pope and condemned as an outlaw. Actions from that time unleashed a series of protests and changes across the church. This Reformation led to the formation of numerous Reformed churches. The Uniting Church stands with these churches, as an heir of the Reformation. Our forebears protested about the state of the church in their day; for that reason, Reformed churches are also known as Protestant churches. Continue Reading

Peacemakers in the world


Peace is a central concern of the Christian faith. The words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are ones that have registered strongly in the minds of his followers ever since they were first expressed.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Jesus’ disciples are to be active in seeking peace and reconciliation. Peacemaking is linked to other qualities such as righteousness and mercy (Matthew 5:6-7).

Peace is multifaceted. It involves not  only peace with one another and peace in society, but also peace with God, inner peace and peace with creation itself. Theologically, the Christian faith holds that while we are “made in the image of God,” with amazing capacities, we are also sinful with a bias towards selfinterest at the expense of others. We were created for relationship with God and others, but so often misuse our God given freedom and gifts for selfish ends resulting in alienation, tension and conflict. Continue Reading

Genes re-Uniting

I am grateful to Rev Dr John Squires for his paper on the DNA of the UCA, which he distributed locally at the Meeting of the Presbytery of WA in May, and on the Assembly website. It helpfully identifies ten characteristics of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) which I warmly endorse. They are some of the reasons why my wife and I, despite many moments of disillusionment with the path taken since 1977 by the UCA, nationally and at state level, have maintained our membership of this faltering denomination throughout the past 40 years.

Rev Dr Squires’ paper also invites comment from his readers about his proposed list of key characteristics. I believe that identifying these particular characteristics – or genes, to maintain the metaphor – is a necessary, but not sufficient, clarification of the denomination’s DNA.

Despite a few unexpanded mentions of ‘God’, ‘the Spirit’, and ‘Christ crucified’ in the paper, it would be hard to deduce from this evidence alone that our denomination stands for much more than an ethical humanism shakily sustained by the unbounded slogan of ‘inclusion’. The list doesn’t yet identify as part of our DNA those ultimate beliefs about God which empower the ethic: his nature and his self-revelation in Jesus as reliably reported in the Bible; and his expectations of the species he has made in his image. Continue Reading

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