Russia with love

In the last week of September a very special event took place in Moscow. For the very first time, a hundred scholars came together in Russia to focus on the New Testament and its meaning for faith.

The largest contingent came from Russia itself, predominantly from the mighty Russian Orthodox Church. Alongside them were Orthodox scholars from a range of Eastern European countries, including Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Ukraine, as well as Catholic and Protestant scholars from Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Britain, USA, and Australia.

I made the journey from afar as secretary for International Initiatives of the Society for New Testament Studies, working with its Eastern European Liaison Committee. The Society was able to win the support of Metropolitan Hilarion for the event, who generously hosted us on behalf of the Russian church.

This was a major development in the opening up of the discussion of how New Testament scholarship relates to faith. Some whose faith is nurtured and sustained by the ancient Orthodox liturgical tradition have been reluctant to look beyond it to the world of New Testament scholarship; to ask questions about history and identify diversity, as well as unity among the New Testament writings might undermine faith. We know such fear also from western fundamentalism.Continue Reading

Parables from the edge

Port Hedland looks like a dot on the north-western edge of this large red country. I arrived there with no answers for Port Hedland and my questions were a jumble. In my backpack was the poster I had made to  remind me of why I had come: “Go, not to collect experiences, but to be transformed.”

I was sent to Port Hedland for a supervised rural placement from mid-July to early August, the best time in the year because that was when it was cool. Eight months of the year, temperatures soar, starting from 38 degrees. The harsh environment has been said to draw more than the average share of misfits, mercenaries, mavericks and missionaries – people who were running away from something or someone, debts, crime  and failed relationships.

It was as I expected: Martian landscape, remote, sparsely populated and industrial.

What caught me by surprise was its strange beauty, an immense, seemingly empty space, suffused with untamed, quiet power. At the beach at Cooke Point one morning, the moist sand bore the contours of the  waves. The sky sent an echo in scallops of white cloud. At my feet, shallow streams of water gargled softly. I could have just walked across the water to the next little patch of sand, but didn’t – rather, couldn’t. Almost shouldn’t. Continue Reading

Honouring our diversity

Every two years Uniting Network Australia (UNA) hosts a national conference, commonly known as ‘Daring’.

UNA is the national network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and transgender people, their families, friends and supporters within the Uniting Church in Australia. The theme for this year’s event in Melbourne was ‘Daring to Reach Out – Honouring Our Diversity’.

‘Daring’ may seem like a funny name for a church conference, but it comes from a time when it was not particularly safe to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersex and queer – (LGBTIQ) people in the church, or society for that matter.

The first conference ‘Daring to speak – Daring to listen’ in 1994 was an important moment, a safe space created to discuss faith and sexuality, and to network and support each other in life and ministry. Since that first Daring, people connected to UNA have continued to gather every two years for much the same purpose.

This year’s conference, held from 10–13 June in Melbourne, aimed to hear from diverse voices from a range of cultural and faith backgrounds. We learned about different understandings of family and kinship. We heard the experiences of people from multicultural and cross cultural networks in understanding and connecting with people of diverse sexualities and the importance of a theology of hospitality in understanding and working through our differences.Continue Reading

Standing on holy ground

Rev Eira Clapton recently visited Sri Lanka with UnitingWorld staff, to see the work of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, which is supported by a partnership with the Uniting Church WA. She shares stories from her trip with Revive. 

I start a new notebook for this Sri Lanka trip, because a pen and paper are quickly accessible when you want to make notes in a foreign country. On the title page I write the words: “What if we were standing on holy ground?”

Holy ground is difficult to get to. For us it involves a very early start. At 3.51am, I climb into a small bus and we set off on crowded roads out of Colombo to the more remote north-east of the country. These are the areas which have been devastated by the double disaster of civil war and tsunami. There are fewer people to do the work in these areas – many of the young were killed in the war or the disaster, or left disabled by them. The roads are poor so the villages are hard to get to, isolated from each other and from government services. The bus rollicks over dry creek beds and picks its way at a snail’s pace around deep potholes.Continue Reading

Black Pearls shine brightly in dark times

The Uniting Church WA Black Pearl Network has just returned from another fascinating trip to the land of Papua, a place of both hopeful and troubling developments. Geoff Bice, justice and mission consultant at the Uniting Church WA recently traveled to West Papua with the Black Pearl Network. He reflects on his journey.

Whenever we say we are going to West Papua, people often think we mean Papua New Guinea (PNG), but we don’t. It’s close in a number of ways, but an entirely different place. It’s on the same landmass, its people are of a shared ethnicity, and it’s roughly equivalent in size to PNG; but it lies within the borders of Indonesia.

Whenever we go we do so at the invitation of our partner church – Gereja Kristen Injili Indonesia (GKI) di Tanah Papua – an amazingly courageous and gentle collection of Christians who are always wonderfully friendly and hospitable to us.

Whenever we come back we are always a little bit different. In a good way.

As always, it was a delight to meet with previous students from the Australia Papua Cultural Exchange Program (APCEP). We are always sure to take up a selection of children’s English books for them to use in running their own English classes with other young Papuans. It is so encouraging to see our small contribution multiplied by the students as they pass on their knowledge to others in their community.Continue Reading

Future church begins with God

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Rev Steve Francis, moderator of the Uniting Church WA, and Rev David Kriel mission planner at the Uniting Church WA, recently travelled to Cape Town, South Africa, for the International Fresh Expressions Conference. Steve shares his reflections with Revive.

You have probably heard it all before; declining aged congregations, faithful people, financial struggles, a lessening capacity to give, tired building, green shoots of new life, signs of decay, and glimpses of hope. Too often the church in Australia is a good news/bad news story without any real focus on the future and where God may be leading us.

How stimulating to go to a conference where the focus is on the future church. A conference that gets is cues not from the traditional patterns of the past, but from the new things that God is doing. Rev David Kriel, mission planner for the Uniting Church WA, and I were extraordinarily privileged to attend the third International Fresh Expressions Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, recently.

Before I go much further, I need to clearly state what ‘Fresh Expressions’ is – and what it is not. It is not ‘out with the old and in with the new.’ Every church, whether it is traditional or contemporary, meets in a cathedral or a warehouse, is called to be missional. Our music may be as far apart as Gregorian chants is from Hillsong, our preaching may be diverse in theological content, our clergy may dress in gowns or in denim. Styles and patterns of church vary greatly. God can use all kinds of churches to be beacons of light and conveyers of the Kingdom.Continue Reading

Church partnerships making a difference in Fiji

My husband, John, and I recently went to Fiji to see the partnership at work between the Uniting Church in Australia – through UnitingWorld – and the Methodist Church in Fiji. We travelled with two families from NSW; making a party of 12, with six adults and six young people aged between 12–19. We were very ably led by our team Leader, Megan Calcaterra, UnitingWorld’s projects and administration officer.

Whilst there we met with the president of the Methodist Church of Fiji, Rev Dr Tevita Banivanua and the general secretary, Rev Epineri Vakadenavosa, who spoke about the new changes and challenges within Fiji. The church has a new Constitution, and a new Code of Conduct to be implemented in 2016, and the changes to the logo are more in keeping with their ‘New Exodus’ theme as they move forward.

Due to the disruptions of Military Coups, there were no Conferences – their annual gatherings – allowed to be held in 2009, 2010 or 2011. Succeeding Conferences were of shortened duration, but now with a more stable Government, there is a strong emphasis on appropriate change as they look to the future. There is also a conscious effort to increase the involvement and training of women for and in ministry.

At Davuilevu Theological College we met the principal, Rev Anil Reuben, who is the first Fijian of Indian decent to be elected to that position. The college has one Bachelor of Divinity class and three Diploma of Theology classes and we were told that they can only take 25 new students each year, sometimes from 200 applicants.Continue Reading