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

Seeing with new eyes from the holy land

During Advent, a group of young adult Christians from Perth became pilgrims in the holy land. A month after their return, they gathered to reunite, filling the room with reflection and laughter as they shared stories, experiences, memories and photos from the trip.

The pilgrimage was led by Rev Dr Ian Robinson, chaplain at the University of Western Australia, and a group of volunteers, and was organised in partnership with Christian Pilgrimage – a Perth based organisation offering Christian pilgrimages in the holy land throughout the year.

The young adults, from a range of churches around Perth, including Carey Baptist Church, Nedlands Uniting Church and Uniting Church in the City, visited a range of ancient and holy sites as well  as experiencing life in modern Middle Eastern cities such as Amman in Jordan and Israel’s Jerusalem. They visited churches covered in ancient mosaics, also spending time at a mosaic workshop, learning about a program which gave employment opportunities to people who may not otherwise be able to find employment. They explored the ancient city of Petra, walking around and inside houses painstakingly carved into rocks thousands of years ago, and went four-wheel driving through the Jordanian desert.Continue Reading

Travelling the journey

My wife, Kay, and I recently travelled to the Kimberley with our friends, Howard and Carol. Howard, a retired Anglican priest, served with me as an Army Reserve Chaplain. As we each drove around in our Nissan Patrols, we jokingly referred to ourselves as ‘Padres in Patrols.’

My expectation of the trip was that we would enjoy camping and visit the many wonderful sights the Kimberly has to offer. I was surprised, however, by the great conversations we had with people we met on the way.

A major part of our journey included the Gibb River Road, notorious for its roughness and toughness on vehicles. Both of us managed to shred tyres and damage rims. After my first tyre damage experience, and knowing that I was only half way along the road, I was slightly anxious.Continue Reading

Spiritual pilgrimage growing students

Three brave Methodist Ladies’ College (MLC) students and a group of teachers embarked on a journey of strength, spirituality and community building in September, as they took part in the Camino alvado Pilgrimage. The pilgrimage begins at St Joseph’s Church in Subiaco and ends in New Norcia, and exists in the spirit of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage through Spain and France.

Rev Hollis Wilson, a Uniting Church chaplain at MLC, with the help of a few teachers, led the pilgrimage, which required participants to walk for 20kms a day before being picked up and taken back to camp at Swanleigh, in the Swan Valley. Each morning they would drive to the starting point of the next 20km section, walking from about 9.30am–3.30pm for five days, before arriving at New Norcia.

The surroundings provided a great space for the students to engage with each other, their teachers and their spirituality. Continue Reading

Exchange of hope in Tanah Papua

“We cannot forget the value of this program for both the Australian and Papuan communities involved,” Rev Brian Thorpe, minister at the Scarborough and Waterman’s Bay Uniting Churches reflected as he sat waiting for his plane back to Perth. “It truly is an exchange program through which everyone benefits.”

Brian is a member of the Black Pearl Network, a multi-congregation network of the Uniting Church WA dedicated to supporting the work of our church partners in Papua. He recently returned from a trip to Tanah Papua, the eastern most province of Indonesia, along with Kerry Povey from Trinity North Uniting Church, Lee-Anne Burnett from All Saints Floreat Uniting Church and myself, justice and mission officer for the Uniting Church WA.

The beautiful and sometimes troubled province often referred to as ‘West Papua’ has become lodged firmly in the hearts of this small, but dedicated group. Through the Black Pearl Network (a name given to the group by the Papuans they work with), the Uniting Church WA supports a number of projects run by our partner church, Gereja Kristen Injili Indonesia (GKI). This trip was yet another chance to strengthen these relationships and continue the mutual learning the partnership provides.Continue Reading