Reflection – A Tribute to Adam

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Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of visiting Good Sammy Enterprises (GSE), an agency of the Uniting Church which provides training services and meaningful work for people with a disability, through retail and social enterprises across Western Australia. The occasion was a sad one – Adam Blair, an invaluable member of the team who participated in retail collections and deliveries, had died. His death was sudden, unexpected and a devastating blow to all those who knew him.

It was an honour to meet and speak with staff and volunteers there, both individually and in groups.  GSE has in total some 600 working in the agency. Many were reflective and still coming to terms with the reality that they would never see Adam, as he was to them, again.

Adam was a 42-year old man who had worked at GSE for the last 20 years. He worked on the Good Sammy trucks, collecting pre-loved goods and clothing from collection points and delivering them to the Good Sammy shops.

From my conversations with his colleagues, I gathered that Adam was “the encourager” and “the supporter” in his team. He would exuberantly tell his colleagues how good they looked and how well they worked. He had a contagious, confident smile – he inspired, he exuded life and vitality.

It was good to learn more about GSE where Adam had spent his working life. It is an impressive enterprise of academy training programs, confidence-building initiatives, inclusion, employment and some 25 pre-loved clothing shops all focussed around improving the lives of people with a disability and using their gifts for the betterment of the community. GSE nurtures their talents and capacity to reach their goals and aspirations. It includes people with a disability in the social and working infrastructure of our world.

I visited the GSE warehouse and watched clothing deliveries arrive from the yellow Good Sammy community collection bins scattered around Perth. Men and women with a disability received them, sorted them and packed the useable clothing and other goods for onward delivery to the Good Sammy stores which we all know and recognise in areas like Fremantle, Mandurah, Booragoon, Subiaco, Ellenbrook, Wanneroo and Butler. It is a very well-run enterprise and it would be after some 60 years of operation.

As I chatted with Adam’s colleagues, I got the distinct impression of the wonderful creation of God he was and how much joy and purpose he brought to those around him. He was love, he was loved, he was included and he was a vital part of a living and working community. To see him gone was a loss to all those who knew him. Perhaps as you are reading this, you are feeling his loss too.

While talking with Adam’s colleagues, many of them were philosophical about life and death. Some were Christians of different faiths and had an outlook of eternal life. One of them burst into tears – he told me that he knew that, one day in heaven, he would meet Adam again.

I ask you to pray for Adam, his mother Carol, his family, his team of colleagues and for the CEO, staff and volunteers at GSE who are so deeply affected by his loss. Not only was Adam a part of GSE, he was a part of the Uniting Church through GSE, and thus a part of us all.

Although it was short, we give thanks for the wonderful life of Adam.

In closing, the words of Jeremiah 31:13 give comfort and hope:

I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

Susy Thomas

Moderator, Uniting Church WA

UnitingStories – Rev John Steed

I grew up on our family’s farm near Ballymena, as the oldest of 3 boys. Ballymena is a provincial town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Back then, it had some 6,000 inhabitants. You could be forgiven for not knowing where it is because during World War 2, many road signs and street names were removed for safety against intrusion by spies. In recent times however, Ballymena has become synonymous with many famous names, like the actor Liam Neeson who attended Ballymena Technical College where I once studied.

After the “Belfast Blitz” of 1941, I remember, as a younger child, carrying my gas mask around with me and participating in gas mask drills at school. There was a fear that Ballymena, located only some 50 kms away from Belfast, could also be the target of air raids. So, like the rest of Britain, we kept our masks at hand, carried identity cards, used food ration books and covered our windows at night as part of blackout restrictions.

In my mid-teens, I came to faith in Christ. A persistent memory of mine is when one of my peers observing me as I spoke at a fellowship meeting, declared, “you could be a minister!”.

Instead, after completing an apprentice as a coppersmith/pipe fitter, I moved to Portsmouth in England, to work for the British Admiralty (Navy) in its dockyards. In that era, shipbuilding was a dominant industry – commercially in Belfast where grand ships like the Titanic were built, and militarily for Britain as a strong naval power during the first and second world wars and later during the Cold War. When I was in Portsmouth, there were some 22,000 working at the dockyards; latterly I read that it was down to 2,000. The naval base where the dockyards are located now has an on-site museum and even a dockyard tour.

During my four years in Portsmouth, I became closely involved in the local Methodist Church on Twyford Avenue, North End (since demolished), attending services and assisting with Sunday School, youth group and as a layer preacher. It prompted me to save up to attend a year-long course for lay people to train in local church ministry. I did this at Cliff College in Calver, a small, picturesque rural village in Derbyshire, bordered by the River Derwent.

After my course, I was appointed as a Lay Pastor in Cheshire serving a group of rural and small churches. Unbeknown to me, this experience would be significant for my future ministry in Australia. A timely visit in mid-1962 by Rev S. J. (Sydney John) Jenkins from Western Australia convinced me (and two others) to make the decision to go to Australia and participate in the local ministry. I arrived in Perth in December 1962. As far as I knew then, I was the only member of my family ever to go to Australia.

I began as a Lay Minister with the Methodist Home Missions in Carnamah. This was a ground-breaking ministry as it was the first time Methodists and Presbyterians had shared a minister. I went on to serve at South Perth. Then In 1966, I commenced full-time study for 3 years at Barclay Theological College, Nedlands, to become a Minister of the Word. After that, I was stationed at Lake Grace Methodist Church for 3 years.

During this time, I met Anne, a laboratory technologist, at a church youth rally in Perth. She was working in Papua New Guinea at a government leprosy hospital staffed by the London Missionary Society.

1970 was a big year, Anne and I married in September and 3 weeks later I was ordained as a Minister at Wesley Church in the city.

I then went on to serve as a Methodist Minister at Cunderdin-Quairading church, and then as a Uniting Church Minister at Moora, Kalgoorlie, Busselton and Narrogin. Busselton was my longest appointment at 9 years, followed by Kalgoorlie for 7.5 years. I retired on 31 October 2005 at age 69 after a total of 39 years in ministry. Since my retirement, I still take worship services, when asked, mainly in the metro area, but I have also travelled out to York, Gingin and Toodyay. I also do volunteer work at the Uniting Church WA archives centre.

As an aside – in 1980, Anne, myself and our then two children went to live in Cavan, Ireland, for 3 years. Whilst my father had died by that time, it was a homecoming to see my two half-brothers and other extended family and also to introduce my children to them. I was also able to meet my mother’s family who I had not met after she had died when I was two years old. I learnt then that I had a paternal uncle who had been living in Australia long before me. Working the Methodist circuit church of Cavan, gave me the opportunity to give back to the country where my Christian faith was borne.

Being a minister is a privilege. You meet a lot of people, develop many close pastoral relationships, become a key figure of the local community and participate in community life and significant events. Some standout memories for me include: conducting the Lake Grace Golden Jubilee celebrations, opening the new church building at Quairading; and the dedication of new church halls at Moora and Kalgoorlie. I’ve conducted many, many weddings and funerals; and pastoral visits which I love to do. It’s also been a privilege to visit Fiji with Anne for her work with the leprosy hospital and patients.

The Church has taken me from Ireland, to locations in and across metro, rural and remote WA, with Anne and our children. In fact, if I had to go through the alphabet of all the places where I have ministered, there would be few letters left! Even our four children were all born in different places – Paul in Cunderdin, David in Moora, Carolyn in Ireland and Andrew in Kalgoorlie.

Being a minister has allowed me to use the gifts of preaching and pastoral care that God gave me – although, I don’t always come off unscathed! After a Sunday service one morning, I remember a congregation member saying of my preaching: “That’s the biggest load of rubbish I ever heard!”. I quipped back in good humour: “Well, that’s the best compliment I’ve had from you in a long time!”.

I feel close to God when I am doing the work of God – I feel it in my heart. When you give, it always comes back and it’s a really good feeling.

In Moora, 1978, with Anglican and Roman Catholic ministers
In Kalgoorlie, 1984, with my confirmation group

Ministry Expo 2022 – Is God Calling you to Ministry?

Ministry Expo is back again in 2022 with a bang and promises to be both an inspirational and informative event to explore God’s calling on your life and the interesting options and opportunities to express it through the Uniting Church.

Are you looking for a fulfilling vocation that spreads the Christian gospel of justice, love and hope? Are you feeling called to ministry but don’t know how to make the jump? Have others discerned skills and gifts for ministry in you? Are you curious? Do you want to be inspired? These are all motivating reasons to attend the Expo.

At Ministry Expo you will hear about the pioneering ministries of the Uniting Church in Australia, a church known for its work in social justice and community care. As well, you will meet others who have walked and are walking the path to ministry. You will hear about the different expressions of ministry in the Uniting Church such as: Minister of the Word, Deacon, lay leader, Pastor and Lay Preacher. You will also learn more about the journey to Ministry, including preparation, theology study, training options and a lot, lot more.

Ministry Expo 2022 is on from 7.00-9.00pm on Thursday 28 April at St Andrew’s Uniting Church, 182 Bennett Street Perth. Attendance is free but registration is needed for COVID and catering purposes. If participants are not able to attend the Expo in person, the event will also be available via Zoom. To register, email candidates.ministry@wa.uca.org.au and request the Zoom link also if you need it.

The exciting programme is below.

Welcome to St Andrews – Rev Sione Lea’aetoa

MC and Opening Prayer and Acknowledgement of Country – Rev Bev Fabb

Presenters

What is the role of a Minister of the Word? – Rev Ruth Vertigan

What is the role of a Deacon? – Rev Andy Broadbent

What is the role of a lay leader? – Sophie Li

What is the role of a Pastor? – Pastor Marilyn Price

What is the role of a Lay Preacher? – Doug Burtenshaw

What is involved in doing a Period of Discernment? – Mike Roberts

What is involved in preparing for ordained ministry? – Samuel Annan

What are the options for studying theology? – Rev Dr Anne Wright

What is it like moving from another church into the UCA? – Rev Rob Douglas

Questions are welcome after each presentation

Closing Prayer                                                                                                                                                  

Supper will be served!

 

For more information, visit the Candidating for Ministries webpage at Candidating for Ministry – Uniting Church WA

On this webpage you will find:

  • A series of videos about a range of ministries in the Uniting Church.
  • The Period of Discernment Handbook- which explains what is involved in a POD and includes the registration form for a POD
  • The Lay Preacher Handbook- which explains how to apply to become a candidate for the ministry of Lay Preacher and what education and formation is involved.
  • The Application to Candidate Handbook- which explains how to apply to become a candidate for one of the ordained ministries.

A Chat with Pepe Halatau, Worship Leader of the Tapu Niue Faith Community

After the Welcoming Service for the Tapu Niue Faith Community last Sunday at Gosnells Uniting Church, Pepe Halatau, Worship Leader, shared with us her journey of faith and Church.

I still remember the year I arrived in Australia from Niue. It was 1998. It’s hard to believe that it is now almost 24 years ago.

Niue is an island country in the South Pacific Ocean. It is one of the world’s largest coral islands and I can confirm it is as stunningly beautiful as it looks in pictures.

I settled in well in Australia but soon found myself longing for connection with family, the community and the culture I enjoyed back in Niue. Fortunately, I met other Niue people in my area who felt the same and we decided to form a community group for socials and other events. Amidst all of this, the one thing we seemed to lack was a spiritual gathering. It was then, in 2014, that we decided to meet up for Church meetings.

We had no idea how to conduct our Church meetings. Lucky for us, Niue elder, Tina Siakimotu Versteeg, stepped in. We couldn’t have done it without her. She introduced a worship format, the lectionary and prayer calendar to our meetings. Sadly, Tina is now late but we cherish her memory and hold her deep in our hearts.

We started meeting at the Gosnells RSL Hall and continued there for a few years. It was not easy. We did not have powerpoint facilities and we had to set-up and pack away after each service. It was a lot of work but we felt we had a purpose and connection, so we continued. I became Tina’s assistant. In retrospect, this was quite extraordinary because whilst I was a young Christian, later on I was a bit of a rebel and going to Church was not a priority. Now here I was reconnecting again with my faith.

In July 2018, a meeting was held at Dome Café in Gosnells between elder Tina, leaders of our Niue community and the Uniting Church’s multi-cultural representatives, Rev Dr Matagi Vilitama and Rev Dr Emanuel Audisho, to discuss the possibility of a deeper, more formal relationship with the Uniting Church. We followed this up with a written request. Rev Bev Fabb, Convenor of the Uniting Church’s Multi-cultural and Cross-cultural Network, put us in touch with the Uniting Church’s Presbytery of Western Australia. We then started preparations to become a Faith Community of the Presbytery. Our Welcoming Service was on Sunday 6 February 2022 at Gosnells Uniting Church.

 

Being a Faith Community of the Uniting Church’s WA Presbytery is truly special. We have better access to resources, training and support. We are not alone and belong to a broader Christian community and network. We have a space at the Gosnells Uniting Church building to grow our church. “Tapu”, by the way, is the Niue name for Church.

I would like to acknowledge the Tapu Niue Working Committee, the elders Poi & Povi Kauhiva, Niue Perth Community who have contributed a lot – without their support we would not have come this far to becoming a faith group. We value the support from the Uniting Church in Australia’s Niue National Conference. I would also like to thank my mentors during this process – my siblings, Rev Falkland Liuvaie and Birtha Togahai, and also the Rev Dr Matagi & Jo Matagi and Elaine Ledgerwood from the Uniting Church WA. Thanks also to the Presbytery of WA. To anyone not mentioned, my heartfelt thanks to you too.

When I look back now, I pinch myself. I remember back in 2014 being tasked with saying the Sunday prayers. I was distressed and sent an urgent email to my cousin in New Zealand to ask her what should I say! We still laugh about it because now I am the Worship Leader of the Tapu Niue Faith Community! You never quite know what God has got planned for you!

 

Note: The Tapu Niue was formed in 2014. In 2018, they approached the Uniting Church to become a recognised Faith Community. After a long period of preparation, the day finally arrived on 6 February to welcome this very special community to the Uniting Church’s Presbytery of Western Australia.

Article by Tracey Paul

A Hopeful Journey Through Homelessness – Josh’s Story

We thank Uniting WA for sharing this article with us.

A personal story – Josh’s journey through homelessness

Josh* spent time as a Uniting WA Beds for Change participant last year.  Beds for Change was a supported transitional accommodation service for people experiencing homelessness which was established during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was so successful that the program now forms part of Uniting WA’s ongoing strategy to address homelessness.

Josh shares his story here.

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I was born in a big city and spent the first 2 years of my life there before my family moved states. I then spent my childhood living in regional towns.

I was an only child and my Mum was a single Mum. She was an alcoholic and I had to look after her a lot. Since the age of 10, I used to have to nurse her outside the pub at two in the morning. A lot of the time I was on the street, drinking at a very young age. I wasn’t really socialising with good people and I was taken advantage of a lot. As a result, I don’t put up with anything these days.

When I got a bit older, I got into drugs and had issues there with methamphetamine for a while.  That wasn’t good so I left where I was living and moved states again. I still had drug issues, but it wasn’t as bad. 

Then I moved to be near my grandparents and that kind of sorted me out.  I reconnected with them in early 2020 and I started sharing things with them.  They were really supportive and good about everything, and they helped me out through a lot of the alcohol and drug issues.  They helped me gain more self-confidence – that was my main issue and the main reason I used drugs and alcohol. I don’t drink nowhere near as much now, and I don’t touch drugs anymore.

My grandparents taught me that I can really do anything.  They were hard on me, but I needed it. With them, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

I was 27 years old when I came over to WA thinking that I had a legitimate job in the South West, but it turned out it wasn’t. The boss wanted to pay me in cash. I had a letter of offer saying that I had a job, but he kept avoiding putting me on the books, so I ended up leaving after three months. That’s how I ended up being homeless in Perth.

I didn’t know anyone in Perth, but I thought my probability of getting ahead with housing and work would be a lot better in Perth than it would be in the South West.

That was the first time I went to Tranby (Uniting WA’s Crisis Support and Engagement Hub).  I came in and let them know what was happening. I was in survival mode and just spent the bare minimum I needed to get by.  I was looking for jobs as well, but I didn’t want anyone to know I was homeless. Every time I applied for a job, I used Tranby as my address and I never got any call backs from anyone because they would figure out I was homeless.

I spoke to the team at Tranby and they told me I could apply for Beds for Change. They helped me get through all of that and I got a place at Beds for Change, re-did my CV and asked them if I could use that as my residential address.  They agreed and two days later, I had a job.

Beds for Change housed me while I started working.  It allowed me the time to save up money so I could then get a share house.  I would also go to Tranby so I could use the computers and the internet for work stuff.

I started doing factory work and then decided I wanted to go to the mines.  I started off doing shutdowns but am working towards full-time work now. I did three of four shutdowns with my employer and then they offered me a probationary period for a permanent job, which I’m doing now.  I work two weeks on, two weeks off and I really like it.

I’m living in a share house at the moment but am looking to move closer to the airport and the city soon. I’m looking for a one-bedroom unit so I can have space and come home to my own things.  I like jiu jitsu and kick boxing, so I’m also looking forward to being able to do a class.

Beds for Change was awesome, it’s a program that should be done more often because it really helps people.  The service was more personal, instead of having a format where ‘this is how it runs’ – it adjusts person to person and understands that everyone’s circumstances are completely different. Instead of just having one program and one model where you’re only going to get a percentage of people who will be able to make it through that model, Beds for Change is more flexible, which it should be – because that’s how life is.

My advice to anyone in a similar situation is to think back to all the things you’ve done well in your life and remember that you can do it again.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Fostering a Child through Uniting WA – A Rewarding Experience for All

Our thanks to Uniting WA for this article.

It’s always heart-warming to hear happy news about the children we support at Uniting WA but even more so in the lead up to Christmas. At the end of last year, a 9-year-old child who had been living in a Uniting WA family group home moved into the home of his new foster carer just before Christmas.

The new carer came onboard with Uniting WA after a foster care recruitment campaign, which ran in November and December 2020. The person completed the application and assessment process and was approved to become a foster carer a month or so before Christmas.

At the same time as the carer’s recruitment, it was determined that a foster care placement would be more suitable for the child who needed one-on-one support. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The child and carer were introduced and spent time getting to know one another before moving into the carer’s home.

Their first meeting was held at a park where they played football, and they eventually progressed to visits to the carer’s home. The child fell in love with the carer’s dog and was given their own wooden bed to decorate. The carer and child formed a strong bond, and both asked if the child could move in earlier.

The carer has an interesting background, having worked as a paramedic and teacher, and now as a drug and alcohol counsellor. A calm and nurturing person, the carer is skilled in managing stressful situations and helping people through challenging times – ideal qualities and skills to support the child with a trauma background.

There was much positive collaboration behind the scenes with our Family Group Homes and Foster Care teams, working together to organise meetings and to ensure both parties felt supported through the journey.

Christmas was a special time for the child and carer who enjoyed a family celebration.

Have you ever considered fostering a child with a disability or high support needs? If you’re interested in learning more about foster care placement, please contact Fiona Cafferty on 9355 9149 or at fiona.cafferty@unitingwa.org.au.

Carols for Climate Action – Perth faith groups join criticism of new gas projects.

Members of the WA chapter of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) gathered outside the Wesley Uniting Church in the City on Friday 17 December 2021 to sing reworded Christmas carols to highlight the need for stronger climate action.

Geoffrey Bice, President of ARRCC WA said people were keen to get creative with the words of well-known carols as a fun way to make an important point.

“While we may be singing some light-hearted carols today, we hold deep concerns about the lack of action in WA to prevent the worst climate impacts.

“WA has major expansions of the gas industry on the cards, while at the same time the International Energy Agency this year called for no “new fossil fuel supply projects” and the IPCC modelling requires an immediate decline in the use of gas to keep within a 1.5 °C temperature rise.

“How then is it morally responsible to forge ahead with expansions of the gas industry? When will the WA Government draw the line and stop approving new fossil fuel developments?”

The Uniting Church have always held particular concerns about the most vulnerable in the community as well as minimising impacts on the environment.

Susy Thomas, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA said, “How can we justify to our children, to the people of the Pacific, to the vulnerable in our community who will continue to suffer through heatwaves and other weather extremes, that it is morally ok to expand a practice we know is going to cause harm?”

Ann Zubrick, Presiding Clerk of Quakers Australia, said that, “Perth plays host to head offices for some of the biggest polluters in the country. It is disturbing to us and to many Western Australians that, on the back of international climate talks, Woodside have announced their plans to open a huge new gas field.”

The group said they were encouraged by the recent news that the WA Government are soon to set 2030 targets for its own activities, particularly in relation to emissions from the South West Grid. However, the group fears that any gains made in reducing emissions will be simultaneously undermined if approval is also given to open new fossil fuel developments like Woodside’s Scarborough gas proposal.

Ann Zubrick said, “We are here today to show that people of all stripes in our community take the climate crisis really seriously. We are representatives from diverse faith groups and we, along with many Western Australians, want to see our state become a global leader in renewable energy, not a laggard of fossil fuel expansion.

“We have already seen with fires and floods what happens when the science of climate change is not heeded.”

“By contrast, we’ve seen during this pandemic that good outcomes are achieved when scientific advice is followed, but when governments do the wrong thing it’s the poor who are hurt the most.”

Geoffrey Bice

Making room for all the colours of Christmas

What is the colour of your Christmases past? 

As a child, the Christmas colours I recall are mainly green, red and white. There were cards with snowy scenes, holly and evergreen trees and table decorations in these colours.  Most people decorated pine trees. Santas were red and white (influenced by Coca-Cola).

I was still a child when I knew a person who bucked the trend. He had an orange flowering Western Australian Christmas tree, or Moodjar. 

Not everyone approved. It seemed that most people thought we ought to use northern hemisphere – English and North American – colours.

The colours of our Christmases may not suit us as we conform to family expectations or traditions which we might otherwise not follow. 

What colour do you associate with Christmas present? 

For many, Christmas this year is bright. 

In some places, especially where it is celebrated in the shadow of COVID -19, Christmas is muted or dark.

This may affect us if presents do not arrive because of world supply chains and the sheer volume of post and parcels. This may affect us if those dear to us have had a hard time or continue to live with deprivation, uncertainty or consequences of the times that are hard to manage.

I know some for whom a dominant Christmas colour is blue.

‘Blue’ symbolises Christmas being sad or hard, including for those feeling losses keenly or a particular reminder of some distressing experience, such as a gap in our gatherings for Christmas. 

Not everyone finds this a ‘wonderful time of the year’. Over time, a deep blue Christmas may become lighter, yet never stop having a bluish tinge. One Christmas letter I received last year said the person had known over 20 people who had died in 2020.

The message of Christmas is for those for whom Christmas is blue.

What colour do you associate with Christmases yet to come? 

The good news of God’s work is that the season when we celebrate the coming of the light has the power to encompass all the colours of the spectrum. 

At times the colours shift and different ones dominate – that is inevitable. A time that is bright for us may not be bright for everyone around us. John’s gospel reminds us that the light of Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it. 

So, we hold to the Christmas hope, peace and joy whenever we can and remember that the core of the season is a message of God’s love for all. This is a gift we can always offer each other.

“Joy to the world… Let every heart prepare him room…”

The love of God which is embodied in Christ and the Christmas stories has a particular focus in the gospel for this year.

For Luke, God was revealed not to the powerful, the confident or comfortable, or people central to social life or the power structures, but to those whom others saw as inferior or not to be included in the circle. 

‘Shepherd’ in some minds in the first century meant ‘unclean,’ dirty, smelly, crooks and cheats, even when the poverty they lived with was beyond their control. In Luke’s story, these are the ones who have a central place. 

There are many ways of experiencing being outside the circle. It may be that our colour doesn’t fit with some others’ expectations, it may be that we feel unable to share what is really going on with us. 

There are many versions of Christmas, many experiences of Christmas. Different versions speak to different people. 

Some enjoy the frills, and some prefer plain. Some may attract us, and some repel. As there are many different colours of Christmas, there are many dimensions to  be explored. 

What about you?

We are invited to come with hearts prepared to make room – for the joy – and for whatever is real for us, whatever colour or combination of colours are ours this year.  Making room means allowing for God to reveal new dimensions of Christmas to us.

Rev Ian Tozer

Be part of the kindness revolution: Summer Spirit 2022

Summer Spirit, a continuing education and discipleship event of the Uniting Church WA, will be held on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 February 2022. This year’s event will explore values, as the Uniting Church WA goes through it’s own process of considering its values for its next strategic plan. 

Included in the line-up of speakers is Hugh Mackay AO, Australian psychologist, social researcher and author of 22 books, including The Kindness Revolution. Hugh will be sharing insights from this new book, as well as from his book, The Inner Self: the joy of discovering who we really are and will encourage guests to think about the kinds of values that Australian society aspires.

Hugh believes that through kindness, we can create a better world.

“I would define kindness as anything we do to show another person that we take them seriously – and that can be anything from a friendly smile or wave to an offer of a meal, a helping hand in a crisis or, most particularly, our commitment to being attentive and empathic listeners,” he said.

“In The Kindness Revolution, I’m suggesting that whenever we face a crisis – like the pandemic, or fires, floods, wars, etc – we always rise to the occasion and act in ways that are true to the best of our human nature.

“We are kind to friends and strangers alike. We look out for the most vulnerable people in our communities. We rediscover the importance of neighbourliness. We make sacrifices for the common good.

“The question is: why don’t we go on acting like that, even when the crisis has passed?

“The answer is that our innate capacity for kindness, because we belong to a social species that needs social harmony to survive, can easily be overlooked in favour of more selfish, Hugh believes that churches have a lot to offer when it comes to kindness. He said the best way for Christians to be part of the kindness revolution, is to read the Sermon on the Mount, and then put it into practice.

“If Christianity’s role is not to foster kindness and compassion, then it’s hard to see what its social purpose is,” he said.

“When churches let dogma and doctrine – or even ‘religious identity’ – get in the way of serving others and responding to the needs of a wounded society, their true mission is lost.

“By influence and example, Christians can help bring about the transformation into a culture built on kindness and compassion. What if Australia became known as ‘the loving country’ rather than simply ‘the lucky country’!  

“Kindness is the purest form of human love, because it involves no emotion or affection. We can be kind to people we don’t like, couldn’t ever agree with, and don’t even know – this is how we make sense of Jesus’ injunction to ‘love your enemies’.

“As Samuel Johnson wrote: Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.” 

Summer Spirit will also feature two afternoon workshops with staff of the Uniting Church WA: Rev Hannes Halgren, Associate General Secretary (Strategy); Rev Dr Christine Sorensen, Presbytery Minister (Formation and Discipleship); Rev Rob Douglas, Presbytery Minister (Mission); and Dr Elaine Ledgerwood, Presbytery Minister (VET).

These sessions will work through the values of the Uniting Church WA, as a Christian community of hope, justice, creativity, compassion, integrity, accountability and compassion.

Guests can also join a discussion exploring how they can live out their values in their own contexts.

Summer Spirit will be held on Friday night 18 to Saturday 19 February at All Saints Floreat Uniting Church. All Uniting Church members, leaders, ministers and friends are invited to join.

Registration is $120 per person, or $100 early bird before 31 December 2021. Register five people and get the sixth free!

For more information or to register, visit eventbrite.com.au/e/summer-spirit-2022-tickets-200697380267 or email PA.Education@wa.uca.org.au

Accessibility and the church: creating a community of faith, love and inclusion

We celebrate International Day of People with Disability on 3 December, but how inclusive are we really in the church – spiritually, physically and online?

Accessibility in churches reaches beyond the physical barriers, and can also be about social inclusion and good theology around disability.

Robbie Muir, from Maylands Mount Lawley Uniting Church, lives with hearing and sight disabilities and feels it is important to teach the church how to be more inclusive. He also works with Good Sammy Enterprises, volunteers with Revive packing, and sits on the Uniting Church WA Disability Royal Commission Synod Task Group. He has presented his thoughts to Presbytery of WA meetings in the past, to encourage churches to become more accessible.

“A lot of my experience has been trying to teach the church what to do,” he said. “It’s alright for people to say ‘oh yes we care for the disabled’, but if they haven’t got things in place, it’s no good.”

Robbie encourages congregations to use overhead screens that are clear to see and free of backgrounds or busy images; make available large print copies of texts; provide hearing loops that are down the front of the church; have good lighting; have minimal steps or provide ramps; and have bathrooms that are easily accessible.

He thanked the church for its progression in this area, but also said he would like the church to be more aware of the issues that affect people with a disability and their inclusion in church.

“Quite often we’ve had to come up with ways to get around things,” he said. “I have an IrisVision that I can put on and see the overheads, but for a few weeks we had somebody who couldn’t do the overheads and we had sheets – and no one enlarged the hymns for me.

“It makes you feel a bit useless and that the church isn’t for you. It makes you feel isolated and excluded.”

He also encourages people to talk to members of their congregation who have a disability, and ask them what would help their experience at church.

“I think a lot of people don’t talk to the disabled because they think they’re stupid or don’t understand. Ask the disabled person [what they need], don’t just think ‘oh well they’ll manage’. Ask them. We’re not dumb, we’re not stupid.”

Dr Scott Hollier, CEO of The Centre for Accessibility Australia, is passionate about supporting organisations to create accessible digital spaces. He is also legally blind, and a member of Kalamunda Uniting Church.

Scott said that creating accessible spaces, and therefore inclusion, for people living with disability, is easier than we think. With some intentional thinking and planning, we can all get better at creating an accessible environment.

“Look at the quick wins,” Scott said. “You don’t have to solve every disability issue instantly; it will be a journey. But once the key pieces are in place it becomes a different way of doing things, rather than extra work.

“For example, once you’ve got that slide template high contrast, well, every slide will be high contrast. 

“Quite often it is just about an awareness. Once people are aware of it and people are happy to do it, then it just happens after that point going forward.”

Melanie Kiely, CEO of Good Sammy Enterprises, a Uniting Church WA agency providing employment solutions for people living with disability, agrees that our digital  and physical spaces need accessibility, and that we can go further on inclusivity.

“It’s so much more than just space and physical accessibility. If we just focus on that then we’ve lost an opportunity here,” Melanie said. 

“It’s about inclusion, it’s about welcoming and embracing everybody – regardless of their ability and their background – into a church environment.

“It’s what we cover in the sermon, it’s the language we use, it’s the hymnbooks we use. Obviously, it’s the ramps and what have you, but it’s more than that.

“It’s about running churches that embrace everyone.

“We should be having people with disability in every church service as part of everything we do in the church. And they should feel completely included and we should learn from them, as much as they can learn from us.

“We’re about creating a community of faith, love and inclusion – that’s what I would like to see.

“Include everyone in the sermon, let them talk about their experience. Let’s include them in the choir, playing music and in the art. Include all levels of creativity, so that we’re embracing the differences of all our people in our congregations. 

Melanie said that living with a disability does not have to be a negative thing. All people are unique and have gifts and skills, which should be welcomed and celebrated.

“We shouldn’t assume people  with disability are flawed. We’re  all different, we all have abilities  of different natures and we shouldn’t assume that people  need to be fixed,” she said.

“We should accept people and embrace people with all their  unique and special characteristics.

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Royal Commission) was established in April 2019 and is still ongoing. It is likely that the Uniting Church WA will be affected by the Royal Commission. However, the church has a longstanding belief of inclusiveness, and works towards this end.

Dr Scott Hollier said that the Royal Commission is an opportunity for us to learn from the past.

“I think the Royal Commission has revealed that people with disability have not always been treated well in the church, and that needs to be acknowledged,” he said.

“I think the Uniting Church has done well in acknowledging the issues and trying to put processes in place going forward, and I think that’s a good thing.

“That said, my focus, and the focus at the Centre and as a legally blind person, is that we need to learn from the past.  The Royal Commission has been important in understanding what has happened.

“Accessibility – whilst certainly that type of exclusion is nothing on the scale of physical abuse and spiritual abuse – does tap back into the importance of inclusion and equity moving forward.

“I would see accessibility as one more mechanism where we can focus going forward on making sure everyone is included in a worship space, and have that opportunity for full participation.”

Melanie Kiely, believes the Royal Commission is a good thing for Australia.

“It’s going to be a good thing for everyone,” she said. “You take the lid off the can of worms nd we can improve and stop bad behaviour and get better. We’ve got to keep improving.

“We’re not about protecting ourselves and we’re not about covering things up. We’re about learning from our past mistakes and moving on and not making them again.

“What we’re aiming for is a society that truly embraces diversity and inclusion, and that includes people with disabilities, and adapt the model of what we think perfect is, to be one that is beautiful diverse and imperfect.”

Melanie said the Royal Commission will be felt throughout the church – in our agencies, schools and congregations.

“I would see accessibility as one more mechanism where we can focus going forward on making sure everyone is included in a worship space, and have that opportunity for full participation.”

“I think it’s right across the board and I think it may or may not include an element of redress,” she said.

“It’s very wide reaching, and at this stage it’s going to go for another two years. There’s going to be a lot more hearings on a lot more topics.”

Dr Elaine Ledgerwood, Uniting Church WA Presbytery Minister – Education and Training, is a theologian with past experience in Occupational Therapy. Having worked with people with disabilities and listening to their stories, mixed with studying and continuously learning about God’s all-inclusive love, Elaine believes we are all vulnerable to disability throughout our lives.

“You are only temporarily able,” Elaine said. “For many people, this is likely to change.

“People with disabilities are like the rest of us – we all have our different hopes and fears, different personalities and different understandings of faith. One

day you might have a disability too; when that’s the case, I am sure you would like others in your congregation to ensure you are included in their activities.”

Theologically, Elaine said that sometimes people can make comments about a disability which may be in good faith, but which can actually be quite harmful.

“Spiritual abuse is a problem, such as when people get told they need to pray harder for healing,” Elaine said. “Instead, ask questions to help people find their own connection between their faith and disability. 

“Using disability as a metaphor for the bad things in life – for example, talking about the Pharisees being ‘blind’ – can often be experienced as being judgemental about disability. Yes, it is something the gospel writers did, but we now understand the harm this can cause.

“Disabilities can be part of someone’s identity. So, saying things like ‘in heaven you’ll be walking’, or similar, is not always helpful. How would you feel if a key part of your identity was dismissed as not being important? Remember the resurrected Christ still carried the wounds of the crucifixion.”

However, living with disability does not always define a person, and Elaine said we should not make assumptions about anyone and their abilities.

“Disabilities do not define people. Just because you’ve known someone else with the same disability doesn’t mean you know this person. Get to know each person as an individual.”

Dr Scott Hollier believes that we have come a long way in Australia towards creating more accessibility, but that there is still a way to go.

“There’s been a generational shift around views and attitudes of people with disability and inclusion in society. That’s not just a church thing, but more broadly,” he said.

“I think as we continue to move forward with more awareness and education of the rights and needs of people with disability, that across society, and that includes religious organisations, that will get better.

“One of the great things about church is that it is a really supportive and inclusive environment. The lack of accessibility has never suggested to me that people don’t care or that people aren’t wanting to provide support – often it’s a lack of awareness.

“It’s been my experience that once people understand what the needs are, they’ve been very willing to make those accommodations. There’s a lot of great people who are willing to do great things to support equity, and it’s just a matter of letting people know about it.”

Tips for being an accessible church

Dr Scott Hollier shares these great tips for how your church or organisation can become more accessible in digital and physical spaces.

  • Make sure overhead slides have large font with good colour contrast, eg a dark background with white text. If people are still unable to see the slides, having devices (like an iPad) available with a link to see them can also be helpful.
  • Make sure videos have captions.
  • Distribute electronic versions of meeting documents before meetings.
  • Make sure PDF documents and newsletters are digitally accessible.
  • It is an Australian requirement that websites are compliant with the WCAG 2.1 AA standard, which has a range of key components. When building a new website, make sure to read up about these requirements or ask your web designer to work them in. 
  • Make sure physical access to, from and around the building is clear and open, giving thought to things like space, handrails, and clutter.

Resources for more information about how to get your congregation on board with accessibility can be found on the website for the Centre for Accessibility Australia at accessibility.org.au.

The Centre for Accessibility Australia can also work with congregations and organisations as they commit to this journey. Contact them for more information on 0466 099 101 or email admin@accessibility.org.au.

Heather Dowling