Prayer of Confession for the Depressed

The Gospel reading this week is Luke 18:9-14, the parable of the praying Pharisee and tax-collector, which ends with Jesus’ warning to those who think themselves righteous: ‘all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Last time this passage came up in the lectionary I preached on the perennial danger for religious types of self-righteousness. But I’m still too close to the self-loathing that is a symptom of depression to be able to preach on that now. Instead, I want to think about the ways in which parables like this can be misused to make us believe ourselves to be less than God’s beloved.

Prayers of Confession can do the same thing, when people who are already vulnerable are reminded that ‘there is nothing good in us’.

People bring many different types of vulnerability to church. For many of the vulnerable, the ‘sin’ we need to confess is not pride and self-righteousness, but the acceptance of our own oppression. So, this is a Prayer of Confession particularly for people with mental illnesses, for women, for GLBTIQ people, for people who face discrimination because of race or religion or disability.

Prayer of Confession

Loving and gracious God,
we confess that sometimes we reject your love and grace,
believing that we are unworthy.

Forgive us for trying so hard to be humble,
that we refuse to rejoice in the gifts you have given us,
and the ways in which we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Forgive us for not trusting that we, too are part of your creation,
that when you look at all that you have made and call it ‘good’,
that includes us.

Forgive us for not allowing you to free us from our burdens,
and release us from all that imprisons us,
including the burdens and chains that we lay on ourselves.

We ask all this in the name of your Son,
who came to bring freedom to the oppressed,
and to show us in his life and death how very much you love us.

Assurance of Forgiveness

Hear the voice of the God who formed you:
“Do not fear. I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name. You are mine”.
Rejoice – our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.

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Reflecting on my mental health or lack thereof

Reflection for World Mental Health Day (October 10)

Williamstown Uniting Church
9th of October 2016

I’m not going to preach a sermon today, even though preaching is one of the things that I’ve missed over the past three months. Yesterday was the beginning of Mental Health Week here in Australia, and tomorrow is World Mental Health Day, and since I’ve just spent three months on sick leave because of a mental illness I want to acknowledge that useful coincidence.

I’m going to talk about depression and suicide, which is often difficult for people, so now could be a good time to go and have a cup of tea if what I say is going to be too painful.

Way back in 1995, when I was twenty-two, I had what one of my history professors called ‘a nervous breakdown’. (She said that that happened to all of the history department’s best students, which suggested to me that academia was a very unhealthy environment.) I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression; I was prescribed anti-depressants; I had psychotherapy; I took a year off university; and I spent three months of that year travelling. Years later, when I applied to be a candidate for the ministry, I let the Church know that I had a mental illness which was managed with medication and the occasional visit to a psychologist. When I met with the JNC for this placement I explained that again; that I have depression, but that it’s managed. Unfortunately, this year the depression stopped being managed and went back to being acute. Continue reading

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Prayer of Confession and Lament in Response to the Massacre in Orlando

I am preparing the service for this coming Sunday, which is a big day liturgically. It is the beginning of Refugee Week and the closest Sunday to the 39th Anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia. Sunday’s liturgy will mention both those things. But in the Prayer of Confession I wish to acknowledge the massacre that took place at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a gay nightclub that, according to its co-founder, sought to be ‘a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community’. This is the prayer, drawing on some of the language of Galatians 3:23-39, which is one of the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday.

If you would like to use this prayer, in whole or in part, please do. 

Loving God,
you have created an astounding world,
a world of majestic natural beauty that overwhelms us,
a world populated by your rainbow people,
people of every gender and sexuality
and colour and culture and language
and age and ability.

In Jesus you came and lived among us
to show us what it means to love and be loved,
to be our peace,
to break down the walls that divide us from each other and from you.

Your Spirit guides us each day,
reassuring us that we are your beloved children,
helping us to care for your good creation,
leading us further on the journey towards the day
when your kingdom will come and your will be done.

Loving God, forgive us when we do not live as your beloved children.
We confess that while you break walls down we build them up.
We confess that even those of us who have been clothed with Christ
have been guilty of rejecting our sisters and brothers.

As we pray for all those affected by the massacre in Orlando,
– the dead and injured, their friends and families,
the emergency service workers who responded,
GLBTIQ people in the USA and around the world –
we acknowledge with sorrow and remorse
that the church has not been a safe place for GLBTIQ people.

As we lament the horror that hate can lead to,
we recognise that the language of faith has been used to justify that hatred,
and that biblical ‘texts of terror’ have been quoted to excuse murder.

We acknowledge the part Christianity has played and continues to play
in dehumanising GLBTIQ people.

We confess that even within the Uniting Church
there are places where GLBTIQ Christians are unwelcome,
where GLBTIQ ministers cannot serve,
where the relationships of same-sex couples are not celebrated.

Loving God, forgive us.
Help us to repent, turn away from evil, and turn towards you.

Remind us that every single person in the world,
whatever their gender or sexuality
or colour or culture or language
or age or ability
is your beloved child;
and that without every single one of us
your rainbow shines less bright.

Give us strength and courage to work together to overcome hatred and violence
and to show the love for each other that you show us.

Creator, Christ, Holy Spirit,
be with us,
with the people of Orlando,
with the victims of violence throughout the world,
with GLBTIQ people everywhere,
and with all those in any sort of need,
today and always,

Declaration of Forgiveness
You are the beloved children of God.
You are clothed with Christ.
You are one in Jesus.
Sisters and Brothers, your sins are forgiven;
Thanks be to God.

Rainbow over Williamstown

Rainbow over Williamstown

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From the thesis: The Church and the Law

After yesterday’s apology by the Victorian parliament to those convicted of crimes because of their homosexuality (hooray for Daniel Andrews!) I thought it might be timely to share some history about the Uniting Church and laws regulating homosexuality. 

Be warned, my thesis ended in 2000 and anti-discrimination laws have changed over the last 16 years. But the history is still right. 

In 1968 a survey was conducted to discover, among other things, whether church attendance affected Australians’ attitudes to the decriminalisation of homosexuality.[1] The survey questioned 1045 informants over the age of sixteen from all over Australia, and found that only 20 per cent of the strong, 17 per cent of the moderate, and 21 per cent of the infrequent churchgoers favoured decriminalisation. The numbers favouring decriminalisation were consistently small; only 33 per cent of the people who never went to church were in favour.[2]

These attitudes are not surprising in themselves. What is surprising is that they were not reflected in the leadership of the Uniting Church’s constituent churches. A year earlier, in 1967, the Presbyterian General Assembly of NSW had resolved ‘that homosexual behaviour between two consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’, and had asked ‘that the appropriate authorities be advised accordingly’.[3] The NSW Methodist General Conference also called for a re-examination of the law; possibly following the suggestion of the Rev. Ted Noffs of the Wayside Chapel, who claimed in 1966 that homosexual men were afraid to come forward for medical treatment because of the law.[4]

For a brief moment, before the formation of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution in 1970 and before the publication of Dennis Altman’s Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation in 1972, churches, including the Uniting Church in Australia, were part of the liberal consensus that led the movement for gay and lesbian rights in Australia.[5] For the next thirty years the Uniting Church in Australia consistently and strongly supported homosexual law reform. From the late nineteen sixties the predecessors of the Uniting Church called for the decriminalisation of male homosexuality, and in the eighties and nineties the leadership of the Uniting Church supported the addition of sexuality to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in equal opportunity legislation. The history of homosexual law reform clearly demonstrates the Church’s official commitment to social justice and political action, without necessarily demonstrating an official commitment to the acceptance of homosexuality. Continue reading

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Sermon: Calling God ‘She’

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Trinity Sunday
May 21st, 2016

 Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Last week I commented on an article on the SBS Facebook page about the Catholic Church in which I incidentally referred to God as ‘She’. One of the responses to my comment was that Christians worship God the Father, and so the Christian God can only be called ‘He’. Of course, I couldn’t leave the discussion there, and my last comment in the exchange was: ‘I am an ordained minister in good standing; you are a non-Christian. Which of us do you think is more reliable on what Christians believe?’ The fruits of the Holy Spirit include patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Sadly, I frequently fail to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit on social media. That’s my confession to you. But that Facebook exchange is one of the reasons that today, Trinity Sunday, rather than talking about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I want to talk instead about Lady Wisdom, who speaks to us today from the Book of Proverbs. I want to talk about God as ‘She’. Continue reading

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Sermon: More about justice (really, Avril is obsessed)

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church

Easter 7, 8th of May, 2016

Acts 16:16-34

‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’

Last weekend I was at the Uniting Women conference, at which 400 Uniting Church women and one man, the current president, Stuart MacMillan, gathered together in Adelaide to worship, and learn, and support each other. During the weekend there was the opportunity for us to do workshops, and I chose to do one led by Elenie Poulos, the National Director of Uniting Justice. Uniting Justice is the part of the Assembly that supports the Church’s commitment to a more just and peaceful world – to a world that is closer to the one God created. Elenie called her workshop ‘Troubling the City’ and used today’s reading from Acts to begin the discussion about how we can advocate for justice. Given that, I asked her to provide today’s sermon but sadly she didn’t and I still had to prepare this sermon myself. What Elenie did do was help me read today’s story in a new way, which I’d like to share with you. Continue reading

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Sermon: Living as though the world were what it should be, to show it what it can be

Sermon for Williamstown
The fifth Sunday of Easter, 24th of April 2016

John 13:31-35
Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6

I’m going to start today with something that shows my age; I’m going to quote from a television show from the late 90s and early 2000s, the years when I was meant to be writing my PhD and so was actually spending way too much time watching television. The show was Angel, a spinoff from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it was the story of a vampire with a soul who lived in Los Angeles and sought redemption by helping the hopeless. Practically a documentary, really.

One of the themes of Angel is summed up in a conversation that the character Angel had with his son Connor, explaining why he did what he did. Angel said:

Nothing in the world is the way it oughta be. It’s harsh…and cruel…but that’s why there’s us…champions. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we’ve done, or suffered. Or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be. (Deep Down, 4.01)

"ANGEL"Pictured: David Boreanaz as Angel

Credit: The WB/Frank Ockenfels

“ANGEL” Pictured: David Boreanaz as Angel Credit: The WB/Frank Ockenfels

Continue reading

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