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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Sermon: Forgiveness and Mercy

Sermon for Williamstown

The Third Sunday of Easter, 10th of April 2016

John 21:1-19
Acts 9:1-20

Last week the Gospel according to John seemed to come to an end. Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection; breathed on them to give them the Holy Spirit; commissioned them; and then came back a week later because poor Thomas hadn’t been present the first time. As you may remember, chapter 20 of the gospel ended: ‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.’ The words ‘The End’ would not be out of place here. So why are we here a week later with a further Johannine appearance story?

In today’s reading we find that a small group of Jesus’ disciples has apparently gone back to where their life with Jesus started, in Galilee. We’re told that this gathering takes place ‘after these things’; after all the disciples have seen the Risen Lord. Yet they’ve left Jerusalem, where that took place, and have returned home. More than that, they’ve now gone back to the job from which, according to the other gospels, Jesus called them. Simon Peter says, ‘I am going fishing,’ and the other disciples reply, ‘We will go with you.’ Where’s the joy with which they greeted the risen Jesus, and why are they not out evangelising, having received the Holy Spirit? Continue reading

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Sermon: Being at peace with God and one another

Sermon for Williamstown

3rd of April 2016

John 20:19-31


The picture on the screen is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, painted in 1602. I’m not sure whether you can see it clearly enough, but in the painting Jesus is guiding Thomas’ hand into the wound in his side. In illustrating this Caravaggio is going beyond what the Gospel according to John describes. We’re never told that Thomas takes up Jesus’ invitation to touch him. It sounds, from what John writes, that the appearance of Jesus is enough. Jesus tells Thomas, ‘Do not doubt but believe,’ and Thomas instantly responds with the most complete declaration of faith in the gospels: ‘My Lord and my God!’ I’ve said before that poor Thomas is misnamed ‘Doubting’ and should be remembered as ‘Faithful Thomas’. Continue reading

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