A statement by Bishop Philip Huggins, President of the National Council of Churches in Australia

Listening is the key – 08 January 2019

In response to the acts of a minority group in St Kilda last Saturday, Bishop Philip Huggins has released a statement:

The conflict and the visual character of these recent events have ensured their wide publicity, here and overseas.

Accordingly, there will be more of the same. Continue reading

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Sermon: Be careful when choosing your lodestar

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Epiphany 2019

As usual, in the lead-up to today’s celebration of the Epiphany, I have been thinking about stars. I have especially been considering the concept of the ‘lodestar’. A lodestar is a star used for navigation, typically the pole star, Polaris or Alpha Ursae Minoris, in the Northern Hemisphere. We don’t have a pole star in the south, but the Southern Cross is used in a similar way, with the help of the Pointer Stars. According to my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary the use of the word ‘lodestar’ in navigation comes from Middle English, 1150-1349, and the use of ‘lodestar’ as a metaphor, meaning ‘the person or thing on which one’s attention or hopes are fixed’ is late Middle English, 1350-1469.  So we’ve been talking about metaphorical lodestars for centuries now. Continue reading

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So, what just happened? (An Explainer, Updated)

John Squires explains what the somewhat confusing process of the Uniting Church mean for marriage equality.

An Informed Faith

The last six months in the Uniting Church has been something of an intense roller-coaster, revolving around the issue of marriage. Our processes are somewhat idiosyncratic and, as events unfolded, matters came down to a rather arcane provision in the UCA Constitution.

I offered An Explainer about this process some months back. In light of more recent events, here is An Updated Explainer.

1A. On 13 July 2018, the 15th Assembly decided that Uniting Church ministers are able to conduct the weddings of people of the same gender. Assembly did have a proposal before it at that time, declaring that changing our understanding of marriage was a matter that was “vital to the life of the church”. This drew on aprovision in the ConstitutioninClause 39(a), which provides that On matters which, by a two thirds majority vote, the Assembly deems to be vital to the life of the Church…

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An astonishingly gracious suggestion: ‘we were wrong’

Mark Wingfield, associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, suggests seven areas where the church needs to say “we were wrong”. The Uniting Church in Australia has done a little of this, for example in the apology we made as part of the Covenant between the Assembly and the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress in 1994, that said in part:

We lament that our people took your land from you as if it were land belonging to nobody, and often responded with great violence to the resistance of your people; our people took from you your means of livelihood, and desecrated many sacred places. Our justice system discriminated against you, and the high incarceration rate of your people and the number of Black deaths in custody show that the denial of justice continues today.

Your people were prevented from caring for this land as you believe God required of you, and our failure to care for the land appropriately has brought many problems for all of us.

We regret that our churches cooperated with governments in implementing racist and paternalistic policies. By providing foster-homes for Aboriginal children, our churches in reality lent their support to the government practice of taking children from their mothers and families, causing great suffering and loss of cultural identity. Our churches cooperated with governments in moving people away from their land and resettling them in other places without their agreement.

I apologise on behalf of the Assembly for all those wrongs done knowingly or unknowingly to your people by the Church, and seek your forgiveness. I ask you to help us discover ways to make amends.

In what other areas do we need to say “we were wrong”?

Source: 3 words for the church in 2019: ‘we were wrong’

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Sermon: Christmas Day

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
Christmas Day 2018

Isaiah 9:2-7
Luke 2:1-20

Today is Christmas Day, the third most important day in the Church’s calendar and possibly the most widely-celebrated Australian public holiday (although I suspect it jostles with ANZAC Day for top spot). As I mentioned last year, Christmas has never been an exclusively Christian festival, and it most definitely isn’t here in Australia. Australians of other faiths, as well as those of ‘no faith,’ often join in the Christmas gift-giving and feasting, sharing the love and peace and joy of the day. Sadly, Christmas can also look like ‘just another day’. The story of the Christmas Day Truce during World War One, when men in the trenches on both sides sang and played football together, is amazing and beautiful – and profoundly unusual. Wars don’t usually stop for Christmas. Death and hunger and sorrow and pain do not suddenly disappear because we are celebrating the birth of Christ. Natural disasters don’t care about the liturgical calendar.

But Christmas reminds us that the world is not just made up of war and famine, death and destruction. We recognize beauty and hope. We speak and hear of joy and peace. We experience the love that is at the core of creation. We see the light shine in the darkness, and know that the dark cannot overcome it. Christmas reminds us to pause where we are, here and now, and celebrate the coming of the light. Continue reading

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Sermon: Love Sunday

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
23rd of December, 2018

I’m not sure whether you remember this, but I’ve mentioned before an episode of the eighties Australian television program A Country Practice that I’m reminded of every Christmas. The episode centred on an older woman who found herself unexpectedly pregnant and was considering ending the pregnancy. Naturally, everyone in the entire town knew this and had an opinion on it, there were no secrets in Wandin Valley, and one of the doctors went to visit a church to think about it. There she met a priest who asked her about different scenarios in which a termination might be appropriate. One was when the mother was an unmarried teenager for whom giving birth would be particularly risky. Would she perform an abortion in that circumstance? The doctor said, yes, of course. Ah, said the priest, but what if the mother’s name was Mary and the town was Bethlehem?

I don’t remember anything else from that episode. It was screened in 1987, when I was fourteen, and that one scene is the only one I remember. But it comes back to me whenever I read Mary’s story in the Bible. Today’s Jesse Tree ornament is a heart, representing Mary, whose love for God and her son is at the heart of the Christmas story. In this past week, as you coloured in the Jesse Tree pictures, you will have been reminded of the bravery of Esther; the initial cowardice and eventual courage of Jonah; and the prophecies of Isaiah, Malachi, Elizabeth and Zachariah, and John the Baptist – all of them looking forward to the coming of Christ. Mary was also a prophet, and just as brave a woman as Esther. She also follows Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, the other women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, in being the source of scandal. Continue reading

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Sermon: Joy Sunday

Sermon for Williamstown Uniting Church
December 16, 2018

Ruth 1:16-19a, 4:13-22

Today, the third Sunday of Advent, is ‘Gaudete’ Sunday – Joy Sunday, the only Sunday in the entire liturgical year whose colour is pink. The name comes in part from a command Paul sometimes gave to his readers as we hear in today’s extract from the letter to the Philippians; in Latin, ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ is Gaudete in Domino semper. In the midst of Advent, which can be rather a sombre liturgical time as we prepare for the Second Coming and are reminded to be ready for the return of the Son of Man, this third Sunday is a time of joy.

Today is also the third week in which we have remembered Jesus’ ancestors in the faith by putting ornaments representing them on the Jesse Tree. In this past week, as you coloured in the pictures, you will have been reminded of God liberating the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt; leading them through the desert to a new land; and providing them with kings to rule them. This morning we have named Moses and Aaron; Rahab and Joshua; David and Solomon. And we have also named Ruth and Naomi, a most unlikely pair of heroes, whose story begins in tragedy and ends in joy. Continue reading

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