Post Easter Blues

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Tina Turner’s words were ringing in my mind over Easter, as she put it, “Simply the best, better than all the rest…” Easter Sunday is the best day. Resurrection offers so much: new life, new hope, new birth, new community  and all because of the risen Jesus.

Easter is perhaps the only day in the Christian calendar when Christians can feel a bit triumphant, we bathe in the glory of an empty tomb and a risen Lord. Our songs our full of joy and hearts are full of praise and we have not so much a resurrection shuffle as a resurrection spring in our feet. Then after a few days it begins to fade a little. The churches were full but the good news of Easter is so easily forgotten as we focus again on the Easter road toll, the defeat of the Dockers and yet more carnage in the Middle East. If we are not careful post Easter blues starts to kick in. Within a week we can change from being hope filled disciples to doubting Thomas’s. Highs and lows are all part of the Christian journey. Good Friday is the lowest of the low and Easter Sunday is the highest of the highs. Most of the time we live somewhere in between the two. Each day has joys and struggles, successes and failures, moments of quiet achievement and moments of mild defeat.

Easter faith is a faith that hangs in and hangs on because of the One who hung on a cross for us. Easter faith contemplates an empty cross believing that because death could not overcome Him, we have life eternal, life in its fullness. Dark clouds, like the blues, will pass, as long as we don’t let go of the One whose love holds us together. My feelings come and go but the cross tells me I am loved no matter how I feel. Trusting partners triumph in the walk of faith. Sometimes in our darker moments our soul sings the blues, while in other moments it is more the Hallelujah chorus. May the song of the cross, its trial, tragedy, temptation and triumph  be forever our chorus line, no matter how out of key life can be.

How was your weekend?

 

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How was your weekend ? It’s a standard Monday morning question. Australia after all is “the land of the long weekend” (Ronald Conway). The first Easter weekend was the weekend of all weekends. Grand finals, election victories, wedding or lottery wins fade into insignificance compared with the events that took place nearly 2000 years ago in the occupied city of Jerusalem.

The story is well known a carpenter preacher come healer and prophet is barbarically murdered on the Friday morning. Such was the fate of anyone who potentially threatened the Roman peace or the religious hierarchy.

From a disciple of Jesus point of view this looked like a weekend from hell. Their rabbi, teacher, travelling companion and Master was brutally murdered and they might be next. Then Sunday morning changed everything. The tomb was empty, the unimaginable had happened, Jesus was back. Not as a metaphor or myth, not as a legend or a lie, but back alive again, see-able, touchable and resurrected.

From Easter Sunday morning everything has changed, death is defeated, sin is forgiven, new life, life to the full is offered in the risen Jesus and the beginnings of a new community (the church) is birthed. And that is just the start. Weekends come and they go but the events of the first Easter continue to shake and shape our world. Christ is risen…He is risen indeed!

Steve

Life is a risk

 

I recently attended a meeting where ‘risk’ was prominent on the agenda. We talked about a ‘risk register’. I was shocked how long the list was. It included finance, property, legal and fiduciary obligations. It sought to take in account litigation, privacy, government regulations, natural disasters, reputational damage, the environment, audits and civil disobedience. If that wasn’t enough to get my head around, we had to grade risks on a scale from low to catastrophic. It made me think that we could become obsessed with the dangers of life and just stay in bed all day to avoid all manner of risks beyond our pillow and sheets.

Too many people have lost lives and fortunes by practicing poor risk management. Doing ‘due diligence ‘ is wise and practical. Having said this Christ followers sign up for risk when they determine to follow the crucified Lord. Someone once said faith is spelled R I S K. Jesus, it seems, didn’t have a risk register. He could have stayed in the safety of heaven or as John puts it when the Word became flesh, he didn’t chose the security of a lifetime in a carpenter’s shop but rather in pursuing the will of God entered Jerusalem on a donkey knowing that a barbaric cross awaited him. Jesus was not with HBF; in some ways his God-like compassion and confrontational preaching had more than just a touch of recklessness about it.

A life of worship, witness and service will be a thoughtful life but not one that is risk averse. One of the arts of Christian living is working out when to be cautious and when to be risky.May God give us wisdom in our discerning.

Steve

A room without art

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Indoor house or office painters are usually a welcome sight. A good repaint of room can bring freshness and life back into a drab or shabby space. The painters arrived at the church office the other day. I found myself, for a moment or two, resenting their arrival. They politely required me to remove all the art work and photos from the walls of my office. The room suddenly felt bare and loveless. It felt naked and almost de-humanised.  I don’t want to live in a bland world without art. But, like anything good, art can be misused and misrepresent.

I think of the story in Exodus 32 where Aaron had the bright idea to gather all the Israelite jewellery together and creatively fashion a piece of art, a golden calf. Instead of art being used to glorify God or point people to beauty or truth, the art was idolatrous, it pointed people away from God towards meaningless idols. Art can be a tool of propaganda as well as truth. Last year I had the wonderful privilege of seeing Picasso’s Guernica. It fills a large room in a gallery in Madrid. The painting shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts on individuals, particularly innocent civilians. It was painted in 1937 after the senseless bombing of a Basque town, during the civil war. In some ways the painting is an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace.

Last night at our Uniting Care West Warehouse Café I witnessed a new exhibition, comprised of emerging artists who have experienced disadvantage. The Warehouse Gallery is a community art project and gives space for genuine artistic expression to people who otherwise might be excluded. I encourage you to pop in and have a coffee and be stirred by the paintings. I wonder what place does art have in your life, faith, home, office and church?

 

International Women’s Day: reflections on women of influence

International Women’s Day always gives me a chance to reflect on the women who have influenced me. My maternal grandmother Kathleen Annie so wisely spread the message of ecumenical tolerance in a time of great sectarian divide in country Australia of the 1950’s when my parents came from different denominations. She took up this stance well before Vatican 2 and continued to support her grandchildren as we engaged in a range of ‘Protestant’ activities.

 My paternal grandmother Enid gave up a concert pianist career to train as a nurse in the upheaval of World War One. Gran went on to become one of the early occupational health nurses in the footrest factory in Melbourne, part of a generation of women required to make pragmatic choices in a world unimagined in their childhood. After her retirement she lived with my parents and my three sisters instilling us with great feminist values from very young ages. She lived with my parents until she died at 103.

 Joan my mother, taught me the gift of hospitality, where tables were always able to be extended at the drop of a hat and guests welcomed because of need not status. Doors were always opened no matter the time of day or the time of year. I learned how to make something out of nothing and how, mostly, to make it delicious! She continues to live a life of generosity and abundance shared.

 Gwen, my partner’s mother, inspires me by her thoughtfulness, by her meticulous attention to detail and by her kindness to each individual. She taught me the way of quiet generosity. She continues to inspire me by her thirst for knowledge and her patience with little people.

 Mangua Sagiba, a Maung woman from Warruwi, who graciously welcomed me into her family as sister and gently, patiently steered me to a beginning place for a journey of reconciliation and understanding. She introduced me to thousands of years of Aboriginal wisdom in a matriarchal community, and encourage the younger women to teach me to dance. Mangua was one of the first indigenous women to become a principal in the Northern Territory, and had a significant career in a time when it was less common for women to rise to leadership in many areas of Australian society.

 Another woman who inspires me cannot be named. She spent nearly 4 years in a detention centre. She fled her country with two children, a daughter and a son, and became pregnant and gave birth while in detention. She is a brave person who stood up to the authorities in her country, braved the very difficult boat journey to Australia, and found no hospitality on our shores. Finally she was released into the community and came to live with my family. She continues to deal with the trauma of detention and has learnt that, despite our flawed policies, many Australians are kind. She has such resilience and tenacity and is a gift to Australia as are her children.

 It is wonderful to reflect on the women who have and continue to inspire me. Who inspires you this International Women’s Day?

 Rosemary Hudson Miller

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Deaconess Dr Cath Ritchie

Deaconess Dr Cath Ritchie

The woman who has had the most profound impact on my life is Deaconess Dr Cath Ritchie. Born to a farming family in Gippsland, Victoria in 1909, educated in a one teacher rural school, she eventually graduated from the University of Melbourne. Raised in a Scottish Presbyterian family, her Christian faith was always central in her life. In 1937 she responded to a call from the Foreign Missions Department to serve as a teacher missionary in Korea, then under Japanese rule. When Japan entered the war in 1941, all Australian missionaries were recalled from Korea.  Cath dreamed of returning once the war was over, but this was not to be. After a time as a youth worker in rural Victoria, riding her bicycle between towns, she was asked to become Principal of Rolland House, the Presbyterian Deaconess and Missionary training college. She remained in this position for 23 years.

Cath insisted that all the women trained at Rolland House were given a theological education equivalent in standard to that given to the men training for ordination. She also insisted that her students got practical experience of ministry, something that the men did not get. Within Rolland House she created a community grounded in spirituality and mutual service. At the time when women attending the Presbyterian Assembly were relegated to the galleries, Principal Ritchie was alone allowed to address the gathering and was a strong advocate for women in ministry. Cath forged links ecumenically and internationally with others called to diaconal ministry. In 1994 the Melbourne College of Divinity awarded her a Doctorate of Sacred Theology in honour of her leadership in theological education, especially for women.

As a young Christian I was inspired by Cath’s keen intellect, her humility in service, her strong advocacy for women, her passion for the mission of the church and her solidarity with the poor and oppressed.

Rev Bev Fabb

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Rev Alison Longworth and her family at Badjaling, 1987

 Mary Belshaw

My childhood recollection of Great-Aunt Mary Belshaw is of an old woman who was losing her memory. Ironically, I almost forgot Aunt Mary, and yet her influence in my life has grown since 1986 when my Mother showed me an article describing the unveiling of a memorial stone at the site of the former Badjaling Mission. The plaque commemorated two missionaries, Mary Belshaw and May McRidge and the thirty-nine Nyungar families who lived at Badjaling from 1930 – 1954. The following year I visited the site with my family. It was the beginning of my research in Australian religious history, focused initially on Belshaw and her encounters with Nyungar people.

Remembering was important to Belshaw. Before she migrated from Ireland to Australia in 1913, Belshaw tended the family graves in the ancient Movilla Cemetery. On several visits to Northern Ireland I have paid my respects at the ancestor’s graves. When I saw the ruins of the sixth-century Abbey of Saint Ninian within the cemetery grounds I was in awe, realizing Saint Columba studied at this Abbey prior to his journey to Iona in Scotland. Remembering Mary Belshaw has brought an additional bonus of discovering my Scots-Irish heritage within Celtic Christianity.

Belshaw left monthly reports of her 38 years of service. In 1916 she wrote of the debt non-Aboriginal Australians owe to the Aboriginal people whose ancestors owned this land long before European settlement. My research has led me to visit most communities where Belshaw once lived, listening to stories of dispossession and separation of Aboriginal families and hearing the cry for justice. Remembering Mary Belshaw, her commitment to mission and her understanding of the importance of family and place, has influenced my faith journey, including my commitment to the Covenanting process between the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and the Uniting Church.

 Rev Alison Longworth

 

David de Kock joins UCWA as General Secretary

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The new general secretary of the Uniting Church WA, Rev David de Kock, joins the team at the Uniting Church Centre today. He comes to the role with new ideas and a passion for living out Christ’s call.

David came to Australia seven years ago from South Africa. He became a follower of Christ in his late 20s, after marrying his wife, Margie. David and Margie’s three adult children and six grandchildren have all also immigrated to Australia in recent years.

David answered his call to ministry after a significant time in his family life.

“I was called to ministry shortly after choosing to follow Jesus but resisted for nearly 16 years. In the meantime Margie was diagnosed with terminal cancer which became a special faith forming time for us,” David said.

“With the prayers of the church to support us we faced a series of tests all confirming the diagnosis, and then, without any treatment, the cancer disappeared and she has not been troubled since. It was a turning point and I was ordained to ministry in the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa in 1993.”

Prior to ordination, David has worked at General Motors, the Standard Bank of South Africa, and has established his own business managing the currency risk for several blue chip companies in South Africa. He brings this experience in the financial industry to his new ministry role, and is ready to take on the financial challenges of the church.

“The church cannot continue to run at a deficit,” he said. “We have significant resources that are available for the cause of Christ, but we need to be good stewards. I envisage the development of budgets guided by our common vision, limited by our income and controlled by the various boards, commissions and committees themselves. In my experience this approach works really well because the people own it and are committed to it.”

Since moving to Australia in 2009, David has been the minister at Merredin Uniting Church and Lighthouse Geraldton Church. He has also served with the Uniting Church WA on the Rural Ministry Working Group, was chair of the Pastoral Relations and Placements Commission and was a member of General Council. Other involvements include the Walk to Emmaus movement and the Christian Motorcyclists Association.

In preparing for the general secretary role, David has identified five priorities; including prayer, people, passion, purpose and profit.

“As I take up office, I would value your prayers in these endeavours and am deeply grateful for the support which has been offered to me in numerous phone calls, emails and letters,” David said. “You cannot imagine what these have meant for me.”

Heather Dowling

Top image: Rev David de Kock (left) meets staff at the Uniting Church Centre, Marg Staffa, Ian Passmore, Jue-Le wong and Lyn Boorn 

Commencement service for Candidates for Ministry: a lesson in fruitfulness

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The service for the commencement of the academic year for candidates for ministry at Perth Theological Hall was held at Uniting Church in the City, Wesley last Thursday 25 February.

The intimate service began with Rev Craig Collas acknowledging the Nyungar heritage of the land on which the service was held, followed by a call to worship from Psalm 63 and the voices of the attendees rising in worship through the historic rafters of Wesley Church.

After the singing of worship and a prayer of praise and confession, the candidates were brought forward to be prayed for by Craig and Rev Prof Bill Loader. The candidates present were Justine Wall, Paul Montague, Sophie Lizares-Bodegon and Judy Sanderson; Reuben Edmonds joined the candidates on stage for prayer as he enters his period of discernment.

The Bible readings were given by Justine, Paul and Sophie after which Bill preached the sermon. Bill’s sermon was a rich tapestry of teaching on the nature of ministerial service saying that the challenge before all Christians is that of bearing fruit, quoting from Matthew 7 “by their fruit will you know them” (Matt 7:16). Bill explained that when a fig tree fails to bear fruit a good gardener does not uproot and dispose of it, he digs-in the ground around it and adds nourishment to the soil. In the same way, he expressed, the job of ministry is to find out what nourishment people need and to help them dig it in around the roots of their faith in order for them to flourish and bear fruit again. At the completion of his sermon Bill placed a fig leaf on the alter table as a symbolic reminder of the call to bear fruit and to nurture the fig trees.

Following the sermon a service of conclusion of placement was held for Rev Dr Geof Lilburne as he completed his time as lecturer in practical theology. Craig invited Perth Theological Hall staff members to join him in farewelling Geof, after which those who wished were invited to step forward and farewell him in person.

Prayers of Intercession were prayed for the church by Neil Warne, for those involved in formation by Rev Emma Matthews, and for the world by Rev Anne McAndrew. The service was completed with a benediction and refreshments and fellowship followed.