What are we meant to be doing?

The church lives in a changing culture and in the post Christendom era, we are being challenged by declining and aging congregations, and a struggle to find relevance in this new world. In this environment the Synod is working on the development of the strategic plan for the Uniting Church WA. Last time, I wrote about our Core Values and for ease of reference, I repeat them below:

  1.  To follow Jesus through life, death and resurrection
  2. Being community which safely embraces people beyond gender, cultural, economic, national and racial boundaries
  3. To act with God alongside the oppressed, the hurting and the poor
  4. To encourage wisdom and faithfulness in the use of the finite resources of the earth
  5. To exercise wisdom and faithfulness in the use of God-given gifts, talents and skills
  6. To live a creative, adventurous life of faith, characterised by openness, flexibility, hope and joy.

These are values stated 40 years ago at the inception of the Uniting Church, and which, I would hope, remain relevant today, even in our rapidly changing world. From these values, we can begin to build towards a mission statement.

Many authors, including Aubrey Malphurs, author of the book Advanced Strategic Planning for Churches and Ministry Leaders, talks about the need to define purpose (why we are here) and mission (what we are supposed to be doing). By and large, they agree that we are here to glorify God and we are meant to be making disciples, or helping people to be followers of Jesus.

I particularly like the choice of the word ‘glorify’. I have appreciated John Marsh’s definition of this in his commentary, Saint John. He speaks of ‘glory’ meaning “the manifest presence of God in the ordinary.” Thus, throughout John’s gospel, the apostle writes of such things as “my glory is not yet revealed,” “he thus revealed his glory” and “the Son of Man has been glorified”. So, if our purpose is to glorify God, this definition means that we are being called to reveal the presence of God in the ordinariness of our life, in all the things we do and say.

So let’s now go to the Scriptures and look at the commissions of Christ recorded for us by the gospel writers. “Go and make disciples”(Matthew 28:19), “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel” (Mark 16:15), “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), “These things are written that you may know that I am the Christ” (John 20:31).

Clearly there is a sending forth and a teaching or sharing of what we know of Christ.

But the church is more than that. We are also a community – a community which loves one another and the world, and which shares hope in Christ with this world and the next. The church is both a resourcing and a sending community. It is a community in action seeking to be actively involved in Missio Deo, the mission of God.

With that background, we can begin to derive a mission statement, which embraces those sentiments and gives some definition to our mission and purpose. This is then our preliminary mission statement: growing communities of Christ followers uniting in God’s mission to the world.

Some questions we may ask are: Is it short enough to remember easily? Does it embrace all of who we are – congregations, schools, agencies, social justice or Uniting World?

One final and crucial question: Is this what we are actually meant to be doing?

Rev David de Kock

General Secretary

God a drummer?

I am unashamedly a baby boomer. I was brought up on a diet of rock and roll, rhythm and blues.

Some of my friends aspired to form bands. Their hope was to make music and take their place in a culture where guitars, vocals and drums could be a ticket to celebrity status. Perhaps surprisingly the urge to form a rock band with these basic instruments lives on.

As the sixties musical revolution began I felt a little sorry for the drummer. He or she would play a metre or two behind the main singers and guitarists. They were further from the audience and often undervalued. Slowly however, the role of the drummer was appreciated. Paul McCartney (ex Beatle) once said when their new drummer Ringo Starr joined the band’s quality took a step up. Then came Phil Collins and other drummers who became the centrepiece of the band rather than the background contributor. Drumming came out of the shadows.

In churches, which are often slow to embrace musical changes, we began to see that drumming was not of the devil. First guitars and then drums began to appear in sanctuaries and in worship. At first they were ‘too loud’, but eventually some Christian worshippers began to value the place of drums in Christian worship. Drumming essentially is a way of catching and carrying the beat of the music and the beat of life.

In one of his poems Hafiz has a line that says “A father’s toes lifting a child’s in dance causes God to pull out a drum”.

Is God a drummer? Creative drumming not only captures the pace that already is, it sets the beat for what is yet to be. Drumming can be an invigorating and compelling beat that calls forth life. Jesus in his ministry called people to march and dance to the beat of different drum. He came to bring life in all its fullness (John 10 v10), to be open to the rhythms of the Spirit and the beat of love. I have a feeling there will be more than harps in heaven, especially if God is a drummer. May we see more of them on earth and in our sanctuaries.

Blessings

Rev Steve Francis
Moderator

Why Voting is a Complex Issue

Welcome to my first blog post of the year. It is a brand new month, season and I hope everyone has been well.

For this post, I will be focusing on our upcoming WA elections. Every day in this pre-election phase we are being bombarded with messages about who to vote for and why.

For Christian people thinking carefully about who to give their vote to is an important issue. I am reminded that perhaps the best known theologian of the twentieth century Karl Barth as a young pastor was appalled when he learned that many of his theological mentors at the beginning of the First World War had sided with the Kaiser and the war strategy. It led Barth to seriously question their ethics and theology.

It is possible to back the wrong party.

At election time, we need to ask lots of questions of our politicians and political parties. Several questions readily come to mind. How do your policies look after the most vulnerable in our society, the elderly, the unemployed, the First peoples, asylum seekers, those with disabilities and those on low incomes? Jesus clearly had a “bias” towards the poor, so should we?

Another question might be about the environment. How does your party care for our fragile, beautiful and sacred environment?

Last week I attended a gathering at St George’s Anglican Cathedral where farmers, scientists, environmentalists and a moral theologian spoke of the potential environmental damage that fracking can do. They called for a five year moratorium so that more independent consultations and science based reviews can be conducted before we plunge headlong into this industry. It made a lot of sense to me. Where does your preferred party sit on this issue?

Last week I also had the opportunity to attend a Youth Care meeting. I learnt more about the great work over 400 school chaplains are doing in our WA schools. They do not proselytise but rather they fill an important gap in the pastoral care of students, teachers and parents.  To do this work they rely on a combination of church, school, state and federal funding. It is important to ask if your preferred political party is supporting this much needed program.

Politics is a complex business and probably no party ticks all the boxes we Christians would like them to. In any congregation there will be a diversity of political opinions. The Uniting Church will never tell you how to vote, but hopefully we will help each other to ask good questions of those who seek to be part of our state’s governance.

Like the prophet Jeremiah said, we are to seek the prosperity of all our citizens and like Jesus we are to seek that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven.

May God give us wisdom, understanding and insight to this end.

Steve Francis
Moderator 

First Post of 2017: Core Values, Strategic Plans and our 40th Anniversary

This is my first update on our blog for 2017, and I hope that everyone has had a great and joyous start to the year.  

For the past couple of months, I have been working with several people on developing a Strategic Plan for the Synod of Western Australia. Interestingly, a similar exercise has been taking place in the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia. The Assembly also collated a list of the Strategic Plans of the other Synods (which saved us from having to undertake that work ourselves).

The results of all the work so far is revealing: possibly because we are referencing the same or similar source documents and almost certainly because, as a Christian community across Australia, we have a common bond of faith, a desire to be an embracing community and a concern for the oppressed.

Our common source documents are the Bible, The Basis of Union, the Constitution, and the Declaration to the Nation made in the founding of this movement which is the Uniting Church in Australia. The Assembly also conducted a nationwide survey on perceptions of the Uniting Church, an understanding of its responsibilities and a review of its strengths and weaknesses. 

From all of this background we have provisionally identified the following as our Core Values.

CORE VALUES

  1. To follow Jesus through life, death and resurrection;
  2. Being community which safely embraces people beyond gender, cultural, economic, national and racial boundaries;
  3. To act with God alongside the oppressed, the hurting and the poor;
  4. To encourage wisdom and faithfulness in the use of the finite resources of the earth;
  5. To exercise wisdom and faithfulness in the use of God-given gifts, talents and skills; and
  6. To live a creative, adventurous life of faith, characterised by openness, flexibility, hope and joy.

Following Jesus is at the core of our being. It is for this reason that we gather and move forward as a pilgrim community, joined together on this journey through life, death and resurrection.

We are also a community which values the life and faith which we share. We are not bound by the things which so easily divide us in the secular sense. In our journey we support each other, encourage one another and lead one another.

But our focus is not on us alone. We also have concerns for the oppressed, the hurting and the poor. And we seek to be wise stewards of the earth’s resources.

In our journey we also recognise that we each have different gifts. No man is an island, and we seek to use our individual gifts, talents and skills to serve God, each other and the world with all wisdom and faithfulness.

CELEBRATING OUR 40TH ANNIVERSARY

Finally, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia this year, we reflect on the 40 year journey of the pilgrim people of God from Egypt to the Promised Land. That journey was often hard, frequently troublesome and spiced with conflict within and without.

We do not want our journey as the Uniting Church in Western Australia to be like that – core to our being is that we will be creative and adventurous in our life of faith, always open with each other, flexible in circumstances and full of hope and joy!

In my next post, I will share our provisional mission statement.

Rev David de Kock
General Secretary

Monthly Mail February 2017

 

News and Notes February 2017

Perth Theological Hall Commencement Service

2017 Women’s Weekend Away flyer

Ecumenical and Inter-faith 2017 Awards flyer

Summer Spirit 2017 brochure and registration

First Third’s KCO NOW 2017 flyer

Good Samaritan Industries’ Newsletter

UnitingCare West News

About FACE – for more information contact Janine McDonald, First Third Officer at the Uniting Church WA, on 9260 9800 or email janine.mcdonald@wa.uca.org.au.

Uniting Church WA Election Resources

Good will hunting at Christmas and beyond

 

It is sometimes said “where there is a will there is a way”. May I rephrase it slightly and say “where there is good will there is a good way forward”. One of my favourite films is Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon and the late Robin Williams. I love the story-line because it emphasizes what we can so easily forget, that seeking the good will of another can lead to really good outcomes all round. It is a theme that is picked up in the Christmas story. The angel’s announcement of the birth of Christ includes the declaration of intent “Peace on Earth and good will to all people” (Luke 2:14 KJV). It is hard to imagine peace without goodwill. Yet as Christmas draws closer there seems in some sections of our local and international community a distinct lack of good will.

Yesterday we had the government’s financial report. As a nation we are continuing to live beyond our means. Our debt is huge and something must be down. But as I listened to both sides of the political spectrum there was little good will on display. Both major parties blamed each other for the problem and neither side seemed prepared to give ground in order to help solve our economic problems. Remember the fruit picker’s tax? It took months and months of bitter haggling and point scoring before a last minute solution was brokered. Fruit farmers were beside themselves; so much for good will. I was also deeply saddened by recent events in Jakarta where the Christian Governor Purnama is on trial for blasphemy. Hundreds of thousands have protested on the streets for several days against him when it appears he has not been intentionally offensive. Not much tolerance.  Not much good will hunting.

My heart also goes out to the refugees stuck in Aleppo, Syria. Once again as men, women and children live on the edge of starvation the evacuation of the  city has been painfully slow. There is an urgent need for good will to prevail to halt the horrendous suffering of innocent people. There was simply insufficient good will.

The birth of Jesus reminds us afresh that good will or seeking the good of others is fundamental to human community functioning well. God acts for our good in sending God’s Son, Jesus, to our self-absorbed world. Jesus role models the good life with special attention to those who were so easily forgotten and forsaken. Like peacemaking, good will hunting is a beatitude that needs daily practice. Part of the good news involving doing good. I love the description of Dorcas, “she went around doing good” (Acts 9:36), in other words she was good at good will hunting. And what about you and I? Are we good will hunters or do we just hope that good will will come to us? Over this festive season it would be valuable to spend a few moments thinking about someone who we need to express a special dose of good will to. It could make the world of difference. Happy hunting.

Blessings,

Steve Francis

A Christmas Sermon

wise-men-desert

CHRISTMAS IS AMAZING

In fact its utterly beyond comprehension, which is probably why we do all the crazy things we do at this time of the year.

We eat too much, we put up lights everywhere, we bring trees into our houses, we buy things for people we see everyday, and wrap them in beautiful paper which we will just throw away anyway – whole forests disappear in December which is a real headache for concerned conservationists. All of this is just our feeble attempt to somehow celebrate something which is incredibly amazing, so big, so vast, so utterly unbelievable that we do these things to mark the occasion.

How do you get to grips with “Emmanuel” – God with us? Can you actually get your mind around it? God coming to us – the Creator within His creation. Its really hard to get the picture, isn’t it?

I was reading about the Rev Robert Evans this week in Bill Bryson’s “A short history of nearly everything.” Rev Evans is (was) a retired minister in the Uniting Church in New South Wales, a writer on modern evangelical revivals and a part time astronomer. His claim to fame is that he has discovered more Super Novas than anybody else, even more than the great scientists in their huge observatories.

Now listen to this …

A Supernova is an exploding star whose light can outshine an entire galaxy for about a month. How it explodes is an interesting phenomenon. Over time, millions of years, its inner gravitational pull becomes so strong that initially it implodes, drawing everything into itself. Its gravitational pull is so strong that it sucks in everything, including light – it becomes a black hole in the universe.

And its core becomes incredibly heavy. Imagine a million cannonballs squeezed into the size of a marble. As Rev Evans says, just a teaspoon full of this imploded star could weigh 90 billion kgs … And then suddenly it explodes outwards sending all kinds of matter into space. It’s a nuclear explosion of such gigantic proportions that it makes Hiroshima look like a Christmas cracker. It would be the equivalent of a trillion hydrogen bombs all going off at once.

But you don’t need to worry about it. The nearest likely candidate to be a Supernova is a star called Betelguesewhich is a mere 50 thousand light years away. To put that in perspective, to get there you would have to travel at the speed of light for 50 thousand years. In contrast, travelling at the speed of light, it would take you a mere 1.3 seconds to get to the moon, or 8.3 minutes to get to the sun.

Its hard to fathom God’s creation – its mind boggling.

We see pictures in books of our own solar system but they can never be to scale. If the earth were the size of a pea, Jupiter would be 3 lengths of a rugby field away,and Pluto, the furthest “planet” from earth would be 21/2 kilometers away. The nearest star outside our solar system, Proxima Centauri,  would, on this scale, be 16000 kms away. There is absolutely no prospect whatsoever that any human being will ever travel to the edge of our solar system and our solar system is just a dot in the universe.

Amazing isn’t it…

And the God who made all this came right inside His creation. RIGHT INSIDE!

He who flung stars into space by speaking them into being, who spoke the separation of sky and earth, who announced light, and life.

This God came as a baby born of a virgin mother. The Lord of all creation, the master of the universe – God, made himself utterly dependent on man. Formed in the womb of a virgin girl, He came to us. It’s so hard to believe but it’s the real reason for the season.

This amazingly, fantastically big God became a child, a baby in a virgin’s womb – following his own rule for a nine month gestation period, and the years needed to be lived in order to grow to be a man – so that he could lay down the life He took up in order to change our destiny. To turn around everything that we had messed up in our life and history and to give us a new beginning.

Its no wonder that we do crazy things like coming to church in the middle of the week, and eating a roast lunch just a few days after the summer solstice.

I grew up on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. I haven’t yet seen the deserts of Australia but let me tell you, the Kalahari Desert is not a glad place. It’s dry and parched. In places its just moving sand, in other places, its hot sheets of stone, in still other places, the pebbles are the size of golf balls, black as the night and always shiny and hot and hard.

It does not rejoice. It drains the energy from you like a supernova. Despite everything it never quite has life – what life there is hides away, survives on little and blooms very seldom.

BUT, in God, the prophet Isaiah (Ch 35) tells us, the desert will be glad!

The wilderness will rejoice! It will burst into bloom and shout for joy! It is a metamorphosis! And its coming, says the prophet…so strengthen your hands, steady your knees, be strong, do not fear…

GOD IS COMING TO SAVE YOU!

Get up! Get ready! Get going! The eyes of the blind will be opened. The ears of the deaf unstopped. The lame will leap like a deer. The mute tongue will shout for joy. It’s a transformation! Deserts are blooming, invalid people are being restored. Have you thought about that… invalid people, in-valid people. Same word, different pronunciation, same meaning. People without worth, or value. The nothings of creation are becoming the somethings.

In Peter’s first letter, he says this, “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Once you were not a people – you were in-valid, but now you are a chosen people, a people belonging to God. We easily miss the reference to the names of the unfaithful children of Hosea. God spoke through that prophet of starting all over again. The unloved became the loved and those without mercy received mercy – it’s the Message of Christmas!

God has transformed His creation.

He has taken a people made in His image, who through sin had made themselves in-valid, and He has, in His Son, born of a virgin, dead on a Cross, risen into glory, given us back the value we first had in Him. He started again.

Once you had not received mercy, now you have received mercy.

Christmas is the season of Emmanuel.

It is God with us and there can never, ever, be a better cause for celebration.

When John the Baptizer was becoming uncertain of his own future, he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask the question, “Are you the One, or should we wait for another?”

Christ’s answer was simple – He quoted from Isaiah 35 – “Tell him what you see,  the eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf are unstopped, the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shouts for joy.”

In more words than were necessary He was saying, I AM THE ONE!

Observe the fulfillment of prophecy! Look at broken, in-valid people being restored!  My friends, water is gushing forth in the wilderness, there are streams in the desert, the burning sand has become a delightful pool, the land which at first sucked in the moisture is now a bubbling spring.

Its turnaround time. Its Christmas!

This celebration today says, “I believe this!”

We believe this promise is for everyone. This is the celebration of the greatest event which has ever, ever taken place. The Almighty entered into his creation to take sadness and sighing away from us and to overwhelm us with his gladness and joy.

Listen to the voices of those who discovered this in the beginning, when Christ was born amongst us:

Mary, the virgin mother. God chose to enter the world through her womb…

“My soul glorifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful

of the humble state of his servant.

 

Zechariah, the father of John:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,

because he has come and has redeemed his people.

 

The angels..

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.

Simeon, the old priest in the Temple

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you now dismiss your servant

in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared in the sight of all people,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”

 

Because Christ has come, everything is different now!

God is with us!

 

Merry Christmas and God bless you all.

 

Rev David de Kock

General Secretary