On New Year’s Eve, I went to a midnight service to farewell an old year and to welcome a new year (“Song Ku Young Shin” 送舊迎新) at one of the Korean churches in Sydney. This special service invited people to say goodbye to many things that happened last year — with prayers of confession and thanksgiving — and to enter 2017 with prayerful anticipation of God’s grace.
During the service everyone received a bookmark that was beautifully laminated with a scripture verse on one side and words of encouragement on the other. This little token gently reminded us of the importance of God’s word which provides the fuel for our faith journey. The words of God are indeed the source of what we need as we begin a new year: a guiding light for discerning hearts, an accurate compass to point us in the right direction and inexhaustible words of encouragement for faint-hearted or lonely souls.
The year 2017 will be a special year for us, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia. For the past 40 years, the Uniting Church has been outstanding with courageous acts motivated by a strong sense of justice and peace. We have become an inclusive and welcoming community, working for the rights of Aboriginal people and formally adopting the policy to be a multicultural church. We continue to be a voice for the rights of minorities in our society, participating in the Give Hope campaign for asylum seekers and refugees, and providing a space for grace and equality for all people.
We see God’s image in each other, and our very name — Uniting — constantly reminds us to be open, inclusive, loving and welcoming people who continue their journey until we reach the Promised Land together. We have been strong in our ecumenical relationships and committed to working with other churches for evangelism and witnessing to the presence of God in the 21st century world.
What a beginning!
We began this year with “Yurora”, a wonderful national gathering of our young people at Stanwell Tops. What could be more exciting and encouraging than meeting young people who “remember their Creator in the days of their youth!” (Ecclesiastes 12:1) and are passionate about our Uniting Church. It is my earnest prayer that the whole church will give full support to our young people, as they deepen their relationship with Christ Jesus and live as his disciples.
In mid January, together with 20 other people from the Uniting Church and the Jewish Board of Deputies, I went to Israel and Palestine for a study tour called “Give Peace a Chance”. This trip was organised to deepen the relationship between the two faith groups who share the “Abrahamic faith” and to facilitate our working together for peace in our deeply divided and much troubled world. We know well that fear does not cast out problems, but love does.
Strengthening relationships with other faith communities is a crucial act, which I hope every Congregation strives to achieve. One of our core values is a commitment to engage in unity with other churches, to bring glory to Christ Jesus the Lord who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5: 9).
Go and make disciples for Jesus
As we look ahead, I am almost ecstatic about “Gospel Yarning”, a conference on evangelism which will be held in Sydney between May 15 and 19. “Gospel Yarning” aims to share the Gospel afresh during this year of our 40th anniversary and to re-imagine how we can share the Good News in our changing world.
As Christ’s followers in 2017, we too, are included in his last commission to his first disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Let the year 2017 be a year of celebration for the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church. This year also is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation movement, and it’s a year for each of us to endeavour in evangelism and faithful discipleship!
May God bless us to be a blessing when we obey the voice of the Lord, keep God’s commandments and when we turn to God with all our heart and with all our soul! (Deuteronomy 30:10)
Rev. Myung Hwa Park is Moderator of NSW/ACT Synod.