Forty years may not be a long time if we compare it with the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, or even the first European settlement on Australian soil. But it can be a long time if we compare it to a person’s life.
In 1977 at the age of 17, I left home for university, the place where I became a Christian. At 20, I pledged myself to serve God wherever I was called even if that meant that I might have to leave home to go to the end of the world! At 24, I was sent to Pakistan as a missionary, a country my family never even knew existed. After three years of a life-transforming experience in Pakistan, I took another quantum leap to come to Australia. This was yet another unfamiliar country which my mother only knew of as a place with kangaroos and the White Australia Policy.
Here in Australia I became a Minister of the Word and have been serving the church which describes itself as a ‘pilgrim people who are on a journey to the Promised Land’. What better DNA match could I find for my ever-moving faith journey than that of the Uniting Church in Australia? Furthermore, 31 years ago, this church of mine declared itself to be a multicultural church. So, my entire time with the UCA has been a sheer affirmation of God’s grace. I too offer praise as the Psalmist did, ‘My cup overflows with blessings.’ (Psalm 23:5)
Since I took up the role as Moderator, I have visited many places from Broken Hills to Byron Bay, from Talbingo to Tamworth. Mostly these visits have been for church anniversaries, on a few occasions for the opening of a church building, as well as for various meetings, rallies and retreats. I’ve met members of many Congregations and also ministers whose experiences were not too far from my own, though in some cases mixed with serious concerns and worries for the future.
For the last 40 years, the Uniting Church has not been exempt from the challenges and threats that all other organisations in our increasingly secular and materialistic world have faced.
In Australia’s globalised and multicultural society, the union of three churches 40 years ago meant we had to navigate a ‘movement’ instead of becoming yet another denomination. It has not been easy for the three traditions to let go of things dear to them, whether it was a particular way of doing a communion service or the regular singing of a familiar hymn.
Throughout this journey, many courageous steps have been taken, whether these meant moving a worship place, even shifting a pulpit, welcoming women and young people into leadership roles, engaging with hard topics and choosing to make a bold stand on controversial issues.
I am sure that there were overflowing blessings as well as times of stressful struggle over the years. People have allowed the Spirit to push and pull their experiences so that they became a church which is inclusive, cross-cultural, ecumenical and strongly committed to social justice.
Some might say that I am looking at our church through rose-coloured glasses.
I might be an optimist, but why shouldn’t I be after what I have seen throughout my life of God’s overflowing blessings?
Sometimes, we humans want to have all the reins in our hands. We want to not only see, but better still to determine, to control the future. And yet… ‘Do not be anxious… your heavenly Father knows… seek first God’s kingdom… and all these things shall be yours as well.’ (Matthew 6:25-33) As we mark 40 years of our Church’s journey, let us remember that God has journeyed with us. Jesus said ‘wherever, two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18: 20).
So let us be strong and courageous. Let us not fear or be in dread of any challenge or threat, for it is the LORD our God who goes with us. He will not leave us or forsake us.
Moderator, Rev. Myung Hwa Park