September: 13th Assembly

September: 13th Assembly

Motherhood statements. That’s what I first thought the 13th Assembly was about.

You know, “feel good” platitudes about worthy churchy concepts that few people in the church would disagree with but without anything new actually getting done. Yeah, it sounds good, but where’s the value?

Grow the covenanting relationship. Renew the approach to multicultural ministry. Note that we embrace diversity. Recommit to remote Australia. Hold a prayer vigil. Celebrate partnership in mission. Acknowledge our existing understanding of marriage. Develop some study resources. Pray for people. Learn about the Christian faith. Educate for ministry.

Who would disagree with that?

It was all just more apple pie.

But then … a lot of people beyond the church do disagree or don’t think about such things at all.

They don’t think about the erosion of human rights, the stripping away of human dignity and a diminishing hope for justice and reconciliation.

They don’t talk about building community with justice and equity, with everyone having access to the services they need.

How many share a vision for a “mantle of safety” or have offered a ministry of presence to the people of remote Australia, unbroken and unstinting, for a hundred years?

What do they know about pastoral care in a multi-faith society built upon firm and humane foundations?

How many other organisations have strong foundational statements committing them to works for justice for the marginalised and oppressed of this world?

Where else is the voice that identifies systems and structures in society which cause and perpetuate injustice, violence and oppression; that identifies critical issues of national and international significance, conducts  analysis and develops considered responses, actively participates and advocates in public discussion, and speaks with a prophetic voice and action in the world?

Our new President, Andrew Dutney, told the ABC that in local congregations, people, in spite of differences, are still having experiences of community, experiences of their life being transformed and reenergised. That’s what they want to be on about. Local congregations are still engaging with their neighbours and surrounding communities in positive ways. And our agencies are still contributing a tremendous amount to health, welfare and education throughout the Australian community.

He said in the New Testament one of the main issues that’s canvassed is how can these people — Jews, Greeks, male, female, slaves, free, rich people, poor people — be together? “How can they all gather round one table to celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ? All of the New Testament writers are investing tremendous amounts of energy into guiding messy communities into ways of living together more effectively.”

He said, “I think what we’re experiencing in the Uniting Church is that in the 21st century.”

Few beyond some Indigenous communities cared that we stood on the steps of Adelaide’s parliament house expressing concern at federal Stronger Futures laws.

But that’s the point. Why we were there.

I heard some lyrics in an Australian hip hop song recently, reworking a famous line: I would fall for anything if I refuse to stand for something.

Another slice of that pie please!

Stephen Webb 


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