Why we felt compelled to lament

Why we felt compelled to lament

There are two things that currently make me especially proud to be a member of the Uniting Church.

The first is our response to the plight of asylum seekers trying to find refuge on our shores, and those who are now in our communities and living in abject poverty. When a Service of Lament was called at eight days notice (see last month’s Insights), two hundred and fifty people from across NSW and the ACT filled Sydney’s Pitt St church, while simultaneously, Hunter people met at New Lambton Uniting Church. Many others shared the liturgy in other places across the state and the nation.

Together, in person and in spirit, we grieved the dire plight of those who have fled danger and cruelty at home, only to be rejected by the nation where they hoped to find welcome and a new life of safety and hope.

We also lamented the state of our nation’s soul; that the place of the “fair go”, that sings of having “boundless plains to share” is now turning away those in need of our welcome, shelter and comfort.

Our concern is driven in part from the experience of UnitingCare and specific congregations who work with people who have made the excruciating decision to flee their homes, families and countries. They hear these stories first-hand.

Some Sundays ago we heard the prophetic witness of Isaiah 5:1-7. I wondered at the time whether Mr Rudd, who was almost certainly in church at the time, would have noticed from verse 7 that God “expected righteousness, but heard a cry”. I wondered if Mr Rudd heard that cry from Christmas island, from Papua New Guinea and from Narau?

I also reflected that Mr Abbott if he was really listening, could have heard that this is not “our country” but God’s vineyard, and that for Christians it is not we, but the common good that should decide who comes here.

When you read this the election will be over. The nation will have decided which particular brand of cruelty to endorse. The government may now claim a mandate for it, but let’s be sure that vast numbers of Uniting Church people are saying “not in my name!” As a church that stands squarely for inclusion and hospitality, we cannot and will not stand idly by when justice takes a holiday.

Thank you for your passion. Your ongoing energy and commitment will be needed, for lament is not an end in itself, but a step on the path to liberation of the oppressed part of the mission of Jesus as expressed in Luke chapter 4 verse 18.

It fills me with hope that parts of our church are working together in this crisis. The planning and running of the Service of Lament was a combined effort of UnitingCare NSW/ACT through its Social Justice Forum, Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney Presbytery, the Synod of NSW and the ACT, and the Assembly. It was really heartening to see the Synod theme “Uniting for the Common Good” being put into action. I feel very strongly that we are entering a new era of what St Paul described as the gifts of each being used for the good of all.

One thing that will really help to coordinate our prophetic ministry is for every presbytery to set up a Social Justice Committee, or forum, that can connect with the UnitingCare forum and facilitate communication and the flow of information across the Synod.

The Rev. Dr Brian Brown, Moderator


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