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Work and Wellbeing

An ecumenical event, ‘Work and Wellbeing – 8 hours more or less‘ is being planned for 21st April. It is an event of significance and may serve as a catalyst for community conversation and advocacy on work/life balance. This is an initiative of the Victorian Council of Churches and partners. 

Background

The 8 hour day monument (corner Victoria and Russell Streets) commemorates the 8 Hours Movement which was initiated in Victoria in 1856. The Eight Hour Day was a campaign that brought about one of the most important changes to the rights of workers, seeking an eight hour day on the basis of eight hours work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for recreation and education. On 26th February 1856, James Galloway convinced a meeting of employers and employees to begin implementing the 8 hour day. On 1856 on April 21st, Victorian Stonemasons staged a well-organised and executed protest. They had been working on the construction of the Old Quadrangle Building, the original site of Melbourne University, when they all downed their tools and proceeded to march on to Parliament House along with other members of the building trade. During the march held in Melbourne, those attending the protest carried banners that held the symbol of three figure 8’s. The intertwined numbers ‘888’ represented the ideal that the workers were fighting for – “8 Hours Work, 8 Hours Recreation, 8 Hours Rest”.

Work and Well-Being 2023
The issues around work in our current context remain significant – un/under employment and over-employment; casualisation of work force; insecure work; less staff expected to do more; people holding multiple jobs just to pay the household bills; etc. Now is the time to have a discussion about the contemporary meaning and place of work in human lives, including work and human dignity, the gendered nature of work, and how growing levels of insecure work impact workers and families. It is noted that the Federal Treasurer, Dr Jim Chalmers, has identified well-being as a core focus for the Federal budget. 

Event details
Date: Friday 21st April 2023
Venue: Village Roadshow Theatrette, State Library of Victoria (La Trobe St entrance)

Time: 11am-12 noon
Cost: Free 
Registration: Humanitix

Online flyer

Speakers: 

  • Nicholas Reece, Deputy Lord Mayor Melbourne
  • Dr Mark Zirnsak, Social Justice Advocate for the Uniting Church (Vic/Tas)
  • Patty Kinnersly, CEO of Our Watch
  • Emma Dawson, Executive Director of Per Capita
  • Dr Jeff Sparrow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This will be followed by a walk to the 8-8-8 Monument (corner of Victoria and Russell Streets), commencing at 12 noon, with further brief speeches at the Monument, including Prof Sean Scalmer who is working on a history of the struggle over working time, from the eight-hour day to the four-day week. It is anticipated a Union representative will also be present at the Monument and will be able to offer a brief speech. 

The event will conclude by 12.30pm. 

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Putting together the Peaces

In an article in The Age, Greg Baume writes:

“Michal Halev’s only son, Laor Abramov, a music lover and budding DJ, was killed in a bomb shelter at Re’im Junction on October 7. She says, “When I do occasionally succeed in raising my head from my personal grief and from the infinite chasm that used to be my heart, I find one purpose for which to live, which is to seek out what I can do to help our wounded humanity heal, so there will be no more mothers who are crushed by the killing, by loss, by violence and war. There are no victors in war, nor will there ever be. We have already lost.”

Appearing on the same platform, but speaking via a video link because he is not allowed to travel, is Ahmed Alhellou, a Gazan living in Jericho, who says 60 of his family were either dead or missing in Gaza. Though angry, he too wants only to break the cycle.

“We must stand strong against terrorism, against violence, against the harming of innocents and the bloodshed on both sides,” he says. “We must say no to war, no to destruction, no to extremism and fanaticism, no to terror, yes to coexistence, to us living in this blessed beautiful land in peace and security, in dignity and freedom.”

Esther Takac, a Melbourne-based trauma psychologist, author and filmmaker, has made a film about Israelis and Palestinians who have suffered unendurable losses, but have chosen not to seek vengeance, but to campaign jointly for peace. The film is called the Narrow Bridge, which Compass featured in a recent edition of the show. It features two fathers, Bassam, a Palestinian, and Rami, an Israeli. Each has lost a child in the brutality of the Israel-Gaza conflict, but incredibly transform their grief into a bridge for reconciliation.

Esther Takac says, “The trauma right now in Israel and Gaza is immense. I’ve seen how terrible pain changes you, but sometimes after pain you may find strengths you never had before. We’ve all heard of post-traumatic stress disorder. These people show us an alternative, a road map to post-traumatic growth.”

There is a small but growing group of people prepared to fight for peace.

Has a popular movement ever started any other way?

https://youtu.be/_XSInO-5KG8?si=vKZ1eOzc3N8CU38B

 

 

 

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Two days – Yom Ha’atzmaut and Dhikra an-Nakba

This week there were two significant days – one a day of celebration against a backdrop of horrow and sorrow. The other a day of loss and ongoing sorrow with no respite.

Two days. One after the other. One because of the other. Inextricably linked.

14 May, was Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, the national day the modern state of Israel was proclaimed on 14th May 1948. It celebrates the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people after the horrors of the Holocaust (Shoah) in World War II.
[The UN had declared that the land should be partitioned, and two states established. Israel was established, but not a Palestinian state]. 

15 May, is Dhikra an-Nakba (meaning “Memory of the Catastrophe”), a day of great significance for Palestinians, as it commemorates the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe, with the permanent displacement of a majority of the Palestinian people in what had been the Protectorate of Palestine during 1948.

So much has been said and written about these two dates.

So much more needs to be said, and written.

What does truth look like today in such a contested context that has its seed in history*?

In 2024, these dates, one after the other, are especially poignant, given the tragedy of the attack on October 7th 2023 and the loss of innocent Jewish lives and the taking of hostages (and so many families left to grieve)… and the subsequent devastating destruction of Gaza, the loss of tens of thousands of Palestinian lives – mainly innocent women and children, (and the deaths of aid workers, medical personnel, journalists etc), thousands upon thousands of injured people and the destruction of infrastructure, essential services and basic necessities.

So many tears. So much weeping.
So much heartache, anguish and terror.
So much anger.

“We need to seek once more the peace of these peoples. And we need to find that peace on the basis of justice. Neither terrorist attacks nor military crackdowns will achieve this. They will simply exacerbate a dangerous situation”.

(quoted in an article by Rev Dr John Squires, Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church, on his blog, An Informed Faith)

A prayer for peace in Israel and Gaza
Christ, Prince of Peace,
hear our prayer and lament,
for our suffering sisters and brothers.
Our hearts are heavy as we witness lives torn apart,
as we see the faces of frightened children
and hear the pleas of those without water or food.
We pray for the dead and the grieving,
for the injured and the afraid.
We pray for courage and perseverance,
for those working for healing and to bring aid.
We pray for world leaders,
that they may strive for a just and lasting peace.
God of new beginnings,
in your ways are compassion and hope.
Open our hearts to dialogue and understanding.
Lead us all to answer your call
to become peacemakers
today, and all the days of our life. Amen.
(Source: CAFOD)

*this article maps some of the historical events and decisions. And yes, the historical account is complex and contested.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Message for the Churches at Pentecost

World Council of Churches: A Message for the Churches At Pentecost
(originally published here)

We, the presidents of the World Council of Churches, greet you in the spirit of Christian love and fellowship on the occasion of the feast of Pentecost.

The Pentecost is the descent of the Holy Spirit on the church and the empowerment of its missionary outreach. The church is the koinonia of people held together by Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our ecumenical journey at the 7th Assembly of WCC (Canberra, 1991), with its theme “Come, Holy Spirit, Renew the Whole Creation” was an appeal to the member churches to reaffirm the renewing power and transforming action of the Holy Spirit in the church, and in the whole creation. It was also a reminder of the vital importance of the church’s Missio Dei sustained by the Holy Spirit.

In a world in which life in its human and ecological dimensions is threatened, we need the Spirit of life to protect the sacredness, wholeness, and integrity of the God-given life.

In a world torn apart by intolerance and polarization, we need the intervention of the Holy Spirit to tear down the “dividing walls” (Eph. 2:14), and help establish coherence and harmony, among diversities of race religion, and culture.

In a world dominated by corruption, injustice, and the decay of moral and spiritual values, we need the renewing presence of the Holy Spirit to transform our societies through the Gospel values.

As a global fellowship of churches, let us pray, as we did at Canberra Assembly, come Holy Spirit and help us grow in unity, which is a gift of God, and move forward with renewed vision in our spiritual journey. Empower us to articulate more concretely our missionary engagement in all parts of the world, and particularly at these critical moments in the Middle East. Help us to replace hatred by love, violence by dialogue, and self-centeredness by mutual acceptance. Make us instruments of justice, apostles of peace, and messengers of life.

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Enlivening the Ecumenical Journey

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

“I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21

There is a spirit that enlivens the ecumenical journey. It captured in the word ‘unity’. Jesus prays for us, and asks ‘that we might be one, and a few words later, ‘so that the world may believe’. He goes further and describes the nature of unity as flowing from the unity shared with the Father and extends it to us, ‘so that they may be one, as we are one’.

Unity does not mean that difference is dissolved or ignored. Jesus and the Father are different. It is the unity Jesus has with the Father that gives depth and integrity to Jesus’ ministry. People are led to respond and encounter Jesus as Son of God and Risen Christ.

Unity serves as both an opportunity and an invitation. The opportunity for us is to move beyond a focus on difference to celebrate all that we have in common in the Christian community. As we do this there is a joy find in each other, and a shared witness the living Christ.

Accepting the invitation to unity leads us to examine ourselves and reflect on barriers to our being more fully united. The fruit of our examination may lead to a conclusion that the differences we share, are not important saying yes to the invitation to unity.

After all unity is not a quest for uniformity. Nor is unity to be fully found through a process of negotiation.

Unity is a spiritual practice of learning and discovery, undergirded by prayer. Our sharing in the week of prayer for Christian Unity nurtures our unity.

Rev John Gilmore

NCCA President

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Christian Unity matters – WCC General Secretary Rev Prof Jerry Pillay

(first published on 30th April here)

United Methodist General Conference, Ecumenical Service (Charlottee, North Carolina)

World Council of Churches, General Secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay

Christian Unity Matters

Readings: 1Samuel 3:1-21

Ephesians 4:1-6

Sometime back, when there were conflicts among Roman Catholics and Protestants in Ireland a Protestant Chaplin went to a hospital to visit some of the injured parishioners. The nurse said to the Chaplin to please wait a little, while she attended to patients and then she will introduce him to the Protestant patients. Seeing that she was taking too long, the Chaplin went on his own. As he was leaving, the nurse returned and offered to take him through but he responded that he had already done his visits. To which the nurse asked, “And how did you know who was Protestant and who was Roman Catholic?” The Chaplin said, “Well, that was easy, when I went to a bed, where it said P I stopped, spoke and prayed with the patient and where it said RC I nodded and passed by.” The nurse smiled and replied, “But Reverend, P means porridge and RC stands for Rice Crispies.”

This simple and yet true story puts into question the emphasis and differences we make about denominational and confessional identities. While these may be important to some, and we shouldn’t be dismissive of that, yet we must ask if it is the core of our Christian calling. The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4 seems to indicate that Christ is the foundation of the Christian faith and not the distinctive elements of differences we have created. Our identity is in Christ and not in our confessional identities in as much as that may be valuable to us. I wonder if Paul meant that as the “prisoner of the Lord” he was making it clear that he was not a prisoner of the church. What really is the calling of the church? Talking about calling I am reminded about the calling of Samuel recorded in 1Samuel 3.

This passage refers to God calling Samuel to do a difficult task. A task that speaks against the house of the prophet Eli, Samuel`s priest and mentor. God was calling Samuel but he did not know or recognise the voice of the Lord. The first time when God called, Samuel went to Eli thinking Eli was calling and then again the second time. The third time, on the advice of Eli, Samuel says: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel gets a message and a task from God that was not easy to deliver. 

What is God calling Christians and the Christian Church to do today? Whose and what voices are we listening to? So often, we mistake our own voices for the voice of God or we think that the voices of the powerful and influential are the voice of God. Jesus teaches us that most times the voice of God is with the poor, vulnerable, forgotten, neglected, widow, orphaned and powerless. Jesus establishes this in his own ministry on earth in Luke 4: 18-19

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord`s favour.”

The Christian church is called to follow the example and mission of its Lord as it proclaims good news to the world, as it goes into the world to “make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

What is God calling us to do as Christians and Church? This is a question that the World Council of Churches has asked and continues to ask in the world today. As you know, we are living in very difficult times. The current global context has been described as a “poly-crisis”. Multiple threats — such as accelerating climate change, COVID-19 and its impacts, injustices, impoverishment, diseases and health challenges, conflicts and wars, unprecedented levels of forced displacement, increasing hunger and food insecurity, rising inequality and marginalisation, and widespread economic instability among others — are converging in complex inter-relationships. The WCC 11th Assembly captured this well: 

“We live and witness in a world which is at the same time God’s beautiful creation and broken by ecological crisis, war, pandemic, systemic poverty, racism, gender-based violence, human rights violations, and many other sufferings”.

In such a context, we need to listen afresh to what God is calling us to do. We need to listen to the voice of God in the midst of all the raging voices crying for attention, staking its claim and tempting recognition. We need to learn to be still and listen for the voice of God. We need to say as Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. 

The WCC speaks of a Pilgrimage of Justice, Reconciliation and Unity. A pilgrimage is an invitation, a direction and a methodology. As Christians we are people of the way, we are also on the way. We are on a journey together, trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us and expecting God to surprise us.  

The WCC, as it proclaims Christ to the world, believes that God is calling us to:

  1. PROCLAIM JUSTICE

The cry for freedom and justice is loud for many in the world today. We are surrounded by the need for economic, gender and climate justice. God uses a number of instruments to reach and transform the world, including and especially the church. Therefore, the church needs to hear and respond to this painful cry. The mission of the church is to follow in the footsteps of proclaiming Christ’s love to the world. The church needs to stand where God stands and not get mixed up with the rich and powerful. The language of love is best expressed in standing up for truth, siding with the poor and holding out hope in the midst of injustices and sufferings. 

The God portrayed in Scripture is the “lover of justice”: He calls us to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with him” (Micah 6:8). The task of the Church is to maintain a consistent prophetic voice against injustices. In the face of unjust economic systems, increasing poverty, unnecessary wars, ethnic and racial violence we need to say enough is enough. Our cry for justice must be loud, clear and prophetic. However, to do this well we need to first address injustices in the church – economic, gender and ecological injustices. The God of justice calls us to stand up for justice and to live justly and to love mercy. Where is mercy when thousands of people are killed in Palestine, Ukraine, Sudan and other parts of the world? Where is mercy when thousands of people go to bed hungry every night? Where is mercy when thousands of people are denied access to humanitarian aid? Where is mercy when hundreds of migrants drown or die while fleeing their countries? Where is mercy when human rights and dignity are denied, deprived and violated?

The God of justice and mercy calls us to stand up for justice. We cannot be silent. Christians need to stand up for justice and we need to stand together. In unity is our strength. We are better and stronger together. Together we can shout. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). Together we can make a difference in the world. Together we can live and fulfil God`s vision for the world. Together! Christian unity matters.

  1. FOSTER RECONCILIATION AND PEACE

There is so much of brokenness, pain and sufferings in the world. What is the message of the Church in such a context? How do we work towards healing, forgiveness and reconciliation? 

The Genesis story of the Fall (Genesis 3) tells us that sin separated us from God and left us with doom, destruction, and death. There was no way out. There was absolutely nothing that humans could do to redeem ourselves, save ourselves, and get back into a reconciled relationship with God. The great news is that God’s love refused to leave us there. Instead, God sent his only begotten Son to come into the world to suffer and die for the world, and through his death and resurrection, Jesus saved, forgave, and reconciled us to the Father and to one another, breaking down the walls of hostility and giving us peace. 

Consequently, we are reconciled to the Father. God’s forgiveness is all about love. Suffering love! Forgiving love! reconciling love! We cannot say that we love God and hate our brothers and sisters. The love of God forgives us and prompts us to forgive others and to embrace others who are different from us. 

In the South African experience after apartheid, there was the call for forgiveness and reconciliation. The ability of those who have been wronged to forgive their oppressors and offenders is no easy task. Forgiveness is complex. The process of forgiveness is recognising that we cannot change the event itself, but we can change the meaning we give to the event. Thus, victims are often unwilling to let go of the emotional tags associated with the hurt, bitterness, vengefulness, and hatred toward the perpetrators. 

Yet, many South Africans did ask for forgiveness, and many others forgave those who violated their rights and human dignity. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with its many failures in meeting its full objectives still provided a facility to help people to face their oppressors and to find healing and forgiveness. Many churches appeared before the TRC and confessed to their own complicity, silence, and part in promoting apartheid in South Africa. It is apparent that forgiveness is important to find reconciliation and healing. 

In the quest for reconciliation and unity, forgiveness becomes an essential point of departure. Forgiveness is an important part of reconciliation. You can forgive someone and still refuse to be reconciled with them; but to seek reconciliation, forgiveness is necessary. 

Following the example of Christ’s love, churches ought to help people to be brought into spaces to forgive, be forgiven, and seek reconciliation. The love of Christ reconciles a lost and broken world, not only to God but to the whole creational order which is renewed by the sacrifice of Christ. The doctrine of reconciliation is a prominent theme in the New Testament, and the theological essence of the concept is expressed in 2Corinthians 5, which reads: 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God! (vv.17-21).

In this sense, reconciliation is God’s gift to not only reconcile fallen humankind with Godself, but also with all humanity and creation. 

The church as a reconciled community must display unity, justice, peace and love. The church should not perpetuate human divisions on race, ethnicity, gender, etc. Instead, it ought to strive towards reconciliation and unity. If this is the case, then the church needs to articulate reconciliation and unity within its own life and witness so that the world may know the love of Christ. The church must work towards the renewal of all relationships and the restoration of human relationships with creation. As reconciled people, they have to be the proponents of ecological concerns and the precursors of the restoration of the integrity of creation. Christians are called to do good to all people and to love the enemy. They are to be the promoters of peace in society and agents in the formation of a new humanity. The church is called to constantly work towards forgiveness, reconciliation, and unity, bearing in mind its agency in transforming society so that all may have the fullness of life. Forgiveness ought to set the social condition for the process of reconciliation to restore and heal not only interpersonal relationships but also constructively rebalance the political, legal, and economic injustices toward preventing the prospect of renewed conflict. 

The WCC has over the years maintained the biblical imperative of reconciliation and unity to heal and restore a broken world. The love of Christ ought to move churches into visible unity, spiritual and social transformation, and justice. Programmes such as combatting racism, justice, peace, and integrity of creation, and in last few years, the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, have all indicated the WCC’s endeavour to strive for reconciliation and unity in the world, starting with churches as co-pilgrims on the journey. 

The WCC has over the years worked for peace in the world. We spend a great amount of time, energy and money to work for peace. Churches, such as yourselves help us to do this. I went to Ukraine and Russia, more recently to Israel and Palestine and just returned from Sudan where we engaged with church leaders, politicians, presidents and other groups trying to work for peace. It is no easy task. Even churches express different views, we are too caught up in religious nationalism, often used as instruments of states and politicians whether rightly or not, that is not the matter. The truth is that if we are to truly follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace, then we must be peacemakers, peace- builders and peace- keepers. I have seen how churches are in disunity and discord with one another because they are influenced by politics rather than their faith. Admittedly, it is difficult to not be influenced by the realities and experiences of our times. But how can we like Samuel say together, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”? How do we allow God`s Word and Spirit to speak to us and to use us as instruments of justice, peace and reconciliation that leads us to unity? Christian unity matters!

  1. WORK TOWARDS UNITY

The Apostle Paul speaks very strongly about Christian unity in Ephesians 4. He implores us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” He then proceeds to remind us that “There is one body and one Spirit –just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” 

The Apostle in these verses reminds us that we are called to unity. Unity is God`s gift to us. Unity is not uniformity but oneness and togetherness as we proclaim Jesus Christ to the world. A broken and divided church does not have a message to an already broken and divided world, especially if it does not exemplify and practise what it preaches. 

The Apostle Paul in verses 2 and 3 speaks of the character that works towards unity. He says: “Be completely humble and gentle”, note not partially but completely. “Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” These are the characteristics that enable us to keep the unity and remain faithful to our calling to unity. When we listen to God, like Samuel, then we learn to listen to each other as we share God`s message with grace and truth. Not always easy because we each think that we are listening to God and yet we come up with different messages. The spirit in which we listen to one another is important. Paul tells us that it must be with humility, gentleness, patience and love. 

Admittedly, every family has its challenges with disagreements, likes, views, preferences and desires but they are still a family. The church is no different. Therefore at all cost we must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace, says the Apostle Paul. Christian unity matters!

My Church in South Africa, the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, came into a union of two churches in 1999. Unfortunately, two years later the Union faced serious challenges. At the Union, eight Associations for Women, Men, Youth and Young Women joined to become four. However, it soon became apparent that it was not working. This then led to the establishment of another four groups going back to the original eight. The problem was that you had a Union in theory but not in practise. The UPCSA appointed me to bring the eight Associations back into four. This was a rather difficult task, impossible by the conclusions of many. To cut a long story short, after 15 long years the eight Associations became four again in 2019. It was a miracle! The unity of the church was restored. All things are possible with God!

Samuel got a message from the Lord to give to Eli that was not easy to give; but he had to listen to God. Sometimes God`s judgement may be even against the church but it must never be at the expense of its unity and witness to the world. We have seen this in history and in the message to the churches in the Book of Revelations where they receive strong rebukes from God. From time to time, the church may need rebuke, renewal, revitalisation, transformation, and even repentance, faithful witness requires this, but never at the expense of its unity. What brings us to such a conclusion?

Jesus prayed for the unity of believers in John 17. I know that while many people continue to yearn, pray and work for visible Christian unity some have become disenchanted and despondent on the journey, believing that such is a far fetch dream and further from reality as we encounter many challenges. Too many churches today are giving into splits and fragmentation on grounds of doctrine, theology, socio-ethical issues, money and personalities. Some say, “We can never have unity or be in the same church anymore because we have such great differences, especially these days on the issue of human sexuality. This, of course, is a huge issue for the WCC with our 352 member churches, you can imagine how polarised we can be on this issue. In June 2022, at the WCC central committee the issue of human sexuality caused immense debate on the subject so much so that the Council`s unity stood in question. Then a miracle moment happened when we adjourned and asked some people with opposing views to come up with a solution. By God`s grace and wisdom, they did. All things are possible with God.

Personally, I believe that we must never stop praying and walking and working together for Christian unity. We need to affirm and deepen the desire for Christian unity knowing that this is what Jesus prayed for in John 17:21. Unity is a gift already given to us to appropriate in Christ, unity is not uniformity and, more so, a broken and suffering world is in need of Christians working together towards reconciliation, justice and peace. Our inability to live up to the calling of visible Christian unity should not diminish or blur the ultimate vision. Let us continue to pray and work together so that the world may believe! Whatever the challenges we may face in preserving the unity of fellowship as Christians we must not fixate on what separates us but on Christ who unites us and calls us to have unity in our witness to the world. Christian unity matters!

Whether we understand unity as spiritual, relational, organic or common purpose, what matters most is that we are called to pray, walk and witness together so that the world may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God and in believing in Him they may have eternal life.

Our unity is a witness to the world. So that the world may believe. A broken and suffering world needs the unity of Christians. The WCC acknowledges this in its Message from the Assembly in Karlsruhe in 2022. The Message reads:

We affirm the vision of the WCC for the visible unity of all Christians, and we invite other Christians to share this vision with us. We also invite all people of faith and goodwill to trust, with us, that a different world, a world respectful of the living earth, a world in which everyone has daily bread and life in abundance, a decolonized world, a more loving, harmonious, just, and peaceful world, is possible. In a world weighed down with so much pain, anguish, and fear, we believe that the love we have seen in Christ brings the liberating possibilities of joy, justice for all, and peace with the earth. Moved by the Holy Spirit, compelled by a vision of unity, we journey on together, resolved to practice Christ’s love, following his steps as his disciples, and carrying a torch for love in the world, trusting in the promise that Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity. – From the Unity Statement of the 11th Assembly.

It is clear from this statement that Christian unity is needed to witness to and transform the world as we address conflicts, divisions, brokenness and pain. Christian disunity is nothing but a feeble, weak and contradictory message to a fragmented world. Christian unity matters in the quest for justice, reconciliation and peace in the world. Christian unity is God`s call to us today. Like Samuel will we be willing to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” More so, will we have the joy and courage to live out God`s call for unity so that the world may believe? Christian unity matters. Does it matter to you?

The answer to this question lies in your hands. Let us trust the Holy Spirit to lead us and continue to pray for those miracle moments in the midst of continuous struggles. 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay 
General Secretary
World Council of Churches

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Prevention of family violence and violence against women

Statement on the prevention of family violence and violence against women

Faith Communities unite to say NO to family violence and violence against women (02/05/2024)

The Faith Communities Council of Victoria (FCCV) has issued the following statement on the prevention of family violence and violence against women:

As faith community leaders, we oppose family violence and violence against women in all its forms, and call upon people of faith to play a role in its elimination.

In 2024, one woman every 4 days is violently killed in Australia. Violence is not just physical, it can be psychological, emotional, sexual, financial or spiritual. The roots are abuse of power and the control of one person over another.

Violence against women and their children takes a profound and long-term toll on women and children’s health and wellbeing, on families and communities, and on society as a whole. It is a violation of basic human rights that affects people in all social, economic, racial, religious and ethnic groups.

Across our faith traditions, we declare:
• Sacred texts, scriptures and cultural traditions should not be used as a way to justify or excuse violence against women.
• We commit ourselves to changing community attitudes that accept violence toward women. We undertake a journey together to raise awareness in our communities and to stop violence against women before it occurs.
• We stand against all forms of violence and discrimination. We see preventing family violence and violence against women as a key entry point for addressing all forms of violence and promoting human rights.
• Every human being should be seen as valued, important and equal. To live in a world where our families and communities are free and safe from violence, we must treat all individuals – women, men, girls and boys – with dignity, equality and respect.
• Promoting equality and respect in our communities benefits us all and strengthens our communities. A strong community is one where we can all contribute and participate equally.
• Our faiths affirm that love, respect, equality and living well together are goals to aim for.

We strongly advocate for a time when every religious and spiritual community can fully embrace their unique and vital role to provide prevention education, to speak out with moral authority against all forms of violence and provide a safe space for those seeking support when impacted by family violence.

For guidance on how to support families and victim survivors go to faithsafe.org.au

Faith Communities Council of Victoria (FCCV) is comprised of the following peak bodies: Baha’i Community of Victoria, Brahma Kumaris Australia, Buddhist Council of Victoria, Hindu Council of Australia (Victoria), Islamic Council of Victoria, Jain Council of Victoria, Jewish Community Council of Victoria, Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria and Victorian Council of Churches.

Prayer written by Lynda Dunstan for Domestic Violence Prevention Month, May 2024
(on Common Grace website)

Loving God, creator and sustainer of all.
You bring light into darkness, and darkness cannot overcome the light of your love. During this month of raising awareness of domestic violence we ask that the light of your love will reveal that which is so often hidden – the suffering of many of your daughters who are subjected to abuse, control, emotional and psychological injury, physical and sexual violence at the hands of someone they have loved or trusted. Pour out your love into the hearts of those who continue to suffer: remind them that you are the God who sees, and you know every detail of their experiences; remind them that you are their strength and refuge, they are not to blame; remind them that you are their Shepherd, and you long to tenderly care for them and restore their dignity and joy.

For those who have further suffered when your word has been used against them to dominate and destroy, or when those who should have offered care and hope within the church community have only added to guilt and shame- we ask that you would hold them until they can trust you again.

For those who continue on their journey of recovery, remind them daily of their strength to survive, and when they grow weary, be their strength and their fortress, a resting place in times of struggle.

Lord you are the one who works righteousness and justice for the oppressed, you stretch out your hand against our foes, with your right hand you save: we ask for deep repentance from those who have chosen abuse and violence in their relationships. We ask that we as your church would deeply repent of words and actions that have not condemned abuse, but simply turned a blind eye. We ask for a deeper understanding and willingness to challenge our beliefs and attitudes that allow abuse to flourish. We ask that we might live up to our call to be light in the world, standing with you for justice. We ask that our churches would be places where women and men live and serve together in true dignity, equality and respect; where each one’s giftings are acknowledged and given space to flourish as your Spirit leads.

Lord we long for that day when there will be no more tears or crying or pain, when your glory will cover the earth, and our hope peace will be completed in you.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

Amen.

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A prayer for a time of distress

A prayer adapted by Captain Star Conliffe from a prayer written by Auxiliary-Lieutenant Rosy Keane.

Come to us in the time of our distress
Merciful God

We bring our prayers of lament to you today and cry out against the violence we are seeing perpetrated in our community.

We mourn the senseless loss of life, loss of dignity, and loss of safety experienced by women, children and the vulnerable.

In this moment Lord we bring to mind the loved ones, the witnesses, the survivors, the first responders and the communities who are reeling from the consequences of violence. (Moment of silence)

Comfort us Lord when silence seems too scary

When the words ‘senseless’ and ‘violence’ open up old wounds of confusion, and fear

Comfort us when we are reminded of all the violations visited upon innocents – war, and genocide, being hurt in our own homes, injustice upon injustice with no end in sight.

Draw your arms near for embracing us
in our nervous wreck states

Come home to us, Lord
Make us comfortable in our skins, unafraid.

We pray for the comfort of your great love. We ask for revelation of you, knowledge of you, pursuit of you. We pray that our community would not only be great but good, not only resilient but resolved, not only healed but whole. All humanity is yours and you are with us in our devastation.

Let us draw on our hope that you are the one who comforts the mourning, that we are witnesses who bear fruit, that all those who call you Lord also call you Saviour.

Let our salt be our knowledge of your love, bringing flavour, comfort and healing.

Let our light be gentle and insistent on the truth of good things to come, even while we sit in the discomfort and spaces of loss and mourning.

Let our wordlessness in the face of grief be a reminder that you are the word made flesh, who suffered all grief so we may never do life or death alone.

In all things we praise you,
Even now we praise you,
You are worthy of praise
Our Holy Father,
Amen.

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St George

St George Day

St George was an early Christian martyr and is venerated as a saint.

Saint George stands out among other saints and legends because he is known and revered by both Muslims and Christians. He is the patron saint of many peoples and nations even today.

Many of our VCC Member Churches celebrate Feast Days for St George and honour his life, witness and courage. 

The Orthodox Churches celebrate St George’s Feast Day on 23 April (traditionally understood to be the day of his martyrdom), but if it falls before Easter, it is celebrated on Easter Monday.

The Coptic Orthodox Church (Egypt) call St George the “Prince of Martyrs” and celebrates his feast on May 1. There is a second celebration on November 17, in honour of the first church dedicated to him.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates three St George Feast Days each year – April 23 (the date of his death), November 3, to commemorate the consecration of a cathedral dedicated to him in Lydda (current day Lod in Israel), and on November 26, for when a church in Kiev (now Ukraine) was dedicated to him.

Saint George’s Day in Bulgaria is a national holiday always held on 6 May. For almost half a century, the communist government banned the holiday after it came to power in 1946. The holiday was reinstated in 1993 and is again a proud day for Bulgaria. It is also known as Army Day and Bravery Day.

Saint George is also the patron saint of England and St George Day is celebrated on April 23. His cross can be found throughout England. Even though St George never visited England, his reputation spread far and wide.

The life and martyrdom of St George

Saint George (also, George of Lydda) lived in the latter part of the third century A.D. during Diocletian’s rule of the Roman Empire. He was born around 256-286 CE in Cappadocia in Minor Asia and died 23 April 303.

His father’s name was Anastasius, and his mother’s name was Theobaste. They were pious Christians from noble and wealthy families. George was raised to follow the Christian faith of his parents.

George’s father was a Roman officer, martyred for his faith, when George was 14. His mother was a Greek native originally from Lydda (Syria Palestine), known in the biblical narrative as Lod*  She and George returned there when George’s father died. She had family farmland there, and at that time it was mainly a Christian population.
(*eg in Acts 9:32, Lod was the place where the apostle Peter healed the paralytic Aeneas who had been lying paralysed for 8 years).
(*article about present day Lod and tensions post Oct 7)

At a young age, George served in the Roman army under Emperor Diocletian and was commended many times for his service to the Empire. From the rule of the Emperor Decian until 284 A.D., when Diocletian became emperor, the Church went through a period of peace and prosperity. Christians obtained important positions in the government during that time; many built churches and schools and organized the authoritative structure of the Church. Diocletian gave many of his loyal officers political positions so that he could have the military strength of his Empire on his side. After Diocletian had suppressed the barbarian tribes which were attacking the Empire and after he had secured its borders, he began to concentrate on the Empire’s internal affairs. Diocletian believed that a state religion could keep the empire united. Since paganism was the state religion, Diocletian focused his efforts toward the suppression of Christianity.

During the year 303 A.D., Diocletian summoned his aides to meet in Caesarea, a city of the Eastern Roman Empire. He held three general meetings with his aides, instructing them to persecute the Christians. St. George, since he had shown his excellence while serving in the army, was among these aides. Diocletian asked them to pledge their allegiance to this cause by making pagan sacrifices as proof of their loyalty.

All the aides pledged their loyalty except St. George, who gave all his belongings to the poor, and in front of Diocletian himself, tore the Emperor’s edict of persecution apart and professed his faith in Christ. He condemned the vanity of the idols and those who believed in them. He was resolute in standing firm in his loyalty to his Christ and his faith. For this he suffered terrible torture and was eventually beheaded.

To save George, one of his own loyal military officials, Diocletian attempted to convert him to believe in the Roman gods, and offered him land, money and slaves in exchange for offering a sacrifice to the Roman gods, and made several other offers that George refused.

Finally, the emperor, after exhausting all other options to convince George to recant his Christian faith, ordered him to be taken to prison and a boulder to be placed on his chest as a form of torture. The next morning Diocletian ordered that the prisoner be brought before him for questioning. George stood steadfast and again told Diocletain of the Christian teachings, the Godliness of the crucified Nazarene, and of his belief in the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The emperor then summoned the executioners to take the saint and have him bound to the rim of a wheelset with sharp spikes. He was lacerated on the wheel of swords and required resuscitation three times, but still George did not turn from God. (Many other forms of torture are reported to have been used against George). Diocletian admired the courage of the saint and asked him to sacrifice to the gods to save himself. He refused Diocletian’s request and welcomed the chance to martyr for Christ, as his father had done.

Saint George had the divine zeal in his heart and delivered himself to death, a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (c.f. Romans 12,1), paying heed to Saint Paul’s words: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1,21). That is the reason why Saint George became an imitator and communicant of Christ’s passion. “He that abideth in me, and I in him” (John 15,5).

After praying to God, it is reported he heard a voice from heaven say, “Do not fear, George, I am with you.” With the help of Christ, the spiked wheel had had no effect on George. When he appeared before Diocletian, not only was he unharmed, but an angelic aura had settled about him. Suddenly, two officers of the Roman army, Anatolios, and Protoeon appeared before Diocletian with two thousand soldiers. They admitted their belief in Christ and Dioceletain had them all executed.

On April 23, 303 A.D., George was decapitated. His relics were transferred by Christians to their homeland, Lydda, and there he was buried. Christians went to his resting place to honour George as a martyr.

A witness of George’s suffering convinced Empress Alexandra of Rome to become a Christian as well – and she joined George in martyrdom.

When piety shone upon Constantine the Great, Saint Helen visited to the Holy Land and erected a magnificent Basilica abbove the tomb of Saint George. The consecration of that Church was held on November 3.

St George was canonised in AD 494 by Pope Gelasius, who claimed he was one of those ‘whose names are justly revered among men but whose acts are known only to God’.

During the Middle Ages, people believed that St George was one of the ‘Fourteen Holy Helpers’ – a group of saints who could help during epidemic diseases. St George’s protection was invoked against several nasty diseases, many fatal and with infectious causes, including the Plague and leprosy.

(Not sure about the dragon though…)

The tomb where the relics of the St George were laid is now located in an Orthodox church dedicated to him. The first church was built in the 6th century. The temple was destroyed several times and was restored in its present form with donations from Russia. The consecration of the restored temple took place on November 3, 1872, the anniversary of the day when it was first consecrated. The Russian Church remembers and celebrates this event in the Menaion, in honour of the churches built and dedicated to Saint George in Russia.

References
Various sources including Wikipedia and Saint George Antiochian Orthdodox Church, St George Catholic Church and Coptic Crew.

 

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Earth Day 2024: Planet vs Plastics

Planet vs. Plastics unites students, parents, businesses, governments, churches, unions, individuals, and NGOs in an unwavering commitment to call for the end of plastics for the sake of human and planetary health, demanding a 60% reduction in the production of plastics by 2040 and an ultimate goal of building a plastic-free future for generations to come.

To goals to achieve a 60% reduction by 2040 need to be:

(1) promoting widespread public awareness of the damage done by plastic to human, animal, and all biodiversity’s health and demanding more research be conducted on its health implications, including the release of any and all information regarding its effects to the public;

(2) rapidly phasing out all single use plastics by 2030 and achieving this phase out commitment in the United Nations Treaty on Plastic Pollution in 2024;

(3) demanding policies ending the scourge of fast fashion and the vast amount of plastic it produces and uses; and

(4) investing in innovative technologies and materials to build a plastic-free world.

“The word environment means what surrounds you. Now plastics do more than surround us;  we have become the product itself- it flows through our blood stream, adheres to our internal organs, and carries with it heavy metals known to cause cancer and disease. Now this once-thought amazing and useful product has become something else, and our health and that of all other living creatures hangs in the balance,” said Kathleen Rogers (President of EARTHDAY.ORG)

“The Planet vs. Plastics campaign is a call to arms, a demand that we act now to end the scourge of plastics and safeguard the health of every living being upon our planet.”

Plastics extend beyond an imminent environmental issue; they present a grave threat to human health as alarming as climate change. As plastics break down into microplastics, they release toxic chemicals into our food and water sources and circulate through the air we breathe. Plastic production now has grown to more than 380 million tons per year. More plastic has been produced in the last ten years than in the entire 20th century, and the industry plans to grow explosively for the indefinite future.

“All this plastic was produced by a petrochemical industry with an abysmal record of toxic emissions, spills, and explosions,” said Denis Hayes, Chair Emeritus of EARTHDAY.ORG. “Plastics are produced in polluting facilities that somehow seem to always be located in the poorest neighborhoods. Some plastics are lethal when combusted; other plastics transmit hormone-disrupting chemicals; and all plastics can starve birds and suffocate sea life. At every stage of their life cycles, from the oil well to the town dump, plastics are a dangerous blight.”

More than 500 billion plastic bags—one million bags per minute—were produced worldwide last year. Many plastic bags have a working life of a few minutes, followed by an afterlife of centuries. Even after plastics disintegrate, they remain as microplastics, minute particles permeating every niche of life on the planet.

100 billion plastic beverage containers were sold last year in the United States. That’s more than 300 bottles per inhabitant. A few of them will be converted into park benches; none of them will be made into new plastic bottles and 95% of all plastics in the US won’t be recycled at all. Even the 5% of plastics being recycled are “downcycling” to inferior products or shipped to poorer countries for “recycling”, leaving the demand for virgin plastic undiminished.

People seldom think of water when they think of plastics. But making a plastic water bottle requires six times as much water as the bottle itself contains.

The fast fashion industry annually produces over 100 billion garments. Overproduction and overconsumption have transformed the industry, leading to the disposability of fashion. People now buy 60% more clothing than 15 years ago, but each item is kept for only half as long.

Approximately 85% of garments end up in landfills or incinerators, with only 1% being recycled. Nearly 70% of clothing is made from crude oil, resulting in the release of dangerous microfibers when washed and continued contribution to long-term pollution in landfills.

Social injustice and fashion are directly intertwined, with exploitative working conditions, low wages, and widespread child labor. For far too long, the industry has relied on a fractured supply chain and an almost total lack of governmental regulation.

To learn more about Planet vs. Plastics and join the movement for a plastic-free future, please visit: https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2024/.

(edited from Earth Day 2024 website)

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A reflection from Rev John Gilmore (NCCA President)

 ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ John 13:34

The past few days have been confronting for us all. We have been coming to terms with the deaths of women in Ballarat, Victoria, and then the tragic event in the Bondi Junction shopping centre and now most recently the stabbing attack in the Christ the Good Shepherd Church at Wakeley. Making sense of these happenings is difficult.

We are all, at one level, powerless in the face of such targeted hostility. We know that violence is always wrong and leads to great suffering and vulnerability.

We share a deep and prayerful commitment to community, unity and peace, and with all of this we are faced with a number of risks.

The risk of ‘escalated blame’ is very real. In some ways it is natural to demonise the other and to blame them and to want to punish them for what was done. When such punishment is explored it seems that no proposed punishment is ever enough.

A second blame pathway is to look for reasons as to why such events have happened.  Was it the person’s religious commitment or is there some other reason? Answers can lead to generalisations that all people who share a particular common perspective are to be feared. The outcome of this pathway is a growth in anxiety and suspicion.

Another risk is a growing fear of others. Other people are not to be trusted and are to be feared, particularly if they look, worship or dress differently to me. This leads to a loss of our common humanity.

None these outcomes are of the way of Christ. The Christlike perspective involves holding two realities close together. One being an honest and open understanding of these events and the other being a deep commitment to the way of love (agape) incarnated in Jesus.

This way of Christ leads us to life, builds compassion, creates unity and holds people accountable for what has happened. This path is a prayerful, honest and at times a lonely one. It is the ’narrow path’ and it leads to life.

Jesus says to us in John 13:34: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ 

Out of these words of Jesus comes not the energy of blame and fear, rather the life of sacrificial, forgiving and renewing love.

Rev John Gilmore

NCCA President