Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, the new general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Here he reflects on the ecumenical movement and ‘young people’.
The ecumenical movement can never succeed in the future or present without the involvement of young people. Young people are the ones who bring new ways of thinking, new changes, new insights, a new appreciation of things, and new levels of engagement. Because young people bring this to us, we cannot neglect the young people. We cannot say, “they can wait until later.”
The WCC 11th Assembly said that young people should be involved in WCC’s governance, they should be involved in our programs, in our reference groups and our commissions, and they must be involved in the life of the WCC. I believe young people bring a greater understanding of spirituality different from what some of us have been accustomed to, yet challenging and engaging, relevant, and contextual. Young people make us think differently about many issues but help us realize the need for spirituality, the need for recreating the one human race, and dealing with environmental issues – I find young people are so geared up about environmental issues.
We need them to bring new life to our churches. We need them to speak into ecumenical organizations and into every aspect of Christian life and living. We don’t want tokenism. We want challenge. We want insightful movements. We want engagements. We also have the Bossey Ecumenical Institute that actually focuses on young people and theology. Without young people, we are in trouble!
The Sunday Times on 4th March featured an article by Sophia Spring, following an interview with singer Nick Cave on the publication of his book, Faith, Hope and Carnage.
Nick Cave grew up in Wangaratta and sang as a choirboy in Wangaratta Holy Trinity Cathedral. Throughout his career he has startled his audiences with lyrics saturated with God and echoes of the Bible. He is not exactly a stranger here.
In his recent book of conversations with the music journalist Sean O’Hagan, Faith, Hope and Carnage, he speaks with raw clarity about how his creative energy has been fed by the experience of agonising grief and loss. At the heart of this is the death of Arthur, his 15-year-old son, in 2015, after falling from a cliff edge near Brighton — one of many bereavements in his life. Heartbreakingly Cave has since lost another son, 31-year-old Jethro. All this has come to be bound up for him with the awareness of the holy. He has been drawn back to some sense of belonging within the battered, inarticulate and compromised community that is the Church.
Few books have brought home more completely the way in which grief and creativity work together. The book also reveals the way in which faith, without ever giving a plain, comforting answer, offers resources to look at what is terrible without despair or evasion. Cave’s faith is not that of a man looking for shortcuts or consolations. At one point he speaks about the “spiritual audacity” that he felt coming to birth in the wake of Arthur’s death — “a kind of reckless refusal to submit to the condition of the world”.
He has rediscovered what can only be described as joy, through “an altered connection to the world”: “spasms of delight”, a brightness uncovered in things, coexisting with the “dark, vacuous space” of loss. This is a joy that has nothing much to do with “feeling happy” or with satisfaction. “It’s there, despite ourselves … not attached to anything.” This double vision, Cave says, is fundamental to the religious impulse. It explains why in church he feels able to hold together both the doubt and pain and the sense of anchorage.
The Triumph of the Veneration of the Icon celebrated with a procession of the icons around the church.
(from an article by Fr Stephen Freeman) No spiritual activity permeates Orthodoxy as much as veneration. For the non-Orthodox, veneration is often mistaken for worship. We kiss icons; sing hymns to saints; cry out “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!” And all of this scandalizes the non-Orthodox who think we have fallen into some backwater of paganized Christianity. It is not unusual to hear Orthodox who more or less apologize for this activity and seek to minimize it. “We are only trying to give honor to the saints, etc.” What is lacking, all too often, is a vigorous explanation for the work of veneration and its central place in the Christian life.
The normal mode of “seeing” in our daily world can be called “objective.” We see things as objects, and nothing more. Indeed, we see most people as objects unless we have reason to do otherwise. Sometimes we see people as objects in order not to see them as otherwise. But this objective viewing is an extremely limited and limiting way of seeing anything. Veneration brings us to a different form of seeing.
It is carefully noted in the accounts of Christ’s resurrection that he is unrecognized at first, and on more than one occasion. Mary Magdalen mistakes Him for the gardener. The disciples on the road to Emmaus talk with Him while they are walking but do not recognize Him until the moment at which He disappears. The disciples who are fishing do not recognize Him until after they have a miraculous catch of fish.
The silliest explanations of these failures to recognize are the ones that try to attribute it to grief. The stories clearly have something else in mind. This “something else” is particularly revealed in Christ’s encounter with Mary Magdalen. She thinks He is the gardener and wants to know to where the body of Jesus has been moved. But suddenly this “gardener” calls her by name, “Mary.” And she recognizes Him.
What has taken place is the change from an objective seeing to a personal seeing. It is only in the realm of personhood that we experience communion. We do not and cannot commune with “mere” objects. The Resurrection, among many things, represents the triumph of the personal over the objective. The Resurrected Christ cannot be seen in an objective manner, or, at least, He cannot be seen for who He is in such a manner. It would be more accurate, or helpful, to say that He is discerned, or perceived, rather than merely seen. Both “discerned” and “perceived” imply something more from the observer than simple seeing. (In truth, “seeing” should be more than “mere seeing.” In Greek, the verb, “to know,” is derived from a root meaning “to see.”)
Veneration is far more than the acts of bowing, kissing, crossing oneself, offering incense or lighting candles. Those things become veneration when they are offered towards the person who is made present in an icon. An icon that becomes an object ceases to be a true icon and becomes mere art, or worse, the object of a fetish. The Fathers taught that an “icon makes present that which it represents.” The veneration of an icon is an encounter with a person.
It is worth noting that in one of the better treatments of the theology of icons – saints are generally painted “face-to-face” rather than in profile. Judas and demons are frequently seen depicted in profile, on the other hand. There are exceptions to this rule, some by the hands of very competent iconographers. Nonetheless, the general observation remains important. We encounter persons, as person, face-to-face. The impersonal, objective treatment of another person is an act of shaming and inherently hides our own face from them.
At some point, the Church’s use of iconography became distorted and became the Church’s use of art. Art is interesting and serves the end of beauty (when done well). But this development in the Church (primarily in the West, and occasionally in the East as well, as certain styles were copied) represents a turning away from the icon as encounter and the objectification of human beings and nature. It is among the many serious steps that created the notion of a secularized world.
Jesus, as an artistic subject, is equally accessible to all. His use in art renders Him as object. Indeed, Jesus is frequently used to “make a statement.” But this is the anti-icon, the betrayal of the personal as made known to us in the Resurrection. Christ becomes historicized, just one object among many to be dissected and discussed.
Of course, Christians are free. We may decorate our lives with art as we choose so long as we don’t confuse art with iconography, nor religious sentiment with spiritual encounter. But our engagement with art can easily overtake our experience of icons. Our culture knows how to “see” art, but icons remain opaque. Only the true act of veneration reveals what is made present in an icon.
I can recall my first experience with an icon. I had bought a print from St. Vladimir’s and mounted it. I would have it in front of me during my prayer time. I would look and think, and look harder. I think I expected to “see” something or for there to be a trail of thoughts inspired by my looking. But it was simply empty. I was a young college-age Anglican at the time and had no idea how to find my way into the world of an icon.
Some decades later, I became Orthodox, having written a Master’s thesis on the theology of icons and come to understand them. The summer following my conversion, I visited St. Vladimir’s Seminary for my first time. I was surprised when I walked into the chapel to see that the icon of the Virgin on the iconostasis was the original of the small print I had begun my journey with. And then I could see her. All of the journey seemed intensely personal, without accident or caprice. She had brought me home!
This is something that veneration begins to reveal to us. We do not think about the saints or imagine them. In their icons and our veneration, we come to know them. We see them face-to-face and even learn to recognize them and their work and prayers in our daily lives. The world is not accident and caprice. It is deeply intentional and personal, and conspiring towards our salvation.
The “objects” in our lives are nothing of the sort. It is only the dark and callous objectivity of the modern heart that has so disenchanted reality. We imagine ourselves the only sentient beings marooned on a small, blue planet in space. We wonder if there is “life” out there, as if there were anything else anywhere.
The world is icon and sacrament. But it cannot be known until we see it face-to-face. And you will not see anything face-to-face unless and until you venerate it. Veneration is a word that describes the proper attitude to the whole of creation.
On the veneration of the Icon, St. John of Damascus stated the following: “I do not venerate the creation over the creator, but I venerate the creator who became creation like me, and came down into creation without humiliation and without being debased, in order to glorify my nature and make me to be partaker of the divine nature …. For the nature of flesh has not become deity, but, as the Word became flesh without change, remaining as he was, likewise the flesh became Word, without losing what it is, identifying moreover with the Word hypostatically. Thus, taking courage, I represent God, the invisible, not as invisible, but insofar as he has become visible for us by participation in flesh and blood. I do not represent the invisible deity but I represent the flesh of God which has been seen.” (P.G. 94, 1236Bc).
As Valentine’s Day approaches, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is sending a message about healthy relationships: “Love Heals, Not Hurts.” The campaign, now in its fifth year, is part of the WCC Thursdays in Black global movement for a world free from rape and violence.
The special Valentine’s message, also shared via social media cards, is an annual tradition that’s part of the WCC’s work toward gender justice.
In a video reflection, WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay noted that the Bible tells us that love is the greatest of all spiritual gifts.
“It is a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person, or a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep care for a parent, child, family member, or friend,” he said. “Love values and respects the other person, supports their wellbeing, and demands nothing in return.”
This is the love, Pillay continued, that many share and receive in familial, platonic, and romantic relationships. “In this season of celebrating love, sharing symbols of love is natural and healthy,” he said. “At its best, such sharing strengthens us as individuals, communities and society.”
The WCC, in 1998, declared sexual and gender-based violence a sin, and reiterated condemnation of such acts in 2018. Yet, violence against women and girls, men, and boys continues daily, as tragic statistics show.
Approximately 81,000 women and girls were murdered across the globe in 2020, or one female every 11 minutes. Among them, 46,980 women and girls died as a result of intimate partner violence.
One in three women face physical, sexual, or some other form of abuse in their lifetime. “We may not realize that this translates to more than one billion women and girls being affected by abuse and other forms of violence, and 736 million girls and women being subject to intimate or non-partner physical or sexual violence,” said Pillay.
Love is not easily provoked and is not evil, concluded Pillay. “Love heals, love restores, love redeems,” he said. “This Valentine’s Day and always, the WCC stands against rape and violence.”
Archbishop Peter Comensoli and a number of Australian Catholic Bishops are part of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Oceania* which gathers every four years for a continental gathering**. They are meeting in Suva, Fiji, 5th-10th February 2023. (Videos from each day are available on the Federation of Catholic Bishops Oceania YouTube channel)
Discussions will primarily focus on care for the oceans, which is an important part of caring for our common home, as set forth by Pope Francis in Laudato si’. Participants will be listening to the cry of the earth and vulnerable peoples with visits to villages that bear the impacts of sea level rise and resource extraction
Another important focus of the Assembly will be finalising the continental (Oceania* region) response to the Synod of Bishops ‘Document for the Continental Stage’. This is a most significant document on synodality – well worth a detailed read.
Since the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Francis has been highlighting the importance of cultivating synodality in the Catholic Church. In his own words, synodality is the path “which God expects of the Church of the third millennium” because it is “a constitutive element of the Church.”
The fundamental question that guides this consultation of the People of God is the following: A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, “journeys together:” How is this “journeying together” happening today in your particular Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “journeying together”?
Pope Francis called for a Synod on Synodality, to take place from 2021 to 2024. Pope Francis’ call to focus on synodality is a call to restore and deepen the understanding that the People of God journey together in a common mission as followers of the Way, Jesus Christ. It indicates a way of listening to each individual person as a member of the Church to understand more fully how God might be speaking to the whole people of God. Synodality is a reminder that the Holy Spirit works in and through each of us and draws us to work together for our common mission.
In October 2023, the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will meet in Rome under the theme, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission”.
*The Oceania regional grouping comprises the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands and the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific (CEPAC) – which includes Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, New Caledonia, Northern Mariana Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna.
** There are 7 Continental Synodal Assemblies happening around the world during the first quarter of 2023.
The latest death toll from Monday’s catastrophic earthquake has passed 11,000+. There are fears that the toll will rise inexorably, with World Health Organization officials estimating up to 20,000 may have died. A WHO senior emergency officer said about 23 million people, including 1.4 million children, are likely to be affected by the quake. More than 8,000 people so far have been pulled from the debris in Turkey, said the Turkish vice-president, Fuat Oktay. About 380,000 people have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels, with others huddling in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centres, and in trains being used as emergency accommodation It’s bitterly cold in the northern winter. A state of emergency in the region has been declared for 3 months.
Holy One of mercy and peace,
as you walked across the stormy sea so long ago,
walk in the rubble of broken buildings
destroyed by devastating earthquakes in Turkïye and Syria.
Hold tenderly all who mourn today
for loved ones who have died
for those who are waiting for news, and identifications,
for those who are missing to be found.
Be among those who care for the wounded –
rescue workers, medical teams and emergency workers.
Sustain those who wait in emergency shelters.
We pray especially for Syrian refugees already in dire need
and now facing this new catastrophe.
We pray for families and relatives now living in Australia
as they deal with the shock of this tragedy.
May resources might make their way quickly to where they are most needed,
and for targeted aid to reach those who can best use it.
May compassion stir generosity in the nations of the world.
We ask your spirit to guide our words and thoughts.
Stir compassion and imagination, as we seek our best loving response.
Enlarge our hearts, so we can respond with you. Amen.
(adapted from prayers by Maren Tirabassi and Rev Dr Amelia Koh-Butler)
For those trapped in tragedy, We pray.
For those caught in disaster, We pray.
For those full of desperation We pray.
For those swallowed in a well of sadness, We pray.
For those lost in loss, We pray.
For those crying for hope, We pray.
For those whose world is hurt, We pray.
For those whose future is uncertain, We pray.
For those in need of help, We pray.
For those who can help, We pray.
God help where help is needed, We pray.
Amen. (Source: Jon Humphries, Uniting Church in Australia)
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023 (May 21st-28th, 2023)
Churches in the Northern Hemisphere traditionally celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is usually celebrated around Pentecost.
This year the date is May 21st to 28th, using the theme ‘Do good; seek justice’ (Isaiah 1.17).
The resource has been adapted for the Australian context, and will be available in February 2023. Start planning for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in May. Even better, collaborate with churches in your region to plan a service together.
The resource for 2023 has been prepared by a team in Minnesota, USA. Rev. Dr Curtiss Paul DeYoung, co-chief executive officer of the Minnesota Council of Churches, helped convene the team of authors.
What were the biggest challenges the authors faced in drafting this year’s materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?
Dr DeYoung: The work of composing the materials was very personal for the team of authors. They all had direct experience with racism, intense feelings of grief and outrage at the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and subsequent involvement in the protests that resulted. Engaging scriptural texts to call for racial justice and unity required revisiting the very personal nature of the work. Another challenge was selecting language that would convey a Minneapolis or United States perspective of racism in a way that could be understood by a global audience. A third challenge was how to speak to an institutional church that contains both those in power and those who feel powerless. Calling for Christian unity requires a balance of both a prophetic and pastoral approach that acknowledges complicity and offers healing.
For people that would term some of your resources “political” rather than “spiritual,” what would you say to them?
Dr DeYoung: Issues of racial and social justice cannot easily be divided between political or spiritual. The Hebrew prophets often spoke truth about injustices to the political leaders of their time. Jesus preached a gospel that was good news and liberation to those oppressed. The spiritual is political; and the political needs the spiritual.
What is your personal hope for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?
Dr DeYoung: I hope that this resource created by a team of Minnesota Christian leaders will motivate Christians around the world to address the injustices in their context that divide society and the church. This begins with dialogue that creates a biblically-informed shared understanding and is followed by a commitment to the long haul.
Can you tell us a little about how the team was selected?
Dr DeYoung: Given that George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis in 2020, the World Council of Churches reached out to the Minnesota Council of Churches to form a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity writing team that represented racial justice activist voices here. We organized a team of six Black, two Indigenous, and one Latine Christian leaders in Minnesota. All equally contributed in the writing and editing.
A free training event is being offered at Brunswick Uniting Church, in collaboration with Merri-bek Council, aimed at NDIS service providers who assisting people who may be eligible to access, or are accessing the NDIS, under the psychosocial disability stream.
Interested people can register for this free event here.
‘Applying for NDIS support and understanding the system can be very confusing and difficult to navigate’ said Ellisa Scott, Project Coordinator at IMHA. ‘This training aims to increase the skills of NDIS service workers, to be able to train others at their organisation to help people experiencing mental health issues to self-advocate for what they need’, she said.
‘Peer support workers from mental health services and carers were involved in every stage of the development to ensure the training provided real-world solutions for people, at any stage of the process of engaging with the NDIS’ she said.
The package builds on a 2019 co-designed workbook ‘Self-Advocacy for the NDIS (Mental Health)’, developed in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS); Designated mental health services; VMIAC and Tandem. It covers everything from applying for the NDIS, to plans, appeals and reviews. Originally in-person trainings using the workbook were planned.
What is in the training?
In response to our changed environment due to COVID-19, the online training package includes two eLearning modules that participants can undertake in their own time, which focus on knowledge development. These will be followed by two interactive webinars that target skill development, co-facilitated with a peer support worker. Attendees at the training will also be given exclusive access to the Self-Advocacy for the NDIS trainer online hub, where they can share learnings with other participants of the training.
A pilot of the training was recently conducted. ‘This training was thought-provoking. Although I’m not new to advocacy, it gave me food for thought as I go forward in my role of supporting NDIS participants, and how I can support them, to best support themselves’, said one attendee.
“Our Aboriginal culture has taught us to be still and to wait. We do not try to hurry things up. We let them follow their natural course – like the seasons. We watch the moon in each of its phases. We wait for the rain to fill our rivers and water the thirsty earth…
When twilight comes, we prepare for the night. At dawn we rise with the sun.
We watch the bush foods and wait for them to ripen before we gather them. We wait for our young people as they grow, stage by stage, through their initiation ceremonies. When a relation dies, we wait a long time with the sorrow. We own our grief and allow it to heal slowly.
We wait for the right time for our ceremonies and our meetings. The right people must be present. Everything must be done in the proper way. Careful preparations must be made. We don’t mind waiting, because we want things to be done with care. Sometimes many hours will be spent on painting the body before an important ceremony.
We don’t like to hurry. There is nothing more important than what we are attending to. There is nothing more urgent that we must hurry away for.
We wait on God, too. His time is the right time. We wait for him to make his word clear to us. We don’t worry. We know that in time and in the spirit of dadirri (that deep listening and quiet stillness) his way will be clear.
We are River people. We cannot hurry the river. We have to move with its current and understand its ways.
We hope that the people of Australia will wait. Not so much waiting for us – to catch up – but waiting with us, as we find our pace in this world…Our culture is different. We are asking our fellow Australians to take time to know us; to be still and to listen to us…”
A beautiful reflection by Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, Aboriginal activist, educator, artist and 2021 Senior Australian of the Year.
This excerpt is from a longer reflection by Miriam-Rose on dadirri, a spiritual practice of the Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri languages of the Aboriginal peoples of the Daly River region, focused on inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness.
Introduction by Rev Sharon Hollis, President Uniting Church in Australia, and Rev Mark Kickett, Interim National Chair Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress
Since 2019 the Uniting Church has marked a Day of Mourning to reflect on the dispossession of Australia’s First Peoples and the ongoing injustices faced by First Nations people in this land. For those of us who are Second Peoples from many lands, we lament that we were and remain complicit.
This observance arises from a request from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) which was endorsed by the 15th Assembly in 2018. The declaration of the Sunday before Australia/Survival/Invasion Day as a Day of Mourning is an expression of the Uniting Church’s commitment to justice and truth-telling which is required of us by the Covenant we have made and reaffirmed with UAICC.
Again in 2023, we invite you on or around Sunday 22 January to hold worship services that reflect on the effects of invasion and colonisation on First Peoples. These resources are provided to help you in your marking of the Day of Mourning.
In marking a day of mourning, we hear the promise of Jesus that the truth will set us free. The Day of Mourning invites us to listen to the truth of the effects of colonisation and racism on First Peoples and to hope that in confronting this truth we will discover ways to create communities of justice and healing.
In marking the Day of Mourning, we live into our covenant relationship to stand together with, and listen to, the wisdom of First Nations people in their struggle for justice. We affirm the sovereignty of First Peoples and honour their culture and their connection to country.
We reaffirm our understanding that First Peoples encountered the Creator God long before colonisation. We confess and seek forgiveness for the dispossession and violence against First Peoples. We lament our part, and we recommit to justice and truth-telling. We encourage you to use this opportunity to make a connection with UAICC or First Peoples in your local community. You might also like to take this opportunity to begin a conversation about how you will continue to live out the covenant as a faith community and explore the Assembly’s Living The Covenant Locally resource as a way to begin or continue this journey.
As the President of the Uniting Church and the Interim National Chair of UAICC, we pray that our Church and our nation will continue on this journey of confession, truth-telling and seeking of justice and healing.
As we move into 2023 with the probability of a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, we ask that all members of the Uniting Church inform themselves about the Uluru Statement and its vision of Voice, Treaty, Truth. We ask that you conduct conversations about the Voice with respect, and with the impact of whatever you say on First Peoples always at the forefront of your mind. We pray that this year in our nation might be moment of reckoning when we face the truth of our past and present in ways that promote healing and justice.
Grace and peace,
Rev Sharon Hollis / President Uniting Church in Australia Rev Mark Kickett / Interim National Chair Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress