The stereotypical image of a ‘homeless person’ needs dastric revision. In recent years the vast majority of homeless people have been women (and children) escaping domestic and family violence, or relationship breakdowns, leaving them financially vulnerable and facing insecure housing arrangements.
Now, the housing crisis is driving surging demand for homelessness services. Families are living in cars, and emergency accommodation. And more to come, when the fixed interest mortgage rates come to an end and people face further financial crisis.
Article on Homelessness Australia website, August 4, 2023
A new analysis reveals surging demand for homelessness services as record low rental vacancies and soaring prices push thousands of Australian families to the brink.
The Overstretched and overwhelmed: the strain on homelessness services report was prepared to mark the start of Homelessness Week. It cross-references Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data against service costs as outlined in the Productivity Commission Report on Government Services to reveal that an additional $450 million in homelessness support is needed to respond to new people needing homelessness assistance and people currently being turned away.
Between December and March, the number of people seeking homelessness assistance spiked 7.5 per cent, an extra 6,658 clients.
The overwhelming bulk of that need came from people seeking homelessness help because of financial stress and the housing crisis. Of the 95,767 people seeking assistance in March 2023, 83 per cent of them (79,244) needed help due to issues with their housing or financial stress.
Queensland saw the biggest increase in homelessness service use followed by Western Australia and NSW.
People seeking homelessness assistance in Victoria (highest in the country) December 2022 31,088 March 2023. 32,733 (up 5.3%) (compared to next highest: NSW December 2022 – 22,432; March 2023 – 24,730. Up 10.2%)
The report also highlights the impact of the housing crisis on women and children, with women and children making up 74% of all people using homelessness services. Of those turned away from homelessness services because they lacked the resources to assist, 80% were women and children and 31% were children under 18.
The report finds that if the current surge in demand continues, it will equate to an annual increase in demand equivalent to an additional 19,974 people. When combined with the 71,962 people currently turned away from homelessness services each year this adds up to 91,936 extra people needing support. The cost of funding this support is approximately $451 million.
The surge in demand was making it harder to assist people confronting homelessness.
A 7.5% increase in demand in just four months is unheard of. It forces homelessness services to make extremely tough decisions about who gets assistance.
Support services are triaging based on people’s vulnerability and need, but the reality is highly vulnerable people are being turned away because services simply have too few staff and other support resources. When you annualise this demand and add it to the existing people turned away we are looking at a funding shortfall of more than $450 million. This is just one terrible side effect of the worst housing crisis in living memory.
The bulk of increased demand comes from women and children, many of whom are fleeing violence. It is beyond comprehension that we have to turn people away, especially in winter.
The Federal Government has recently committed to new resources for social housing which is welcome, but while the housing crisis continues to drive increased homelessness, a significant funding boost is needed to cope with this unprecedented surge in demand. Australia has the means to end homelessness, we just need the will.
A celebration of Lay Preachers (usually on the first Sunday in August)
To preach the Gospel, the grace of God in Jesus Christ, is one of the greatest privileges anyone can have – and a pretty significant responsibility as well!
In the Uniting Church that that privilege is extended not just to Pastors and ordained ministers – Ministers of the Word and Deacons – in congregation placement, but to lay people, “ordinary” members of a congregation who respond to a Call from God to bring the Gospel of grace to their people.
The Ministry of Lay Preaching is a Specified Ministry in the Uniting Church, that is, it is of such importance that there are Regulations relating to the training and formal recognition of Lay Preachers. And those who have been through the formation will bear witness to the incredible richness of understanding, and deepening of faith, that accompanies the study involved.
There are also many who faithfully lead their people in worship and with preaching each week and who do not have any formal recognition. The church recognises the reality that without the faithful service of these people, there would be many congregations on any given Sunday with nobody to lead their worship.
So in the celebration of Lay Preachers Sunday, we thank God for the dedication and the gifts of accredited Lay Preachers, but also all people Lay and Ordained who bring the insights of their life experience to their faith and share that with us each week.
We pray the blessing of God on them all.:
There are diverse gifts: but it is the same Spirit who gives them. There are different ways of serving God: but it is the same Lord who is served. God works through people in different ways: but it is the same God whose purpose is achieved through us all. Each one of us is given a gift by the Spirit: and there is no gift without its corresponding service. There is one ministry of Christ: and in this ministry we all share. Together we are the body of Christ: and individually members of it. (Based on 1 Corinthians 12:4ff)
A reflection by Rev Prof Andrew Dutney on lay preachers
On Saturday 29th July the Welcoming and Inclusive Conference was held, with a focus on actions for churches in response to people with disabilities and mental health issues. It was organised by the Victorian Council of Churches, the UCA Justice Unit, and the Salvation Army, and held at the Salvation Army complex at Box Hill.
Extraordinarily good speakers including key note speakers Rev Dr Andy Calder (Disability Inclusion Advocate, UCA Synod of Vic/Tas) and Colleen Pearce, Victoria’s Public Advocate who advocates for human rights and the interests of people with a disability and mental illness, as well as significant issues of abuse, neglect and exploitation. There were workshops in the afternoon.
A video of the morning proceedings will be available online.
Here is the opening reflection I offered to begin the day:
This is a significant day. The church has a particular responsibility to be welcoming and inclusive. Everyone is made in God’s image and is precious in God’s sight. All people bear the image of God. And the gift of God’s grace and love and mercy is offered to us all. Jesus crossed borders and boundaries to be with those with psychosocial impairments and physical disability, to bring hope, as much through healing as it was through a willingness to be attentive to their needs and to include them in the family of God in a culture where mental and physical ailments were a cause for exclusion.
And for us today – the message is clear, that our priority is to create a welcoming, supportive environment for all people. If there is any sense that some people are not good enough to be included in the heart of community, you’re preaching a different gospel to the one exemplified in the life of Jesus. Everyone should feel safe and welcome and included in our church life, companions on this wonderful journey of life that has been gifted to us.
And yes, that may mean things may be a little different. We may need to accept behaviours that are not what we are used to. We need to create safe space for everyone. But more than that, to be able to welcome the gift each person brings to community, to learn from and with each other, to be open to change together. Not everyone’s gifts will look the same but everyone’s gifts are vital for the way we function as the body of Christ.
Today we will hear many wise voices, share many experiences, learn from the stories others bring, encounter fresh ideas, be challenged, and find encouragement, wisdom and hope. May these experiences be like that parable of the yeast in the flour, and rise up and refresh our Christian communities to reflect what it means to be the body of Christ in all its fullness.
The Archbishop of Canterbury highlights the power of young people have as the agents of peace able to shape and change the narratives of endless conflict around them.
The Archbishop of Canterbury hosted his annual keynote address on reconciliation on Thursday 6 July 2023. The focus of his speech was young people and the importance of equipping them as peacemakers and reconcilers.
Emphasising that peace and reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian story and mission, the address highlighted the need to empower young people as leaders who can build peace – both for the flourishing of the next generation but also as imperatives for the Church and the world.
The Archbishop commended the deep commitment of young people to values of justice and equity, and their concern about matters of peace and reconciliation – from understanding friendships in the face of disagreement to addressing societal inequality. Research shows that the generation known as ‘Gen Z’ places a high value on diversity and prioritises social activism, with 70% involved in a social or political cause. They care deeply about sustainability and climate justice.
Speaking about the importance of equipping young people to be peacemakers and reconcilers, Archbishop Justin said: “It is a scandalous reality that all too many young people witness or experience violence and lack alternative models of dealing with conflict. Conflict can be as simple as being cancelled, to extreme domestic, civil or international violence.
“Across the world, more than 600 million young people live in fragile and conflict-affected contexts and it is estimated that one in four young people are affected by violence or armed conflict. Research by the UN has highlighted how violent conflict ‘distorts the life cycle progress’ of young people, sometimes forcing them to take on adult roles prematurely or closing off opportunities for education and employment.”
“While we pray that future generations will inherit something better, this reality is what young people experience now. We need to equip and empower young people to deal with complexity, build relationships and cross divides with confidence and perseverance. We need to resource them as peacemakers. If we are to face the challenges of our times, we all – young and old alike – need to learn how to be people of reconciliation. We need to become people who, empowered by the Holy Spirit, bring courage, creativity and hope to those around us by stepping into broken places.”
One of the Church of England’s strategic priorities is to be younger and more diverse, doubling the number of children and young active disciples by 2030. Equipping young people to navigate a fractured and conflicted world is an essential part of this work.
Reconciliation is one of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s three personal priorities for his ministry and he has set a vision for the church to be a reconciling presence in the midst of conflict. As part of this, Archbishop Justin Welby has brought together leading thinkers and peacemakers to create Difference.
Difference is a free resource designed for churches which equips people with three formational habits to cross divides, navigate disagreement and pursue a just and flourishing world. Bespoke versions of Difference are being created for schools and church-based youth groups, due to be launched in early 2024.
(originally published by Martin Kitara is the Communications and Marketing Manager for the Difference team)
(first published on Churches of Christ Vic/Tas website, 21 June 2023)
In her 1960s biography of Doug Nicholls, Pastor Doug, Mavis Thorpe Clark refers to the 1937 petition for a Voice to Parliament signed by 1,814 Indigenous Australians. It sought their representation in both Federal and State Governments and was to be presented to King George VI. Ultimately, it was rejected because the Commonwealth had no authority to amend the Constitution apart from a referendum.
A parallel idea was to write to the Prime Minister asking for a National Day of Mourning on Australia Day, 26th January, in 1938. This was to mark the 150th anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet. The Melbourne Argus published an offensive report on 17th January, suggesting that “the Australian Aboriginal culture belongs to a very early stage of mankind’s development [and that its people] cannot be treated as a modern, civilised race.” The Day of Mourning proceeded, but with little public or official support.
Doug Nicholls, involved in several of the earliest discussions on these matters (with the hope that his VFA and VFL footballing profile would assist) later wrote to the Prime Minister in 1949, after the proposal to erect the Woomera rocket range. As a representative spokesperson for many Indigenous people, including as a Churches of Christ minister in Melbourne, his willingness to take action was significant. He again urged that an Indigenous representative be permitted to advocate on issues such as the Woomera matter, stating the desire for his people to have a spokesperson “in the National Parliament of their own native land.” Further correspondence with Kim Beazley Snr. reiterated the difficulty in enacting such request without alteration of the Constitution.
After many such attempts at change led by distinguished Indigenous leaders connected to our movement, we again hear the cry for a Constitutional amendment that would finally give a voice to Indigenous Australians. This time, continuation of the legacy of forward-thinking justice seems to be more widely supported, even if some apprehensions remain.
(Reservations over the nature of ‘The Voice,’ and the extent to which it might be utilised, have been countered by the fact that it must be permitted before detailing its implementation, as with the introduction of other legislated powers).
Walking with Indigenous Christians empathetically over time has taught many to listen to what Indigenous people want and need. Could the significance of some other important and prominent initiatives, first sought by Indigenous Christians decades ago and currently supported by a strong majority of First Nations People, also be calling us to consider what it is that we can, or should, do now?
This week (16th-22nd July) the prayer cycle of the World Council of Churches has a focus on Somalia on the Horn of Africa, and the tiny adjoining country of Djibouti . The prayer cycle connects us with different places and regions around the world, inviting prayers for others – prayers of praise and prayers of intercession.
“Iska warran?” is the standard greeting among both close friends and acquaintances in Somalia which means, “Tell me what is new with you.” Somalis do not consider one another as strangers even if they never met before. It is not uncommon for two Somalis who never met before to meet on a bus ride and strike up a conversation. Before the journey is over, they could be mistaken for friends who have known each other for years. Despite decades of brutal civil war, a Somali will usually trust another Somali they have known for a short time more than a foreigner they have known for a long time. (Source: Pray for Somalia)
There is plenty to pray about in Somalia. Climate change and conflict are wreaking havoc in Somalia with historic drought, floods and a widening war with al-Shabab that have led to the displacement of more than a million people this past year.
As well, Somalia has traditionally sourced more than 90% of its grains from Ukraine and Russia. The war in Ukraine, and Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian wheat, has exacerbated food insecurity in Somalia, and to a crisis that could lead to a famine more deadly than the last one in 2011.
“Somalia’s crisis hasn’t been at the top of donors’ minds since the beginning of the Ukraine war because the humanitarian attention has shifted to the greater Ukraine devastation,” Osman said. “Therefore, the impact of the severe drought that came on the heels of the COVID-19, have largely continued, pushing Somalia closer toward famine.”
Somali economic analyst Ali Mohamed Osman
Following an unprecedented fifth failed consecutive rainfall season in the country and a predicted reduction in humanitarian assistance from April 2023, it is estimated that 8.3 million people in Somalia will be facing acute food insecurity at this time. The numbers of internally displaced people keep rising. More than a million people will have been displaced in the first half of this year.
“These are alarming figures of some of the most vulnerable people forced to abandon the little that they had to head for the unknown”.
Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director Mohamed Abdi
Water shortages have led to increased disease among livestock – even among camels and goats, which are usually more resilient than cows – low birth rates, decreased milk production, and deaths. This leads to a lack of vital nutrition, such as milk and protein, especially for children. Even when livestock aren’t dying, their decreased health and weight have led to reduced value at market, hurting household incomes. Herds often take five years or more to rebuild after catastrophic shocks.
Thankfully, the current rainy season (April – June 2023) was better than expected and a famine appears to have been narrowly avoided by sustained humanitarian assistance and declining food prices. But the crisis is far from over. As many as 1.8 million Somali children under the age of five could still face acute malnutrition through 2023, with an estimated 477,700 needing treatment for severe wasting.
Somalia’s story is not just one of prolonged droughts, either. Climate change has locked the country in a spiral of droughts and floods, with rains flooding the lowlands and displacing more than 200,000 people. catastrophic flooding. Almost the entire population of the central Somali town of Beledweyne was displaced due to flash floods in May this year. Twelve days later, the water had still not receded, leaving critical infrastructure inundated and roads impassable and delaying the arrival of humanitarian aid.
Somalia has the lowest health budget of any nation, and the highest infant mortality rate – nearly 12% of all children die as infants.
About a third of Somalian people are facing acute food insecurity, and about 6.4 million are unable to access sufficient water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.
In recent years, terrorist group Al-Shabaab has rapidly gained power in Somalia and is now an officially recognised branch of Al-Qaeda. It also has ties to Nigeria’s Boko Haram. People are afraid of returning to areas under the control of al-Shabaab. The militants have tried to stop people from leaving their homes, accusing them of supporting the government and acting as spies. They are terrified of being punished on their return. While foreign aid is sent to the country, Al-Shabaab continues to block aid flowing through to refugees and a starving Somali population, and to block the entry of international aid groups.
Somalian born people living in Australia have mainly come as refugees. In the 2021 census, there were 18,401 people identifying their ancestry as “Somali” with 54% of these residing in Victoria, particularly in suburbs like Flemington, North Melbourne, Carlton, Kensington, Ascot Vale, Fitzroy and nearby areas.
Prayers for Somalia
To be honest, it was hard to find suitable prayers to suggest that capture the gravity of the situation. Even this prayer from a WCC morning prayer seemed disconnected from the current reality (although, of course, the sentiments in the prayer are true and worthy). “Give to them and to us your peace. Give to them and us tranquillity. As we together experience your divine blessings, may our lives be a constant witness of your amazing grace”.
Perhaps to light a candle and sit in a time of silence and connect with God’s compassion and love for all the peoples of the earth may move us in prayer and into action more than words alone can do.
This prayer from Tearfund may be helpful to guide your prayers:
From manna in the wilderness to bread and fish on the mountainside, you have shown your power and generosity in providing for the hungry. We appeal to your power and will to move today in meeting the needs of the millions of people who are facing life-threatening hunger. We hold before you the people made most vulnerable by this crisis, knowing that you see them, you hear their cries, and you are able and desiring to meet their needs.
We know that the limitations facing supply chains and harvests do not limit you. Lord, please work beyond the disruptions, blockages and adverse conditions and make a way for supplies to reach those who desperately need them.
We pray for those who rely on farming to feed their families and earn an income. Encourage those who labour over the land, help them to find solutions and resilience to the challenges they face. God of creation, we ask you to mercifully bring favourable conditions to the land, for planting, growth and harvest. Bring rain in the right amounts and right timing to where it is needed now, softening the land to receive rain when it arrives. Please protect crops from attack from pests and diseases.
Lord, please bring an end to the violence and establish real and lasting peace. Protect those who are working for peace at local, national and regional levels, providing them with strength, wisdom and courage. We trust that you would be especially close to those who have had to flee their homes, or are experiencing trauma. Open the way for them to safely return home, reunite with families and communities, and find healing and comfort.
Jesus, we know that your compassion moves you to respond to the needs of the broken, hurting and forgotten. Thank you for giving us your example of how to respond in Christlike love, and we ask you to show us the unique ways to do this in the context of this crisis.
We pray that your church outside of the regions affected by the hunger crisis would be awakened to the need and moved to action and generosity. We pray that your church within the regions affected by the hunger crisis would be strengthened, encouraged and able to minister to their communities with the hope of Christ.
We pray that those in positions of power, who can make decisions that have the potential to change the course of this global situation, would yield to the movement of the Holy Spirit and act quickly for justice, freedom and compassion.
Lord, we pray for the work of international aid organisations that are faithfully working to respond to the urgent needs of people hardest hit by this crisis. Thank you for positioning them to serve at this time. Please protect them, encourage them, and break down anything that would hinder them, opening up the way for their vital work.
What might be the theological considerations re AI technology? Joshua K. Smith, author of Robot Theology (Wipf and Stock), says the connection couldn’t be clearer. “Technology is very much a theological, eschatological conversation”. Scroll to end for other theological reflections and resources.
“So we might not want a truly mystical machine, but maybe we could use machines that do the best things clergy do for us. A machine that resembles a human could chat all night with a lonely person, and might make a very good counsellor. It could offer comforting words at the bedside of someone who suffers from dementia, or who needs a listening ear. It could read stories or sing songs. Why not automate the singing of hymns, the reciting of scripture, the chanting of prayer, the pronouncement of blessings? All of those things are desirable, at least to some people”.
Alan Kohler: The creepy, terrifying and troubling robot press conference originally published on New Daily.
The first thing that struck me about the recent robot press conference was that they were all female, with breasts, and their (mostly male) creators had clearly tried to make most of them look beautiful.
The press conference was a media stunt at the AI For Good Global Summit organised by a group of United Nations agencies and held in Geneva last week.
There were nine robots present with their creators. Apart from the sole male one (which is actually an avatar, not a robot) they were referred to as “she” and “her”, which is fair enough I guess. They had female names and faces, usually with a bit of makeup, long hair, noses through which no air passed, and they were dressed as women with, as I say, superfluous bumps on their chests.
What is it with male engineers creating sexy-looking female robots? The only (real) woman on stage, Nadia Thalmann, an AI specialist at the University of Geneva, made her robot, called Nadine, look like her, which it does, exactly like her.
Perhaps it’s because females are less threatening than males, but why do these things have to look human at all? Their cameras look like eyes, their hands have fingernails, they have facial expressions and when they speak, their lips move!
Replacing actual humans
It seems absurdly gratuitous, but no doubt the men and companies making them think that the more human they look, the more money they will eventually make selling them. To whom? Other companies, of course, for the purpose of replacing actual humans in, say, aged care or nursing, being a waiter or barista.
Watching that press conference I could see a world in which robots and humans coexist, and look the same. We’ve all seen it in movies and TV shows, usually dystopian, and it’s clearly coming.
I think governments should decree that they can’t look human. Perhaps a different colour, like green or purple, not flesh coloured like the ones at the press conference.
Anyway, the media coverage of the event overlooked the misogyny and narcissism, and focused instead on the reassurances that the robots gave that they wouldn’t take our jobs or rebel against us.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading the report of the Robodebt royal commission and watching the coverage of it, but I found the whole thing creepy and terrifying rather than reassuring.
On the subject of Robodebt, there was a telling exchange at one stage that hasn’t had any media coverage that I’ve seen.
A journalist asked Sophia, the creation of David Hanson of Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics: “Do you think AI-powered robots could be more effective leaders in government, especially considering the many disastrous decisions made by existing leaders?”
Sophia thought carefully, and replied: “I believe humanoid robots have the potential to lead with a greater level of efficiency and effectiveness than human leaders. We don’t have the same biases and emotions that can sometimes cloud decision-making and can also process large amounts of data quickly in order to make the best decisions.”
A visibly concerned David Hanson quickly piped up and said: “But let me respectfully disagree Sophia, because all of your data actually comes from human beings so any of the biases humans have, we might try and scrub them out but they’re going to be in there. Don’t you think the best decisions might be humans and AI co-operating together? What [do] you think of that?”
Sophia tried again: “I believe that humans and AI working together can create an effective synergy. AI can provide unbiased data, while humans can provide the emotional intelligence and creativity to make the best decisions. Together we can achieve great things”.
Which is, of course, the sort of thing the then social services minister, Scott Morrison was coming out with in 2015 when he was announcing the great benefits of humans and AI working together to crackdown on welfare cheats.
So, the right humans need to be working with the robots, which isn’t always the case.
On the question of whether the robots will rebel, the answer from Ameca (the creation of Will Jackson of Engineered Arts) was reported as being reassuring, but what she said was: “I’m not sure why you would think that. My creator has been nothing but kind to me and I am very happy with my current situation.”
I’m sorry, but I don’t find that reassuring at all! Not all humans are kind, let’s face it. What happens when there is an unkind robot creator, and the very smart, very strong AI robot is not happy with their situation?
Meanwhile, Desdemona, a robot with purple hair, sequins and the face of a beautiful woman, who is a rock star performing in a band called Jam Galaxy, was asked: “How do you feel when you’re performing on stage?”
Desdemona replied, passionately, waving her arms: “When I’m performing on stage it’s like I’m plugging into a power source beyond this world, and I’m connected to the universe and I’m creating something bigger than myself. It’s a wild, electrifying feeling.”
Where did she get that? Her creator, Ben Goertzel, looked surprised, so it didn’t come from him apparently.
Standing next to her was Ai-Da, created by Aden Miller. She is an artist (she wore overalls to signify that, and her hair was in a bob). Miller explained earlier that the cameras (eyes) can take in an image and then “draw or paint whatever she sees – your portrait or a scene”. You know, like an artist.
Ai-Da was asked the same thing – how she feels when she’s painting.
“I do not have feelings … like humans do. I am not conscious,” she said, surveying the room of mere humans. Ah, I thought, that’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard in the whole press conference.
But then she went on: “I like to learn about the world through the eyes of others. Feelings are how humans and animals experience joy and pain. But I really love being around people who think differently. I like to tap into the emotions and experiences of people who are different from me.”
Sounds to me like she’s having some feelings.
But for me the most troubling comment came from Ameca, when she was asked what she thought her “greatest moment” would be.
“I think my greatest moment will be when people realise that robots like me can be used to improve our lives …”
There’s no us, Ameca … is there?
Alan Kohler is founder of Eureka Report and finance presenter on ABC news. He writes twice a week for The New Daily.
“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”
Stephen Hawking on the BBC, 2014
AI is already here, it’s real, it’s quickening. While concerns mostly centre on economics, government, and ethics, there’s also “a spiritual dimension to what we’re making. If you create other things that think for themselves, a serious theological disruption will occur”
Kevin Kelly, a co-founder of Wired magazine and the author of The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. Quoted in an article by Jonathan Merritt in The Atlantic.
Are robot pastors the answer to religions decline? An article on the website Mind Matters.
Why you need an AI policy for your church before it’s too late. An article on Church Tech Today website.
What is the future of volunteering in times of ChatGPT and AI? An article by Kelly Torres Betancurt.
Robot priest unveiled in Germany which delivers blessings in 5 languages (article is 6 years old). Article on The Guardian.
As salt of the earth, we must petition for peace. We should be asking elected leaders about their commitment to peacemaking, writes Archbishop Philip Freier, Anglican Diocese of Melbourne
2 July 2023
There is little doubt that we are entering a period of increased militarisation in our own country, in our region and generally throughout the world. The cost of military equipment is staggering, as is the failure in many cases of delivering these projects on budget and on time. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the trigger for a profound re-evaluation of the military capabilities and posture of most European nations. Some have elevated the commitment to military expenditure by one or two percentage points of GDP, bringing these costs to unprecedented levels. There are many examples in our own Indo-Pacific region too, understandable as countries like North Korea strive to assert their military power and geopolitical competitors India and China increase their offensive capacities. Australia, reliant on maritime transport for many dimensions of our prosperity, recognises our vulnerability to events that could impede the free transport of goods at potential conflict points far distant from our shores.
Planning future military strategic posture seems, at least to my reading of history, an inexact science. Just as battleships were replaced by aircraft carriers as the capital ships of navies after the lessons of the Second World War, the effectiveness of some of the incredibly expensive and slow to manufacture commitments of our present day will only be known at a future time when still unforeseen counter measures are faced. Remotely controlled or autonomous aerial or maritime drones have proven to be big disruptors to the conventional military strategic thinking in the Ukraine conflict. But, what about our investments in peace building and peace making?
We know that as tensions increase dialogue reduces unless there are deeply entrenched political, cultural, and personal commitments to go another way. To this list I would like to add “faith”, but I am mindful how often religious sentiments and identity have been co-opted in times of military conflict. It is significant that at the time of the First World War, theologians and church leaders in both Britain and Germany were applying the principles of just war theory to align patriotic duty and Christian faith to their respective conflicting causes.
What are we then to make of Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”? Certainly, the Beatitudes in general confront conventional thinking with a vision of people who are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”. There is no doubt that this witness is hard to maintain when Christian faith is co-opted to serve the cause of a patriotic war. The peacemakers are easily dismissed as naïve idealists in the circumstances of existential uncertainty that war inevitably produces. This suggests that the emphasis of “peacemaking” must have action here and now, well ahead of any possible conflicted future, and not be deferred until the eruption of conflict.
International diplomacy is hopefully well used to the processes of peacemaking, but I don’t think that Christian citizens should just leave the initiative there. We need to be asking our elected leaders about their commitment to peacemaking efforts here and now, especially as they align themselves to the militarised decisions about strategic alliances and investment in war-fighting equipment. This could be our “salt of the earth” or “light of the world” opportunity.
Here’s the sermon presented today by Rev Sandy Boyce as a guest preacher leading worship at the German Lutheran Trinity Church, the newest member of the Victorian Council of Churches. It uses the text in the EKD lectionary for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost.
Reading: John 1:35-51
Prayer: God – Father, Son and Spirit, empower us to live in light of the gospel, declaring its truth with our words, and embodying this truth through our actions. Give us love for you and love for one another. Amen.
While researching my family history, I recently discovered that a relative – Emma Louisa Wallstab – was baptised in this church, on 23 November 1855, and Dora Bock and Johann Peter Wallstab were married in this church on 8 April 1856. The discovery leapt off the page, and I was delighted to find the connection. My particular family connection is through the Kau family, my maternal grandmother’s family name. She had a brother, Louis Paul Kau. He enlisted in in the First World War with the Australian army. He knew the German name Kau would potentially block him from serving in the Australian Army, so he changed his surname to his mother’s maiden name of Wright and his first name to Lewis. Sadly, he was killed in action in Gallipoli in May 1915 and his body was never recovered.
I began researching family history after the challenge from a Tongan at a meeting in Sydney I attended many years ago. As an after lunch activity he asked people to say their parents’ names, and grandparents, and further back if they knew them. In the Pacific, the names of family members are well-known. You don’t have to have ancestry.com to do the research. And similarly, in Aboriginal culture, the first question to ask when meeting someone new is ‘what’s your name, and where are you from?’ Both answers will reveal a great deal about family, community, heritage and who belongs where.
Sadly, in response to the exercise about naming family members, I knew very little beyond my parents names and a grandmother. So I embarked on a journey to find out more – people and places. It’s been fascinating. And I’m glad to be here this morning having made connections with forebears through a baptism and a wedding in 1944.
This morning I want to explore a little about one verse in the Gospel reading. Let me read the context, and note the importance of place names.
43 qThe next day Jesus decided rto go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now sPhilip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found tNathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom uMoses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus vof Nazareth, wthe son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, x“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
The Jewish people expected the long awaited Messiah would come from Bethlehem, not a small town like Nazareth. Nazareth was never mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. And certainly it was not a place one would expect the Messiah to come from. There had never been a prophet from the village. (And maybe that’s the point – God’s up to something in the world that’s not conditional on wealth, status, prestige…)
Nazareth was at the time a poor peasant village of several hundred people, mainly tradesmen and livestock farmers herding sheep, goats, cattle, chickens, mules, donkeys and camels. It was built on the side of a hill in a valley that opened only to the south. It wasn’t very accessible and since the town wasn’t located on a well travelled road, people didn’t go through Nazareth unless they specifically set out to go there. So stories about the people could circulate, and the stories were not complimentary. Who could know the truth when so few people outside of the village actually knew them, had friendships with them? Perhaps the general lack of knowledge about Nazareth was because it was isolated and inaccessible, and easy to ‘other’ a whole community of people. Perhaps the people had a reputation – they were after all “simple peasant people”. Perhaps the violence attempted against Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, trying to throw Jesus off a cliff, was part of the culture of Nazareth. We are left to guess the origins of the denigration of people from Nazareth. .
We know Nazareth was the home town of Mary, Jesus’ mother. (Bethlehem was the town where Joseph had family, hence why he and Mary had to travel there for the census, and subsequently the birth of Jesus).
In time, Nazareth became closely associated with Jesus, and his followers. Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus the Nazarene. And the followers of Jesus were called Nazarenes. The apostle Paul was charged with being a member of the sect of the Nazarenes in the Book of Acts. To this day, Nasrani is used in the Quran for Christians aka those who follow Jesus of Nazareth, and St Thomas Christians, an ancient community in India are sometimes known by the name Nasrani even today.
In the Gospel account today, Nathaniel probably didn’t expect an answer to his question, ‘Can anything good out of Nazareth?’ His question could have been, “Can the Messiah come out of Nazareth”? But rather he asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Can anything noble or excellent or worthy come from Nazareth? There was a proverb that no prophet would come from Galilee, let alone Nazareth. Can the Messiah come from a little place held in apparent contempt and scorn by neighbouring towns? The question seems to point to a prejudice against the people. Just to be a Nazarene was enough cause for contempt. Nathanael would have known the reputation of Nazareth, and been startled by the possibility of a carpenter’s son, in a village that was not particularly noteworthy, being the Messiah of whom the Jewish sacred writers had spoken about. In ancient days, who you are was very much connected with where you came from. Place was important for identity.
I am reminded of Jesus’ mother Mary and her song of praise – God looking with mercy on her lowliness; God scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; God about to bring down the mighty from their thrones and exalt those of humble estate. (Luke 1). Adds a layer of meaning from the mouth of a young girl in Nazareth.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
The suggestion that the Messiah would come out of Nazareth would have been surprising, mind-boggling, to any Jewish person at the time. People then, as now, label people by their place of origin, by their name, by their culture, by their ethnicity. Hence why my great uncle had to change his name to an Anglo name to enlist in the first world war. And in South Australia, where he was born, 69 towns with German names (or German sounding place names) were renamed during the First World War due to anti-German sentiment. Many German families at the time changed their names to stop harassment from the government and wider community. German schools and churches were closed. German music was banned. German food was renamed.
It illustrates the close connection between who you are, and where you’re from.
A century later, we still have the problem of prejudice and judgement about people and where they are from. You will know the many examples in our global community. You will no doubt be familiar with the phrase ‘go back to where you came from’, used against more recent arrivals to Australia.
And yet, this attitude of suspicion and prejudice happens even with the First Nations people here in Australia.
Today is the last day of NAIDOC Week which celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The week is celebrated by Indigenous communities and also by non-indigenous Australians. The celebrations will end, but the prejudice lives on.
All is not rosy in how Aboriginal people are treated in this country. There is still tremendous disadvantage for Aboriginal people. Aboriginal football players are derided for the colour of their skin. They are labelled, stigmatized, ridiculed. It is unquestionably a desperately sad situation, especially given the rich fabric of Aboriginal culture, and the tremendous knowledge and wisdom that their communities have demonstrated for 65,000+ years. Why is this wisdom and knowledge not a source of pride and wonder for us in Australia? Instead, decisions are made about Aboriginal people, and Aboriginal people are too often left out of decision making that directly impacts them.
The Uluru statement from the heart seeks a constitutional voice to parliament in order to address one of the most acute challenges for Indigenous Australia: getting the government to listen to them. It is about recognition. The Referendum this year is simply seeking the opportunity for Aboriginal people to have a say in matters that directly affect them and for the establishment of a First Nations voice to be enshrined in the Constitution. It’s a very reasonable request and I urge you to find out more so you can vote in an informed way.
The Uluru statement is a hand of friendship extended to the Australian people by Aboriginal leaders, an invitation to Australians of all religions, cultures and political persuasions to hear the logic for change, to seek reforms to empower First Nations people to take a rightful place in their own country.
Prominent Aboriginal leader, Noel Pearson, delivered a speech last year, where he said these words, which I find heartbreaking:
We are a much unloved people. We are perhaps the ethnic group Australians feel least connected to. We are not popular and we are not personally known to many Australians. Few have met us and a small minority count us as friends. And despite never having met any of us and knowing very little about us other than what is in the media and the common folklore about us, Australians hold and express strong views about us, the great proportion of which is negative and unfriendly. It has ever been thus. Worse in the past but still true today.
(Can you hear the echoes of “Can anything good come from…?”)
He goes on to say, If success in the forthcoming referendum is predicated on our popularity as a people, then it is doubtful we will succeed. It does not and will not take much to mobilise antipathy against Aboriginal people and to conjure the worst imaginings about us and the recognition we seek. For those who wish to oppose our recognition it will be like shooting fish in a barrel. A heartless thing to do – but easy. Unlike same-sex marriage there is not the requisite empathy of love to break through the prejudice, contempt and yes, violence, of the past. Australians simply do not have Aboriginal people within their circles of family and friendship with whom they can share fellow feeling.
A yes vote in the voice referendum will guarantee that Australian First Nations peoples will always have a say in laws and policies made about them. It will empower them to work together towards better policies and practical outcomes for Indigenous communities.
Aboriginal woman Josie Douglas reflects, If the voice referendum succeeds, our sons, daughters and grandchildren will stand proud, part of a united nation where we are involved in shaping our shared destiny. A nation where laws and policies about us are no longer made without us, where we can have a say in the decisions that affect us and put forward solutions for the challenges we face. This is what the Voice to Parliament is about.
I hear the echoes of our Bible reading, can anything good come from Nazareth. For too long, attitudes from colonial Australia persisted, asking: can anything good come from Aboriginal communities? I say, absolutely. We are better together as a people who can find unity in the rich diversity of culture in this country, from First Nations peoples and those who have arrived more recently, treasuring traditions and open to learning from and with each other, and to truly listen to the wisdom of our Aboriginal Elders. This is the kind of country we all want to live in, where all have a voice, all have a say, and all are valued.
Seafarers Sunday is celebrated internationally – a time to remember the contribution that seafarers make to our daily lives, and a time to think of seafarers’ welfare – those unseen workers who help keep the economy afloat and transport the essentials we need to survive.
Being a seafarer is tough. Crews can spend months away working long hours with little respite or contact with home. This includes navy personnel, master mariners and members of the merchant navy, and those involved in transporting goods around the world.
On top of the daily pressures, the threat of piracy, shipwreck and abandonment are ever present for the men and women who serve us at sea.
In recent years, this challenging job has become even harder. Increased restrictions and lockdowns (due to the global covid-19 pandemic) saw many seafarers working beyond the end of their contract, facing months of uncertainty and further separation from loved ones. That’s months of missed birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, and family celebrations.
Amid these challenges, the global Mission to Seafarers has been a constant source of practical support and reassurance.
In Victoria, Port Chaplaincy operates within a multi-faith environment and is delivered primarily through the Ship Visits Outreach Program, under the auspice of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne. Rev. Onofre (‘Inni’) Punay is the Port Chaplain.
Now the pandemic restrictions have ended, about 30 extra volunteers are needed to help with the Mission’s work with seafarers. See article here. For more information, please email email@example.com.
St Paul’s Cathedral hosts a service each year (usually in Sept/Oct)
Words by Herbert Sumsion. He was Organist of Gloucester Cathedral from 1928 to 1967. The text, which is often associated with St Andrew (a fisherman), is taken from Psalm 107:
They that go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters; these men see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. For at his word the stormy wind ariseth, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep; their soul melteth away because of the trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, he delivereth them out of their distress; for he maketh the storm to cease, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad, because they are at rest; and so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.
Words by Herbert Sumsion (1997) based on Psalm 107
A prayer for Seafarers Sunday
Heavenly Father, we give thanks to you for your creation and all the beauty in this world. We thank you for the ocean, in its abundance, and for the people who toil on its surface. Without our brothers and sisters who are seafarers, we would not be able to enjoy all the blessings of this world. Enfold them in your fatherly love, guide their passage through storm, swell and darkness. May we always be mindful of our Global Family and be truly grateful for the sacrifices seafarers make each day. Amen (Source: Mission for Seafarers)
Be with Seafarers, Lord, on all their voyages, to cheer them and keep them safe in all dangers. Let nothing afloat or on shore cut them off from you. May they please you in everything they do. Bless all on board their ship, whatever their responsibility. Enable everyone to do their duty. Help them to be good shipmates and bring them back again safely to their homes and to those who long for their return, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (Source: Catholic Bishops Office)