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Day 3: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 31st May

The presence of Christ, turning the world upside down. “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:3)

Scripture

  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5, But the Lord is faithful, he will strengthen you.
  • Matthew 2:1-5, He was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

Meditation

Christ’s coming disturbs the ways of the world. In contrast to so many political leaders, the Lord comes in humility denouncing the evil of injustice and oppression that accompanies the ambition for power and status. Jesus’ presence creates disturbance precisely because He rocks the boat of those rich and the powerful that work only for their own interests and neglect the common good. But, for those who work for peace and unity, Christ’s coming brings the light of hope.

We all need to acknowledge the instances when our ways are not God’s ways of justice and peace. When Christians work together for justice and peace our efforts are more powerful. And when Christians work together in this way, the answer to our prayer for Christian unity is made visible such that others recognize in us Christ’s presence in the world today. The Good News is that God is faithful, and he is always the one strengthening us and protecting us from harm, and inspiring us to work for the good of others, especially those living in the darkness of suffering, hatred, violence and pain.

Prayer

O Lord, you have illumined the star of hope in our lives. Help us to be united in our commitment to bring about your Reign of love, justice and peace and so to be the light of hope to all those living in the dark- ness of despair and disillusionment. Shine your light upon us and set our hearts on fire so that your love surrounds us with warmth. Lift us up to you, you who have emptied yourself for our sake, so that our lives may glorify you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

(Source: Franciscan Friars of the Atonement)

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Day 2: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 30th May

Humble leadership breaks down walls and builds up with love. “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2)

Scripture

  • Philippians 2:5-11, Who… did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.
  • Matthew 20:20-28, The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.

Meditation

Jeremiah denounces the bad leadership of the kings of Israel who divided and scattered the people. In contrast, the Lord promises a shepherd-king who will “execute justice and righteousness in the land” and gather together the members of his flock.

Our world craves good leadership and is constantly seeking someone who will fulfill this desire. Only in Christ have we seen the example of a king or leader after God’s heart. As we are called to follow him, we are also called to emulate his way of servant-kingship in the world and in the Church. In Christ we encounter one who does not tear down and divide but builds up and makes whole for the glory of God’s name. He is one who comes to serve, rather than be served, and his followers are called to do the same.

Today, the Middle East is experiencing the loss of its people to exile as “righteousness and justice” are becoming scarce commodities not only there but throughout the world.

Leaders, both in the world and in the Church, have responsibility to bring together rather than to scatter or divide the people of God. The more faithfully Christians emulate the servant leadership of Christ, the more division in both the world and the Church will be overcome.

Prayer

God, our only refuge and strength, help us to seek our Lord Jesus Christ not in the palaces of the powerful but in the humble manger and to emulate him in his meekness. Encourage us to empty ourselves as we serve each other in obedience to you.
We pray in the name of Christ who with you and with the Holy Spirit reigns forever in glory. Amen.

(Source: Franciscan Friars of the Atonement)

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Betty Feith (1931-2022)

The Herb Feith Centre has announced: “With a heavy heart we announce the passing of Betty Feith. Betty was a staunch supporter of Indonesia, and strong advocate for social justice. While the Centre bears her late husband’s name, it works towards supporting her legacy of enhancing Indonesian-Australian relations too”. (@HerbFeithCentre)

Betty Feith (née Evans) passed away on 18th May 2022 after a long illness. Betty was a volunteer with the VCC for many years, especially in the library, in addition to her involvement with the NCCA (National Council of Churches in Australia).

Betty Feith was a teacher and volunteer whose work inside and outside the classroom reflected her ideals of a peaceful, just and inclusive society, and her abiding Christian faith. 

Betty was actively involved in the ACSM during the 1940s-1950s (and in 1979 was National Chairperson – Victorian Area Council of the Australian Student Christian Movement). 

In 1947, Betty met Herb Feith, whose Jewish Austrian parents had sought asylum from Nazism in Australia in 1939. Together, Betty and Herb undertook war relief activities, collecting door-to-door in Melbourne suburbs on behalf of Germans and other Europeans who were struggling with post-war shortages and hardships.

In 1950 Betty and Herb, together with a group of other University of Melbourne students and ASCM members set in motion a pioneering initiative in international aid focused on Indonesia. The main idea behind the programme – that Australian graduates would not only make available their technical expertise in response to the shortage of skilled graduates in the new Republic (in particularly in the newly formed national Indonesian public service), but also take part in Indonesian society as a whole, living and working alongside their Indonesian colleagues – had first arisen during discussions at a World University Service Assembly that year. Betty was secretary of the initial planning committee of what would become known as the Volunteer Graduate Scheme for Indonesia (VGS), the forerunner of international volunteering as it is understood today.

The VGS was officially recognised under an intergovernmental agreement by both the Australian and Indonesian governments in 1954, and later became AVI (Australian Volunteers International) which has programmes in communities across Asia, the Pacific and the world.

Jakarta was the first location to receive Australian volunteers and Indonesia continues to be the top destination under the Australian Volunteers for Development program.

The VGS scheme was designed to be an expression of unity and understanding across cultures, promoting genuine understanding of and solidarity with Indonesia. Salary equality was a central aspect of the Scheme. Volunteer graduates worked on the same pay scales and conditions as similarly qualified Indonesians – a departure from the usual custom among expatriates working in Indonesia at that time.

In January 1953, while travelling home from India, Betty visited Herb in Jakarta, where he was then employed in the Ministry of Information. They became engaged, and were married on 29 December 1953 at the South Camberwell Methodist Church, Melbourne.

From July 1954 to August 1956, Betty and Herb lived and worked in Jakarta, under the auspices of the Volunteer Graduate Scheme. Betty was employed in the English Language Inspectorate in the Ministry of Education, Instruction and Culture. 

Betty and Herb remained closely involved with Indonesia and with promoting understanding among Australians of their nearest northern neighbour. The family lived in Jakarta for a year in 1967, during which time Betty worked for the Indonesian Council of Churches.

Betty and Herb Feith and family on the left

From 1968, Betty taught English and Asian studies at various secondary schools in Melbourne. From the 1970s she taught Indonesian history and Asian studies at tertiary level, the first of their kind in Victoria. From the late 1970s Betty co-led several study tours to Indonesia in her capacity as a lecturer at the Burwood and Toorak Teachers’ Colleges.

In 1984, Betty completed a Master of Educational Studies at Monash University. For her Masters thesis, Betty wrote a history of the Volunteer Graduate Scheme, in which she documented the ethos of the Scheme as an ‘episode in education for international understanding’, underpinned by a belief in racial equality and a spirit of identification with the Indonesian Republic. This history was published in 2017 in a book entitled Bridges of Friendship.

In addition to her community involvement with refugees, Betty’s church service has focused on issues to do with peace and human rights. In 1994, she and Herb co-led an international relations workshop with the Karen Burmese leaders in Manerplaw on the Thai-Burma border. Manerplaw was at that time the headquarters of the Democratic Alliance of Burma (now Myanmar), which formed in the wake of the military regime coming into power in 1988.

For four years from 1996, Betty and Herb lived and worked in Yogyakarta, this time through the Overseas Service Bureau’s Australian Volunteers Abroad programme – the successor of the Volunteer Graduate Scheme. Betty, who gained a qualification at Deakin University in teaching English as a second language, taught English at the University of Atma Jaya.

Betty had a lifetime involvement in church and other service, including for the Christian World Service (renamed Act for Peace), the Division of Social Justice (Victoria) in the Uniting Church of Australia, and other ecumenical organisations including the Victorian Council of Churches. 

Betty described women in the Uniting Church as ‘householders (as it were) in the tents and caravans of faith and in life, as in mutuality we pilgrim together in life’s journey’ (Women in Ministry, 46). This expression of common purpose, and of ideals married to actions, reflect convictions central to Betty’s life and work as a whole.

References
Feith, Betty, Women in Ministry: The Order of Deaconesses and the Campaign for the Ordination of Women within the Methodist Church, 1942-1977, Kyarra Press, Melbourne, 1990.

Feith, Betty, ‘An Episode in Education for International Understanding: The Volunteer Graduate Scheme in Indonesia 1950-63 – ‘Putting in a Stitch or Two”, in McCarthy, Ann & Zainuddin, Ailsa Thomson (ed.), Bridges of Friendship: Reflections on Indonesia’s Early Independence and the Volunteer Graduate Scheme, Monash University Publishing, Melbourne, 2017.

https://www.australianvolunteers.com

https://www.womeninaustralia.info/biogs/AWE6101b.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Feith

@HerbFeithCentre

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Day 1: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Sunday 29th May
Raise us up and draw us to your perfect light. “We observed his star in the East.”(Matthew 2:2)

Scripture

  • 2 Timothy 1:7-10, This grace… has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus.
  • John 16:7-14, When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.

Meditation

In this fragile and uncertain world, we look for a light, a ray of hope from afar. In the midst of evil, we long for goodness. Our confidence rests in the God we worship. God, in wisdom, enabled us to hope for divine intervention; but we had not anticipated that God’s intervention would be a person, and that the Lord himself would be the light in our midst. This exceeded all our expectations. God’s gift to us is a “spirit of power, and love.”

In the midst of humanity’s darkness, the star from the East shone. The star’s light was not only an illumination at a particular historical moment but it continues to shine and change the face of human history. Despite the vicissitudes of history and the changing of circumstances, the Risen One continues to shine, moving within the flow of history like a beacon guiding all into this perfect light and overcoming the darkness which separates us from one another.

The desire to overcome the darkness that separates us compels us to pray and work for Christian unity.

Prayer

Lord God, illumine our path by the light of Christ who moves us and leads us. Guide us to discover a small manger in our hearts where a great light still sleeps. Creator of light, we thank you for the gift of that unfading Star, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Heal our divisions and draw us closer to the Light that we may find our unity in him. Amen.

(Source: Franciscan Friars of the Atonement)

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John Wesley Day

On this day, 24 May, in 1738 a man named John Wesley had a profound experience that changed his life – and arguably transformed the Church as well.

Wesley was an Anglican priest. He was a fervent preacher, but he was lacking in faith and growing in misery.

A spark of life began however when Wesley led a prisoner to Christ by preaching a gospel of faith and forgiveness, and he saw a man instantly transformed. His more enthusiastic Moravian friends encouraged him to have faith and to expect transformation and assurance.

On the morning of May 24, 1738, he opened his Bible to read the words: ‘There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature.’

That evening, a still depressed Wesley ‘unwillingly’ attended a Christian meeting in Aldersgate, London. There he heard a reading from the Reformer Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. At about 8.45 pm, as he heard Luther’s words, something deep and dramatic took place.

In Wesley’s words: ‘While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

Wesley went on with his brother Charles to pioneer the radical movement of Methodism, spreading evangelical revival across the country and the world. It probably would never have happened were it not for his ‘Aldersgate experience’.

The strange warming of the heart has become emblematic for many interpreting their own spiritual experiences. It emphasises the importance of true conversion, the possibility of deep assurance and the power of an experiential salvation.

Since Methodism wouldn’t be what it is without Aldersgate, today is celebrated across the Methodist Church.

John Wesley used to say that he thought very little of a man who did not pray four hours every day. He would rise up at 4am every day to seek God for the first four hours of the day. In his later years Wesley was known to spend up to 8 hours in prayer.

Here is John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

A special liturgical prayer for the day reads:

‘Almighty God, in a time of great need you raised up your servants John and Charles Wesley, and by your Spirit inspired them to kindle a flame of sacred love which leaped and ran, an inextinguishable blaze. Grant that all those whose hearts have been warmed at these altar fires, being continually refreshed by your grace, may be so devoted to the increase of scriptural holiness throughout the land that in this our time of great need, your will may fully and effectively be done on earth as it is in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’

(text from Christian Today)

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Fasting for good

Archdeacon Sue Jacka is the Rector of St Mary’s Anglican Church, Morwell, in Gippsland.

Sue is taking part in the Act for Peace Ration Challenge, 19th-25th June 2022. Act for Peace is the international humanitarian agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia.

Sue is part of Gippsland Anglicans for Refugees. She writes:

‘I’ve decided to do it again! With the Ukrainian refugee crisis there are even more refugees across the world. This challenge is very tough – for one complete week I will eat only what comes in the refugee rations just like those distributed to people who have fled their homes. It’s mainly rice and sooo boring! Will you please sponsor me and help refugees get some food, sanitary items and medical supplies?’

(The Ration Challenge website says that more than 84 million people have fled their homes worldwide because of conflict or disaster, and that number is rising. The United Nations refugee agency says conflict and disasters have now driven a record 100 million from their homes – the war in Ukraine has added significantly to the total with 8 million displaced within the country and 6 million forced to leave the nation).

Perhaps you might like to sponsor Sue, or someone else doing the Act for Peace Ration Challenge or consider doing this yourself (or join a team for solidarity!). The more sponsors, the more ‘rewards’ the person receives (eg spices, a little protein etc)

Many years ago, Geoff and I used to host a multi-faith group of young people (mainly international tertiary students) in our home for meals from time to time. On one occasion, the question was asked of a young Muslim woman: why do you fast in Ramadan? The response – in part – was: so that we know what it’s like to go without food, and will grow more compassion and empathy and care for others who live with deprivation all the time. And at the end of Ramadan, she said, they are encouraged to give money to a charity of their choice as an expression of that compassionate care.

‘The basic teaching of all religions is to develop a relationship with God and fasting is one way of achieving it because when we fast, we remember the blessing of life which we normally take for granted and sympathise with the sufferings of those who sleep on an empty stomach every day. This way we can become more compassionate towards our fellow human beings who might not enjoy the basic necessities of life’. (Prachi Wakpaijan)

‘During the Ramadan fast, we especially feel connected to the many in our neighbourhood who go without food because of poverty… When we break our fast in the evening, we make sure that we share our food with our neighbours. If one of our neighbours has nothing, we gladly share with them.” (Fatuma, a single mother of 9 children, Kenya – in online news snippet on Fasting for Solidarity)

Fasting is a spiritual endeavour in almost all religions all over the world. The idea of ’embodying’ deprivation for a time that would in turn grow compassion for, and solidarity with, those who is a really important concept. Indeed it has theological implications – taking on the experience of another’s lived reality. The Message Bible translates John 1.14 this way, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood”. Jesus took on our flesh, lived in our reality, to show us the way to live – to love God, and love neighbour as ourselves.

‘Within the same family, can some members eat their fill while their brothers and sisters are excluded from the table? To think of those who suffer is not enough. A conversion of heart calls us to add fasting to our prayer, and to fill with God’s love the efforts that the demands of justice towards neighbour inspire us to make’.
(Pope John Paul 11)

Reflecting on Isaiah 58:1-9, Pope Francis reflects: “the Lord explains what true fasting is to these people who complained: ‘This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the poor and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. I want this, this is the fasting that I wish’”.

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Voice.Treaty.Truth

This week, Australia acknowledges Sorry Day (May 26th), and begins National Reconciliation Week (NRW), 27th May – 3rd June. NRW begins with the anniversary of the 1967 referendum (27th May) and finishes with Mabo Day (the anniversary of the High Court decision that recognised the pre-colonial land interests of Aboriginal and Islander peoples within Australia’s common law).

These are significant dates for First Nations Peoples as well as Second Peoples in Australia. They are dates that should also be significant for churches.

Recommended resources
Statement from the Heart website
Statement from the Heart resources (study guide, facilitator’s guide produced by the Vic/Tas UCA Synod)
Our Vision for a Just Australia: A First Peoples Heart (UCA)
A voice in the wilderness 8 part study guide (free downloadable PDF) written by Celia Kemp, Anglican Board of Mission’s Reconciliation Coordinator. As well there is a leader’s guide

This commendation of ‘A Voice in the Wilderness’ from Archbishop Philip Freier, Anglican Archbishop, Melbourne:
“Celia Kemp’s fine work, bringing as it does so clearly the voices of indigenous elders and leaders, resonates with the Bible’s call to reconciliation: ‘to be neighbour’ – genuinely and deeply to one another. This excellent study is a gift to the whole church”.

In his acceptance speech on Saturday night, the new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese began his speech by committing his Government to the Uluru Statement – in full:
‘On behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We can answer its patient, gracious call for a voice enshrined in our Constitution because all of us ought to be proud, that amongst our great multicultural society, we count the oldest living continuous culture in the world’.

This week marks five years since Indigenous people from across the nation gathered at Uluru to come to a consensus position on the best way to change the Constitution to bridge the divides between black and white Australia.

In summary, the Statement addresses the Australian people and calls for constitutional change and meaningful, structural reform based on justice and self-determination for Indigenous peoples. Indigenous Australians have been calling for a voice to Parliament to be enshrined in the Constitution with a body to sit outside the Parliament, to give frank input on policies designed to address this country’s sustained failure to close the gap. The Statement calls for a Makarrata commission to supervise a process of agreement-making and truth telling.

The Statement says these reforms are necessarily sequential: a Voice first, then Treaty and Truth.

(Note: The Statement was agreed to be consensus by those who gathered at Uluru, but not all Aboriginal people support it).

The creators of the Uluru Statement have said “history is calling” the next parliament to take action. Albanese has vowed to hold a referendum during his first term, and has said he will ‘reach across the aisle’ because ‘historically, to get constitutional change, you need bipartisan support’. He said he will attempt to find common ground and shift conservative opposition to a referendum on the Voice.

There is majority support in the community for a referendum. This issue may be the defining debates of Australia’s 47th Parliament.

(The last referendum to consider changing the Constitution was in 1999 regarding whether Australia should cut ties with the monarchy to become a republic).

Wiradjuri woman Linda Burney has been re-elected and will be Labor’s Indigenous Affairs Minister. She will be the first Aboriginal woman to be Indigenous affairs minister. Ms Burney grew up in a small NSW town. Her commitment to Aboriginal affairs spans more than 30 years, was the first Aboriginal person to be elected to the NSW Parliament, serving as NSW Deputy Labor Leader and a former Shadow Minister for Education and Aboriginal Affairs. She is the first Aboriginal woman to serve in the House of Representatives.

She has said, ‘Recognition in the Constitution is about that document telling the truth and reflecting the extraordinary inheritance we all have as Australians with the length of time humanity has been in this country. It’s about removing the race powers out of the Constitution – those powers are not just about Aboriginal people. The Australian Constitution actually allows the Australian Government to make laws that could be detrimental to a particular race or people’.

Speaking about the outcome of the elections she said, ‘This is an exercise in nation-building, and this will change Australia. It’s just so exciting’.

There are several other Indigenous women elected including Senator Dorinda Cox (Greens, WA); Malarndirri McCarthy (Labor) and Jacinata Nampijinpa Price (Country Liberals Party) are expected to win the Northern Territory’s two Senate spots; and Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens, Victoria)

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FCCV

One of the groups that VCC connects with is Faith Communities Council of Victoria. In fact, the VCC is the peak body for the Christian churches relating to the FCCV. The FCCV aims to promote a harmonious Victoria.

The new VCC EO Sandy Boyce enjoyed a great introductory (Zoom) conversation with FCCV Multifaith Officer Sandy Kouroupidis and Bhakta Dasa (Chair, FCCV, and representing the Hindu Council of Australia – Victoria).

The FCCV, established in 2010, is Victoria’s umbrella multi-faith body which does really important work, especially engaging with Government, and bringing together faith communities in Victoria. FCCV was created to contribute to the harmony of the Victorian community by promoting positive relations between people of different faiths and greater public knowledge and mutual understanding of the teachings, customs and practices of Victoria’s diverse faith traditions. There are 32 suburban and regional interfaith networks in Victoria.

Sandy K also shared a news story published in The Age (Dec 2021) about the interfaith Ashram where he lives, along with founder Fr John Dupuche, and others. It’s a great story about living the interfaith story in community. Here’s an edited version of the article:

On a bend of the Yarra River, more than an hour’s drive from Melbourne and far from the polarised world of social media, pandemic politics and policy schisms, sits a group comprising what must be one of Australia’s most unusual religious communes.

The rollcall of residents sounds like the beginning of an old joke: a Catholic priest and classical tantra meditation expert, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Yogi (walk into a bar…). They spend every night debating the meaning of life and some have been doing so for seven years.

Their ashram, near Warburton, 90 minutes east of Melbourne, was set up by Father John Dupuche as a multi-faith community of debate, humour and celebration of difference.

Father John, who has a PhD in Sanskrit, lives with five others who have studied and practised Catholic, Greek and Russian Orthodox traditions, Tibetan and Theravadan Buddhism, Classical Yoga and Vipassana, Western Philosophy, Kashmir Shaivism, and Sunni Islam.

Among them 12 languages are spoken – Greek, French, German, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Latin, Romanian, Urdu, Indonesian, Maltese and English.

The six residents, most who have jobs and all contribute financially, share a house but spend their time doing their individual practices in their room or in meditation huts overlooking the river. Days are spent in solitude or working together around the farm.

Every night, the motley congregation meditate together then read from a different sacred text before they share dinner and debate, each coming from their own spiritual perspective.

In some ways it’s an anti-cult, or perhaps a cult for contrarians, for a requirement of membership is that you hold different views to any of the other residents. This is a haven where disagreement is celebrated.

The curious grouping is the antithesis of so much of what plays out in the modern world, where everyone has an opinion but it seems many have lost the ability to tolerate opposing views.

Father John, who lectures in spirituality, meditation and interfaith relations at the University of Divinity, says: “The diversity enables us to meet at depth … when both eyes look at a pot they don’t see the same – only with both can you perceive depth.”

This hermitude and “table fellowship” perhaps offers lessons to those who find themselves in social media echo chambers where everyone agrees with each other and affirms their membership by condemning, or cancelling, anyone who disagrees.

“When a person is secure in themselves they are not threatened by a different point of view,” Father John says.

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Life is fragile

A trip to the supermarket is the most ordinary of experiences. It is deeply shocking to read of yet another hate-fuelled violent gun tragedy, this time at a busy supermarket in America, perpetrated by an 18 year old who had published a 180 page long online document riddled with racist, antisemitic and white supremacist beliefs including the ‘great replacement theory‘. He drove 300+km to carry out his evil crime, copying some of the methodology of the shooter in the NZ mosque tragedy including live-streaming it all.
The mass shooting at the supermarket is the latest in a painful litany of violence driven by hate and racism, fuelled by racially motivated violent extremism. Eleven of the 13 people shot were black.

…. A 77 year old grandmother who volunteered every weekend at her church’s food pantry and viewed volunteering as part of her religious duty. An 86 year old who was a devoted caregiver, the ‘rock of her family’, spending each day taking care of her husband of 68 years at the nursing home where he resides. She would cut his hair, iron his clothes, dress him and shave him. Her son said, ‘She was his angel. I’m very thankful for the example she set for us of how to love each other unconditionally’. A 53 year old going to the shops to get a birthday cake. A selfless, generous, loving father and grandfather who used to check in on everyone. A 55 year old retired police officer and amateur inventor who tried to stop the shooter. He had been working part-time on a project to build cars with engines that run on clean energy using hydrogen-electrolysis, a process that splits water molecules into hydrogen and water. A 32 year old who moved home to be closer to her elder brother to help care for his 4 children as he underwent treatment for leukaemia. A 72 year old, the ‘glue in her family’, who was a well-known community figure who would cut the grass in the local park, give kids on the street toys, and help anyone she could….

Lives ended tragically by hate fuelled violence.

Reflecting on this from a distance, thousands of miles across the ocean in another continent, where gun violence of this kind is (thankfully) rare, I reflect on the necessity to build social cohesion and invest in initiatives that build social capital. The Australian Human Rights Commission defines social cohesion in the context of a society that ‘works towards the well-being of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalisation, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust and offers its members the opportunity of upward mobility’.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has posed the challenging question about whether it’s possible for democratic societies to ‘contain diverse populations while still maintaining harmony’. It is interesting also to consider the impact of the pandemic on the ways and places in which people interact. Early evidence suggests that bridges between groups are weakening, as the closure of key pillars of public life, including schools and libraries, reduced casual encounters that once fostered connection between disparate groups. Instead, interactions have been concentrated within existing networks.

The Victorian Council of Churches has an important role to play in contributing to social cohesion and social capital, by continuing to work together to build ecumenical and inter-faith partnerships, and strengthening relationships that transcend racial, cultural and even religious boundaries. We need to be convinced that this commitment will strengthen trust and understanding and resolve, and build a movement towards the promised realm of peace and God’s shalom. As a human community, we are related to one another as we participate in the oikoumene of the Creator.

Social cohesion in Australia continues to be embedded in traditional multiculturalism. It is yet to catch up with the digital world and online ‘echo chambers’ where cyberhate, foreign interference and violent extremism thrive. The digital world can quickly desensitise individuals to violent messages and extreme ideology and imagery.  Disinformation and cyber-enabled foreign interference target the fissures of social cohesion in democracies.

In our highly individualized and culturally diverse society there is an urgent need for a new form of solidarity to build social cohesion, to recognise what we share in common as well as what is distinctive, to recognise the history that has shaped culture and community today.

A few weeks ago the Victorian Jewish community hosted a solemn online remembrance of Yom Hashoah, a day when the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust are memorialized. It was a very moving presentation. Next week is Sorry Day (26th May), which was one of the 54 recommendations from the Bringing Them Home report (many of which were never implemented). The report concluded that “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities have endured gross violations of their human rights. These violations continue to affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples daily lives. They were an act of genocide, aimed at wiping out indigenous families, communities, and cultures, vital to the precious and inalienable heritage of Australia”.

These ‘special days’ in the calendar like Yom Hashoah and Sorry Day invite us to lament, but also to garner resolve to be agents of change in the world, to be reconcilers because we ourselves have been reconciled with God, to be peacemakers following the example of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. What we do matters, both in the immediate and in the transcendent understandings of time. This is what people of faith call hope. We will affirm God’s call to us to be those who protect the lives of all within the human community, since each is loved by God, and each should be able to find a place of belonging in God’s reign of peace.

May it be so!

(Rev Sandy Boyce, VCC EO, 17th May 2022)

A few prayers as part of reflecting on the gun tragedy, and a song by Sting….

“Fragile”
If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime’s argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are
On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are (Music and lyrics by Sting)

Prayer for the shooting
(first we mourn, then we must act)
God, we are broken psalmists
for weeping came in the night
and more weeping comes in the morning.
We lift up in sorrow
all of those affected by the gun tragedy.
Wrap your tenderness around
those who mourn
those who have already died,
those who are wounded.
Hold them in your embrace,
shelter them in your resurrection,
sit with families
in intensive care and in funeral homes,
hold the flood of tears,
angry words, angry even at you,
loss it will take years to comfort.
Then teach us how to change
this culture of guns,
not by our despair
but by courage and resistance,
so that we may rise to a new morning,
and walk into a day of hope. Amen.
(Source: Maren C. Tirabassi, Gifts in Open Hands, adapted)

A prayer in response to violence
O God of deep compassion and abounding mercy, in whose trust is our perfect peace: Draw near to us in this time of anguish, anxiety and anger, receive the dead into your eternal care, comfort those who mourn, strengthen those who are wounded or in despair, turn our anger into the conviction to act, channel our passion to end our dependence on violence for our sense of security, and lead us all to greater trust in you and in your image found in the entire human family. Through Jesus the Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns among us eternally. Amen.
(Source: Rev Michael W Hopkins, adapted)

SONG: When Human Voices Cannot Sing
1. When human voices cannot sing
and human hearts are breaking,
we bring our grief to you, O God
who knows our inner aching.

2. Set free our spirits from all fear –
the cloud of dark unknowing,
and let the light, the Christ-light show
the pathway of our going.
(Words: Shirley Murray, (*v 3&4 omitted); tune: St Columba 8.7.8.7)


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News

Hearty thanks to Ian

At the VCC AGM on Saturday 14th May, hearty thanks were extended to Rev Ian Smith for his contribution to VCC over many years.

Rev Ian Smith, VCC EO for 10 years

Thanks were expressed to Ian by Ashok Jacob (currently serving as Treasurer), who spoke about Ian’s long and steadfast service for many years. Ian’s contribution is many and varied.

Ian currently serves as Chair of VCC EM, and was involved right from the start. Under his leadership VCCEM became a separate entity.

Ian joined with other Abrahamic faiths to organise faith tours to Jerusalem.

Ashok noted Ian is extremely good with relationships; he values people, makes people comfortable, is a good networker, offers warm friendship, and is available to people at all times. He is humble and approachable, including with small diaspora churches. Ian is extremely passionate about gospel of justice and peace.

On behalf of the Council, Ashok thanked Ian for his great contribution to VCC, and highlighted the gift Ian has been to the churches in Victoria. Ashok also thanked Ian for his friendship. 

In response, Ian said he was deeply humbled. He acknowledged Robert Gribben who was a mentor to him in the ecumenical movement. Ian quoted 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some”, to comment on his capacity to communicate across the broad spectrum of the Christian Church as well as to participate in a range of inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogues and activities at State level with government.

In the conclusion of his written report, Ian wrote:

“This is my last report. It seemed right to both myself and the Standing Committee that 2021 would see the completion of my time in leadership with the VCC. These past 8 years as Executive Officer have been a humbling and rewarding time as I have had the privilege to meet, share and worship with our great family of our God in all our colours, shapes, traditions and understandings”.

“My time with VCC in general encompasses some 30 years, initially as a delegate and Commission member, then as a member of the Executive of Council, now called the Standing Committee. I have served as both a Vice President and as President. During these last 8 years, I have learnt much as I have worked alongside you all and am deeply grateful for the richness of the gift of the breadth and depth I have come to know, appreciate and celebrate as the Body of Christ, the visible expression of the Kingdom here on earth. It’s my prayer that in some tangible ways I have been able to enrich this journey and experience for others”.

“It would be remiss of me not to note my deep appreciation of the leadership of all the presidents I have worked with, Mrs Joan Pye, Monsignor Peter Kenny, Pastor Gordon Wegener, Archdeacon Philip Newman, Major Kerryn Roberts, Rev Jason Kioa, Mr Frank Stuart, Mr Ashok Jacob, Bishop Peter Danaher, Fr Shenouda Boutros and most recently Dr Graeme Blackman. Their wisdom, grace, humour and tenacity have enabled VCC and myself to undertake ministry through these past years. Apologies to anyone I have overlooked”.

“I too note the privilege of working with the General Secretaries of my time; Rev Doug Dargaville, Rev Robert Gribben, Rev Hamish Christie-Johnson, Ms Maureen Postma, Mr Theo Mackaay. Each brought their unique contributions and insights and encouraged me in my ecumenical journey”.

“Finally, let me say a big thank you to our Standing Committee members; they have given of themselves in many ways to ensure the ongoing ability of the VCC to continue to enable the church’s life and witness within the State of Victoria”.

“To all associated with VCC, thank you. To work with so many wonderful Christians seeking a clearer expression of the unified body of our Lord, leads me to constantly giving thanks for the graciousness, creativity and generosity of God’s people”.

The new VCC EO Sandy Boyce offered a prayer for Ian.

Loving God, we pray for Ian as he concludes his ministry with the Victorian Council of Churches, and give thanks for his long engagement with the work of VCC over the last 30 years. We give thanks for the work he has done among us, as Executive Officer and as a steward of the mission and ministry of the VCC. We give thanks for his enthusiasm, his capacity to build relationships, his commitment to the vision of unity. We give thanks also for his leadership of VCC Emergency Ministries. As his term of service with VCC ends, we pray a blessing on him. Refresh him and renew him in your love and joy and goodness. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Ian and Karen have moved to a rural property in Gippsland where Ian has accepted a supply ministry in a UCA parish. There will no doubt be fresh opportunities for Ian to engage with ecumenical activities.