We have been celebrating our 43rd birthday this past week. Many celebrated a day early, on Sunday, others celebrated on the day and others are still celebrating – as I know from the emails I have been receiving this week from Church members.
The emails have been to wish our Church “happy birthday” and to say something about how they came to be part of the Uniting Church, what they value about our Church and what they hope for our Church. (Thank you everyone for your wonderful emails!)
Some cultures celebrate birthdays with a cake and candles, making a wish as they blow them out. We probably haven’t had that opportunity this year, but we could still make a birthday wish. I wonder what you wish for the Uniting Church?
Perhaps more to the point, what is your prayer for the Uniting Church? Perhaps it is the same as Jesus’s prayer for his disciples, which lies at the heart of our identity as the Uniting Church: “that they may be one”.
At union, our understanding of “being one” was focused on the coming together of three Churches to become one Church, with the birth of the Uniting Church on June 22, 1977. We took on the name Unit-ing, because we saw this coming together as one, as an ongoing call for our life. Our hope and wish into the future was to be a Church that was constantly seeking greater union with other churches. Ecumenism lies at the core of our identity as a Church.
As we celebrate our birthday each passing year, we look back over our life together and what we are thankful for. And we express our “birthday wish” that we might find new ways of coming together with other churches, beyond what happened back in 1977, to fulfil Jesus’s prayer “that we may be one”. As we look back, we often notice what we seem to have missed back at that time, that we now recognise as vitally important to our commitment to live out Jesus’s prayer that we may be one.
As anyone who lives with glaucoma knows, we can be completely unaware of even large blind spots in our vision – unless they are right in the centre of where we are looking, or until they are revealed through intentional testing. As time goes on, the Spirit has been opening our eyes and hearts to become aware of blind spots in our vision as a Church, and the many different ways in which we are called to come together as one.
In our Basis of Union, there is mention of our hope to join with other Churches, in particular, with partner Churches in Asia and the Pacific. In our inaugural Statement to the Nation, issues of systemic injustice, inequity and division were raised as matters of faith, with a call to address them, that we may be one as a human family and nation. But in neither is there mention of the deep inequities for the First Peoples of this land in either Church or nation.
Over time, the Church has been called by the Spirit to recognise our blind spots. The Spirit has called through voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, through leaders of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress from Charles Harris to Denise Champion and Mark Kickett, through Royal Commissions into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Stolen Generations, through the Statement from the Heart …
As a Church, we have worked toward responding to the Spirit who has revealed some of those blind spots. We have a Covenanting Statement and a Preamble to our Constitution that recognise the truth of our past and our hope for reconciliation and renewal. As a Synod, we have committed ourselves to the vision of Walking Together as First and Second Peoples.
Right now, we hear the call of the Spirit in the outpouring of grief and pain through the global Black Lives Matter movement, revealing our ongoing blind spots to the truth of our history and the ongoing trauma and suffering of people of colour – especially of First Peoples – through systemic racism.
This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme serves both as a reminder and a prayer: that we might recognise we are “in this together”. Where one part of our community suffers through division and inequity, our humanity as a whole community is diminished. Where minority cultural groups suffer systemic disadvantage and inequity in relation to majority cultural groups, the work of becoming one is not the work of those minority cultural groups alone, but of all of us. Our blind spots are best revealed by the Spirit as we listen openly to each other, and as we get on with working together as mutual partners in fresh words and deeds to serve God and the world God loves.
This week, as we celebrate our birthday, we are grateful for the healing ministry of Congress in both Tasmania and Victoria; for the dedication and love of those on the regional committees; for the growing covenant partnerships between congregations and local First People communities across our Synod, from Wangaratta to Gippsland to the Mornington Peninsula, from Western Victoria to southern Tasmania; and for the ongoing work on Reconciliation and Covenant Action Plans.
May we make a birthday wish and prayer for our Church: that the Spirit may continue to open our eyes and hearts, that we may continue to grow as one in worship, witness and service, walking together as First and Second Peoples. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
Rev Denise Liersch
June 25, 2020
If you would like to tell Denise what you wish for the UCA, please do so in the comments section below.
Dear Rev Denise
I’m actually a practising member of the Anglican Church but on my semi-regular trips to Phillip Island I have discovered St John’s Uniting and it’s inspirational minister Rev Ian Turnnidge. That congregation is so inclusive, warm and welcoming and Ian speaks straight to our hearts and spirits, often challenging us but always helping us connect our everyday life with our faith. Believe me, this is a precious gift for a minister and you have a treasure in Ian. My hope for the Uniting Church is that it continues to offer the spirit of relevance and warmth that I feel St John’s does. This is a congregation that feels alive and determined to bring out the best in the world around them. If UC parishes can continue to do that, then the UC has a bright future.