July 2015 saw the beginning of Rainbow Christian Alliance (RCA) as a joint program run in partnership between Tuggeranong Uniting Church (TUC) and Diversity ACT community services. RCA was initiated to provide a Safe Place for LGBTIQA+ people of faith, their families and friends who wanted to be able to get together in fellowship in an environment away from the judgement, hurt and pain often caused by Christian Churches and other faiths to the LGBTIQA+ community.
RCA gathers on the second Sunday of each month with a dinner church format, meeting with LGBTIQA+ people of faith and their allies; gathering, chatting, eating, then sharing in a variety of worship styles including modified liturgy, readers theatre, discussion groups, guest speakers and the evening is usually wrapped up with dessert and much more chatting!
Initially the RCA project was set up utilising the space in the Erindale Neighbourhood Centre, next door to TUC, but since the arrival of COVID-19 and the requirements for modifications including increased space for those gathered, RCA has been meeting in the TUC auditorium.
Following the commencement of RCA in July 2015, an invitation was extended by Rev Aimee Kent and a partnership was also created with Goulburn Grace Community. Dare Café commenced in Goulburn in February 2016, meeting monthly, and later incorporating a Bible Study group. The Dare Café and Grace Community has been impacted by COVID-19, but Pastor Amy Junor is now keen to work with the Dare Café group and keep things moving where possible.
Over its six years, RCA has provided support to many people, including Ministers or Pastors who lost their congregation or Church because of their own sexuality, as well as people who faced exorcism, conversion therapies or even had lobotomies performed on them to cure their sexuality!
RCA also provided information to other congregations on LGBTIQA+ education and issues, including at the very stressful time of the Marriage Plebiscite. Following the June 2016 Orlando shooting at the Pulse night club in the USA, where 49 patrons were killed and 53 were wounded, RCA partnered with Canberra City Church to hold a Blue service for Orlando which was catered for with heart warming soups and fresh bread rolls by the City Church Congregation.
In more recent times RCA has had increasing support from TUC Congregation members, who provide a core support group to assist with set up, catering and running of RCA, giving more space for the leadership team of Rev. Miriam Parker-Lacey, James Ellis and Rev. Elizabeth Raine to concentrate on working with the group activities.
RCA has provided a safe place for many and has had steady numbers of attendees of approximately 20-22 people at each gathering over the past 6 years. Obviously there has been changes as to who attends, but the numbers have remained steady and in recent months there has been an increase in LGBTIQA+ youthful attendees. These younger attendees may not face some of the issues older generation LGBTIQA+ people faced but there are still many ongoing issues for LGBTIQA+ plus Christians.
Sadly, since the Marriage Plebiscite, there has been an increased push from certain quarters to demonise Transgender or Non-Binary people, and the current Olympics has been used to push fears that Trans people are stealing women’s rights and your children! (The “protect your children” fears was also previously used to push the falsehood that homosexuality equalled paedophilia.)
There are ongoing pushes for legislative changes being introduced by Mark Latham in NSW to prevent even mentioning LGBTIQA+ issues in classrooms. LGBTIQA+ people are also faced with possible legislation to be tabled by the current Federal Government on ‘Religious Freedom’. Initially the Prime Minister promised to look at legislation to keep LGBTIQA+ young people safe, but there is much cynicism as to what may be introduced and many LGBTIQA+ people fear exclusion or even loss of employment because of their sexuality or gender identity
The Rainbow Christian Alliance continues to provide a Safe Space for people who have been hurt or marginalised within society–even by the church–to gather, relax in each other’s company, and share their faith.
Men in Canberra who are without a home have been able to sleep safely under the Safe Shelter scheme for the last decade. The Uniting Church has been at the forefront of assisting such men, with overnight sleeping available on the Northside at St Columba’s church hall in Braddon, and breakfast and associated services available each morning at the Early Morning Centre at Canberra City Church in Civic.
Where do women who are homeless find shelter at night? The limited spaces available in homeless shelters mean that many sleep rough—in door alcoves, under bushes, or, for the more fortunate, in their car, or couch surfing in the homes of friends. Until now. Until the coming of SUE, the Pink Sleepbus.
In a partnership including the Tuggeranong Uniting Church and the National Council of Women in the ACT, Sleepbus is about to open a service for women only, based in the Southside of the national capital. Already the Blue Sleepbus is operating in Queanbeyan, with beds available for men and women. SUE, the Pink Sleepbus, will be the first of its kind—offering safe sleeping for women, including women with children, as well as associated services such as breakfast and information about what services are available locally.
The Rev. Elizabeth Raine has had a concern for homeless women for some time. When she ministered at City and St Columba’s, she saw the value of “stop-gap” services—limited as they may be. They don’t solve the housing crisis for society, but they do offer support, care, and nourishment for those who live on the streets. When she moved to Tuggeranong, Elizabeth began exploring with her Church Council how the Congregation might reach out to needs in the community. Replicating the model of Safe Shelter, but for women, was on the cards.
Then the church became aware of the possibility of hosting a Sleepbus. Elizabeth had been involved in the Southside Homeless Initiative, which became aware of the initiative underway in Queanbeyan. Juanita Flett, of the National Council of Women in the ACT spearheaded a fundraising drive in late 2019, raising the $100,000 that is required to bring a Sleepbus to the area. By early 2020, everyone was poised, ready to go—and then COVID hit.
“We know that more than half the homeless in Canberra are currently women, and we know that the homeless rate of women over 50 is currently rising—not just in Canberra, but right around Australia”, the Rev. Raine said. She cited the most recent census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which shows:
• over half of Canberra’s homeless population are women
• 59% of people accessing ACT homeless services are women
• 53 percent of Canberrans living in low-income households are women
• older single women are the largest growing cohort of homeless people in the ACT.
“That situation is a real concern to us as compassionate people of faith”, Elizabeth said. “When I read the Bible, I see that God charged the people of Israel with providing special care for the vulnerable members of society—widows and orphans, with no males to protect and support them—as well as the “aliens in the land”, foreigners residing in Israel (Deut 10:18, 14:28–29, 16:11,14).
In his teachings, Jesus praises “whoever gives a cup of water to drink” (Mark 9:41), and in the parable of the sheep and the goats he indicates that whenever you shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, and give a drink to the thirsty, “you did it to me” (Matt 25:35–40).
“So we’re hoping that those women who are housed in very vulnerable circumstances can find a place on the Pink Sleepbus, to at least get a good night’s sleep, clear their heads, think properly, and hopefully access services that will give them a more permanent solution to their situation. That’s the least we can do for them.”
The bus is a large bus which can sleep up to 22 women each night—each in their own separate pod. Each pod (see picture above) is air-conditioned and comes with a mattress, pillows, sheets, blankets (washed daily), USB charging, portable toilet, fire extinguisher, lockable door and a television with a special channel showing services in the area for pathways out of homelessness. Inmates from the ACT Corrective Services unit, the Alexander Maconochie Centre, have been making sheets, quilt covers and pet beds for the bus.
The bus also has a special purpose-built larger pod (pictured below) that can cater for women with children, with two double bunks in its own area. There is a storage area running underneath the sleeping pods that includes pet pods, so that if women are travelling with their pets, there is somewhere for their pets to stay overnight.
The women are met each night by volunteers from local service groups and workers from employers who have a community service scheme. The pods are cleaned thoroughly each morning by a new set of volunteers, and fresh linen is provided for each night’s stay.
The front of the bus has its own self-contained section, where a caretaker sleeps at night. Juanita Flett explained that “the bus is really an emergency stop-over for the women; it’s not meant to be a permanent solution, it just provides a safe sleep for that night, and then the women can face the next day after having a good rest.”
“One of the contributing factors for some women who find themselves experiencing homelessness is trying to get away from a violent situation at home”, Juanita continues. However, the lack of available crisis and transitional accommodation in the ACT is also often a leading factor for women returning to abusive relationships and unsafe housing situations.
The ABS data indicates that over half of ACT women experiencing domestic and family violence become homeless in the first year post-crisis. “We are well aware of that”, says Juanita. “Given the extra challenges that this presents for those women, having a trained caretaker on hand at all times is important.”
Elizabeth adds, “With safety concerns in mind, the caretaker is able, if the situation requires, to drive the bus away from the scene to a safer location. Simon Rowe, the CEO of Sleepbus, has ensured that local police and other services are aware of the operations of the Sleepbus and are on hand to intervene should any situation escalate to that point.”
Juanita notes that “the bus is surrounded by CCTV. At night, the pods are completely blacked out, so you can’t see into them—nobody could know who is in a particular pod. All the CCTV cameras are connected to the caretaker’s cabin, and there is also security on call.” “Yes—the bus is on wheels”, Elizabeth noted, “so it can be moved if a desperate situation arose. That’s one of the things that originally appealed to us.”
The Pink Sleepbus will be stationed at Tuggeranong Uniting Church’s car park for three nights a week to start off with—Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Elizabeth notes that “We expect it will take some time to build up the service, for people to develop a trust in the volunteers who meet them. We want people to know that if you’re sleeping rough and you’re not getting a good night sleep, you don’t need to keep doing that. You can sleep on the Sleepbus, have a good breakfast, and be pointed to some of the local services that can assist you longer-term.”
Local community workers estimate the homeless population in Tuggeranong, in Canberra’s south, to be about 40 people sleeping rough at any one time, but they say it is hard to know. Georgie Fowler, President of the Tuggeranong Rotary Club, is involved in the Safe Shelter for men that operates in Tuggeranong. “The leading cause of homelessness is legal issues and family crisis,” Ms Fowler said. “So that surprised us, because there’s a common misconception that drugs and alcohol and general substance abuse lead to those situations—but that’s not the case.”
SUE the Pink Sleepbus was launched on Saturday 19 June in the car park of the Tuggeranong Uniting Church in Wanniassa, with a good crowd of almost 100 people from the Uniting Church, the National Council of Women ACT, and a number of local service organisations (SeeChange, Rotary, Lions, Communities At Work, and others).
Local members Nicole Lawder and Mark Parton attended the launch.
The bus is sponsored by ICON Water and some other local businesses, and is named after the late Sue Schreiner, feminist, lawyer, and ACT community activist. Ms Schreiner, the first woman from the ACT to be admitted to the New South Wales Bar, was a staunch advocate for finding solutions to homelessness.
SUE was “open for business” on Friday 25 June, the first night that she was stationed at the Tuggeranong Uniting Church, with a number of volunteers on hand to welcome women who were looking for a comfortable, safe, and warm sleep for the night.
Before I moved to Canberra, people told me about the north/south divide: people north of the lake rarely venture south of the lake, and vice versa). As I was moving from Perth (where people north of the river rarely venture over the river, and vice versa), this was not a new experience for me.
This past weekend, in Canberra, there were joyous celebrations taking place on both sides of the lake. And some people even crossed over the lake to take part in those celebrations!
North of the lake, the Gungahlin Congregation was celebrating 25 years of ministry and mission in the northern-most region of our capital city. The Congregation started as a church plant, beginning from almost nothing—Mark Greenlees arrived in January 1996 to a rented house, one couple willing to work with them, and three partly-completed new housing estates with a population of 12,000, surrounded by paddocks and hillsides.
Over a decade, Mark and his wife Robyn worked with a growing group of dedicated disciples, building a faith community that was in a position then to call a new minister, plan and build a purpose-built church and community complex (opened in 2010), and develop a distinctive identity as an inclusive, community-oriented gathering of people.
Mark Faulkner came to ministry at Gungahlin in 2007. He reflected on this group as “a genuine Christian community, where people of all ages, relationships, cultures and theologies sat side by side, where people were welcoming to the stranger, the hungry, the troubled, the refugee … a community who shared leadership, encouraged ideas, took risks and sought to live out their faith”.
Darren Wright is now in placement with a strong group of lay leaders, sharing the site with a Korean UCA Congregation, looking to harness the energy of the people into engagement with the neighbours that now surround them—households with two working parents, refugees moving into the region, with places of worship for Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Bahai, Buddhists, and other faiths.
A group of people which which filled the worship space and foyer (with the requisite social distancing) heard stories from each era in the Congregation’s life, tapped and clapped as the band played and sang worship songs, shared in prayer for the local community and for people beyond, and then shared in fellowship for an extended time after the worship had ended.
It was worth the trip all the way from the southern-most suburb of Canberra, to this northern urban region, for this joyful celebration!
Meanwhile, south of the lake, another celebration was taking place, as the Woden Valley Congregation formally came into existence. Ross Kingham, Co-Chair of the Canberra Region Presbytery, presided as the members of two existing southern Canberra Congregations joyfully and wholeheartedly pledged their commitment to working together as a unified Congregation, seeking to express itself in worship and service in the Woden Valley in ways that are appropriate and relevant for the context.
Two parallel processes had led to this conjunction of Congregations. As Chris Lockley neared his retirement, throughout 2019 and 2020 he worked with the St James Curtin Congregation to explore possibilities for their ministry and mission in that part of Canberra’s inner south in future years.
Janet Kay, Chair of the St James Congregation, notes that “we started meaningful planning conversations early in 2018, after a significant number of people from St James had attended the Pathways conversations and had come back with ideas about what makes a healthy church.” Over time, explorations of these ideas were undertaken with every church in the southern region of Canberra.
At the same time, the South Woden Congregation, which was sharing the ministry leadership of Gary Holdsworth with the Weston Creek Congregation, was exploring their future. Chair of Church Council, Stephen Brand, explains that they wanted to “take a new and dynamic approach to our place in the community and also to seek out a like-minded congregation with which to consider working closely or merging.”
In the best of timing, the two processes converged about a year ago, and—working through all the challenges that COVOD-19 restrictions imposed—the two Congregations each came to a consensus decision about their future together.
Janet Kay observes, “our combined enthusiasm, talents and skills are now available to make something greater than the sum of the two parts.”
Stephen Brand notes, “we were considering a future horizon of 5 to 10 years and not reflecting an immediate terminal ‘decline’. In fact, the congregations [each] remain strong communities of faith with energy and purpose.” So, this is a merger made at a moment of strength, with a clear mutual commitment to a shared future—a most hopeful sign!
Andrew Smith, Presbytery Minster for Congregation Futures, notes that “after vows by the members of the new Congregation and a welcome by Presbytery, there was a gathering coloured pieces of wax from all those present to form a community candle. The worship music filled us with hope of new light streaming in this place as God gathered us in, and we were sent out trusting in God who gives us a future, daring us to go.”
Canberra Region Presbytery is also celebrating the commencement of new ministry leadership in three Congregations—Apelu Tielu at Queanbeyan, Geoff Dornan at Wesley Forrest, and Andrew Jago at North Belconnen. It is exciting to be in the middle of multiple communities of faith where hope for the future and commitment to the present are expressed so strongly!
The city where I live, Canberra, has a regular annual festival. Each year, a large section of a central park is planted out with bulbs, around this time of the year. Lots of tourists come in September, joining with many of the residents of Canberra, to enjoy the festival known as Floriade.
The bulbs that have been planted grow, silently and stealthily, throughout winter, so that when spring arrives, they are fully grown plants, ready to burst into a display of spectacular colours—in time for hundreds of thousands of people to walk through, enjoying the display.
That’s not going to happen this year. The ACT Government wisely decided that it would not be sensible to plan for a large, crowded event in September—with the uncertainty that crowds of people would be able to gather, even in the outdoors.
So they have implemented Floriade Reimagined. Bulbs have been offered to community groups, to be planted at dispersed locations right around Canberra. Those bulbs are to be planted in locations that are visible from the road. Now, in September, people are able to drive around Canberra and enjoy the displays of flowers in many community locations. (See https://floriadeaustralia.com)
Alongside this, in the southern part of Canberra, there has been an annual festival in Tuggeranong, called, quite appropriately, SouthFest. This has been based around the Tuggeranong Town Centre in past years, with many stall lining the streets, and a festive atmosphere pervading the day.
But SouthFest, alongside Floriade, has also been reimagined. And that’s where the Tuggeranong Uniting Church comes into the picture. They took their annual Spring Fair, and in 2019, gave it a strong sustainability focus. This year, they once again reimagined that that spring fair would look like. And so, SpringFest was born.
Now, in September, the Tuggeranong Uniting Church is surrounded with colour, as the bulbs burst into flower.
And this church, along with the Yarralumla Uniting Church (pictured below), is on the visiting list for Floriade Reimagined.
And Tuggeranong Uniting Church, under the enthusiastic and energetic leadership of Elizabeth, along with a fine team of dedicated volunteers, has partnered with SEE-Change to have a modified, downscale (but still very much appreciated) SouthFest happening, in the grounds at Erindale. The sustainability focus of 2019 was kept and expanded in SpringFest 2020.
SEE-Change, a local sustainability group, ran a series of workshops, in the community garden and the community hall, on topics relating to sustainability: composting, worm farms, bee keeping, and reducing plastic.
Meanwhile, in and around the church auditorium, the Red Dove Pre-Loved Op Shop was selling second hand clothes, the church was offering Devonshire teas and BBQ sandwiches, the Girls Brigade were selling delicious cakes, reuseable bags to replace single use plastic bags were on sale, as was a wide range of potted plants, and there was a Beeswax stall and assorted other goods for sale.
Why, the COVID Fairy was even in attendance (ensuring that all COVID Safe precautions were being adhered to). And she brought Senator Katy Gallagher along, to open the proceedings!
Floriade has reimagined itself. SouthFest has reimagined itself. COVID-19 has been the impetus. Tuggeranong Church has reimagined how it can partner with community groups to provide an enjoyable and inviting community event.
Can the church as a whole, similarly, reinvent itself? Can we take the stimulus of the present time to move out into the future with renewed creativity, imagination, and community engagement? Can we demonstrate that we are capable of the spirit of the times—reimagination?
It has been six months since we were propelled into the new world that we are living in at this time. Restrictions on gathering, imposed because of the rapid and worrying spread of the corona virus, meant that we had to cease, with very little notice, all of our in person gatherings.
The time since then can be characterised by two important words. One word is Challenge. It has been a challenging time for many. The challenge of needing to find ways to continue worship, in different ways from what we had long been used to. The challenge of knowing that people continued to be hungry, living below the poverty line, some without a place to shelter each night—and that our usual ways of serving them needed to be drastically changed.
The challenge of not being able to meet in person for a cup of tea and a good chat, and the impact that this has on our own mental health. The challenge of being distant from family, unable to visit them, or have them visit us.
The second word that characterises this time is Innovation. In each of these areas, we have seen great examples of innovation happening, right within our own communities of faith. We have adopted online worship—by ZOOM, by Facebook, by YouTube; we have set up personal sanctuaries in our homes, and made use of worship resources prepared and delivered directly to us, whether by email or by post or by hand.
We have seen innovation in the ways that take-away meals have been prepared and distributed to those who are hungry, and how we have found the telephone and the internet to be wonderful tools to ensure that we remain in contact with all of our friends and family members.
The ways we have met the challenges and created innovative responses is clearly seen in the series of videos with people in our Presbytery that have been made for our two online Presbytery meetings this year.
Our sense, as Presbytery leaders, is that the health of our churches is strong; the commitment of our people is deep; the expertise of our ministry leadership—lay and ordained alike—is growing; and the possibilities for the future remain hopeful. Hard work, prayerful reflection, compassionate concern, and openness to exploration are the hallmarks of our Congregations.
Our Synod leadership switched into a strongly collaborative mode from the very start of this period. Weekly meetings with leaders from Presbyteries right around the Synod, and regular guidance notes which provided links to key government and health resources, were immensely helpful in the early months. The ongoing collaboration of our leadership has been of benefit to every Presbytery and every Congregation.
We have been able to maintain a community of learning amongst those who had started the Mission Shaped Ministry course last year, and a good cohort of people has just completed that course. We are encouraged, also, to see the establishment of a Community of Practice amongst people from the Inner North Congregations, and we pray that this group will share hopes, see visions, and implement plans, for a renewed witness on the inner north area of Canberra.
Of course, we are acutely aware that pandemic struck so soon after so many communities were just beginning the slow and painful task of regathering their lives after the devastation of the bushfires. People were looking to rebuild their lives and, in some cases, their homes; the pandemic struck deep into this enterprise. The pain and despair of many communities is something that we have been working together to address. It has been made more complicated by the pandemic. But it is very heartening to see how organisations, congregations, fellowship groups, and individuals have all pitched in to assist.
So, we rejoice in these signs of robust life across our Presbytery. We hope that you share our sense of confidence in what lies ahead, because of the evidence of how we have responded over the past six months.
We encourage you to pray with us for people caught in painful traumatic memories; for people offering assistance and support to those who have been impacted by fires; for communities where the road to recovery is long and slow.
Pray too for those for whom the past months have brought new experiences of feeling isolated and lonely, depressed and discouraged or brought loss and grief. Pray that the healing power of the Spirit may renew and refresh all those who are suffering in some way and reassure them that they are the beloved children of God.
We encourage you to maintain hope, to continue offering compassionate care to the people of your faith community and to your local community. We challenge you to seek new ways of sharing the Gospel, seeking to offer fresh expressions of faith to those in the places where we each live and work.
We are grateful for all the signs of faithfulness and hope in our midst, and we look forward with confidence to discovering who God is calling us to be, and what the Spirit is leading us to do, in the days ahead.
Judy McKinlay and Ross Kingham, Presbytery Co-Chairpersons
Jared Mitchell, Presbytery Deputy Chairperson
Andrew Smith and John Squires, Presbytery Ministers
Today I am enjoying a public holiday. This is because of the peculiarities of our history as a federation of states (and those lesser beasts known as territories), and the vagaries of border demarcations from various times in the history of this country over recent centuries.
Our state boundaries evolved over many decades. Our federation was originally intended to include New Zealand, but they invoked the Tasman Sea and remained a separate nation. Five states agreed to join the federation through referenda held in 1898 and 1899. Western Australia, naturally, came to the party only late, joining up with a last minute yes vote on 31 July 1900, just in time for the declaration of Australia on 1 January 1901.
I live, as you probably known, in the #anonymousterritory amongst the #undifferentiatedeasternstates (at least, that is how #overeast is seen from #overwest). And the capital of this territory is the city of Canberra—whose day, Canberra Day—is being celebrated today.
Accordingly, all the employees and public servants and local (territory) politicians here are on holidays, for the day. Over the weekend, there have been early morning balloon flights and evening light shows, and the weekend is surrounded by a ten-day festival with concerts and all manner of festivities on offer.
The city of Canberra was named at a ceremony on 12 March 1913 by the wife of the Governor-General, Gertrude Mary Denman, known formally as Lady Denman and informally as Trudie.
The name Canberra, as I have previously blogged, is believed to have been derived from a local Indigenous word which identifies the location as a meeting place, where the Ngunnawal, Ngambri, Ngarigo, Walgalgula, amd Wiradjuri people would meet each year, for a gathering focussed around the bogong moth.
So that’s what all the celebration and festivities are about today—remembering the naming of this place by the daughter of an engineer, who married a minor British aristocrat who was sent to the colonies to represent the British monarch in the fledgling federation.
So today, while people in New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia are hard at work, we Territorians are enjoying a day off—along with folks in South Australia (for Adelaide Cup Day), Tasmania (celebrating Eight Hour Day) and Victoria (celebrating the same thing as the Taswegians, but there it is called May Day—go figure!).
Canberra sits in the area around the Molongolo River, near its junction with the Murrumbidgee River, to the east of the Brindabella Ranges. The area was named Canberra, after much posturing and politicking by assorted leaders, in 1911, when the NSW government ceded the district to the federal government and the Federal Capital Territory was formed. Its name was changed to the present name two decades later.
Canberra is the only city in the Australian Capital Territory. If you look at a map, you will see that the shape of the ACT is quite distinctive. The way the borders were agreed to offers a very interesting story. They produce a territory with a very strange shape. Some might say, this quite befits the place where politicians gather from all over the continent, to work in the very strange environment of the APH (the Australian Parliament House) and to make decisions which also have some very strange aspects!
There is one section of the ACT borders that is a straight line; the rest is far from straight. The shape of the ACT is quite asymmetrical, and Canberra is bunched into just one end of the elongated shape that forms the territory. The rest of the ACT is set aside as a series of nature reserves and the Namadgi National Park.
The story of how the borders were decided, and then surveyed and implemented, is told in this ABC article:
The original intention was to form a territory around the series of rivers in the region. The ACT was going to be a horseshoe shape, since the Surveyor-General, Charles Scrivener, originally wanted to include the Queanbeyan and Molonglo River catchments, and the Queanbeyan township itself, in the Federal Capital Territory.
That proposal was—surprise, surprise!—vetoed by the NSW government, who did not want to lose the main southern train line as it earn south from Queanbeyan. You can check this by following the train line south from Queanbeyan—the eastern ACT/NSW border follows the train line precisely, through all its twists and turns, to the southern tip of the ACT.
Mind you,as the above map indicates, the ACT water catchment area still draws from all the river systems originally proposed. And in this way (along with employment and entertainment factors), Queanbeyan is integrally connected with Canberra!
So, back in the day, in place of the Queanbeyan catchment, the NSW Government offered a series of catchments to the south of the Molongolo—the Cotter, Gudgenby, Naas and Paddy’s River catchments—which gave the territory is distinctive elongated shape.
This month I have started fulltime into a regional ministry role with the Canberra Region Presbytery of the Uniting Church in Australia. The Presbytery includes Congregations, Faith Communities, and Uniting Agencies across the ACT and in coastal and rural areas in the southeast of NSW.
I am joined in another fulltime regional ministry role by Andrew Smith, a colleague minister in the Uniting Church, and we work with administrative support staff, as well as in a collegial relationship with the Saltbush Project of our church, serving rural and remote Congregations, and Uniting, building community connections in locations across the region.
My role is described as Presbytery Minister Wellbeing, and I will be working with Ministers and Pastors, Congregations and Faith Communities, to guide them in their development and growth and support their leadership in their communities. I am charged to provide pastoral care, leadership development, and other training. There is a significant administrative component in the position. Despite this (or because of this?), I am looking forward to what this role will set before me.
Andrew has been called to serve as Presbytery Minister Congregation Futures, working with Congregations and Faith Communities, Pastors and Ministers, to empower their spiritual life, develop missional capacity, strengthen missional leadership, and build strong missional networks across the region. We are already working closely, and look forward to a constructive collaboration over the time ahead.
In the Service of Induction on 21 February 2020, we were privileged to have the President of the National Assembly, Dr Deidre Palmer, preach a thoughtful and stirring sermon. She focussed on the call to serve embedded in Luke 4:16-30 and the prayer of hope expressed in Psalm 13. What follows are the words that I offered in response at this service.
Co-Chairpersons, President, colleagues and friends, I thank you for your welcome. I am pleased to be in Canberra, here because Elizabeth was called by God through the church, to the right place at the right time, to be minister of the Tuggeranong Congregation. We are very content to be here. The cats are contented, and after a year in our house, the veggies are growing abundantly.
I am grateful for the support and encouragement that I have received as I have undertaken the slow and extended process, over the last year, of working my way into this role of Wellbeing within your Presbytery.
I come with a commitment to support and serve the leadership of our 29 congregations, both lay and ordained; to equip and encourage the whole people of God in order that together we might be faithful followers of Jesus; and to work to strengthen the mission and ministry that is undertaken by our congregations and faith communities.
In a world where a mother and her children can be incinerated by an act of savage fury, we need the Gospel of God, which invites us to value others deeply and to share with others in the depths of pain …
In a world where barriers are built and walls reinforced, where borders are patrolled and security is intensified, where fear and distrust leads us to keep at bay those who are perceived as different, foreign, strangers, we need to live out the Gospel of welcoming acceptance, so that we may no longer be strangers to one another …
In a world where stereotypes are promulgated and intolerance of difference and diversity in personal identity is growing, we need to reinforce that the Gospel in which we stand calls us to value diversity, love everyone, and work together to strengthen the common good in society …
In a world where land is taken, communities are neglected, the voices of Indigenous Peoples are silenced and their peoples and communities are marginalised, we need to live by our covenant commitment to honour and respect them, to listen and share with them, to seek a destiny together with the First Peoples of this continent and its islands …
In a world where vested interests cajole and threaten, pouring money into supporting ventures which continue to inflict damage on the environment and destroy ecosystems, we need the Gospel of renewal and reconciliation for the whole creation …
In a world where bushfires and cyclones wreak havoc, where droughts and floods destabilise, we need the Gospel of patient care and loving concern, looking to rebuild lives and strengthen community resilience, which all comes from the central command, that we are to love one another …
In a world where captives are tortured, prisoners are held unjustly, systems are corrupted, and injustice is contagious, we need the Gospel which calls us to set free the prisoner, enable the blind to see, and offer God’s gracious liberty as a sign of the year of the Lord’s favour …
This is the world we live in, and this is the Gospel we believe in. It invites us into wholeness, shalom, wellbeing.
The 29 Congregational units in this Presbytery cover 54 locations under the banner of the Uniting Church. Every Sunday, when people in our Presbytery gather together to worship, every weekday, when people gather in our buildings to eat and talk, to listen and learn, we demonstrate that we are committed to this Gospel, as the good news for all, that we seek to live it out to the fullest.
Our congregations and faith communities are the lifeblood of that Gospel in our region. Our pastors and ministers are the people who call and care, who proclaim and practice the good news for our world in each of those places, as we live out that Gospel.
I am looking forward to working with you all, to continue working with Amy and Janise in the Presbytery Office, and especially to work closely with Andrew as we offer resourcing and guidance as the ministers you have called to serve across this Presbytery, charged to support ministers and pastors as they offer their leadership, called to equip faith communities and congregations to be resilient, faithful and engaged with their local communities.
I am committed to working with you, alongside each of you, to seek the wellbeing of our church and to contribute to the common good in society. I look forward to the adventures that lie ahead, as together we serve the Gospel in the world through our church.
This month, I am taking up a portion of my future placement in the Canberra Region Presbytery, in a 25% supply role, alongside of my 75% IIM Placement. This will run through into early next year, when I will move into the full time role as Presbytery Minister—Wellbeing in the Canberra Region.
I was asked to offer some reflections on the theme for the May meeting of Presbytery, when we will be considering what it means to be discovering new futures and letting go of the old. So, here goes …..
From time to time I hear people reminiscing about “the ways things used to be”. Often, the narrative is one of “things just aren’t as good now as they used to be”. You might know the script; it goes something like: “not enough people ‘come to church’ on Sunday mornings … we have no Sunday School … there is no Youth Group … the Women’s Fellowship has closed … the rosters have empty spaces … nobody wants to do the flowers … there aren’t enough greeters.”
I hear these things. I listen. I nod and make empathic noises.
I start to talk about how things are, indeed, different now. How the church is in a different place in society. How society itself is different, now, from 30 years ago, 50 years ago, 60 years ago. How people are looking for different things, now. How the Sunday morning four-hymn sandwich, sitting quietly and listening to a 20 minute monologue, is not what “younger people” accept as valuable, any more. (And some “older people”, too!)
I might push back a little more. What does this congregation offer, to people who are looking for a place to connect with their faith? How do we welcome people? How do we disciple people? How do we connect with people in the ways that they best appreciate and look for? What are we doing to grow our own sense of what it is that people in the community around us are hungering for?
I wonder whether this is the right line to take. I wonder whether this just reinforces the resistance and strengthens the frustrations of those who express these things to me.
So, could there be a different line of approach to take? From time to time, I mull over a different kind of response. One that goes something like this, instead:
The challenge that faces the church as our numbers decline, is in fact a wonderful opportunity. It is an opportunity for us to renew ourselves. It is an opportunity to become deeply incarnational. It is an opportunity for us to contextualise the way we express and live out our faith. It is an opportunity to discover new futures.
To be incarnational, means to enter fully into the reality of human life that we find all around us. It means to “take on the flesh” of the society of which we are a part.
(Don’t freak out—that is entirely biblical. That is what, we say, Jesus did, when he “became human” and “pitched his tent in our midst”—to paraphrase John 1:14.)
To be incarnational, means to live in this world, amongst our fellow human beings, as one of them, bringing into this situation a sense of the “more than” that the Gospel offers; a sense of the “dimension beyond” the immediate that we proclaim.
To be incarnational is to be contextual. To be immersed in the context. To be part of the community that lives, sleeps, eats, shops, works, plays, and relaxes, within the very neighbourhood where the church is.
Instead of yearning for more people to come to church on Sunday morning, perhaps we should become more active in engaging with people out there in the parks, the shopping centres, the gathering places, in our local community. These are the new futures waiting for us to discover them.
Instead of lamenting decline, perhaps we need to be seizing the day, grasping the opportunity, becoming deeply incarnational, ensuring that we are thoroughly contextual, as we discover the new futures that God has in store for us.
The church, in many places, has lost contact with people in the wider community. Long ago, the church was at the centre of society. Every local church was a community hub. People from the community, with minimal or no religious commitment, were regularly in the church, on the premises, interacting with church people.
Over time, the church lost those connections. We gradually moved closer to the edges. We lost this strong central position, this robust community engagement. Slowly, but surely.
So now, the challenge is to recapture that central position, to re-engage with the community, to reconnect with people across the spectrum of society, to be incarnate within the community, to let go of the old and discover our new futures.
The challenge of the moment is the incarnational opportunity. Can we hear the call, to let go of the old, and discover new futures? Let’s seize it with enthusiasm!
Elizabeth and I attended the #StopAdani climate crisis rally outside the Federal Parliament this morning. The crowd present was estimated at around 5,000 people. There were people from churches, schoolchildren, union members, as well as members of many community organisations and climate change action groups participating.
Author Richard Flanagan addressed the crowd in his inimitable poetic manner, marking the issues and telling the truth:
“Jabbering ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ in a hi-vis shirt does not make you a leader”
“The Franklin was more than a river. Adani is more than a mine.”
“Was there hope with the Franklin!? Yes, there was. Is there hope with Adani? Yes, there is!”
Two young female school-age climate strikers stirred the crowd with pointed rhetoric and a call to action. “Change is never implemented by the oppressors. Change must always be demanded by the oppressed.”
Other speakers from various organisations urged the large crowd to hold fast, stand firm, and work for change. “We are on the right side of history. We will Stop Adani.”
Adrian Burragubba, an elder of the Wangan and Jagalingou people of the Galilee Basin in central western Queensland, reminded the crowd that Adani does not have the consent of the First People of the area, whose ancestral lands, waters and culture would be destroyed by the mime if it went ahead.
Paul Kelly sang two song, including “My island home”, and then Bob Brown brought the rally to a climax with his clarion call: “There will be no divine intervention. The onus is on us. And we will take it.” He noted that there was “a bigger crowd here today, than Bill Shorten will have in Brisbane, than Scott Morrison will have, whenever he has his campaign launch.” Popular opinion is clearly against the development of this mine.
Why is it important to protest against this mine, and to petition our leaders to ensure that the Adani mine and associated works do not go ahead?
The Great Barrier Reef. The mine will see ships travelling through this unique World Heritage Area each year, risking ship groundings, coal and oil spills; and it requires further dredging within the World Heritage Area causing water contamination, destruction of dugong habitat, impacts on Green and Flatback turtle nests, and more.
The Great Artesian Basin is our greatest inland water resource, covering 22% of the Australian continent. Putting control of all that land, and water, into the hands of a foreign commercial enterprise, is foolhardy. The mine will take at least 270 billion litres of groundwater over the life of the mine; put aquifers of the Basin at risk; and dump mine polluted wastewater into the Carmichael River.
It will threaten ancient springs and 160 wetlands that provide permanent water during drought, and leave behind 6 unfilled coal pits that will drain millions of litres of groundwater, forever. Adani’s associated water licence allows unlimited access to groundwater for 60 years for free. Putting control of all that land, and water, into the hands of a foreign commercial enterprise, is foolhardy.
The Great Coal Swindle. Pollution from burning coal is the single biggest contributor to dangerous global warming, threatening our way of life. In Australia, ‘black lung’ disease has recently re-emerged among coal miners, with at least 19 workers in Qld identified with the disease. The coal from the Carmichael mine will be burnt in India where 115,000 people die from coal pollution every year. Developing renewable energy is more responsible for the environment and more energising for the economy.
The Great Employment Myth. There are 69,000 tourism jobs related to the Great Barrier Reef, which rely on a healthy Reef. There are thousands of farming jobs in the inland areas under threat. The Adani mine and associated works will pollute, despoil, and degrade both the land area and the associated offshore seas, impacting hugely on the Reef. Adani claims the mine will bring employment opportunities to the region, but in reality there will be far fewer jobs if the mine goes ahead. The mine will decimate local employment opportunities.
The Great Commercial Swindle. Adani companies are under investigation for tax evasion, corruption, fraud, and money laundering. Nine of the 20 Adani subsidiaries registered in Australia are ultimately owned by an entity registered in the infamous Cayman Islands tax haven. That is beyond the regulatory reach of the Australian Government.
Adani Group companies have an appalling environmental track record with a documented history of destroying the environments and livelihoods of traditional communities in India, and failure to comply with regulations. They will do the same in Australia if the mine goes ahead.
There are other reasons—environmental, economic, political—that mean we should not go ahead with the mine.
And, for me, there is a fundamental theological principle undergirding this issue: God’s good creation is in our hands; we are called to act responsibly, to care for, honour, and respect that creation. That means that we act to lessen our carbon footprint, restructure our energy infrastructure to grow renewable sources, and refresh our national policies so that we prioritise the planet over personal preferences.
The Uniting Church has affirmed, “We seek the flourishing of the whole of God’s Creation and all its creatures. We act to renew the earth from the damage done and stand in solidarity with people most impacted by human induced climate change. Government, churches, businesses and the wider community work together for a sustainable future.” (See https://uniting.church/visionstatement2019/)
The Church has issued a Vision Statement which sets out the following desired Key Actions:
1. A national climate policy that drives down greenhouse gas pollution, including no new coal or gas mining in Australia and investment in renewable energy.
2. Just and sustainable transition for communities currently dependent on fossil fuel industries for employment, towards more environmentally sustainable sources of income.
3. Equitable access to renewables for all Australians.
4. Policies which support people and nations that are most vulnerable to climate change.
There is No Planet B. We have no choice but to #StopAdani.
Simple words. Everyday words. But words which were filled with emotion and sated with meaning, in the context in which they were spoken.
Everyday people. Everyday words. People going about their normal, everyday business.
They have been to work. They have driven their cars, parked along the verge. They are walking along the street; walking with intent, heading with purpose, to the place of prayer.
Hello. Thank you. Everyday words. Accompanied by smiles. Sometimes, by handshakes. Or by a hand held to the heart; no words, just a signal, that this was appreciated. Deeply appreciated.
In a curving street on a gently-sloping hill in a Canberra suburb, twenty of us were gathered, standing on the footpath, greeting worshippers as they arrived for prayer.
We were Christians. They were Muslims. We were white. They were, mostly, Middle Eastern, or Southeast Asian. They were coming to pray. We, too, would gather to pray; but not today.
Our day of prayer is Sunday. Their day of prayer is Friday. Today is Friday. It is their day of prayer.
So this Friday, we stood outside the mosque, a silent witness of support and solidarity. Smiling, bowing, shaking hands, offering a greeting; not speaking further unless we were engaged in conversation; simply, standing in solidarity.
This is what it is, to be a human being. This is what it is, to relate to our fellow human beings. Hello. Thank you. You are welcome. You are us. We are with you. We support you.
Simple words, short phrases; but deep emotion, and profound meaning. Just in these simple acts and words of human interaction.
Some conversations were longer. We discussed the issues, the personalities. We could see, and hear, and feel, the emotion.
It could have been people like these. It could have been these people. Ordinary people. Coming from work. Gathering to pray. People of faith. Ordinary people, committed people, people who share their lives with us each and every day.
They serve us in shops. They answer our phone calls. They draft our legislation. They clean our homes. They install and service our utilities. They collect our fares and drive our taxis. They are everywhere. They are people of prayer. They are people of peace. They are us. We are them.
What happened a week ago in New Zealand, at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre … and what has happened in Quebec City, and Kembe in the Central African Republic, and the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota, and in countless interpersonal interactions involving Muslims as victims … what has happened in far too many places, on far too many occasions, is a cause for deep distress.
We weep. We pray. And we stand, quietly, supportively, in solidarity.
Thank you for being here.
Further reflections on the tragic events in Christchurch: