Category Archives: Religion

A Church for our times



As a Mission, we provide community based services to Bondi and the Eastern Suburbs. Our goal is to turn good intentions into great action with a large dose of compassion. Our programs are designed to:

Connect people and break down the facelessness of modern urban communities – you care more for the people you know;

Provide a helping hand to those who are struggling in life and a means to get back onto their own path;

Connect people, those wanting or in need, with the opportunity for growth, prosperity, and sense of belonging;

Shepherd our environment and leaving it improved for the next generation.

Chapel by the Sea is a community hub for the exploration of spirituality, justice, community building, creativity and human and eco-solidarity. We are inclusive of all faiths, including agnostics and atheists and all people. We have developed a range of programs and made the Chapel available to other groups with these goals.

The Chapel’s ministry, under the leadership of Rev John Queripel, seeks to promote Jesus as a liberating life-giver. At the heart of Jesus’ ministry is his commitment to the vision of a society where right relations would be present between all people. To that end we work toward justice, peace, harmony and reconciliation with a particular concern for the poor and marginalized both in our community and the world.

Chapel by the Sea celebrates the Christian faith – that God loves us all and entered our world as the man Jesus Christ to bring us forgiveness, joy, hope and peace. We also believe life is to be celebrated as something beautiful and creative. The Chapel service and programs are open to all those interested in building a stronger community and helping others. Our congregation and volunteers share their skills, passions and ideas at our events, community and childcare centres, for which we are truly grateful.

For more information about this UCA congregation go to: Chapel by the Sea


Opinion: A Basis of (for) Union …. not a Basis of (for) the Uniting Church


John Gunson

In 2017 we celebrated both the 40th Anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia and the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

These seminal events were worth celebrating, not because they defined forever how we should understand and define the nature of the church and of Christian faith, but because they were declarations of exactly the opposite, namely that “the church” must be under constant reformation.

The very last thing we ought to do is to assume or believe that the so-called “truth” arrived at at a certain point in history is the final truth about either faith or life. The evil and ignorance of such a position is of course best illustrated by the tragedy of Christendom, the approximately 1200 years that preceded the Reformation when Church and State were co-terminus, and when the church decided on what was truth, not only in the religious sphere, but in every human field of knowledge and endeavour, including science and law.

Without the Protestant Reformation the vast advances in human knowledge and well-being that we enjoy today may not have occurred. The “Enlightenment” itself would have been a much greater struggle without this challenge to the church’s control of all truth.

I have no desire to return to the Reformation’s re-definitions of Christian faith and church. They are as dated and imperfect as that which preceded it, which was largely defined by a very flawed, political and academic process which occurred in 325CE under the Roman Emperor Constantine, a definition of Christian faith and expression of church that bears little resemblance (if any) to the foundational events of Christianity in the early decades of the Common era.

The Uniting Church came into being, however, not to reform the churches’ doctrinal positions nor to escape coercive and corrupt leadership and practices, as in the 15th century, but because of an overwhelming ecumenical spirit that saw the scandal of competing denominations of common “free church” or non-conformist origin, and because of a mutually held, and in hindsight naïve and impossible dream of ultimately moving on to greater Christian union with Anglicans and others.

It was precisely this dream that lay behind the Uniting Church’s expression of it’s faith in the “Basis of Union”. Two significant factors guided the expression and content of “The Basis”. The first and most significant was the deliberate calculation that other, especially larger denominations such as the Anglicans, would not take us seriously if we did not, like them, stand under a largely universally accepted definition of faith such as the historic Nicene Creed, which we carefully re-expressed in the Basis of Union.

Second was the purely accidental fact of history that the young “turks” of the three negotiating non-conformist churches (over-represented on the Joint Commission preparing for the union of their respective churches) were largely, if not entirely, the product of a Barthian theological education and who were moving away from their denominational roots to a neo-orthodox theological position. I have to confess that I was one of them at that time, but not myself on the Joint Commission.

Also on the Joint Commission were a number of senior Congregational representatives who were alarmed, both by this step backward to neo-orthodoxy, but equally by any effort to appear to limit the possibilities of a growing, on-going understanding of the truth, or, as some would have put it, the on-going revelation of the Holy Spirit, and the findings of new scholarship.

These insightful representatives of both the Reformation spirit and of their non-conformist heritage, deliberately fought for the inclusion of para. 11 in the Basis of Union, to ensure that that Basis did not in the future restrict the Uniting Church’s ability to respond to new ways that the Holy Spirit might be leading us, and the new discoveries and insights into our origins and our faith that contemporary and future scholarship would inevitably bring us.

The young neo-orthodox “turks” on the Joint Commission would not themselves have introduced para 11. For them the “Basis of Union” was not simply to be the basis on which we came together or united, but the on-going permanent basis of the Uniting Church. So, if they had to bow to the Congregationalist insistence about para 11 it was imperative that it be drafted with sufficient ambiguity to both satisfy the non-conformists, but to allow some of its interpreters 40 years later to misunderstand, and hence misinterpret, the original purpose of its inclusion in the Basis. Fortunately, the uniting document is correctly called the Basis of Union (i.e. the basis on which we agreed to come together), not The Theological Basis of the Uniting Church.

As readers can see, the practical effect of the neo-orthodox majority on the Joint Commission was to reject the foundational principles of reformation of the three non-conformist traditions they were there to represent, in favour of a return to orthodoxy, along with the impossible dream of a return to the bosom of mother church.

So, the Uniting Church, born out of a great ecumenical vision and hope, has effectively managed to deny both the reformation and non-conformist traditions which the three uniting churches had nurtured and expressed for hundreds of years. And it has replaced its ecumenical vision and reforming spirit with a craven desire to be accepted as orthodox by the other branches of the church universal.

Thus the Uniting Church, through some mistaken view that the Holy Spirit has spoken definitively and for all time in 325CE, and fortunately also in the Basis of Union, is afraid to embrace contemporary movements of reform or contemporary scholarship that doesn’t fit with Constantinian or Barthian presuppositions.

There never was only one interpretation of church and gospel until Nicea; and to equate Nicea with the guidance of the Holy Spirit is not only heresy, it is also blasphemy. Diversity, freedom and the necessity of on-going reformation are essential to the Reformation and non-conformist tradition. Since Constantine, uniformity, authority and institutional bureaucracy have been the defining marks of orthodoxy, and are alive and well in the Uniting Church.

It would seem that the Uniting Church has left it too late to reclaim its heritage, especially its Congregational heritage which regrettably was never understood by the other two partners, and has been completely lost in the Uniting Church. But if our church is to have a future it needs to move on from the Basis of Union as para 11 of the Basis encourages it to do.

While the Uniting Church in Australia has many strengths that flow from its greater size and resources, it has failed entirely in its reforming function that its three former denominations once represented in the life of the church at large and the community in which it lives.

Non-conformity is now dead in Australia, and the Uniting Church is moving rapidly towards the same fate.


Foundational Reform of Christianity


The Story that Defines Us
Sunday, February 11, 2018

Richard Rohr

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, is not the Bible’s oldest book. Genesis’ two accounts of creation were compiled in their present form as late as 500 BC. During this period, the Jews were likely in exile in Babylon, where they were exposed to multiple creation stories.
Two excellent teacher friends of mine, Walter Wink (1935-2012) and Rob Bell (b. 1970), both describe one of the most popular stories of that time, the Babylonian Enuma Elish. It describes creation happening after a battle between two gods. The male god kills the female god, then tears her body apart and uses half of her to create the heavens and half to create the earth.
Both teachers point out that the driving engine of this story is violence, carnage, and destruction. So, the exiled Jews decided to write down their own oral tradition, surely to stay cohesive as a tribe among all the competing influences from Babylonians and others. In the Judeo-Christian story of Genesis 1, God—who is “Creator” in verse 1, “Spirit” in verse 2, and “Word” in verse 3 (foretastes of what we would eventually call Trinity)—creates from an overflowing abundance of love, joy, and creativity. Humanity’s core question about our origins is whether the engine of creation is violence and destruction or overflowing love, joy, and creativity. Is our starting point love and abundance or is it fear and hatred? How we begin is invariably how we end and how we proceed. Our creation story is important.
The Judeo-Christian creation story says that we were created in the very “image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26) out of generative love. The focus is original blessing instead of original sin (which comes two chapters later, in Genesis 3). We are first sent out with cosmic hope rather than a big problem that must be solved. The Holy Spirit holds this divine image within every created thing, and becomes its “soul.” It drives us toward “life, and life more abundantly” (John 10:10). When we start in a positive way instead of with a problem, there is a much greater chance we will remain positive as we move forward. Even the business world today knows that a vision statement must precede and inform the mission statement. As Matthew Fox taught many years ago, Christianity’s contrived “Fall-Redemption” spirituality [1] just keeps digging us into a deeper and deeper hole (my words!). We must return to our original “Creation Spirituality” for the foundational reform of Christianity.


CIFS helps with cult advice

CIFS is a non-profit association, founded in 1996 by a small group of parents whose children were recruited into cults.
Supporting each other in similar situations soon led to a greater understanding of the common practices and thought reform used in all harmful groups, and the damaging after-effects on those who leave these groups.

CIFS soon grew in numbers to include former members, friends, families and individuals working together to increase awareness and educate the public regarding the potential dangers of becoming involved in cults.

Cult Information and Family Support has grown to be at the forefront nationally in offering support and information to people affected by cults and cultic relationships.

CIFS advocates to have stronger laws enacted by policy makers to protect Australian citizens from the untold harm these groups inflict on individuals families and our society.

For more information go to: CIFS

Cults grow in an uncritical environment

ABC News reports on a cult making its way in Australia.

Providence is a religious group founded in 1978 in South Korea by Jeong Myeong-seok. A self-proclaimed Messiah who sometimes refers to himself as Pastor Joshua, he is a former “Moonie” or follower of the late Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.

The group also goes by other names including Jesus Morning Star (JMS, which also happens to be the initials of the founder’s name), Christian Gospel Mission and The Bright Moon Church.

Headquartered in South Korea, Providence claims to have 300 affiliated churches and more than 100,000 followers in its home base. The group also boasts a worldwide following of over 10,000 and operates in a number of other countries including Australia, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa, Japan and Taiwan.

Providence was set up in Australia in 1997 and has established branches in major cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra.

for more on this go to: The bizarre world of Providence cult

The Trinity – litmus test of faith, problematic doctrine or three-fold vehicle for developing individuals and communities?

From Approaching Justice: an online journal of religion and politics

One Progressive Christian Takes on the Trinity

by Dwight Welch, United Church of Christ, Oklahoma.



Mark Sandlin, a Presbyterian pastor and blogger at The God Article, came out with a recent post questioning the trinity and the way it’s been used as a litmus test to determine who is out and who is in the church. It’s a sort of a “the emperor has no clothes” post in that it acknowledges publicly what many lay people have thought but never hear pastors say; the trinity is not to be found in the Bible, it was involved with historical debates and political power plays in the early church that may or may not be relevant to what it means to follow Jesus today. So I wanted to express my appreciation for his post and his naming something that I think has troubled many in the church.

Suffice it to say that I agree with him that the trinity should not be a litmus test. In fact, I think most litmus tests should be suspect. They shut down the possibilities of questions, they often operate as power plays, and they suggest that the arguments for a religious ideas are not sufficient so some external force is needed to produce conformity. When that happens, there is reason to doubt the claim. And something happens to a community which has to fear the use of such tactics. They don’t produce space for honest searches, for questions, for religious inquiry in general.

But as a progressive Christian pastor, I will admit, that the trinity has proved to be too important in the making of my own religious ideas to let it go. While it should not be the test of orthodoxy (even the World Council of Churches require for membership), I think of the trinity as the one of those undiscovered treasures when one finally cleans out the attic or basement. You dust it off and you have a new found appreciation for a very old idea. That’s what happened to me in any case.

Like many old ideas it’s had a battered history. Some have taken the trinity to be a “mystery”, an example of how our language gives out when seeking to describe the “ineffable“. Others take it as a contradiction, an example of religious communities requiring belief in the unbelievable as a basis to secure loyalty. It forms our creedal and liturgical language for centuries but its not clear that many members of the church could explain why. And if they could, would those reasons be compelling?

I know my attraction is not because I believe Jesus was God. I don’t. I believe he was a first century Jewish teacher. Nor do I believe that some percentage of Jesus was God and some other percentage was human, as if you cut someone up like that. My thinking of the incarnation is most influenced by Rita Nakashima Brock who speaks of the incarnation as grounded in relationships, not in a single individual, but in the interactions and connections that are had with one another. No person as an individual is so removed from society that you could make a plausible account of incarnation apart from society and those wider set of relationships, including Jesus.

So what compels me to pick up the trinity again? Some of it is history. To me, any religious doctrine that has had sway over a significant period of time and with a broad array of communities, suggests not an esoteric doctrine, a puzzle that can’t be solved, but instead suggests an idea that touches on something important in human experience. That is, religious doctrines that have some staying power, like most kinds of language, disclose something about our world. So I have an interest in what that might be. I’m a language junkie in that way. It’s why I worry about dying languages because something about human life is about to be lost with its passage.

That something Shailer Matthews, describes in terms of patterns discerned about our world and ourselves. What pattern does the Trinity point to? There are a number of good candidates. One that interests me is the inner relationality of God as the pattern of relationships which constitutes communities and human life in general. God never acts alone but is in constant mutual love and reciprocity between the persons of the trinity. From this, we have a model for living. For example, Bob Cornwall finds in the “unity between Father and Son…our unity as church”

But then he writes “can’t we go even further to understand the unity of creation itself to be found within this fellowship?  Jürgen Moltmann advocates that God is present in all things, and all things are present in God. Pushing further, he speaks of our existence within this fellowship in soteriological terms of salvation or wholeness.” I’d like to take that insight and run with it in this piece.

The first time the Spirit makes an appearance in scripture is in Genesis. There the Spirit of God, hovers over the deep, and begins the first act of creation by separating water and the land and the light from the darkness. That is, the Spirit separates and makes distinctions which makes for individuality. Abram is driven out from his people into the desert, and like Jacob, is given a new name to express the creation of something new, a new people, a transformed individual. It is the Spirit which names who Jesus is in the waters of his baptism and it is the Spirit which drives Jesus into the wilderness to take stock before his public ministry.

So the Spirit is intimately involved in the creation of the new, of the individual, of uniqueness, and of identity. The Spirit names things, separates people out, and creates new individuals. If anyone remembers the process of adolescence, the separations involved, in the growing up years, especially from parents, this provides the context for an individual to emerge, with a unique set of gifts, ideas, and personality to give to the world. If you watch the movie Boyhood, which just came out, you get to see that process unfold over many years.

The key part to the previous statement is to “give to the world”. The point is not simply to be an individual but to take that individuality and put it in the service of others. That is what makes it a gift. Paul identifies Christ as the power that makes for salvation. To the degree that our gifts can be put into the service of others, the encounter, the exchange that occurs, can become transformational and therefore salvific. In that, Jesus represents the Christ not in the waters of baptism but when he leaves the wilderness and begins his public ministry.

When we share who we are with each other, what HN Wieman identifies as creative interchange, it can transform individuals. They have a shared experience and the result is a different kind of relationship, one marked by growth and change, where new values emerge that are inclusive of those involved in the interaction. Because the moment you invite others into your community, you are inviting them to transform you as much as you will transform them. A new community emerges as individuals add their gifts and individuality into the mix. The act of creation which follows is what I understand when I affirm God as creator.

In this, there appears to be a three folded process.  The first is the act of creating individuals and individuality, the Spirit. The second is taking the gifts of individuals and sharing it with others, the Christ. The third is the deepening of relationships, the transformations of individuals and communities, God the creator. All three presuppose each other. You can’t create individuals apart from other people in community. You can’t create growing communities apart from individuals adding their uniqueness to the mix. You can’t deepen relations apart from the encounter with others. All three are necessary, all three need each other, and all three become the creative workings of God.

This three fold process, when separated out, produces problems though. If you have individuals who have no relation or responsibility to others, you don’t have a society nor can you build community. Think Ayn Rand. Think the United States and what fruit that has born. Now if you have communities which seek to squelch individuality, they are digging their own graves. They do so, because they remove the possible gifts that diversity can bring and because the problems inherent in these communities have no means of correction. Think any authoritarian system.  It is only when individuality and our relations with others work to build communities which sustain both that you can produce the creative good in life, that is when the act of creation becomes divine.

That three folded movement of God then becomes a way to get a hold of reality in some measure, to understand it and respond to it. That’s what I take the task of good religious doctrine. So when I say I believe in the trinity it is not because I am claiming orthodoxy. I’m pretty sure I’m not. It’s not because I want to make Jesus God. I understand Christ to be bigger then Jesus as much as he represents God’s saving acts for us as a Christian community. That is Jesus, points to something about our world in his life, he gives us a face to represent this reality but the reality is bigger then him or anything else in our tradition.

Of course reality is bigger then our words and our doctrines too. But they can open us up to our world, they can be maps as I noted in my last column. In that there are a treasure trove of ideas, doctrines in our Christian tradition. Some which may need to be put aside. Others which need to be reclaimed. I’m interested in reclaiming the trinity but I have no use for scapegoats and blood atonement. So I’ve done both, dropped ideas and reclaimed them and I believe the freedom to do just that must be accorded to everyone in the church. In that I thank Mark and his blog for his ideas, the conversations they spur in the church, and for anyone who is seeking to live out their faith in a way that humanizes us all.

Dwight Welch is the new pastor at the United Church of Norman, Oklahoma


Progressive Spirituality – Link to ABC Broadcast with Rachel Kohn

This week’s Spirit of Things (ABC Radio National) focuses on progressive spirituality. Crossan, Borg, Webb and Scott are interviewed by Rachel Kohn. If you missed the Brandon Scott seminars in New Zealand and Australia here is a chance to catch up on the search for the ‘real’ Jesus.

The ABC’s podcast can be picked up at:–body-and-spirit/5736320

Call for submissions to Assembly: UCA Discussion Paper on Marriage

UCA Discussion Paper on Marriage  and Same Gender Relationships                                 

The discussion paper on marriage requested by the UCA 13th Assembly has been provided by the Doctrine Working Group for distribution and consideration.

The UCA General Secretary has issued an invitation to send submissions to the Assembly by 10 October 2014 so they can be collated and provided to the Assembly Standing Committee for its meeting in November this year.

The following link will take you to the links to pdf copies of the discussion paper and other relevant documents:


Americans and the Bible

Thanks to David Judd for gathering this data. Is Australia different?

The Bible in American Life

This is the title of a very comprehensive and detailed study done by The Centre for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis. It is a 44-page document which can be viewed at A brief summary appears below. The figures are for the USA and perhaps Australia is different?

Scope of the study: This included which versions of the bible, whether the memorisation of passages is encouraged, favourite books and stories, personal reasons for reading, sources of help for understanding and interpreting the bible, religious traditions and the extent to which the internet and electronic devices are used. Some conclusions:

Those who read scripture in the past year: The initial question was whether people had read the Bible, Torah, Koran or other religious scriptures during the past year. 50.2% said Yes, with 49.8% saying No.

Ages of those reading: Not too surprisingly the highest percent was in the over 75s where 56% said they had read scripture during the past year. The lowest was the 18-29 group with 44%.

By region: Again not too surprisingly the highest percentage came from the South with 61% followed by the Midwest with 49%. The West was 44% and Northeast 36%.

Word of God? 45% said they believe the bible is the inerrant Word of God. 46% believe it is the Inspired Word of God while 9% consider that it is a book of fables.

By race: Not a question which arises much in Australia but in USA blacks were the group who read the bible most at least once in the past year – 70% of all blacks. Among Hispanics 46% of them read it, with 44% for whites and 28% for others.

Frequency of reading: Among those who had read in the past year, 78% read at least monthly, 54% weekly and 17% daily.

Which version? Here the results were dramatic with a whopping 55% favouring the 400 year-old King James version, despite the explosion of new versions in the last half-century or so. Second was the NIV at 19%. Continue reading