Author Archives: Paul Inglis

About Paul Inglis

Paul Inglis is a long time member of the Uniting and Anglican Churches in Australia. He recently retired as the Community Minister for Dayboro and Mt Mee Uniting Churches, just north of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He accepted an invitation to become the Queensland's first Uniting Church Community Minister and continued in that role for more than 10 years. Previously he had been a State primary school teacher, school principal for 11 years and then Lecturer in Education at the Queensland University of Technology for 25 years. He has served on UCA Assembly, Synod, Presbytery and Congregational Councils. In retirement he is actively involved in family, church, and community. His commitment to 'progressive' Christianity emerged from contact with the late Professor Rod Jensen who founded the Lay Forum in 2004 and from his experience in ministry with people seeking an authentic faith. Paul's PhD from the University of Queensland is in Adult Learning.

“Philomena” – A film with many powerful messages.

A review of the 2013 film. Also now a book.

[Review by Rev John Smith]

Introduction:
Recently Robyn and I had the emotionally evocative experience of watching this film superbly acted by Judy Dench and ably supported by Steve Coogan. The film is enhanced greatly by a magnificent classical music score. Overall it is a film with a number of very powerful messages about the practice of the Catholic Church regarding young unmarried mothers and the adoption of their offspring. The self righteous attitude of the church authorities in their disregard for the rights of young unmarried mothers and their chiIdren is placed under the microscope as is the reactionary and equally self righteous attitudes of their critics. As a beautiful counter balance we have the reaction of Philomena who has experienced the indignity of being treated as a “sinner” who gave into ‘her carnal desires’ coupled with the forced removal of her three year old child by being coerced into signing away her parental rights. The intriguing response from Philomena is not the seeking of revenge. She does not want the perpetuators punished; she is simply seeking to find out what happened to Anthony her son fifty years after his birth. Regardless of the indignity inflicted on Philomena by the Catholic authorities she still continues to practice her faith in a devout and committed manner.

Philomena reveals her circumstances to her daughter from a subsequent marriage and declares her secret desire to find her son. Her daughter in turn through a chance meeting recruits an ex BBC journalist and Labour government advisor Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan. He is in need of work and an editor urges him to assist Philomena and to write a ‘human interest’ story rather than some dry Russian history research that he is planning to do.
Martin is not fully convinced that he wants to have any part of this until while drinking in a pub in the locality of the convent in which Philomena gave birth he is provided with information by a young bartender. It appears that the reason the convent has no records of the adoption activity is that the nuns deliberately destroyed all the records by burning them. The bartender further suggests that the convent received a thousand pounds for each child sold to American couples. If that was not enough Martin was also aware that the young unmarried mothers had been put to work in a laundry for virtually no pay while being treated like slaves.

Martin through his work at the BBC has many contacts in the United States and through these contacts he searches the passport records to discover that Anthony had been adopted by Dr and Marge Hess who renamed him Michael. Michael had studied law and had become a senior official in the Reagan administration and served the Republican Party with distinction. Martin also realises that he actually met Michael when he was a journalist with the BBC while covering the news in the US. Martin also discovers that Michael was a closet homosexual and his long-term partner is Peter Olson. Michael had unfortunately died of AIDS nine years previously.
Armed with this information Martin informs Philomena of his findings and her initial reaction to this news is one of sadness that Michael was not able to be open about his lifestyle, because of his position in a political party, which at that time condemned homosexuality. Philomena although upset at not being able to meet her son as an adult wishes to meet the people who did know him.

The first person they meet is a woman known as Mary who had been adopted with Anthony/Michael from the same convent in Roscrea Ireland. Mary is able to tell Philomena the whereabouts of Michael’s long-term partner, but cannot tell Philomena what she most wants to know which is, ‘did he ever seek to find his birth mother’?

The initial approach to Michael’s partner Peter by Martin Sixsmith, is met with resistance, but he finally he agrees to meet Philomena after she makes a personal plea for his help. Peter is able to tell her that Michael has always wondered about his birth mother and that he had actually visited the convent in Ireland in an attempt to make contact with her. Unfortunately the nuns had lied to him saying that they had no record of Philomena’s whereabouts and had no contact with her. Michael’s life is dreadfully cut short by his AIDS condition but his dying wish is to be buried at the convent with a headstone stating who he is in the hope that Philomena will find it.
Martin and Philomena return to the convent where the nuns continue to deny Philomena the information she seeks regarding Michael’s grave and his last days. In a final scene Michael confronts a senior nun, Sister Hildegarde and in a dramatic and poignant scene demands she explain why she had denied Philomena access to her son and further lied to her son regarding knowledge of his birthmother’s whereabouts. In this scene the aggrieved person is not Philomena as one would expect, but Martin the journalist who rounds on this elderly nun and demands she make an explanation of her behaviour. The nun testily answers that Martin is not her judge only Jesus will judge her and Philomena had relinquished her right to justice through her sin of fornication. The nun is clearly unrepentant and it is this that triggers an outburst from Martin when he tells the nun that if Jesus had been present he would have tipped her “out of her F—-g chair”. The dialogue and acting in this scene is transfixing, but it is Philomena who comes to the nun’s rescue when she tells Martin that his anger is really a waste of energy and she tells him to examine himself, because the anger is all consuming. Philomena doesn’t want to end up hating anyone and at this point she turns to Hildegarde and exclaims, “I forgive you”. The nun shows no recognition that she needs to be forgiven but it is important for Philomena to utter these words.

An analysis of the message
Throughout the film Martin and Philomena present two quite contrasting views on the value of religious adherence. Even though Philomena has suffered rejection and condemnation from the Order of Catholic Nuns it does not deter her from her belief in the sacred presence of God found in the ordnances of the Catholic faith. Whereas Martin is angry at the self-righteous deceit that he has discovered in the brutal and guilt-laden treatment of young unmarried mothers, one who had died in childbirth aged fourteen years. Early in the film Martin declares that he is a lapsed Catholic who no longer believes in a God. The respective positions of Philomena and Martin add significantly to the message of the film.

Each of the major characters continues to question their particular religious viewpoints and these become vital scenes in the film. I was particularly taken by the scene when Philomena goes to make confession whilst in the United States. The painfulness of this scene is palpable, because she cannot say confession. The reason being she has nothing to confess. Earlier she has told Martin that having sex as a teenager had been a wonderful experience, quite unlike what she had been told and that she never regretted it. She explained it as a sense of ‘floating free.’

During the confessional scene the priest offers her forgiveness in response to her silence, but the telling moment is that as she is leaving the church she does not use the holy water just inside the door to bless herself. Martin who is witnessing her leave the church stands watching the bowl of water well after she has left the church as if to say, “Is she questioning her faith?”
The film raises for me the question, ‘how then should we approach our events of life?’ Should we be like Martin who wants to right a wrong and sees the injustice of the church going almost unchallenged? Or should we respond like Philomena who doesn’t want to end up consumed by anger as is Martin and in her offer of forgiveness is saying to the church through Sister Hildegarde you have not won there is a faith that is life enhancing and not a guilt ridden life–destroying existence.

However watching Hidergarde’s expression when Philomena offers forgiveness I did not see any recognition that she was feeling guilty and filled with remorse for her attitude and actions regarding Philomena and her son. It also reminded me that here in Australia we have witnessed the Catholic Church hierarchy showing self-righteous indignation when being called to account for it’s deliberate cover up of the many instances of Child Sexual Abuse. Will it take the anger of someone like Martin Sixsmith to confront the church with it’s errant behaviour before there is any admission of guilt for what has occurred? How many times have the authorities of the Church claimed that they are responsible only to God or Jesus for their behaviour, and not to the community in which they live. As if they have been ordained with some special wisdom that prevents them from being accountable to the wider community.

The argument given by Hildegarde that she is responsible only to Jesus for what she has done again raises the issue that the church has seen itself above the law and responsible only to some sacred presence. A number of my friends in the Catholic Church will tell me that they can experience a special relationship with the sacred in the Mass and that I as a ‘Progressive Christian’ cannot experience this relationship; because my rational thinking denies me an understanding of the awesomeness of God. In the words of Paul Keating many Catholics give the impression that they have a ‘divine guidance’ that is unavailable to those who are not of the Roman faith. I wonder if this is the very attitude that has allowed such abuses to occur, particularly when people place themselves above common law. Surely the compassionate God that has been revealed in the person of Jesus would claim that we have a responsibility to our fellow human beings, because when we cease to care for our fellow human beings we cease to care for the sacredness of a divine presence.

In the final scene Martin and Philomena find the headstone that Anthony/Michael was hopeful his mother would discover. While standing at the graveside Martin out of respect for Philomena and perhaps as a result of being chastened for his anger tells her he will not publish the story. Her response is a surprise when she tells him that she has changed her mind and that the story really does need to be told.

I am sure I am not the only person who is grateful to Philomena for changing her mind.

John W H Smith

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Who is Jesus for us today?

Sermon preached by Rev Dr Noel Preston last Sunday.

Psalm 23. and Luke 4. v. 16- 21; 9 v.18 – 21

We are here today because of Jesus of Nazareth – that is the simple fact. So who is this Jesus, the one who traditional Christianity has named “the Christ”, and the “second person of the Trinity”.

I want to preach about brother Jesus today because, more than any other, his life has influenced mine and the lives of others who have most influenced me. In fact I have a memory that when I was a seven year old I went to my father and said, “I want to give my life to Jesus.” That commitment remains. (though my understanding of it has evolved over a further 70 years)

I have another reason: I made a deal at Christmas time with my teenage grandson, who rarely goes to church, that I would try to preach a sermon for him which conveys who Jesus of Nazareth is and what he is to us today.

If we are to understand Jesus, we must situate him in his time. He lived in a period when the Roman Empire controlled his home country. Actually, he was probably known as “Joshua” in his time. The name we give him is the result of Graeco-Roman influence. He was a Galilean. And Galileans were simple folk. He was not a Christian. He never read the Christian Scriptures. He read the Hebrew Scriptures, and developed his faith from them.

Apart from the Christian scriptures the only historical record of him is found in the work of a Roman Jew historian named Josephus. Nevertheless, his impact on history has been profound and his message has been a saving grace to millions.

As far as the detail of his life, our knowledge comes initially from the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The account attributed to Mark, was the first written, some decades after Jesus’ death. Inspired as Mark’s Gospel is, this and the other versions of the Gospel, rely much on fallible human memory and oral story telling.

Nonetheless, as our Gospel readings today reveal, Jesus himself went through a gradual process of self-discovery. Our second Gospel reading describes Jesus sounding out who his disciples thought he was. In the other reading from Luke we heard how : At the outset of his ministry in the Synagogue of Nazareth he chose a significant passage from Isaiah – his mission statement if you like – I am here to give sight to the blind, free the oppressed and bring good news to the poor. As that mission unfolded, apparently titles like “son of man” and “son of God” were used of him.

In my lifetime, there have been many commentaries on who Jesus is for us today. Scholars have done much detailed analysis on questions like –
who did Jesus himself think he was?
Or, how are we to interpret the miracles recorded in the Gospels?
Or, what do we really know about his birth and the stories we recall at Christmas time?
Or what is the meaning of his cruel death?
Or, how are we to understand the Easter faith of the disciples who declare his Resurrection?

It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that biblical scholars began applying the blow torch of historical criticism to the Gospels. A German biblical scholar by the name of Albert Schweitzer (who, incidentally, was one of Europe’s finest organists) published a book titled The Quest for the Historical Jesus and that scholarly quest continues today.

And the Jesus story keeps being told by endless and various story tellers. When I began my ministry there were the musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar which made Jesus a rock star and Godspell popularizing him as a clown. Then there was Monty Python’s irreverent Life of Brian which had a measure of truth in it, and would’ve had the real Jesus laughing in his grave I’m sure. In a way these pop culture presentations have humanised Jesus by correcting what I call the dehumanising of Jesus. This “dehumanising” happens through idolatrous beliefs and practices which make him half-human and half divine, a process which was underlined by the Nicene Creed adopted in the 4th century AD. The writers of the Creeds may have lost touch with Jesus of Nazareth and his early followers who were known as “followers of the Way”. Jesus never said, “Worship me” but he did say, “ Follow me.” Of course, it is much easier to worship him than follow him daily.

Reading the traditional Creeds today, you may conclude that they lose sight of the life Jesus lived and what he taught. The language they use attempts to make him someone to worship rather than a brother who is “Saviour and Lord” – He is my Saviour and Lord because he exemplifies and calls us and empowers, to be the best that humanity can be, by living a life of unconditional compassion.

Thus far, I have tried to give some background as to how I answer my grandson’s question : “Who is Jesus for us today?” But there is more to tell.

FIRST A STORY. I have a fellow retired minister friend with whom I was talking recently about this topic. I mused with him. “Some of the supernatural elements which do not fit 21st century knowledge, like the Virgin birth and the Ascension into heaven, have kept the Jesus story alive over the centuries. If we strip the story of these parts, how do we keep the Jesus story alive today?” Instantly Bob, whose mind is burdened by Parkinson’s disease, said: “We keep it alive by living it.” (Repeat)

I have a book by a South African Catholic priest, Albert Nolan, which I have found very helpful. Called “Jesus today”, it explores Jesus’ spirituality, how his mind and spirit were nurtured in the intimate relationship he had with the One he called, in his language, “abba”, a word which means “father”.

Nolan’s opening sentence is challenging: On the whole we don’t take Jesus seriously – whether we call ourselves Christians or not.

I have to confess that’s true for me – the demands of discipleship can be overwhelming – remember the story of the Rich Young Ruler ‘Go and sell all you have and give it to the poor and then come and follow me’! What of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5) where Jesus teaches us to love even our enemies. Or, if we took seriously the parable of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, what a conversion that might involve!

Nolan interprets Jesus as a deeply mystical prophet, one who had a special relationship with his abba, his God experience, the intimate father, whose love was boundless. That relationship is the secret of his extraordinary life – and death: A Love that has no limits. So intimate was the relationship between Jesus and his abba that about 100 years after his death, the writer of John’s Gospel has him saying “I and the Father are one.” Jesus’ abba relationship was expressed in his friendship with the downtrodden. He practiced inclusion not exclusion in relationships. He lived by a sense of oneness with all. He empowered others to see through religious hypocrisy and stand up to the abuse of power in the Temple or by Roman overlords. Though he was radically critical of his society, Jesus never blamed, accused or condemned any individual person but his attitude to people labeled ‘sinners or outcasts’ was strikingly different from that of other religious leaders.

Jesus of Nazareth is a breakthrough in human history calling us to be truly human.

Of course no account or interpretation of Jesus the Christ is complete without engaging with the fact and the meaning of the end of his life. The Crucifixion of Jesus is the climax of a life lived so close to abba that the dereliction and abandonment of those cruel hours demands explanation.

But the explanation consistent with the Jesus I have tried to describe is not one about a sacrifice for our sins to placate a god who doesn’t sound one bit like Jesus’ abba. No, the meaning of the Cross is that it is the culmination of a life which challenged the powers that oppress the downtrodden through the costly way of compassionate Love. This demonstration of LOVE to the bitter end means that the cross cannot be the end. So it is that his followers, then and now, claim the realization by faith that Jesus’ life is not extinguished by a burial. But, his followers must learn that the significance of the Cross is that it must become OUR CROSS.

Jesus becomes the one who never goes away, who meets us today, who invites ongoing interpretation of the relationship of our life to his, whose challenges to us may change, but who persists through history as a challenge in all times and cultures. He does not go away; he keeps invading our lives, our society – so, it is not atrivial question to ask, “What would Jesus do ?” “What is the Jesus way of handling this matter in our time?”

I mentioned Albert Schweitzer earlier, the author of a ground-breaking theological treatise, “The Quest for the Historical Jesus”. I also said he had fame throughout Europe as a musician. The real story about Schweitzer’s quest is that in his thirties, his life changed direction. He came to the conviction that Jesus is to be known and followed in deeds not just words, costly deeds for the needy . So he took up medical studies and became a Doctor and spent the rest of his long life as a missionary Doctor in Africa.

In the final paragraph of The Quest he prefaced this change in discipleship:
He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word, “Follow thou me” and sets us to the tasks he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings that they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their experience, WHO HE IS.

SILENCE – your response

Noel Preston 13th January 2019

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The UCA and the National Redress Scheme

In December 2018, the Uniting Church in Australia provided the Federal Government with its application and supporting documentation to participate in the National Redress Scheme for people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse.

The Church’s national council the Assembly submitted information from all six Uniting Church Synods to be covered through the UCA’s participation in the Scheme to the Department of Social Services in Canberra.

The submission followed months of work in cooperation with the Department and Uniting Church bodies across the country.

In that time the Church has established a national vehicle for dealing with redress claims for survivors of child sexual abuse.

The Department will advise in due course when the UCA will be an operational member of the NRS.

President Dr Deidre Palmer has affirmed the Uniting Church’s commitment to the National Redress Scheme and acknowledged the pain caused for survivors, who are waiting to access redress through the National Redress Scheme.

“For those who might have been concerned about our commitment, please be assured that we are working to make amends and to ensure that our Church has a strong and robust culture of child safety that empowers children and adults in our care.”

“For anyone who was abused in the care of the Uniting Church, in our churches, schools or agencies, I’d again like to apologise sincerely. I am truly sorry that we didn’t protect and care for you in accordance with our Christian values,” said Dr Palmer.”

If you need support, please contact the following 24-hour support services:

Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78

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Death of John Bodycomb

We have learnt of the loss of our friend Rev Dr John Bodycomb.

Dr Val Webb, theologian and author, and friend of John had this to say:

So sad to hear of the death yesterday of Rev Dr John Bodycomb, Melbourne. John’s career in sociology, academia, church growth and pastoral care over half a century and his provocative challenges to the church at large have inspired many. Only last September, his latest book was published “Two Elephants in the Room: Evolving Christianity and Leadership”. Sympathies to his wife Lorraine Parkinson and their families.

As a contributor and friend of the UC Forum, we have valued his insights and experience and his huge contribution to progressive thinking. His works stand as continuing reference points for those wanting to take religious professionals into a new era. In his own words – My fear that we were programming men and women for failure – according to a model that belonged to another era…..

He has challenged many and influenced many more with his big question – In a world where we know we are seven million miles away in space from where we were this time last week, and in a universe nearly fourteen billion years old, what ever do we think we mean by the formula G-O-D?

I hope that we can continue to ask this question and openly do what John did – question the many assumptions that have not been challenged effectively. In that way we will be paying our respects to a great man.

[See an earlier post for details about his last book published in September.]

Paul Inglis 14th December 2019

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Pastoral Letter from the UCA President

Pastoral Letter – Post Fifteenth Assembly Update

To all Congregations and Faith Communities

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Greetings in this new year, that brings fresh opportunities, as we serve Christ together as the Uniting Church in Australia. I am greatly encouraged by the ways the Uniting Church is engaging in mission and exercising ministry through our local churches, Presbyteries, Synods, our Agencies, schools and the Assembly.

On this Sunday the 13th of January, six months will have passed since the members of the Fifteenth Assembly gathered in Melbourne to discern prayerfully the national priorities and directions of our Church.

Decisions of the Assembly
During this time, members of Synods, Presbyteries, Congregations and Faith Communities have heard about and discussed the decisions we made in Melbourne. In many parts of our Church, our members are living out the hopes and vision that relate to our decisions on domestic and family violence, sovereignty of First Peoples, care for creation, access for people with disabilities, and support for seasonal workers.

Our Decision on Marriage
In respect to our recognition of two statements of belief on marriage, there have been a variety of responses. Across our Church, there are many people who have embraced the decision as a wise way of moving forward as a Church, respecting the different views we hold on marriage, and giving freedom to Ministers and Congregations to hold to a view of marriage, that they believe is faithful to the Gospel of Christ. Leaders in our Church have journeyed alongside those Uniting Church members, Congregations and Presbyteries, who have difficulty in living with the decision of the Assembly.

In 2009 an additional Clause 39 (b) was approved by the Assembly, which allows Presbyteries and Synods to ask the Assembly to reconsider a decision it has made.

Clause 39 (b) of the Uniting Church Constitution states:

(i) If within six months of a decision of the Assembly, or its Standing Committee, at least half the
Presbyteries within the bounds of each of at least half the Synods, or at least half the Synods, notify the President that they have determined that in their opinion

• a decision includes a matter vital to the life of the Church; and
• there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision

the President shall notify the Church that the decision is suspended until the Assembly has undertaken further consultation.

Six Presbyteries chose to exercise their right to notify me as President, that, in their opinion, the matter was
“vital to the life of the Church and there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision.” There were five
Presbyteries in Queensland and one Presbytery in the Northern Synod. On Saturday the 5th of January 2019, the Presbytery of South Australia met, and decided that the majority of members did not support the proposal that the Fifteenth Assembly marriage decision was a “matter vital to the life of the Church and there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision.”

This means that the threshold for the suspension of the Assembly decision has not been reached.

As a result, the Assembly decision on marriage stands, and will continue to be lived out in our Church, in various faithful expressions.

At this time, I would like to acknowledge with deep gratitude, the many Uniting Church members who have listened to one another with open hearts, and who have entered into challenging conversations, as you have responded to the Assembly decision and what it means for your particular community – and in many cases for your families and friends.

During this first six months as President, I have had many opportunities to meet with Uniting Church members, Congregations, Presbyteries and leaders of National Conferences and listen to their concerns and their hopes for our Church. Some of our conversations have focused on Assembly decisions, including our decision on marriage. Our broader focus has included the ways we can witness to God’s reconciling love, which is beyond measure and has power to transform people’s lives and the life of our society.

I know that there are Uniting Church members who have been hurt and have felt distress – either by the decision on marriage, or the possibility of the suspension of the decision. Let us remain conscious in the weeks and months ahead that this is a time for us as a Church to pastorally support one another, to act compassionately toward one another, and to hear Christ’s invitation to love each other, as Christ loves us, with grace, healing and hope. This call for us to love as Christ loves is at the heart of God’s mission.

A Prayerful and Loving Community

After the Fifteenth Assembly, I noted that I was proud of the way our Assembly members modelled a loving Christian community, by holding together and caring for each other as they exchanged strongly and faithfully held views from different theological and cultural perspectives.

In the months ahead, I pray that we will reflect the marks of the Christian community that Paul speaks of in his letter to the church in Philippi: “encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, sharing in the Spirit, compassion and sympathy.” (Philippians 2:1-3).

I invite you to pray for the Uniting Church, and for each other, that we may faithfully embody the Gospel of Christ in all we do and say. I have included a prayer for our Church, that I invite you to pray in your congregations and faith communities.

May we all know God’s abundant grace and liberating hope as we seek to journey together, shaped by God’s reconciling love.

Grace and peace.

 

Dr Deidre Palmer
President
Uniting Church in Australia Assembly

11 January 2019

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Confessions of a Saboteur and Subversive Agent of the Jesus Liberation Movement.

Today I have decided to confess that for the last sixty years I have been a covert subversive revolutionary for the outlawed organisation the Jesus Liberation Movement, (JLM). I was recruited to this organisation in 1956 at the tender age of 16 years with the promise that I would become a vital agent of change for this revolutionary body. The liberation movement was aimed not only at liberating people controlled by internal and external forces, but to insure that the Spirit of Jesus our founder was also liberated to be a continuing influence in the world and not controlled by any one person or body. So often we hear Christian church leaders and state and national politicians falsely claiming allegiance to the Spirit of Jesus by calling themselves Christian, but they are proclaiming their own message about Jesus rather than his message about living graciously with a commitment to social justice for all people. These leaders, by their actions and words have demonstrated that they are morally incoherent, because they are more concerned with gaining personal power than empowering others. It is their actions that belie their words. The true spirit of the Jesus message must be once again established in the community.

Prior to this decision, I had been oblivious that for many years, my mother, who persistently encouraged me to believe that the world in which I lived could be a better place, had subjected me to an initial grooming for this role. She had encouraged me to believe that all people should be afforded the opportunity to develop their full potential and that it was possible to establish a more socially just and financially equitable society. Further, she insisted that we could not leave these tasks to others, that we all had a responsibility to ensure these were not simply hollow words, but through our own endeavours we could make this a living reality.

I am now aware that even as a small child my thoughts and actions were being formed and even manipulated by my mother who encouraged me to look for the best in people and to do whatever I could to help them to achieve their full potential. She also encouraged me to read the subversive literature of Hugo, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. However, the impact of this indoctrination only became significant when at the age of sixteen, I came in contact with the JLM it was here that my mother’s grooming in my early years began to blossom.

It was explained to me at the time of my recruitment that the revolution to which I was being called, as mentioned earlier, had in fact been operating for nearly 2000 years and that many organisations such as national Governments and the Christian Church had attempted to destroy it. They had subtly pretended to adopt its principles whilst all the time undermining its authority by watering down its principles, beliefs and practice. The major task of the true revolutionary was to smuggle the influence of the JLM not only into the Christian Church and the administration of civil government activities but in fact into all aspects of living. I was given strict instructions to operate covertly, for fear that as soon as people realised what my true mission was they would pretend to support it with the prime purpose of emasculating its power.

It was made abundantly clear to me by my mentors at the time of my recruitment that my role was to be a covert one. I was to at all times remain under cover so that the real purpose of my orders could be carried out without detection. It was suggested that I should belong to the organised church as my cover and even to accept a full time working arrangement. It was also made abundantly clear that I should not allow myself to be seduced by the orthodox approach of the Christian Church, but that I should remain true to my commitment to the revolutionary arm of the JLM and all that it stands for. To maintain my true mission goals I needed to continue to remain in a covert operation so as to prevent these from being undermined.

My reason for coming in from the cold at this time is to reveal, in the life I have left to me, what my allegiance to the JLM has meant personally and why I have given my life to the task of smuggling Jesus into the Christian Church and into everyday living against all opposition. In the person of Jesus I have discovered a human being who has a faith and belief in the inherent goodness of common humanity, and who seeks to offer the opportunity for all people to be liberated from the fears and restrictions placed upon them by the structures of society and their own feelings of insecurity. Our founder, the sage, Jesus of Nazareth, had been quick to point out the dangers to civil liberties of a hierarchal religion and a power obsessed, brutal government.

My role over the years has undergone a process of refinement but the revolutionary zeal still remains. My mother’s encouragement to be an agent of change is I believe stronger today than at any other time in my life. I have tried to assist the people I meet to personally discern that they have the ability to reach a sense of wholeness of being, by recognising the power that resides within them, in much the same as did the founder of our revolutionary movement.
I was carefully taught that the best modus operandi was to alert people to the fact that the power to change was within them, in much the same way that the founder of our revolutionary movement had been able to effect change: this indwelling power he claims is connected by a spiritual force to the great energy of the universe. This energy becomes visible not only through the words and actions of people operating in normal everyday situations but often in a subversive way such as through humour, wit, sarcasm, or exaggeration. Many people who became influential in this movement are unaware that they had become instruments of the revolution. Some of the greatest exponents of liberation would not be able to raise to consciousness the reasons for their behaviour, which in no way demeans their efforts.

My coming out will not deter me from continuing my mission, as it has now become a vital part of who I am and what I have become.

Viva la Revolution.

John W H Smith
February 2018

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The Future Spiritual Community

The Future Spiritual Community – John Wessel

22nd September 1932 – 29th December 2018

[Presented to the Gold Coast SoFia Conference, 2012]

Yesterday, Karen Armstrong spoke about the urgent world wide need to establish a Charter of Compassion. Today I intend to present a practical way that Future Spiritual Communities can become agents to make this Charter a reality. I want you to be courageous enough to-

IMAGINE – WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

Gretta Vosper in her book With or Without God says

“When we allow the progressive scholarship of the past century to challenge us to reconsider the foundations of our faith, we find ourselves left with an enormous task: constructing something viable to replace what we find to be no longer working”

We who have gathered have entered a process of walking with a group of people, however slowly, toward the future.

What I intend saying has a Christian perspective about it simply because Christianity is my spiritual home, I know no other. We each inherit our particular faith, along with our language and our culture so then that particular faith becomes ‘right’ for each of us. However, I believe what I have to say is also applicable to all religions because all future spiritual communities will have to take into account the modern social and cultural context in which they must work.

I believe that the church has not come to grips with, or has understood the effects that post-modern cultural change is having of the thinking of modern people. By clinging to the past we not only lose sight of the present but we fail to allow the future to be born.

Hugh Mackay – a well know social annalist has said – “the cultural shift is so radical that it amounts to the discovery of a new way of thinking…. a new kind of change is taking place in our society… we are at a turning point… these recent changes have affected Australia’s’ view of life and religious faith in a very profound and irreversible manner”

A whole new way of presenting the Christian story will have to be developed if it is to make sense to our modern world.

The traditional package we offer to this new world came out of a completely different culture and world view and is no longer adequate to deal with the challenge of this age. Religions have always been based on the human search for meaning. The central question for all religions is, “What do humans want?” In Christianity the traditional answer has been salvation from sin.

When we reply today to the question “What do humans want?” with the above answer, we find it is an answer that only a few are seeking and for the majority it has little meaning. Modern culture wants to find harmony and liberation; wants to find some wisdom for living in the here-and-now, in an otherwise religion- less world.

We are living through what may be the greatest time of change in Christian history. All institutions, political, secular and religious, are being questioned.

Bp. John Spong says: – I believe Christianity is in deep decline because it cannot bring itself to face the fact that the presuppositions on which our faith story was erected in the past are today no longer self-evidently true or even believable. We are living through a cataclysmic transition from the presuppositions by which we once lived – and have no idea how to tell our faith story in terms of the emerging world view for which our religion of yesterday has no relevance. So churches are dying. Church’ business as usual’ is a prescription not only for disaster, but for extinction”.

What have all the above statements been saying? They have clearly said that because of globalisation which had its birth following the Second World War and in the light of our now pluralistic world, along with many other issues, there is an urgent need for all religions to implement some radical change from within.

The spiritual community of the future must not be based upon what we believe so much as on how we live. It must be a pathway we walk, a journey we take, into the Divine Presence; a journey of connection with people, not just about ideas and dogma which too often divide. It must therefore proclaim a new concept and understanding of “Incarnation”…..What do I mean?

In his book “Eternal Life” John Spong says “ if we read John’s Gospel through a mystical lens we see that his story is not of a divine life invading the world, as we have been accustomed to reading it, but a portrayal of Jesus as a human being having a relationship with the holy – an inseparable unity. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” What this means is that the time has come when we need to define humanity –®
as that in which the life of the Divine lives,– define
human love as that through which the Divine loves- and how in humanity
the being of the Divine is made manifest in the world.”

This means that the Divine is not met beyond life but at the very heart of life. Therefore the task of any future spiritual community becomes no longer that of clinging to creeds and doctrines that are based on a dated world-view that is bound by the idea of an external theistic deity: the task of such a community is to seek a humanity in which the divine is part of, and indeed, at the very heart of what it means to be fully human.

To walk in Jesus’ footstep is to be conscious of the indwelling of the Divine Presence in all people. This then will direct and influence the way we live,… how we relate to others,.. and to the world at large. Thus our presentation must teach and live the Way of Jesus – as follows.

First, Unconditional love is an important aspect for any New Community. Unconditional Love. Think about what ‘Unconditional’ means.

Then, if love matters in our personal lives, we must also find ways to give love expression in the public and political arena. That is, in the justice of political systems; systemic justice. Such love is grounded in the interconnectedness of all life

Secondly the New Story must break down all barriers that divide. Read the Gospels and you will clearly see that Jesus broke down so many of the religious and cultural barriers of his time- this was important for him, it must be important also for us. However, from the time the Creeds were formulated they have created division and barriers, both within the church itself and beyond.

Coupled with this, and part of the breaking down of barriers, any future spiritual community must eradicate prejudice in all its forms by the way all of its people think, speak and act.

And Inclusiveness is a keystone that needs to be central in any New Story. (e.g. The stories of the Good Samaritan, of Jesus eating with the tax collectors, his touching lepers, and his conversation with the woman at the well.) All are about inclusiveness.
If you think about it, for some to be “Chosen” means that there are others who are ‘unchosen’ (excluded). This can have no place in any future Spiritual Community.

Jesus early followers were known as followers of The Way. This Way was a way of life…. Jesus called his followers to interact with their world with peace, compassion, respect, tenderness, grace and justice.

Any New Story needs to stop concentrating on the after-life, on judgement and the rescue role of Jesus and face the spiritual and practical needs of this life. It needs to help all people find LIFE, life in all its fullness in the here-and-now. It will need to teach people “how” to live and NOT dwell on ‘what” to believe. It must encourage people to walk, every day, within the divine Presence.

Jesus followers felt that the Divine Presence was part of who Jesus was and now that same Spirit was calling them to give expression of its presence in their lives. Humanity was seen as the vessel in which the divine lives and loves. That is what has been lost and it is that which must be experienced anew in any future community.
The challenge that confronts all religions today is a practical one. It calls me, as a Christian, to actually live my understanding of what it means for me to follow the Way of Jesus. But, I cannot do this alone.

This brings me to my final point.

This Way of life that I have described was what Jesus meant when he spoke of The Kingdom of God. This phrase appears 140 times in the four Gospels. Thus, for Jesus, and the gospel writers, this phrase embodied a concept of primary and foundational importance and perhaps was the very core of his message to the world.
He had lived his whole life in bondage to an occupying, dominate power. Israel knew many dominate powers during its history. His followers would have clearly understood the difference between dominate kingdoms and that of Jesus’ “Kingdom of God.”

It involves giving who you are and all you have completely, wholly away to something greater than yourself. The Divine Presence is at work in each of us, in you and me and yet, there is also a cosmic reality about it that no longer rests on the narrow association with any one religion.

At a gathering in Brisbane where Lloyd Geering was the guest speaker I had the opportunity to ask him what his vision was for the future church. His reply was “The Kingdom of God”. I did not immediately understand what he meant until I read his book, “Christian Faith at the Crossroads”. In it he explained that the Old Testament and the Jewish faith did not look for salvation in another place called “heaven” which was beyond earth; it looked for the Kingdom of God to be established on Earth (when the Messiah would come.) Jesus would have known this, he was a Jew, a man of his time, so when he spoke about the Kingdom of God he was teaching and living an example of what the Kingdom will look like when we humans live in such a way as to make the Kingdom come, here on earth.

For 2000 years, because of the Gentile influence, we in the church have got it wrong. We have placed the emphasis in the wrong place. We have allowed the dualistic concept of natural and supernatural – of earth and heaven – to blur us from hearing what Jesus was saying to us.

He was pleading with us to actually live in such a way as to enable the Kingdom of God to be experienced here on earth. He saw that the Kingdom can be a present reality. It is not a future hope to be found elsewhere as was developed by later Gentiles.

The concept of the Kingdom of God is not clearly understood in modern Australia. We do not live under, nor have ever lived under, a dominate king, so to use words that capture Jesus concept and place them in a modern context, I want to alter Jesus’ wording, as suggested by John Dominic Crossan, and use in its place the phrase The Companionship of Empowerment.(R)
This means that together we are to empower each other to live Jesus dream for the human race.(R) .
As a companion, as a mate, we empower, we encourage each other to:-

Love unconditionally
To rid ourselves of prejudice
To dismantle all barriers that divide
To seek justice for all – both personal and systemic
To respect other people… and our planet Earth
And to live with compassion

Any future spiritual community needs to create an atmosphere, an expectation, a Companionship of Empowerment to ensure that ALL people whoever they are and wherever they live experience abundant life.

We stand today on the edge of a new, exciting journey;
a journey of unknown opportunities and perils;
a journey of yet unfulfilled hopes and dreams

The question is… have we the nerve and the will?

Our choice lies between continuing the spiritual decline that we see today, which is clothed in private comfort and security… and a spiritual greatness where the inner spirit breathes new life and new hope into the world.

You may ask, “Can I do this, can we do this?”
My answer is YES –YES – Why? – Because,

“The K of G is within you”®

All human life is part of who the Divine Mystery is and what it is, and this Mystery is part of who we are and what we are.

As a human being Jesus modelled this generosity; modelled, this new Way of living, which became the experience in others that gave birth to Christianity.(R)

This birth took place when his followers “saw” (realised), after the shock of the crucifixion had passed, that they too could model this Way of Jesus’, by giving who they were and all they had completely, wholly away to something greater than themselves.

Tim Costello recently said,

The Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed involved the transformation of our hearts and minds, our society, our politics and our economics.

If only, that insight into what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God, became today the motivating force and the Way of life within the modern Spiritual community, as it did with his disciples, Jesus’ dream for humanity would be fulfilled and that Future Spiritual Community would breath NEW LIFE into the world.

Such a community would be the place where we freely and openly reflect and process our life experiences with others, in such a way, that it encourages us all,
empowers us all, to become more compassionate, more loving human beings whose life’s goal is to seek justice for all and thus through whom the love of the Divine Presence becomes known.

I conclude by saying that any future Spiritual Community must seek a global ethic through which salvation is not found in… or confined to… any one set of theological doctrines, rather;

Salvation is to be found in people’s hearts; a salvation that is experienced daily and which governs the way we live and how we relate to all people by showing them respect, compassion and seeking justice.

I may be too idealistic but such a Community, I believe:-

Would indeed be “Good News” for our modern, confused and angry world.

So I invite you to go from this place and simply

ENJOY THE JOURNEY.

oOo

 

 

John Wessel – a great gift to the progressive spirituality movement.

Sad to report the death of Rev John Wessel.

Rev Bryan Gilmour had this to say to us about John –

This is just a brief summary.

John and Beryl have been close friends since I (as Presbytery Chair/Minister), was involved in his induction into the new merger of Twin Towns, Kingscliff and Coolangatta Churches. We became close friends and kept in touch through the years. He led the opening of new ministries and a new Ministry Complex at Banora Point.

He was always exploring wider aspects of the Christian faith, and after retirement in 1997, continued to expand his spiritual horizons and in early years, led the Gold Coast Sofia Group, probably soon after John Spong‘s first visit to Australia in about 2002. He wrote many articles related to political and religious contentious issues and was one of the Guest Speakers at the Gold Coast Sofia Conference in 2012. I’m attaching that Paper -“The future Spiritual Community” which could be good to publicize again (see next posting).

John was an active community person, having been President and Tour Director of Probus and a member of the local Golf Club.

When ministering at Bradden in Canberra, he was strongly engaged as Chaplain at Duntroon and will be given an RSL Tribute at his funeral tomorrow at the Melaleuca Station Memorial Gardens Chapel at 1pm (NSW Time).

John has been a valued contributor to the UC FORUM. One of his notable papers will follow.

oOo

 

Genuine Hospitality

Hospitality as a Way of Life

When we say it is our responsibility to offer hospitality to the alien and stranger what exactly do we mean and in particular where does this impetus come from?

Firstly, as Australians our government has committed us to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; which defines a refugee as:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”?

Thus, by simply being an Australian we have a responsibility to ‘refugees’ regardless of our religious beliefs, because our country is a signatory to the “Convention relating to the status of Refugees”. If you like it is our civil responsibility.
When we say that it is our responsibility to offer “hospitality” what does this mean? A simple definition of the term hospitality is;

“The quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm and friendly way.”

However, as we are people from a Judea/Christian heritage does this mean that more is being asked of us? In response to this question let us briefly turn to both the Old Testament and the New for assistance in understanding our responsibilities.

The Jewish instructions respecting strangers/aliens pervade all the writings of the OT from the history through to the Torah and the prophets. For example in Leviticus 19:34 we read:
“The stranger/alien who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you and you shall love him (them) as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”

And in Deuteronomy 14:29 we read:
“The Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.”

In Job 31:32
“The Stranger/Alien has not lodged in the street. I have opened my doors to the traveler.”
The New Testament adds an even greater demand on us regarding the stranger/alien or person in need. The most appropriate translation of the English word ‘hospitality’ from the Greek word Philoxenia means a ‘love’ of the guest or stranger. Emphasising that it not just what we do, but how we personally regard the one in need. Our hospitality should be a way of life and an embrace of the other, rather than a simple response to someone in need.

Our response to people in need is perhaps best brought to our attention by the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew 25:31ff.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” v35

And when his disciples asked him, “when was this?”, he responded by saying:
“Truly I tell you as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” v 40

The charge then is this; we must treat all we meet as if they are a loved one and by responding with love we are responding to the Spirit of Jesus.

It is not only in the words of Jesus, it is also in his actions that we understand the importance of a personal response to others. For example Jesus practices “Open Commensality” or more simply open table; where everyone is invited to share the meal with equal status. The stranger is not simply tolerated, but respected and is welcome at the table.

If we follow the actions of Jesus then that we become in Dom Crossans’ terms, ‘companions in empowerment’ because as the story of Ruth illustrates it is through her steadfast loyalty that the offer of love and acceptance from Naomi is returned in even greater measure, when Ruth proclaims:
“Where you go I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God” v16

Ruth was an outsider she was a Moabite, or in today’s terms she was one of ‘them’, but Naomi needed her for the completeness of her character as much as Ruth needed Naomi for the fulfillment of hers.

Is it possible that we need the stranger more than they need us? As Henry Nouen in his book “Reaching Out” suggests, hospitality is about offering a safe space where the stranger can enter and become a friend. Hospitality is not designed to change people, but to offer a space where a relationship can take place.

So the challenge to us as people of faith is clear; genuine hospitality is a deeply personal commitment to love the stranger. It is not some act we perform, but something that defines the people we are by the way we share our lives.

Hospitality then is a way of living life and living it more abundantly by sharing not only what we have but, who we are.

John W H Smith
December 2018

oOo

UCA holds onto principles of inclusivity and diversity

So, what just happened? (An Explainer, Updated)

The last six months in the Uniting Church has been something of an intense roller-coaster, revolving around the issue of marriage. Our processes are somewhat idiosyncratic and, as events unfolded, matters came down to a rather arcane provision in the UCA Constitution.

I offered An Explainer about this process some months back. In light of more recent events, here is An Updated Explainer.

1A. On 13 July 2018, the 15th Assembly decided that Uniting Church ministers are able to conduct the weddings of people of the same gender. Assembly did have a proposal before it at that time, declaring that changing our understanding of marriage was a matter that was “vital to the life of the church”. This drew on a provision in the Constitution in Clause 39(a), which provides that On matters which, by a two thirds majority vote, the Assembly deems to be vital to the life of the Church, the Assembly shall seek the concurrence of Synods and/or Presbyteries and/or Congregations as the Assembly may determine.
1B. At that same July 2018 meeting, Assembly decided that the matter was not “vital to the life of the church”. Assembly Standing Committee subsequently approved an alternate order of service for use in marrying “two people” (with gender not specified), and since late September, Uniting Church ministers have been conducting marriages where the couples are of the same gender.

2. Since July, Presbyteries have been considering the matter. Some Presbyteries have considered that the decision of the Assembly did include “a matter vital to the life of the church”, which requires the Assembly to suspend the decision and undertake further consultation.
This in accordance with Clause 39(b) of the Constitution, which states:
(i) If within six months of a decision of the Assembly, or its Standing Committee, at least half the Presbyteries within the bounds of each of at least half the Synods, or at least half the Synods, notify the President that they have determined that in their opinion
• a decision includes a matter vital to the life of the Church; and
• there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision
the President shall notify the Church that the decision is suspended until the Assembly has undertaken further consultation.

3. This meant that if half the Synods, or half the presbyteries in half the Synods, wrote to the President stating that they believe there has been inadequate consultation, the decision would be suspended. The timeframe of within six months means that this runs until 13 January 2019. In October, the General Secretary of the Assembly advises all ministers that there was a possibility that Clause 39(b) might be invoked, and thus, the decision might need to be suspended, pending further consultation.

4. There are six Synods. No Synod asked that the clause 39 process of seeking concurrence be invoked.

5. The number of Presbyteries varies in each Synod. The single Presbytery in WA and many of the Presbyteries in Victoria-Tasmania and New South Wales and the ACT have not considered that this is a matter which needs to be reconsidered. So nowhere near one half of the Presbyteries in these Synods have asked for any further process of consultation.

6. In two Synods during 2018, the threshold of Presbyteries invoking Clause 39(b) was met: by one of two Presbyteries in the Northern Synod and by four of eight Presbyteries in Queensland (North Qld, Central Qld, Mary Burnett and South Moreton).

7. South Australia just has one Presbytery. It met in November 2018 to consider this matter, but the decision of the Presbytery was not to ask for further consultation by invoking Clause 39(b). A notice of a special meeting was submitted at that meeting, and this meeting took place on 5 January 2019, the last day of the season of Christmas. Once again, the SA Presbytery did not support the proposal to request further consultation by invoking Clause 39(b).

As the deadline for invoking Clause 39(b) was six months after the decision (therefore, 13 January 2019), and as no further Presbytery meetings are scheduled to take place in the coming week, it is clear that the threshold of sufficient Presbyteries requesting a suspension and further consultation, has not been met.

So the status quo stands: the decision of the Assembly remains in place, marriages of same-gender attracted people can continue to occur, the President of Assembly does NOT need to issue a notice that same gender marriages must be suspended, and Assembly does NOT need to arrange for further consultation on that decision to take place.

The Uniting Church thus remains faithful to its commitment, as articulated in the Basis of Union. We are, indeed, a pilgrim people. In the process of making this decision, people of the church have met in council to wait upon God’s Word, and to obey God’s will. The decision about marriage has involved so many difficult conversations and challenging moments for many people. The decision of Assembly steps out in a new direction.

I believe that this decision demonstrates how the Uniting Church continues, today, to look for a continuing renewal. In that search, we certainly affirm our readiness to go forward together in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church. This decision is one that many people believe is a faithful response to what God is today calling the Church to be and to do. It is a signal that we seek to remain open to constant reform under his Word.

Throughout this process, I believe that we have continued daily to seek to obey his will, and to discern ways by which we might confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds. We continue to do that now, in implementing the decision of the Assembly and rejoicing in the celebration of joyous marriages, within the church, of couples of the same gender.

As this takes place, I am certain in holding to the belief that we are not apostate, we have not betrayed our faith. We continue to hold to the essence of the Gospel. The marriages of people of the same gender serve to remind us, in a fresh way, of the grace which justifies [us] through faith, of the centrality of the person and work of Christ the justifier. As our President has reminded us, we are all included in that abundant grace and we look with anticipation to the promise of liberating hope.

We say often that we seek to be “an inclusive church”. I hope that my LGBTIQ friends who have felt so marginalised, objectified, and (sadly) even vilified over the course of the past 18 months (and decades back before that) now feel that they are truly accepted, valued and included within this church.

I hope that together, as a whole church, we might remain faithful to God’s calling to be a fellowship of reconciliation and, in this difficult process and courageous decision, we might see something of the foretaste of the Kingdom which Christ will bring to consummation.

See also https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/07/31/a-diversity-of-religious-beliefs-and-ethical-understandings/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/marrying-same-gender-people-a-biblical-rationale/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/30/the-additional-marriage-liturgy-which-allows-same-gender-couples-to-marry-in-uniting-churches/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/26/marriage-of-same-gender-people-a-gift-to-the-whole-church/

Cheers
John

John Squires
johntsquires@bigpond.com

Rev Dr John Squires is a Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church. He is a former Principal of Perth Theological Hall and is currently in placement in the Canberra Region Presbytery. He was a member of the 15th Assembly in 2018.

oOo