Monthly Archives: January 2018

February 14 – Cyril and Methodius

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Cyril and Methodius, Christian pioneers

The ninth century was perhaps the most active period of missionary activity in the Eastern (Orthodox) churches since apostolic times. Patriarch Photius chose two Greek brothers from Thessalonica, Constantine whose monastic name was Cyril, (826-869), and Methodius (?815-885) to initiate the conversion of the pagan Slavs – Moravians, Bulgarians, Serbs and Russians. They had grown up on the borders of these lands, and they knew the Slavonic language, amongst others. Cyril was a librarian and known as a philosopher; both were ordained priests. In 863 they set off for what is now the Czech lands with an invitation from the local prince and the blessing of the Byzantine emperor. In preparation for this venture, the brothers had translated the Gospels, the larger part of the New Testament and some of the Old, and the liturgical books into Slavonic, an enormous task, especially since they had to begin by inventing an alphabet, now known, in a developed form, as Glagolithic or Cyrillic. That is, they set out with the basic tools to build a church of peoples who did not know Christ. What is known as Church Slavonic is still the basic liturgical language of the Russian and related churches, and a great literature grew from it in the related languages.
Their methodology however was in contrast to that of Rome, whose missionaries had to teach their converts Latin before they could teach them anything else – and indeed there were clashes between missionaries of the two Christian centres. At this stage, however, the eastern and western wings believed themselves to belong to the one universal church, and the brothers travelled to Rome to place their mission under the Pope. Their exceptional approach and their church books received his blessing, but sadly, under that pope’s successor, and under German Catholic influence back in Moravia, the old Latin approach was enforced, and the saints’ work eradicated soon after Methodius died. However, the seeds had been sown, and bore fruit especially in Russia, Bulgaria and Serbia, whose rulers consciously chose Cyril and Methodius’s way. Rightly are they know as the ‘apostles of the Slavs’. Success took a long time, and was largely achieved by decision of tsars and princes. Some half-convinced Greek missionaries used Greek, which was no more understandable to the Bulgars than Latin; in Romania, a Latin-based culture, the Slavonic influence is still mixed with the Latin in the Orthodox Church.

The younger brother Cyril died in Rome (he became a monk in 868 just before his death on February 14th, 869) and is buried there. Methodius had been made a bishop by the pope (ca 870) for his return to Moravian lands after their embassy to Rome. He was imprisoned for two years by rival church authorities, and endured many years of theological and ecclesiastical disputes. He died in Moravia. Their pupils, however, carried on the work into further lands, paving the way for their declaration as co-Patrons of Europe, with St Benedict, by Pope John Paul II in 1980.

By Rev Prof Robert Gribben

Lectionary Commentary – Epiphany 5B (February 4 – February 10)

The following links are to the Revised Common Lectionary commentary pages of Howard Wallace and Bill Loader, and are suggested as preparation for hearing the readings in worship for the Sunday indicated above.

Isaiah 40:21-39  see also By the Well podcast on this text

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Mark 1:29-39 see also By the Well podcast on this text

February 3 – First Christian service in Australia

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

First Christian service in  Australia, Christian pioneers

This was held in what is now Martin Place, Sydney, at 10am on 3 February, 1788. The Rev Richard Johnson led the service from under a large tree. Attendance was compulsory for the convicts. They were guarded by soldiers to ensure that they did not misbehave or try to slip away. For some, it may well have been the first service they had attended.  Phillip was pleased with the tone of the service and the attention given to the sermon on Psalm 116:12.  Johnson also performed the first baptism. The first service of Holy Communion was held on 17 February, 1788.

Unfortunately, the text of Johnson’s sermon has not survived. It was reported that he proclaimed a Gospel which gave generous pardon to the guilty, cleansing to the polluted, healing to the sick, happiness to the miserable and life to the dying. There were common themes in Evangelical preaching. Though Phillip suspected Johnson of Methodist leanings, he respected the devoted pastoral care Johnson gave the troubled, sick and dying.

Johnson disliked being an open-air preacher, but had no choice for there was no church building provided for a decade, until he built one at his own expense in 1798. It was burnt down on 1 October, possibly by disgruntled convicts. In addition to his ministry in Sydney, Johnson regularly travelled by boat to Parramatta to take services there. His preaching was complemented by catechizing and the distribution of simple Christian literature.

by Rev Dr Ian Breward

28 January – On the fear of God

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Epiphany 4

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Psalm 111
Mark 1:21-28

To endeavour to learn a new language – particularly to speak it – is to wander into dangerous territory. Even when the words are not lacking, nuances of meaning are often hidden from the learner. Great confusion and embarrassment await those brave who risk a strange tongue.

The world of Scripture is a new language, even when translated into the vulgar tongue. It, also, is riddled with nuance and hidden meaning to trip up the presumptuous novice.

Let’s consider the closing thought of our psalmist this morning: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” If a beginning in wisdom is taken to be a good thing, is “the fear of the Lord” the best – or even a good – way to such beginning? Ought we not rather love God? We know fear as a basis of relationship, and we agree that love is a much more desirable way to relate. Or, perhaps, we might try to bridge the gap between fear and love by reading “fear” as “respect.” “Respect” allows that God could be feared but need not be.

Linguistic refinements like this make an apology for how the psalmist portrays God here. If love is good and fear is bad, then relating to God on the basis of fear is unpalatable. We refine the text to do God a favour. We ought, however, to keep in mind that God generally gets along quite well without our help, and that the text generally means what it says: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This doesn’t yet make the sentiment any more palatable but, like any strange mode of expression, it might give us pause: what could this mean?

The distance between our culture and context of Scripture is often obscured by things we imagine we have in common, like cognates between two languages. The Bible is interested in God, and we are interested in God, thus we presume that when the Bible refers to God it does so in the same way that we do. Yet “God” – as a concept – is for us something quite different from its conceptualisation in the Scriptures. In particular, we tend towards the idea that there is only one God, and “God” is in fact a viable name for God. Strictly speaking, God can only be God’s name if there is one God. In the Scriptures, however, the basic assumption is that there are many gods – as we heard from Paul this morning – and that “God” is not so much a name as a type of thing.

In fact it’s much messier than that, but this much helps us to get inside our psalmist’s thinking. For we can say that, in the Scriptures, a god stands for something the present or absence of which we fear. Do we fear the absence of life or money? Then Death and Mammon become gods. Do you fear the absence of power? Then that which gives power, mythologised as a god, becomes what we fear, lest it withdraw that power. Because there are many who fear such things, and often in contradiction of each other, there are many gods. The important thing is, then, not whether you fear “God” but whether you fear the right one among the many feared gods: the god properly feared if we are going to fear anything.

For us today, “God” means almost nothing like this. Whereas the atmosphere of the Scriptures is polytheism, philosophical pressure has driven us to monotheism. It is this monotheism which makes us squirm – especially in the churches – when it comes to “the fear of the Lord”. Because the gods are no longer a given, we imagine that “mission” is about making the gods – or just “God” – palatable again, and love is more palatable than fear.

But the Scriptures know us. Even if our modern world is emptied of gods, it remains filled with fears. And these fears work on us as they always have. The “‑isms” of our world indicate our new pantheon: racism, sexism, nationalism, fundamentalism, conservatism, progressivism, scientism, Islamism… each invoked out of fear. Knowing the human to be a creature which fears, the scriptural question is simply: What is best feared?

For this reason the psalmist proposes fear not of a generic “God” but of “the Lord.” It is a subtle nuance which the novice in religious language will miss but it is crucial, and is really only evident in the speaking: Not “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” as if we might relate to the Lord in some other way but “the fear of the Lord,” as if there were other things we might fear. This nuance moves the declaration from our concern about the appropriate emotional response to a God who might or might not be there, to the question of which realities in our life are actually worth worrying about.

“The Lord” – Yahweh, Jehovah – is the name of one God among many, one candidate for our allegiance among many. “There are many Lords and many gods”, Paul says, “but for us the one God, the Father… and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Do you fear? Fear this one.

But why? Precisely because of the love which we might want prematurely to edit into the psalmist’s thought to make him declare that the love of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. There are as many lords and gods as there are contradictory fears and desires in us; these things we serve and invoke over against each other. In Paul this morning we saw the logic of fear and love set in their proper place in relation to God. Yes, there are real fears – real enough to cause division in the young Christian community about what could be eaten, and so who could eat with whom. A fear of the gods of old and a fear of a loss of freedom clashed to fracture the community; dividing the communal mind and rendering asunder the communal body is what fear does.

The unity of the body, or its division, is the sign of the Spirit active within it, the sign of what is feared. There are many lords and many gods, Paul acknowledges, but for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. All things are from and to the Father; this we might call the “generic” function of a god: the beginning and the purpose of the world. The specifically Christian nuance is in the “through” used with respect to Jesus: “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”

To live in and through the crucified Jesus is to live in and through the victim of human fear. It is to see where fear takes us – the cross – and what it takes from us, even the God we might think demands the cross.

But, just so, to live through the crucified Jesus is also to see grace in action because our fear and loathing is not met with God’s own. In the world fear begets fear; in heaven, fear is just one more human characteristic God can use to reveal love and bring healing. The fruit of fear is a broken body and blood poured out. Grace is the broken body raised and given to teach that with this God there is nothing to fear.

To learn a new language is to wander into dangerous territory. Even when the words are not lacking, nuances of meaning are often hidden from the learner. But when God speaks our language – takes our words and actions seriously – there is no embarrassment, even when God uses those words and or interprets our actions in the wrong way. God’s creative work with us is to change our grammar, to speak our words and ways in such a manner as to re-make us and, in this, to make possible us a new beginning in wisdom and in love.

The fear of this Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever. (Ps 111.10).


Child Safety in the Churches — “Reportable Conduct”

Keeping Children Safe website LIVE

Reportable Conduct Scheme – Keeping Children Safe

Victoria now has a Reportable Conduct Scheme to oversee allegations of child abuse and child-related misconduct.

From 1 January 2018 Reportable Conduct becomes a new legal requirement administered by the Commission for Children and Young People.

What does this mean for our Synod?

This means that the General Secretary is required to notify the Commission for Children and Young People within three business days after becoming aware of a reportable  allegation of child abuse and other child-related misconduct made against any of our ‘employees’ – this includes staff, contractors and volunteers.

What are our commitments to keeping children safe and protected?

Ensuring that we create a child safe organisation to keep children safe and protected is an individual and collective responsibility of the Uniting Church and all who engage with it.  Our commitment is documented in the Keeping Children Safe Policy and the Reportable Conduct Policy.

We are committed to ensure that:

  • we have systems in place to prevent child abuse
  • if child abuse is alleged,  allegations can be brought to the attention of appropriate persons for investigation and response
  • a proper investigation and response is made (if it involves criminal conduct, police will be contacted).

Synod of Victoria and Tasmania Moderator Rev Sharon Hollis said the new Reportable Conduct Scheme legislation reflects the concerns that many have voiced about the impact of abuse on children.

She noted it is just one of a number of ways institutions can do all within their power to make sure their spaces are safe for children.

“We applaud these initiatives which are in line with our Keeping Children Safe Policy commitments to zero tolerance of all forms of abuse and ensuring children are protected and safe,” Ms Hollis said.

What do we ask of you?

We request all ‘employees’ (defined as staff, contractors, volunteers) of Uniting Church in Australia commit and adhere to Synod’s Keeping Children Safe Policy at all times to ensure that we create a child safe organisation.

We also request that you report any allegations of child abuse and other child-related misconduct made against  employees even if;

  1. they do not have direct contact with children
  2. the conduct occurred outside of their role in the church.

What is Reportable Conduct?

The five types of Reportable Conduct are:

  • sexual offences committed against, with or in the presence of a child
  • sexual misconduct committed against, with or in the presence of a child
  • physical violence against, with or in the presence of a child
  • any behaviour that causes significant emotional or psychological harm to a child
  • significant neglect of a child.

How do I report?

If you have a reasonable belief that reportable conduct has occurred you should report using the form in this link.

Or phone: (03) 1300 789 374 

Or email:

You can also report directly to the Commission for Children and Young People:

Ph: (03) 8601 5281


Additional Resources

The Reportable Conduct Policy has further information on how to report.

If you would like further information on the Scheme please refer to the Commission for Children and Young People website

To download an easily printable PDF version of this email click here.

Thank you for all you do in your ministry to keep children safe.

Please make sure this information is made known to your church council.

Grace and peace,

Isabel Thomas Dobson
Acting General Secretary

Keeping Children Safe

Lectionary Commentary – Epiphany 4B (January 28 – February 3)

The following links are to the Revised Common Lectionary commentary pages of Howard Wallace and Bill Loader, and are suggested as preparation for hearing the readings in worship for the Sunday indicated above.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 see also By the Well podcast on this text

Psalm 111

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 see also By the Well podcast on this text

Mark 1:21-28 see also By the Well podcast on this text

21 January – God’s new soundtrack for our lives

View or print as a PDF

Epiphany 3

1 Corinthians 7:29-32a
Psalm 62
Mark 1:14-20

It is very strange to watch a movie with the soundtrack turned off. You see the action and hear the dialogue but the clues as to how to interpret it all are missing. For the soundtrack serves to tell us how to “feel” about what we are seeing.[1] It colours our experience of the drama.

From Paul we have heard this morning not, of course, about soundtracks but about the way in which Christians live most faithfully.

…let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.

Live “as if not,” Paul counsels, although this is not a stoic counsel. He proposes here not a detachment from the world’s challenges and disappointments but rather an awareness of what time it is:

…the appointed time has grown short… the present form of this world is passing away.

What has happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus causes a re-reading of the time in which we live, and so a re-reading of the end or goal towards which we are living. To live “as if not” is to change the meaning of what we see and do. It is to change the soundtrack behind the action of our lives.

The action itself doesn’t much change, at least to begin with. Our relationships continue, our sorrows and our joys, our buying and selling and the other dealings which make up our lives. But a changed sense of the times, and so a changed sense of our end, changes also how we experience what happens around us.

And so Paul does not say Do not mourn but mourn “as if not”: for there is a joy in Christian conviction which colours all passing sadness. He does not say Do not rejoice but rejoice “as if not”: there is a realism in Christian conviction which recognises that the Kingdom is not yet fully come. He does not say Do not deal in worldly things but deal “as if not”: as if they were not merely worldly things but realities within which God might dwell, with blessing.

For the times, and the world in time, are different if Jesus is Lord: they are not closed in on what we can only see. This is why we can tell the story of a crucified man “as if not” an abject failure but the very triumph of God. It is why we can eat and drink “as if not” bread and wine but the very substance of God’s life with and for us. We can see in what we have not possessions but common wealth. We can see in another’s need not merely their misfortune or fault but our responsibility.

Christian discipleship is life to a particular soundtrack, a particular set of interpretations. It is an experience of life as charged with God, coloured by God, resonating with more than the old sound track will allow us to hear.

And, in the end, the change of sound track will be involve more than simply a different beat, a different mood. The action itself will begin to change because of the different experiences. Different relationships will develop, different experiences will cause mourning or joy, different things will be bought and sold, because values shift when the times change and the end is something different. To live “as if not” is to begin to change the world. Live like this, Paul says.

When the psalmist declares You, Yahweh, are my God, and Jesus calls Follow me, we hear precisely what we’ve heard from Paul: live as if the world where not what you have imagined so far but according to God’s own imagination.

And the world will move.

And you will begin truly to live.

By the grace of God, may this world and life be ever more fully ours, to God’s greater glory and our richer humanity. Amen

[1] For a demonstration of how easily a story can be manipulated with a bit of careful cutting and a different soundtrack, it’s worth looking at some of the spoof movie trailers on the internet, casting such as Mary Poppins or Frozen as horror movies, or The Silence of the Lambs as a romantic comedy.

MtE Update – January 19 2018

The first MtE News for 2018!

  1. Brother Peter Bray from Bethlehem University is returning to Melbourne, and will again be hosted by MtE in a public forum; more details here.
  2. A public lecture: Appraising the Royal Commission Report into Sexual Abuse and Religious Organizations.
  3. MtE has been talking for a while about encouraging other UCA congregations to consider a move to celebrating the Eucharist in their principal Sunday service. A web site on this project is now “live”, here.
  4. The latest Presbytery update (Jan 19) is here.
  5. For those interested in some background commentary to the readings for this Sunday January 21, see the links here.


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