Mark the Word – Summer 2020

Summer 2020

From the Minister

News from Church Council

From the Hotham Mission Team

A Musician’s Life Under COVID-19

An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

Where are we as we approach Christmas 2020? This year will forever be associated with loss and pain, yet also with hope and a new concept of togetherness. This has particular meaning for us at Mark the Evangelist. As we look to our future, this newsletter as well as a bumper holiday read, reflects some of this awareness. Craig kicks it off adding thoughts of patience to our desires and hopes. We need to think of what those desires and hopes are for our congregation. The detailed account of the work of Hotham Mission gives us food for thought as we feel a sense of pride in all the team does in our name. Read the quotable quotes within the Hotham Mission Report and you will see how wide is the reach of their program.

Suzanne Yanko

From the Minister
by Craig Thompson

With the season of Advent, thought in the church moves to ‘hope’. Hope has to do with desire. The desire perhaps paramount for most of us recently has been the overcoming of the novel coronavirus: being able again to spend time with friends, to gather for worship and not to have to wonder whether this new sniffle justifies another trip to a testing station.

Desires and hopes like these are real enough as they press in upon us but their realization is often just a matter of patience, like waiting for summer to return after a bleak winter. If we live long enough (not quite guaranteed!), we will get there. And we almost have gotten there, so far as the virus is concerned – we are just now beginning to move again out into the open like snails once frightened back into their shells but now tentatively feeling around to see whether it’s safe to get back on out there.

The desire marked by Advent differs from the comfort which predictably follows discomfort. The God who approaches us is not quite an answer to a question or the puzzle piece we are waiting to fall into place. God comes as much as a question to our answer and as a reconfiguring of the puzzle.

Put differently, when the God of Israel approaches, we might find that we have desired the wrong thing. This is to say that when God does come, it is always for our good, always to reconfigure us after God’s own image, and not our own imagining of what we are.

Let us, then, look for what that reconfiguration might be as COVID-19 slowly recedes, as we are reminded of the rich humanity of God coming among us in the person of Jesus, and as we watch to see what the shape the Congregation of Mark the Evangelist will have after our buildings decisions are taken.

Which is to say: may your Advent, Christmas and New Year be rich and exciting!

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News from Church Council
by Tim O’Connor, Chair of Church Council

Return to church at Advent
It was a special occasion on the first Sunday of Advent when the congregation was able to worship again in the Elm Street Church for the first time in eight months. Over that period we had all become accustomed to recorded services led by Craig alone in the church, which preserved our pattern of services of word and sacrament, limited of course by remote participation. So when members could again gather to worship, there was a renewing, joyful dimension, whether taking part at church or from home. Since then services have continued to be livestreamed and recorded for later viewing. We thank Craig, Peter and Rod for their many hours of work to learn and apply the technical skills that make that possible.

Remote viewing is connecting members who cannot attend church in person on any or all Sundays, and it is linking the congregation together in ways we had not imagined before the pandemic. Church Councillors have heard that it is also enabling people to watch MtE services who belong to other congregations and none. At the same time we remain mindful of the needs of members who do not use online technology and rely on visits and telephone calls by elders and other friends in the congregation. We have decided to maintain livestreamed and recorded services indefinitely, both for members and as a new ministry to those beyond the congregation who may also take part in study groups and explore the many online resources that are offered through the MtE website, especially of those of Illuminating Faith.

On the pilgrim path of the Mark the Evangelist Futures Project
The Futures Project has taken winding and unexpected turns in the past few years. If you have read the MTEFP Project Update, you will be aware of the review of proposed plans for property development for the congregation’s use and partial sale of the Curzon Street site. The review led us to resolve that ‘on current assumptions, maintaining Congregational and Hotham Mission operations at present levels, Options 5a+ (with either 2- or 8-lot subdivisions) are not feasible, taking into account the anticipated risks and projected financial outcomes of the project.’ Another option to develop Union Memorial Church was found to involve risks too great to manage. As a result, we will recommend in 2021 that the congregation endorse these resolutions and ask us to ‘develop a process to help the congregation towards deciding on the future location of the congregation’, one that we believe would likely be off-site.

Recent online meetings of the congregation
Congregational and other MtE meetings will continue online in the foreseeable future, until risks associated with the pandemic are entirely absent. In this way, the AGM of the Congregation, postponed from March and finally held on 25 October, received reports from Church Council, Hotham Mission and the Auditors as well as the MTEFP Update referred to above. Rosemary Wearing and John Langmore were elected elders for terms of four and five years respectively and Tim O’Connor for a further term of three years. A congregational meeting on 6 December approved the MtE 2021 Budget and the 2021 Focuses of Mission and Ministry. In December members were also invited to meet in small groups to discuss their reactions to the MTEFP Update and to share hopes and ideas for the worship and ministry of the congregation in possible future settings. These meetings will help inform planning until the next congregational meeting around March next year.

Comments, queries and suggestions are invited by the Church Council: Gaye Champion (Chair of Hotham Mission), John Langmore (Elder), Rod Mummery (Elder and Treasurer), Tim O’Connor (Elder and Chair), David Radcliffe (Elder), Craig Thompson (Minister), Rosemary Wearing (Elder) and Alan Wilkinson (MTEFP Coordinator).

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From the Hotham Mission Team

The team at Hotham Mission, and our partners, have had to be flexible and incredibly resilient to respond to the changing environment throughout 2020. We are extremely grateful to all those who have supported the work of Hotham Mission during the challenges that have impacted us all in varying ways. The Hotham Mission programs have provided light, and essential support, to many in our community, throughout the year, and will continue to do so in 2021. Here are some highlights from the past year at Hotham Mission.

Education Support

Renshaw Program
This year underscored the importance of equal access to education and the growing digital divide. The Renshaw program played a small but important role, in addressing this by providing assistance to over 50 students to purchase devices and connectivity solutions as well as textbooks and other essential education items for secondary students.

One school commented:

“With the majority of this year moved to remote learning, it had highlighted many students in need of financial support to meet their educational needs. Hotham Mission’s Renshaw Educational Support Program provided just that. With the help from Hotham Mission, we were able to support students with devices for their remote learning as well as schoolbooks at the start of the year. This added continued security that students would not be disadvantaged in their learning due to their family’s financial status.”

Hotham Mission Homework Club
The Hotham Mission Homework Club continued to run throughout 2020, despite the many challenges. Term one saw strong participation at our face-to-face program, with many students returning from the previous year. When Victoria went into lockdown the homework club began transitioning to an online delivery mode. In the initial weeks of this confusing and turbulent time, we reached out to all families of the homework club program and offered our support in helping students get ready for online learning with their schools. We were able to offer devices to students in need, and purchased 3 Samsung tablets that were distributed to the young people who didn’t have access to their own devices. The parents and students were very grateful for this assistance.

Through the middle two terms we focused on sending monthly care packs to each of the students enrolled in the homework club. Care packs are something we know our students thoroughly enjoy, and we wanted to support their emotional wellbeing during the difficult time of being in lockdown without many ways to entertain themselves. These care packs had a range of support materials and resources and each pack was focused on a different theme. We sent learning materials such as stationary, work books, and maths and literacy activities and resources. There were arts and crafts, mindfulness projects, activities to keep them physically active, and a range of science experiments. These care packs allowed us to support our students holistically. Alongside these monthly care packs, we ran weekly online zoom sessions. These sessions provided a space for students to log on and receive homework help, like they would in our face-to-face delivery. Online delivery of the homework club allowed us to remain connected to students and to offer much needed academic support. Through these sessions we have developed a stronger understanding of our students and where they sit academically, and how best we can support them moving forward.

The final term has seen the last of our online zoom sessions, and our transition back to face-to-face programming. The face-to-face sessions resumed in late November and will run for three weeks, and then resume in mid-January.

The Grattan Institute released a report on the effects of learning from home stating “Many disadvantaged students, who were already falling behind before the crisis, will have slipped further back. We find the achievement gap widens at triple the rate in remote schooling compared to regular class. Even if remote learning was working well, disadvantaged students are likely to have learnt at about 50 per cent of their regular rate, losing about a month of learning over a two-month lockdown”. This highlights, more than ever, the importance of our homework club, and our ability to provide additional learning support for students and helping them into the light, especially those experiencing disadvantage.

We are looking forward to 2021 and anticipate there will be an increase in demand for our educational support services, particularly considering students in the high-rise towers were in lock down for a longer time than students in the rest of Victoria. We will need to focus particular attention on recruiting volunteers for the new year as we have lost existing volunteers during the long pause on face-to-face programs. While running the online program had its challenges, it is a great strength that we continued to provide a stable and ongoing support service to the young people we worked with throughout this difficult lock down. We are excited to continue to support these young people in their academic journeys, to welcome new faces to the program, and to provide our support in the state wide COVID learning loss catch up.

Like many local communities, Hotham Mission created a “Spoonville” in Elm St, as an opportunity to reach out to others, especially young people, in a spirit of true community.

Food for Thought

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity became an emerging issue for many with increased demand on local food distribution services to meet increased needs. As well as the food bags, Hotham Mission provided assorted precooked meals to vulnerable residents, kindly donated by RACV.

Our partner schools indicated their appreciation of this support for their students with comments such as:

“The first wave of COVID-19 put an unforeseen amount of stress and pressure on our already financially stretched vulnerable households and without the support of Hotham Mission would have meant there would of have been further food insecurity experienced. One young person’s comments to their key workers was ‘thank you, for the lifeline’.”

“One student benefited particularly from this program as they were living out of home with an older sibling. The food support provided by Hotham Mission helped alleviate stress and provide relief for the family hugely.”

“Hotham Mission’s ongoing support is vital and reaches children and families facing the highest needs.”

In addition to the food bags provided through our partner schools, Hotham Mission has engaged with other local organisations to deliver to vulnerable residents who live in public and social housing, and those offered temporary housing who would otherwise have been homeless. The delivery of food to these residents, by our partners, helped to address issues of both food insecurity and isolation.

Comments from our partners delivering the food include:

“Tenants have said how much they appreciated the hampers. The gesture made them feel they were thought of, helped them out in times of need, and made them feel less isolated and alone.”

“Most residents are apprehensive about going out and are happy to see me each week. The program provides a connection with people which is really important as they know they haven’t been forgotten”.

“The hampers and cooked meals were offered to various tenants who were struggling with their rent payments. It helped them out with food supplies and made their money go a bit further that week.”

The Food for Thought program, by the end of 2020, will have provided over 6000 bags to some of the most vulnerable and isolated people and families in North Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, many of whom had no, or very little, income. The demand for food support increased almost weekly throughout 2020. Families regularly sent the schools emails to say thank you and to say how much this is saving them and making their lives a lot easier.

Comments from our partners indicate the depth of need and appreciation for the support of Hotham Mission:

“Our efforts have met with success because of the support of generous and caring people like you… With your help, we could improve the quality of meals and basic food, like eggs, fruits, vegetables, and staples that are expensive in Australia… We thank you again for your support and we inspire to continue this so important contribution that you extended to us. The timing could not be more perfect… Donations from organisations like yours have harnessed the potential of our junior staff/volunteers and encouraged us to work with sincerity, selflessness, and commitment.”

“We consider the Food for Thought hampers to be an invaluable part of our mission, enabling us to respond directly to the immediate needs of people experiencing hardship who live in our neighbourhood. Thank you.”

“The resources you have provided … greatly reduces the stress experienced by people who are unsure how they will avoid going hungry, and the service would not have been as comprehensive without the ability to provide the practical relief of food.”

And a couple of quotes from recipients:

“I just got some real food and I am so grateful. Thank you and all the team that helped.”

“Thank you for listening & providing the food hamper, your support has truly been a lifer saver for me.”

HampersIn breaking news, we have just received 130 Christmas Hampers from the Life Church, literally a truck full, which we will distribute to those who are regular Food for Thought recipients. This is one of several generous donations from Life Church this year, which will not only save us time and money but also means we don’t have to ‘purchase’ stock through the limited PFD credit (provided by the Feed Appeal grant).

Another component of Food for Thought is the lunch vouchers. The school has told us:

“There has been an increase in demand following the periods of remote learning as they are not able to bring lunch to school regularly. The students are generally well mannered and appreciative. Following feedback from Hotham Mission, vouchers have been limited to healthy food options from the Canteen.”

Kensington Neighbourhood House

The Healthy Living and Learning (HLL) Project works with people experiencing disadvantage to target food insecurity, encourage the adoption of healthier lifestyle habits and connect people who are socially isolated. HLL specifically engages residents over 55 on the Kensington Public Housing Estate and works with two resident social groups as partners. Hotham Mission have continued their support of HLL in 2020 by way of a donation for $5000 towards the program budget.

The HLL lunches have not only provided regular, ready-made meals and fruit and vegetables for seniors this year but provided an opportunity for social connections which for most had become rare this year – a chance to leave the apartment, stretch the legs, get some vitamin D and say hello to the neighbours. Hotham Mission’s support has allowed KNH to continue supporting vulnerable residents over 55yrs.

Hotham Mission have also supported KNH by way of non-perishable food contributions to their Food Share Pantry. A further example of Hotham Mission helping others to move into the light in what has been dark times for many.

Christmas Appeal

HM Christmas Appeal GraphicChristmas is almost here, and once again we plan to provide Christmas hampers to those young people and families who so need our help.

If you would like to make a monetary contribution to support our Christmas Appeal, donations* can be made via our website: and follow the links to Support/Donate Now. All donations over $2.00 are tax deductible.

* Please note that we are seeking monetary donations only.

In conclusion, 2020 has shown that there is light even in the darkest of times. Hotham Mission is dependent on the support of others, and are appreciative to all who have been able to support our programs throughout the year.

Thank you!

Hotham Mission is part of the Uniting Church Congregation of Mark the Evangelist, North Melbourne, and is supported by several ecumenical partners: Christ Church, Kensington; the West Melbourne Baptist Church; and the Anglican parishes of St Mary’s, North Melbourne and St George’s, Travancore.

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Van Diemen’s Fiddles – Balkan Medley

A Musician’s Life Under COVID-19
by Donald Nicolson

When we first began to get together via the social standard that we all know as Zoom a few months ago, many of you were curious what I had been up to after we retreated into our homes in March. I thought I’d write few words here to elaborate a little more on my initial response: “a lot”.

For me, the economic and social impact on the arts created by the pandemic and the Australian response to combat it was immediate. Latitude 37 was in the rehearsal process for our first tour of the year when the coronavirus outbreak became real, on Friday March 13. The following morning, we were to hit the road for our week-long series of concerts around Victoria, ACT and New South Wales; instead, we made the decision to cancel, and spent most of that weekend calling subscribers and arranging refunds. Within 48 hours, months of upcoming concert work engagements were erased from my diary, the beginning of a long series of cancellations, which ultimately have lasted for the duration of the year. Fortunately, concerts have not been my only focus for this year.

This year, my workload at the University of Melbourne has increased, so although we closed our front doors, my commitments hardly waned. During the first semester, I was coordinating the Figured Bass course. As a practical course, the need to teach students keyboard skills remotely was immensely challenging. After each class on a Tuesday morning, I would spend the remainder of the week preparing course material and experimenting with my limited tech skills and tools, as we all tried our best to become familiar with Zoom. As we entered the second semester, my Historical Performance Practice course was also run entirely online, which prompted me to start working with software with which I could make demonstration recordings and videos for online broadcast. As many of you may have noticed, this had an immediate beneficial impact on all my recordings, including my weekly solos at MtE, which sometimes featured with hands. Finally, end of year recitals for students involved preparation of pre-recorded accompaniment tracks. Often requiring specific tempo markings, I picked up a few basic splicing and editing skills along the way!

The bulk of my time became devoted to a university production of Mozart’s The magic flute (some of you will remember my frustrated attempts to share some of the arrangements over Zoom a few months ago). This was put together for performance as part of a Masters course in opera. Given the circumstances, the performance of a full-scale opera with orchestra could never take place. So I began the process of re-writing the whole work for the combination of harpsichord and fortepiano (the predecessor to the modern instrument). This was a huge amount of fun; getting close and personal with any score of Mozart’s is a joy, let alone one as creative as the Flute. The audio recordings were made with a double cast throughout November, and they are now in the filming process. This project looks to be highly original in approach, with some wonderful fairy-tale costumes to match the storyline. I understand the final product will be released sometime in February. I will keep you posted!

Since May, I’ve also added to my compositional portfolio (I have a BMus in Composition). The Tasmanian ensemble Van Diemen’s Band, or VDB for short (directed by Julia Fredersdorff, whom many of you will know as the violinist from Latitude 37) commissioned me to produce several arrangements and orchestrations. The first of these was the Catalan folk song, The song of the birds (el cant des ocells), which you may already know as an encore favourite of the great cellist, Pablo Casals. This made available to me an orchestra and chorus the size of which I haven’t had the chance to write for since my teenage years! I also made several arrangements for the newly-formed Van Diemen’s Fiddles, a highly original trio of baroque violin, modern violin and octave (bass) violin. This latter project allowed me to explore my own ideas in a medley of Balkan tunes, as well as a contemplative arrangement of the beautiful Ave, generosa by the great Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). The Song of the birds has been recorded and is in production for public release next year. I am also excited to say that I have produced most of the arrangements for VDB for their upcoming Christmas concert. This will be a delayed broadcast by the ABC hopefully in the days before Christmas, so stay tuned! You can already listen to the Fiddles arrangements on YouTube: search for “Van Diemen’s Fiddles,” “Ave generosa,” and “Balkan medley”.

Towards the end of each year, it is my habit to take a stocktake of the 12 months events, to look back at what I produced, critique it, and so forth. Looking back on 2020 as a year none of us will forget, I can say for certain that I’ve never put together so many new and original things. In 2021, I look forward to being back on stage. There is yet more to come, and I will let you know…

STOP PRESS – an announcement of interest for all: The Van Diemen’s Band can be heard performing a Christmas concert on ABC Classic at 1 pm on Tuesday 22nd December. This band has an important link with Latitude 37.

Hildegard of Bingen, Ave Generosa

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An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
by Ann and Alan Wilkinson

This study series just ended was based on 24 lectures of a degree course in Ancient Near East History at Yale University. Each lecture was available as a YouTube presentation and as a transcript. The lecturer was a Jewish academic, Christine Hayes, who is an Australian by birth. She was a dynamic lecturer, who had no trouble in maintaining our interest. The study was undertaken in two different zoom groups each week with a break of around 4 weeks in the middle. Craig facilitated the sessions for each group. Sincere thanks are due to him for the valuable research, biblical linkages, and background he provided, in addition to this meaning for him two concentrated sessions for every one of the 24 weeks.

Participants totalling around 24 came from several churches including Mark the Evangelist, Auburn UC, Habitat UC, St Mary’s North Melbourne, Church of All Nations, Belmont UC in Geelong, Wodonga UC. We were encouraged to watch the lecture and/or read the transcript as preparation for each study session. Sometimes we were given other relevant material to read, and of course the books of the Bible in focus for that week. Most weeks our preparation was supplemented by a short ‘Bible Project’ graphic outline of the book under review. If you have never come across the ‘Bible Project’ it is a catchy video series introducing each book of the Old and New Testament in about 6 or 7 minutes.

The Hebrew Bible is similar in scope to the Christian Old Testament and a little different in the way it is arranged. The course had several goals outlined in the first lecture. In summary the first and foremost was to become familiar with the contents of the Hebrew Bible and the odyssey of the Israelites from the second millennium BCE. A second goal was to learn about different approaches to the study of the Bible seeing it through the lenses of culture, mythology, history, literature, and religion. A third goal provided some insight into interpretation, commentary, and debates about these issues. A final goal was to become familiar with the culture of ancient Israel seen against its Ancient Near Eastern historical and cultural setting.

Overall, these goals helped us to see the Hebrew Bible as a library rather than one large book. A library of books written over a long period of time, by different people in different situations. The oral narratives date back further but the earliest writings date from around 1000 BCE down to somewhere in the 160s BCE. We came to see that the biblical narratives are literature about real people and real-life situations. Instead of seeing the Old Testament as just a precursor to the New Testament, we came to recognise it as the faith journey of our forebears up to the time of Jesus. Much of the Hebrew Bible is hard hitting stuff filled with pain and conflict as well as compassion and joy. Much of it is also contradictory. So not really for children! Over the 24 weeks we were able to look briefly at every book in the Hebrew Bible, with a focus on the goals outlined above.

We all found the series was excellent and looked forward to Wednesday evening throughout the 24 weeks. Preparation took a fair amount of time, but it made the sessions more dynamic, and, with the help of COVID-19, somehow, we found the time. Attendance was steady with most of those who began the series continuing to the end. To a person, our reactions were extremely positive, with many indicating it was one of the best study series they have ever done. To quote one participant “One of the really bright spots in 2020”! Our only regrets were that we had not been introduced to the material earlier in our Christian experience.

Apart from the lectures themselves, there was also general appreciation of an extended series such as this. In fact, there is a lot of interest in following on next year with a further in-depth study of the New Testament. It will not be necessary to have already done the Old Testament series. They are separate courses and will involve a different lecturer.

Please talk to us or any who attended if you wish to hear any more about the enjoyable and illuminating experience we have had, making lockdown just that much more endurable. By the way, the lectures are still available on YouTube if you want to try a sample. We would recommend starting at the beginning.

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Christmas Day: Worship with Eucharist, 9.30am

Finally – More than 1,500 singers have joined voices to premiere a new Australian Christmas carol by Yorta Yorta composer, Deborah Cheetham, as part of ABC Classic’s virtual choir. View it here.

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