Mark the Word – Winter 2014

Winter 2014

Editorial

What’s in a Name

Shining a light

Church Council Update

Beginning at the Beginning

Utopia re-visited

Gross National Happiness

What’s on

Editor’s last word

Links we like

Editorial
Life has imitated art for me, in preparing this issue of Mark the Word with the focus on renewal, as I interviewed two very different conductors who understand the concept well.

One was young Venezuelan Diego Matheuz, a product of the country’s El Sistema that aims to give every child the experience of playing an instrument.

“El Sistema is for everybody”, says Matheuz. “And the beautiful thing is that you can see in the orchestra children with money, children without money, but in the orchestra they are the same … In the same community, it’s beautiful, it creates a different perspective of life in both of them … an orchestra is like that – a perfect community”.

Matheuz is the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor, but another welcome guest was Chinese composer Tan Dun, best known for his sweeping film scores. Tan Dun was in Melbourne to conduct his Triple Resurrection Concerto. Heritage, dreams, hope: these are all concepts that Tan Dun says inform his vision of “resurrection”.

In China, there has been a renaissance after the long years of the Cultural Revolution, when “the dream was lost, hope was lost,” he says. More than that, the hope is a “struggling, bumping around”, in today’s world with its problems such as pollution and natural disasters, the “terrible” hunting of animals.

“I thought this resurrection is about the people of today,” he says. “If we talk about resurrection, or passion, we automatically think about Jesus … but I think the celebration of a new life, that’s the meaning of the Resurrection.”

(More about these two conductors at the end of the newsletter in a new section called “links we like”.)

Finally a follow-up about an earlier story, commended to us from friends at St James Old Cathedral, West Melbourne, about a young Pakistani girl injured in anti-Christian violence at her own church. Kashmala had an operation in Melbourne on May 3. Prof. Leo Donnan decided to do both legs at the same time.

“She has what look like scaffolding on the outside of her left leg and the right amputated leg has been tidied up and made ready for the fitting of a prosthesis,” says a sponsor, Janette Wells. “Now comes the long-haul job of healing and rehab.”

“She is brave, determined to walk again and regain a normal life. We are proud of her and pray for the richest of God’s blessings to anoint her.”

Amen to that.
Suzanne Yanko

Gustav Mahler was an inspiration to Tan Dun. Here’s his take on the Resurrection.

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From our Minister … What’s in a Name
At our final congregational meeting of 2013, the congregation agreed on a series of Focuses on Ministry and Ministry for 2014. These have been an important part of the work of the Church Council over the first half of the year, giving focus for our thinking about those parts of our congregation’s life that relate most directly to ministry and ministry. For my contribution to the mid-year issue of MtW, I thought I might describe briefly a couple of things we have been working on in relation to those focal points.

Earlier this year we resolved on something of a naming regime for the congregation and Hotham Mission: “The Congregation of Mark the Evangelist, incorporating UnitingCare Hotham Mission”. In one sense this was a small step and merely an administrative one, but it has also made it easier for us to communicate to anyone interested the relationship of the principle entities that make up the life of the congregation. Over the next couple of months we will refine how this name is presented in our documents and advertisements of the congregation’s activities; a sense of how this is developing can be seen in the banners over our new-look congregational web site.

Another of our aims for 2014 was to raise awareness of the ministries of the congregation. To this end, the Church Council has begun to run notices about the congregation’s in the quarterly North and West Melbourne News. A new sign will also soon appear in front of the Hall, replacing the rather tired one currently in place. A fresh face is also developing on the grounds through the efforts of a small but very keen gardening circle!

Work continues on evolving our worship life, seeking to keep faith with the important traditions of the congregation while at the same time trying new things. In addition to the usual seasonal variation in our worship, a couple of “special” services are planned for later in the year: a Festival of Psalms (Sunday morning worship, August 17) and another special service for Christ the King/the Reign of Christ (Sunday morning worship, November 23). These will be “readings, anthems and hymns”-style services. From late June through to September the focus of the services will be a verse-by-verse treatment of the Beatitudes of Jesus. This will be “off-lectionary” but at least accords with the lectionary focus on Matthew in this liturgical year. More information will be available soon!

In the area of Christian education, Bruce Barber presented a much-appreciated series of talks during Lent, and about 17 people from the congregation and beyond are participating in the “Theopolitical Imagination” discussion groups that have just commenced. These look set to be very constructive discussion spaces. In November there will be another discussion series on a book by the same author, “Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire”. The November studies will lead into a series of services for Advent which explore the themes of longing and desire through the Song of Songs. Increasingly, information about these and other events in the life of the congregation will be available through our web site.

One specific focus for 2014 was “To sponsor a conference in 2014 on the themes of ‘faith in secular society’, hopefully in co-operation with the Uniting Church’s Centre for Theology and Ministry.” For a number of reasons this has not proved feasible for this year, at least, although the intention of this conference may be met in part by the book discussion groups planned for the year. At the same time, another proposal touching on similar themes has recently been developed. Arising from conversations between the ministers of the congregations that have been direct supporters of the University of Melbourne chaplaincy, a “vision” is being worked up which would see the establishment of a new discipleship ministry for young adults (18-30ish). This is modelled on a successful program in NSW, although we are thinking about more than just an annual conference for the Melbourne ministry. MtE will be a significant partner in this venture, and the church council has agreed to provide some seed funding to begin the ministry. I will be going to Sydney in July to see the NSW program in action and to discover how that ministry works in terms of administration and funding. More about the proposed Melbourne ministry can be found at its web site.

Of course, there is much more that the Church Council is working on, and Hotham Mission in addition to that, as you will have seen in the occasional reports in the pew sheets and in MTW. Just as important as tending to these specific plans for 2014 is the normal, day-to-day work of the congregation. This is made possible by the part played by each member, whether via a rostered role on a Sunday or in your seeking to be a faithful follower of Jesus in day-to-day life. Keep up the good work, and continue to support each and the congregation in prayer! This is all that is required of us.

Craig Thompson

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Shining a light
Image of Candle PaintingThis year’s new Easter candle with a Jerusalem Cross was again painted by our children. For three Sunday sessions as they went out during the sermon they worked on the various stages of the candle, with major pre-planning by Mireille and Mary after Craig had proposed a theme.

  

  

Image of Candle PaintingThe younger children also worked first on their own individual candles so they developed some skills – stripping off the masking tape and tidying up with super sharp scalpels (older ones only) were the highlights.

  

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Church Council Update
Church Council has met on three occasions since the Church Council Update in the autumn newsletter. The following is a summary of the business that has been covered and the issues about which Church Council has ongoing concern.

Membership of Church Council
Church Council meetings are held on the first Thursday of the month. They continue with full attendance at almost every meeting. Unfortunately because of illness, David Sutherland has taken leave of absence until September. We will miss him greatly, including his work as treasurer.

Uniting our Future and our Development Plans
All three meetings have spent considerable time on the complex issues related to Uniting our Future. At the March meeting we decided to seek a meeting at Mark the Evangelist with the General Secretary, with Craig, Rod, Ann, and Alan representing the Church Council. In addition to the General Secretary, Mark Lawrence, the meeting was attended by John Emmett, Mission Officer, Property Services, and Robert Elkhuizen from our Presbytery. A report of this meeting was presented to the congregation in April.

The two main outcomes were to follow this with a further meeting which would also include representatives of the Property Board, to further investigate the divestment justification and the transitional financing question. This meeting is expected to be in mid-June. As well we decided to continue to explore development planning options for the campus. This is being handled by the Property and Finance Committee which is progressively reporting progress to Church Council.

The issues are complex and we will continue to keep you posted as we did at the AGM, for example, when a full report was presented.

A related event was our discussion in April with Gary Heard, the minister at the Eighth Day Baptist church in West Melbourne, which is also deeply involved in development plans. He talked to us about the financing and development plans for their new site, and offered ongoing advice and support with regard to the Mark the Evangelist development plans.

Promotion of Mark the Evangelist
Church Council has been very aware of the impression given to our community by our closed church, the unpleasant security fencing around it, and the general appearance of this corner of our site. In an effort to improve the way the campus looks at present and for some time to come, new security fencing being purchased should appear very soon. Other improvements have been the design of a new sign for the hall, and the development of the garden around the hall and the cottage by a small gardening group headed by Annette and Mary. The next gardening event is to be at 2pm on 14 June if you are able to be involved. We are also placing advertisements in the North and West Melbourne News about our worship and upcoming programs, with a view to raising our profile in the local community. The Church Council regards all of these actions as important ways of promoting ourselves in a time of uncertainty.

Worship and Study
Church Council again sponsored a series of Lenten studies, which were led by Bruce Barber over four evenings during Lent. These were again held in conjunction with the congregation of St Mary’s Anglican Church. They were well attended and most enthusiastically received.

A stimulating and worthwhile workshop was led by Craig after the service on 30 March on the topic ‘Preparing Intercessory Prayers’. The workshop was for Church Council members and other interested members of the congregation with the emphasis on understanding the place of these prayers in worship, and helping members to be involved in their creation.

Church Council continues to monitor the sound system, the arrangement of the worship space, and the placement of the children. You will be aware of a number of recent changes. We are experimenting with the current seating arrangement with a view to creating greater intimacy and inclusion for the children, and monitoring the effect of this on how clearly our services can be heard. We are keen to have your feedback on these ongoing concerns. Please make your views known to the elders and Craig.

Pastoral Events
An enjoyable and well-attended picnic was held after worship on 3 March at the Australian Native Garden at Royal Park in Parkville. Thanks to Norma and Rob Gallacher for coordinating. We are planning other such events to enable members to socialise and enjoy each other’s company.

Mark the Evangelist Day was held on 27 April. It too was well attended and was a great celebratory and social occasion. Thanks to Bev and her helpers we were able to cater for this event ourselves and good reports were received.

The Sunday Conversation program after worship on the 3rd Sunday of the month continues to be well attended and provides opportunities to hear of programs and ventures that extends beyond our congregation. The program is coordinated by Heather who brings ideas for speakers to Church Council meetings. You are invited to talk to Heather if you have speaker suggestions of your own.

Church Membership
Church Council were very pleased to receive applications for transfer of membership to Mark the Evangelist from Kim Groot and Geraldine Rayner. They are warmly welcomed into our congregation.

Website
A small group from Church Council – Craig, Rod and Gus – have spent many hours developing a new website. This is a work-in-progress site, but is available for you to view www.marktheevangelist.unitingchurch.org.au. You will notice that among the many interesting features a Mark the Evangelist calendar of congregational events is there for your information. Again – please provide feedback to your elders.

UnitingCare Hotham Mission (UCHM)
UnitingCare Hotham Mission has spent much time recently finalising a new constitution. Gaye and the Hotham Mission Board together with two other parish missions collectively negotiated a model constitution for parish missions that was approved by Synod late last year. Based on this model, the Hotham Mission Board produced a UnitingCare Hotham Mission constitution that was approved at a recent meeting of Church Council and is now awaiting Synod approval and signature. Church Council was also pleased to approve the nominations of Rob Gallagher and Bronwyn Claire to the Hotham Mission Board.

Annual General Meeting 25 May 2014
By the time you read this update the AGM will have been held. Among other ways, Church Council prepared for this meeting by approving the Audited Financial Statements that were distributed, together with the other papers, on 11 May in readiness for the meeting.

Feedback and queries from members of the Congregation will always be welcomed by members of your Church Council: Gaye Champion, Belinda Hopper (Secretary), Wendy Langmore, Gus Macaulay, Heather Mathew, Rod Mummery, Tim O’Connor, (David Sutherland), Craig Thompson, Alan Wilkinson, and Ann Wilkinson (Chair).
Ann Wilkinson

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Beginning at the Beginning: 2014 Lenten Studies
The editor has asked me to say a few words about the recent Lenten lecture series offered jointly with St Mary’s, presumably about the whys and wherefores of the subject matter. I am happy to do so. Whether it met the expectations of those attending is another matter. But it was gratifying to learn that in terms of attendance it has been apparently one of more successful Lenten events. Numbers usually decline for such occasions, but the four-week discipline was sustained, even though not all were free to attend each session.

The topic was offered under the heading: Beginning at the Beginning or: why is it like this? What followed was an outrageous simplification of the past 4000 years! I suggested a further sub-heading: Theology as Geometry, since I am an enthusiast for diagrams – on the premise that one in the eye is worth two in the ear. Not all share such enthusiasm, of course, and it may be that not all such teaching aids were compelling.

Why this theme? The truth is that this vast period has shaped Western culture in ways not all have registered, and equally, therefore, it has a direct impact on how Christian faith has been understood throughout so many conceptual changes. Although in a formal sense, most people are not aware of the exact shape of this long history, we all live it in so many ways, either negatively through rejection of frequently anachronistic paradigms, and so in understandable disbelief, or else positively, though oftentimes in bad conscience.

What I attempted to do in this impossible assignment was to offer individual trees that might be seen to make a coherent wood. The sessions moved sequentially from a beginning in the primitive naturalistic fertility cults, from which the Abrahamic faith departed with such a radical alternative shift into a much more promising historical paradigm. We then looked at two alternative philosophical belief systems in ancient Greece, in the persons of Plato and Aristotle, which set the foundation for the sophisticated theologies of medieval Catholicism. This in turn set the stage for the long processes of secularization, aided by the Renaissance and Reformation, only to get bogged down in the rigidities of the so-called Wars of Religion and the confining categories of Protestant Orthodoxy in the seventeenth century.

At the same time, and in protest at all this, the Age of Reason was being born. We looked at the continental figure of Descartes, as its most significant representative, and then at the philosophies of Hobbes, Locke and Hume, known as the British empiricists, in each of which we recognise so many of the unexamined assumptions of Australian culture. We then turned to two figures who sought to offer a new way of speaking about God, the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, and the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. We concluded this historical journey with the grim negative assessment of Friedrich Nietzsche, and an outline of the twentieth century attempts at a viable alternative, primarily in the person of Karl Barth.

The final session concentrated on four biblical texts, each offering potential new beginnings for theology. As such, they represent resources frequently relegated to the background, but whose conceptual novelties continue to offer genuinely liberating new possibilities.

And all this in something like five hours! Why do it? Because everyone deserves to be liberated from wilful misrepresentations, not to speak of downright caricatures. But of even more importance, if Christians are to have any confidence about a viable future, we need to go back to understand what we can be free from and free for as the millennium unfolds.

Should there be any who would like to read what we attempted, a full text is available from the church office.

Bruce Barber

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Utopia re-visited
Image of Utopia FlyerUtopia, a new film by the well-known documentary writer and producer, John Pilger, has received a mixed reception, according to the reviews in The Age of 8 February. The former Northern Territory minister for Indigenous Health, Warren Snowden, among other things said, “this film is a documentary designed to tell a story reflecting Pilger’s view. It’s not one of genuine inquiry or balance.” Dr Anthony Dillon, academic researcher at the University of Western Sydney said, “Utopia shows some clear examples of the appalling problems facing some Aborigines. And for that I applaud him. But this important message gets lost among other, less important, matters. . . Missing from Utopia is balance, as well as any well thought out solution to the problems facing those Aborigines who are its focus.”

Adam Goodes, Australian of the Year Champion Sydney footballer, said “The total injustices that have been played out since colonisation are absolutely shameful, and I now find it hard to say I am proud to be Australian. Australia has a very black past; Utopia shows real-life stories of what has happened over the past 225 years.” And Fred Chaney, former minister for Aboriginal Affairs 1978-1980 and Senior Australian of the Year, 2014, said “It is always painful to replay the story of dispossession, dispersal and continuing deprivation of the first Australians. They are entitled to an honest telling of their history, and they are entitled to an honest assessment of continuing failures. John Pilger rubs our noses in some brutal realities, but his expose is shallow in comparison with other accounts of the treatment of Aborigines in the Northern Territory.”

Fred Chaney added “But a focus on wrongs without remedies, on failures of policy rather than learning from the causes of failure and the causes of success seems to me likely to continue the past.”

Utopia may well be long on indigenous injustices and short on solutions, but it will remind us of the need for past wrongs to be acknowledged before we attempt to consider solutions for the future. Solutions were the focus of another very perceptive article by Callum Denness in Eureka Street (Vol 23 No 19) last September titled The ethics of paternalism in Aboriginal policy.

Callum Denness’s essay was written when the country was embroiled in a debate about racism in modern Australia. The trigger for the debate had been the abuse received by Adam Goodes during last year’s AFL Indigenous round. Callum Denness observed that while the media was humming with the Adam Goodes experience, the Northern Territory had “introduced its Mandatory Alcohol Treatment Bill which, if passed, will see more Aboriginal people incarcerated.” Denness pointed out that “in 20 years the proportion of Aboriginal people held in custody has grown from one in seven to one in four. The introduction of laws which would criminalise alcohol consumption and introduce more Aboriginal people to jail made the news but did not incite the passions of the . . . public, being devoid of sport stars and television personalities.”

Denness acknowledged that over many decades billions of dollars have been spent by governments on Aboriginal disadvantage, and this has been done “with the finest of intentions”. What does that mean, asks Denness? Such intentions, he says, include “the desire to see Aboriginal people achieve the same standard of health, education and opportunity as every other Australian. Rarely do these fine intentions . . . actually include handing power to Aboriginal people to achieve these goals. Fine intentions amount to, in a word, paternalism”.

Denness observes that “from the earliest days of colonisation, to Aboriginal protection boards, the Stolen Generations, the Northern Territory intervention, and its successor, the Stronger Futures legislation, a common thread has weaved through Aboriginal policy: the patronising and corrosive notion that governments know better.”

Denness focuses on a number of aspects of the Stronger Futures legislation and on the NT Mandatory Alcohol Treatment Bill. He describes these as “tough measures” designed to limit child abuse by removing from Aboriginal people their autonomy in choosing how to spend their money. But his question is whether the end justifies the means.

“For Aboriginal people,” Denness says, “the answer to that question can be found in rates of abuse and alcoholism which have not reduced despite the intervention, or its continuation under Stronger Futures. The answer can be found in an adult incarceration rate 14 times higher than non-Aboriginal adults, and 31 times higher among Aboriginal juveniles. And it can also be found in a life expectancy gap of 11.5 years for males and 9.7 years for females.”

The same story will also be seen in the annual “Closing the Gap” report that was released, as well as reported and responded to by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, on Thursday 13 February 2014 – the anniversary of the 2008 National Apology delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Take a moment and have a look at Callum Denness’s article at the end of the online newsletter. What is Denness’s well-justified conclusion? “Paternalism never has, and never will work for Aboriginal people.” Governments must find ways to give back autonomy to Aboriginal communities and enable them to participate in and claim ownership of the solutions to the serious disadvantage they continue to face.

Alan Wilkinson

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Gross National Happiness
According to a recent 156-nation survey published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Denmark is the “happiest” country in the world. The survey ranks the countries on aspects like healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, and social support. How many Danes experience financial distress, lose their homes, or even declare bankruptcy on health related issues? The answer is none. Denmark is one of the richest countries in the world. But they pay very high taxes. The richest pay 70% of their income; the lowest income earners pay 30% tax. Irrespective of the high taxes, they feel secure in their lives. It is this security that gives them the happiness that the UN has identified.

Image of Bhutanese ChildrenA small country wedged between India and China at the foothills of the Himalayas called Bhutan has found another way to achieve national happiness. The population of Bhutan is less than a million. The per capita GDP of Bhutan is now $2200. They still don’t have a railway. They don’t have motorways or highways of the sort that we have here in Australia. They don’t have many cars on their roads. People walk to shops or to markets and carry their loads on the back. They are the healthiest people I have ever come across in my life. When I taught school in Kalimpong, north India, in the early 1960s, I had a number of children from Bhutan. They were some of the best-behaved students I encountered.

In an article in The Observer, “Gross national happiness in Bhutan: the big idea from a tiny state that could change the world”, Annie Kelly writes “Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not GDP. Now its ideas are attracting interest at the climate change conference in Doha.”

“Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress”, Kelly continues. “In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment. For the past three decades, this belief that wellbeing should take preference over material growth has remained a global oddity.”

In a world beset by collapsing financial systems, gross inequities and wide-scale environmental destruction, Bhutan’s idea of measuring wellbeing on the basis of GNH sounds like an approach that Christians might embrace. Interestingly, Bhutan is a Buddhist country. Many Bhutanese have never heard of Christianity.

The greatest calamity facing the world today is climate change caused by our endless pursuit of GDP. One wonders whether GNH is the way to go to save the world from climate change.

Bill Mathew

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What’s on

“Blessed – the Beatitudes of Jesus”: A sermon series from late June to September

“Theopolitical Imagination”: Reading groups in May, June and July

“A festival of Psalms”: Sunday worship, August 17

Later in the year

“Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire”: November reading and discussion groups

“Christ the King”: Readings, hymns and anthems – Sunday worship November 23

“The Song of Songs: Longing, Beauty, Desire, Possession”: Advent sermons, December

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Editor’s last word
Thanks again to all our contributors, not just for their words, but for the work that do – Church Council being a particular case in point this newsletter.

If you can think past the winter that lies ahead, our next newsletter has the theme “Spring clean!” We’d like short or long pieces (in “letters to the editor” style about anything that’s on your mind, from issues raised at church to the proposed Federal Budget.

Email me at enquiries@marktheevangelist.unitingchurch.org.au, or hand in written submissions to Cindy in the office, or Rod at church. A postcard or two would be appreciated!

The deadline is 24 August.

Thanks, and enjoy the winter sunshine,
Suzanne

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Links we like:
Diego Matheuz: story and performance

Tan Dun music

Kashmala’s story

Callum Denness article

Suggested by Wendy
Coaching for Life
The dear friend who sent it to me from Gary, Indiana USA has had a very sad time recently as her daughter’s in-laws were buried under the tragic mudslide in Washington State, so we have been corresponding often. Wendy

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