An inclusive church?

Anyone is welcome to come to church.

Anyone is welcome to come to our church at Hope.

Black, white, Tongan, Korean, Anglo, student, retired, gay, bi, straight, depressed, confused, excited, addicted, uncertain, young, old, child (actual or at heart), loud, noisy, shy, radical lefty, devoted conservative, local, tourist, or wanderer by. Come along on Sunday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday. Most days there’s something going on and people around.

You are welcome.

You are welcome if you already follow Jesus or if you want to try it out.

You are welcome if you follow another religion and just want to share together.

You’re most welcome if you’re uncertain about any sort of faith and just want to talk.

You are always welcome.

I pray, that in this way, we are always inclusive — arms wide open to anyone and everyone. But if WE are to be inclusive, then we can never lose sight of who WE are called to be. Or to put it another way: it’s all well and good to be inclusive, but what is it that we are including people in?

We are called to be the Christian church — a community fashioned, shaped, and formed as disciples of Jesus Christ. So, we will pray and sing, and read the Bible, and use words from Scripture that might sound funny in our society. And we will strive to explore them together and make sense of them (and sometimes get it wrong). We’ll share in communion and find it a mystery.

And the more we explore the scriptures and this following of Jesus, the more we discover that we are called into a particular rhythm and a peculiar shape as a community that won’t be like everyone else.

Because it is the content of discipleship that determines the shape of the discipleship community. It is the person of Jesus that gives us the way we are to live.

That means we practice confession and forgiveness — this grace is central to Jesus. That means we look to the poor, the meek, the humble, and the oppressed first — just like Jesus. It also means we should hold each other accountable to pray and fast and to read the Scriptures, just like Jesus. And we listen for the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. And so much more.

As a community as we are shaped by these habits, we find our peculiar identity. There is no being the church without striving for and leaning into these habits and practices. In that regard, we are a community of exclusion.

I will happily continue to be friends and neighbours with people from almost all creeds and faiths. More than that, I will always seek for in-between spaces where I willingly put aside my own certainties to be alongside others, to learn and be changed.

But to be in the church is to yearn after the life of Christ together. I will never expect or demand that everyone hold this same yearning. But I will pray and live for a church that does.



Fasting: Learning to Desire Differently

Consumer culture has shaped us into a people who have almost no limits on our desires.

Indeed, our current political system treats purchasing more and more things as a right—nay, a responsibility!— one that ensures the economy is successful.

Political philosopher Charles Taylor describes this cultural mindset that has captivated us in the West:

Everyone has a right to develop their own form of life, grounded on their own sense of what is really important or of value. People are called to be true to themselves and to seek their own self-fulfilment. What this consists of, each must, in the last instance, determine for him- or herself. No one else can or should try to dictate its content. (The Ethics of Authenticity, 14).

For those who seek to follow the Lord Jesus, this is a problematic cultural setting. We are called to die to self (Rom 6:4–8; Gal 2:20), not to elevate our own desires to the position of supreme importance.

And yet our churches are filled with people who, having been taught by our culture to follow their own hearts, look no different to the society of self-fulfilment that surrounds them.

The truth is this: Read more

Praying the Psalms

As a congregation we’re taking up the challenge to pray and fast for the next three months as we listen for God’s message to us. There’s a range of ways you might choose to engage with this challenge – after all, we are each in difference spaces and rhythms of life. Wherever your life is up to though, there is a way to step into prayer and even into fasting for you.

I’ve taken up the habit of reading and praying over Psalms every night (well almost every night if I’m honest). At times it’s a hard slog and I wonder what these poems and hymns have to say to me; and at other times my spirit soars as these words bring me closer into the presence of the Holy Spirit. The nature of the habit and practice is to keep at it, regardless of how “effective” or “enlightening” each experience feels.

If this is something you’d like to take up, there are a range of ways into this practice.

  1. This article is one of the simplest and clearest starting points for praying the psalms that I know (hint: start by saying them out loud to yourself).
  2. For a bit more depth, these two classic books on the practice have been important to me over the years. Thomas Merton’s book is an absolute gem, and Walter Brueggemann is at his insightful best in his book.
  3. One of my old theology professors used the psalms as a guide to journaling. He would start by reading the psalm, then sitting in silence for a few minutes. Then he would write the psalm out slowly by hand. Only after he had done this would he then allow his brain to run wild with thoughts, images and phrases that caught his attention – letting the cascade onto the page and seeing where it led him. I imagine it was a mind dump that gathered up biblical images along the way to the page.
  4. For something different, our friend Dr Ben Myers compiled an anthology of the best short passages about prayer over at his Faith and Theology blog here. You may find some sparks of inspiration to get you moving into prayer.


Finally, check out some of the incredible musical work of  Sons of Korah – who have spent many years putting the psalms to song.  I know for myself, and several others in the congregation, that their rendition of Psalm 130 has been a spiritual foundation stone.




Prayer and Fasting

It has been a fruitful period of learning for us as a church to consider holiness. Not as a special virtue for us to aspire to; but as a fundamental calling and marker of all who would follow Christ. And therein lies the major clue – it is primarily not connected to our existing virtue or skill. Holiness is, in contrast, a recognition of our lives being transformed by Jesus of Nazareth. “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

More like Jesus, less like the world.
More deeply into life, less focused on ourselves

That’s what holiness points towards.


More recently, we’ve begun to study the sermon on the mount from Matthew chapters 5-7 as a framework for our continued reflection on holiness. The passage for this Pentecost week is from Matthew 6 and deals with prayer and fasting. There is much to be pondered and lived out in this passage. One of the things that strikes me anew is that Jesus doesn’t ask if you fast, but instead says “when you fast”… Fasting has long been considered a core practice of the Church, but one that for a variety of reasons has become less and less familiar to us.

Today, we’ve put before our congregation that challenge of taking up a small weekly commitment to prayer and fasting. Each person and each family will choose to tackle this in their own fashion, wrapped into their own rhythms of life. However the challenge remains for all of us to find a way into this discipline.

As a way to assist you in approaching the discipling of fasting, we’ve attached a couple of resources to spark your thinking.

First up, this is a great summary of a wonderful book, “Fasting: the Ancient Practices” by Scot McKnight. Both the book and the summary are great at kicking off thoughts and possibilities around this spiritual practice.

Secondly, here is an important, if basic Patheos article on simply tips in starting fasting.

Next is an article by Richard Foster that got my thinking and praying going on this sometime ago.

And last, but most exciting, is this resource created by our great friend James Aaron. Spiritual Disciplines week 3

I pray that these are helpful starters for you as we explore together what it means to listen more intently to what God has to say to us.


Reflections on Love

Photo Credit: Love Makes a Way

Photo Credit: Love Makes a Way

Yesterday I spent the day in prayer in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office. Along with my companions I refused to leave, unless we had an assurance from the Prime Minister that the detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island would be closed, and those held within them brought to Australia. We spent five hours in prayer and yearning.


As the office closing time came close we shared in communion together. As police began to gather around us, we sang and prayed, read excerpts from the Nauru Files, and heard the story of a Messiah crucified between two thieves. We gave thanks for a God who never holds creation at arm’s length but is present in the darkest places.

And we broke bread together.

This is the body of Christ shed for you.

This is the blood of Christ poured out for you.

Receive what you are, become what you receive: the Body of Christ.

If there was ever a place to be turned upside down it is at this table, this meal, this meeting with God. Here is God’s companionship with the world: broken and transformed. Here is God’s love for the world sewn deep into the fabric of God’s body.


One incident from the Nauru Files which we read has immersed itself within me:



I imagine this boy. In my mind he is about 10 years old.paper doll1

He shows me his hand, palms outstretched as though pleading, beckoning to me.

Look, his eyes speak. I have written love onto my hands. I have scratched it in, sewn it deeply. I ask him why, but he simply shakes his head, eyes full of sorrow.

He does not know.


But I know.

This boy has marked himself for the love that has eluded him. He has not been welcomed to table, he has not found sanctuary, no hope has been held out for him. The thread pierces my heart.


Before my eyes this small boy is transformed, and I see in him the Christ at whose table I sit. It is as though I am in the place of Thomas, reaching out to touch the sewn-heart scars in his hands.


Does it hurt? I dare to ask.

Yes. He replies. These scars hold all the pain of the world.


I want to take him in my arms and hold him. I want to tell him that everything will be alright.

But it isn’t alright. It isn’t ok. And it won’t be until love is sewn into our hands more deeply than with thread.



Paper Dolls

IMG_3921This morning I attended one of the many actions organised by Love Makes a Way in response to the leaked incident reports from the Nauru detention centre that the Guardian published last week. I put on my clerical collar, got on the train with my paper dolls, drank some coffee and made my way to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s electoral office.

Shortly after I arrived one of the team members from Love Makes a Way and Common Grace asked if he could interview me about why I was there. The question has been turning over in my mind all day.

Over the last few months our congregation has been reading the book of Ezekiel and reflecting on prophetic imagination together. We’ve been coming back again and again to this understanding of the prophets:
Prophets are those who have glimpsed something of God’s glory and who work to see that made manifest on earth. They are passionate that the community of faith will love God with all their heart and so following from that will love their neighbour. Prophets offer a critique when love of God and love of neighbour have been misplaced. Following critique, prophets offer energising words so that God might nurture and nourish a community who will live with love of God and from that love of neighbour.

We’ve read a lot of passages, like Ezekiel 34 last Sunday, reminding us of how seriously God takes covenant living- living well together in community. This is the Creator God who finds what has been created precious beyond belief whose care for each thing is intimate and profound. In the words given to Ezekiel it’s as though God wants to shake the people out of their complacency and make them realise they cannot continue to live and act without justice and care as they have in the past.

IMG_3923When I see the way that we treat asylum seekers in Australia my heart breaks and I hear the critique of God to me and to the communities I belong to. And the way we treat asylum seekers is just one example of systematic abuses within our society as we have seen in the horrific treatment of young Indigenous people in the Don Dale detention centre, or our complacency in the face of climate change.
What will it take to break the hearts of our political leaders?
When will we as a people decide to live out of generosity rather than fear?

Why did I stand with 35 people outside the Prime Minister’s office this morning?
Because I want to love God with all my heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. And I want to love my neighbour as myself, even the neighbour I have never met who lives in a tent in a detention centre on the island of Nauru. I want to be shaken out of my complacency and see our wider community change.

As a follower of Jesus I want to bear witness against the injustice and cruelty we see in our current policies. And I want to bear witness to the hope that we could be a society of courageous grace and compassion.

Here is the action outside the electoral office of Hope Uniting's local member Matt Thistlethwaite.

Here is the action outside the electoral office of Hope Uniting’s local member Matt Thistlethwaite.

Au Eswow

Life is busy. This year is busy. Somehow we find that it is already August! Sometimes I feel like I rush from one thing to another, my mind constantly churning and swirling, full of too many things. I (we?) forget to stop and breathe cialis generique and look around.

On Sunday Rosemary taught us the phrase Au Eswow from her language. It means deepest thankfulness and gratitude. She encouraged us to stop and notice the beauty around us. She reminded us to give thanks for the precious community that we are part of together- even in the days and weeks and months when we see that there is so much bad news.

008Au Eswow. I am filled with deep thankfulness and gratitude for each person who is part of Hope Uniting Church and all those others who spend time in our midst.
Au Eswow. I am grateful for the movement of God’s Spirit of love, taking us on adventures towards gardens, playgroups, and new ways to be Jesus people in this place.
Au Eswow. I am amazed that God brought me (and you) here to love each other, challenge each other, encourage each other and to grow in faith as we follow after Christ together.

I am going to try and live out this phrase through the month of August- to live with deep thankfulness and gratitude. I will commit to remembering the ways God has been faithful in the past, through the stories of the Scriptures, among our congregation and in my own life. I will try to notice the ways that God is present around me each day. And I will look with hope to the future that God has promised to bring. Will you join me?

Au Eswow. Amen


frosty morning walks


A week ago I had a lovely afternoon café treat with some dear friends. It was to celebrate my godson’s last day of preschool. On Tuesday he had his first day of Kindy. I was delighted to receive the obligatory end-of-day photo to show that even though there had been some nervousness, all ended well. And the on Wednesday the High Court brought down its ruling that offshore detention is legal. I can’t help but make the comparison between kids beginning school this week and kids facing an uncertain future.


Yesterday I joined the #LetThemStay rally in Sydney to express my absolute horror that our Government would consider returning babies, children, families and victims of abuse to an ill-equipped camp on Nauru.

My heart is breaking for these precious human beings. My heart is breaking for the ‘soul’ of our country. My hope is for freedom, for safety, for love for these kids and their families. I want their parents to see the same smile as I saw on my godson’s face, to know that they will learn and play and grow and have countless opportunities to live and love and thrive.


It’s hard not to feel helpless, but there are things I can do.


I can remember at the heart of my faith tradition is love for strangers.
God’s love for creatures and creation that sets the whole world in motion.

In the Old Testament, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is teaching the people and reminding them what it is to be God’s people. Moses says:

What does God require of you? Only to fear God, to walk in all God’s ways, to love God, to serve God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep God’s commandments and decrees that I am giving you today, for your own well-being… For God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

And then we have Jesus, who becomes a stranger to live among us, God-become-human to live our life and share in our joys and struggles. And Jesus constantly reminds us that God cares for the strangers and the least.


sanctuaryI can keep putting pressure on my local MP, on the PM, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Opposition Leader and as many other politicians as possible. I can email them, call their offices to let the staff know how important this is to me, and then tomorrow I can do the same again. I can ask my congregation to write too.

I can find out which churches around me are taking the step to offer Sanctuary  and how I can practically help to make this possible. I can pledge to get in the way to let them stay.

I can attend Sydney Stands up for Sanctuary on Monday night to demand that we #LetThemStay.And I can pray. Because I am a Christian and I believe in prayer. Because in the words of Karl Barth,

“To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

If this isn’t disorder, then I’m not sure what is. So I can pray the Psalms of lament again and again. I can pray for our government to show courage and compassion. I can pray for the vulnerable asylum seekers who face being sent to Nauru, and for those who are still languishing there and on Manus. I can pray for refugees around the world and for the situations of war and violence which create the need for people to flee.


I refuse to give up hope. These people are precious.



Word and world

barth prayerThere’s an oft-quoted Karl Barth line about reading with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. It’s a clear call for our faith to speak not only to our private lives but to the public realm as well.


Jesus reconciles each one of us to relationship with God; and Jesus also reconciles the whole creation. Your personal life and that of the ecosystem and our economic structures are all within Jesus’ concern. Which is why as a church we seek to act together around issues like advocating for asylum seekers and reconciliation for all Australians. And it is why we encourage you to join in our prayer retreats, bible studies and small groups.


Faith is always private and public.


What I find interesting about Barth’s quote is that we almost always miss the second line, “…but interpret newspapers from your bible.” If the Christian scriptures recognize Jesus as the Word of God, and his cross and resurrection as the clearest view of power and love – what does that say to our approach to politics and economics? To environmental concerns and international affairs?


Can we let Jesus challenge our inherited worldviews and assumed political stances? Do we allow him to challenge our daily rhythms of life and work?


At Hope Uniting we are committed to being challenged by our faith in all realms of life. Our vision is to be a congregation deeply rooted in scripture, prayer and worship as well as following the consequences of this faith into the public realm.


Where do you need to let faith push you today?