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Thursday, 08 January 2009 01:00

Gaza Crisis

from the National Council of Churches in Australia

Wednesday, 19 December 2007 01:00

Christmas Messages from Australian Church Leaders

From the National Council of Churches in Australia

"This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Mark 1:1 TEV

After 2,000 years is there anything new to say about Christmas? The message about peace and goodwill has been repeated so often that it seems to fall on deaf ears. Wars, strife, and violence still increase in many places. Celebrating Christmas can seem like taking ‘time out’ from the real world, a fantasy detached from reality.

Any such fantasy was quickly lost by the group of Church leaders who recently visited the people of the Holy Land. Daily violence and frequent deaths do little to instil hope that peace is about to break out. Good news would be an end to their troubles and a peaceful settlement in a place that has known little peace for a very long time.

The Good News of Christmas continues to be that Jesus is the Son of God, as Mark the Evangelist says. God is in the world, and that is the context of our hope. God is in the world, not to condemn, but to save. Jesus is the gift of eternal love that never surrenders – even when we experience the worst kind of trouble.

The National Council of Churches in Australia is pleased to be able to send out these Christmas messages from Australian Church leaders. We hope that, to some small extent, they might plant a seed of hope and point us to Jesus, the Son of God, who is still Good News for the world.

Revd John Henderson, General Secretary
National Council of Churches in Australia

(NB. In the Western Church, Christmas is celebrated on December 25.  Most Orthodox Churches will celebrate Christmas on January 7, 2008.)
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Uniting Church in Australia

Surely it's time for peace in the Holy Land

When Jesus was born, Bethlehem was under Roman occupation. Two thousand years later Bethlehem is still an occupied territory.

To travel between Jerusalem and Bethlehem today means negotiating a military checkpoint and passing through the huge Barrier Wall. Bethlehem residents require a special permit to visit Jerusalem. Their movements are strictly limited, with 90 military checkpoints and 562 other obstacles such as trenches and road blocks throughout the West Bank.

The world Jesus was born into was much the same. The people then were oppressed by the Romans, their rights were strictly limited, they lived in poverty. Poverty levels today are 50% in the West Bank, 79% in Gaza, unemployment is rife.

Jesus was born into a world such as this. And the message from God accompanying his birth was, extraordinarily, a message of peace. The angels sang “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, good will among people”. The Jewish priest Zechariah spoke of Jesus as coming “to guide our feet into the way of peace”.

As the post-Annapolis negotiations commence in earnest this month, may peace for the people of Bethlehem and Jerusalem be more than a remote hope. Surely it’s an aspiration whose time has come.

May this Christmas remind people everywhere that God’s will is for peace throughout the world. May your Christmas be holy, joyful, and full of peace.

Revd Gregor Henderson, President
Uniting Church in Australia
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Syrian Orthodox Church

As the Christmas season approaches, we invariably find ourselves struggling to maintain a 'holiday' composure: the long queues and bustle at shopping malls; the last minute rush to buy gifts or hang up those Christmas decorations; and the late nights at work in the weeks leading into Christmas. By the time the holidays do arrive, we well and truly need them to recover from the lead into them.

Christ was born in similar circumstances: His mother and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to partake in a census; when they arrived, there was no room at the inn; the young family slept in a stable because in their 'last minute rush' they could find no other accommodation. Yet in the hectic circumstances of Jesus’ birth are the beginnings of God’s message of peace and goodwill to mankind. Peace and goodwill between mankind and his Maker and then with each other.

The message of Christmas is as relevant and appropriate today as one songstress described “2000 Decembers Ago”. Its message is an unchangeable and eternal as the God who moved history to bring Christ to us all.

Archbishop Mor Malatius Malki Malki
Syrian Orthodox Church
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Seventh-day Adventist Church

To best understand the Christian story about Jesus who died on the cross of Calvary, it is good to look in on an unpretentious detached room in Bethlehem over thirty years before.  It was here that Jesus was born.  It was here that God came to humanity in the most extraordinary way.  He became one of us!  This is the Christmas story.

There are various stories that are told of the prince and the pauper, where one exchanges places with the other for a while.  But this is different.  Real different.  God chooses to become a man, really and truly human.  He understands what it means to grow, to learn, to laugh and to cry.  Our Creator made a choice to become one with His creation.  And He went all the way – to death. 

And that death was for us.  We humans had gotten ourselves into such a serious mess called sin.  The only outcome possible was eternal annihilation, unless… unless God did something that only He could do.  If we were to be saved, God would have to become one of us, get it right and then, taking our sins on Himself, die for us.  Those who believe in Jesus are assured of eternal life!

This is the story of a Creator God who loves His creation – loves us… loves you… loves me.  It is the story of belonging and hope.  That is why Christmas is a time of joy!

Pastor Ken Vogel, General Secretary
Seventh-day Adventist Church
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Lutheran Church of Australia

If what we see and how we see things reveals something about us, it is timely to ask ourselves how we view Christmas.

A picture taking mobile phone at the birth of Jesus might well shake the image we have which has helped form our understanding of this event.

A holy photo it would not be. This child birth was not such a dignified process and in a public place it became even less so. But that is how it was.

A somewhat distressed mother, perhaps considered to be immodest, and a worried husband, as dishevelled as his wife, making the best of an outdoor animal shelter for a delivery room. A digital image of this situation would give little hint of anything divine.

If we are not able to see in the person of this infant an act of God himself- the beginning of God’s new arrangement with the world- then there is little for us to contemplate.

Most of us would surely agree that if this time of the year produces charitable acts and kind gestures as well as an opportunity for family get togethers even reconciliation within fractured families, then something has been achieved.

Cataracts, however, remain over our eyes if that is the extent of our sight and insights.

Human goodness is little substitute for the presence of God with us. The picture remains unclear until the love of God for us in whatever predicament we find ourselves awakens us to a new hope, a new beginning and a new life.

Human love and a day spent with a lonely person might save a day for someone. But that will soon pass away. We need an end to passing away. We need to pass on to lasting peace and life which is eternal.

Look again more closely for here in a manger in the person of God’s own son we have the Saviour. The joy of Christmas is the joy of forgiveness and salvation. It is the gift of life.

Revd Dr Mike Semmler, President
Lutheran Church of Australia
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Coptic Orthodox Church

Our souls rejoice as we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who came to our world to grant peace to the world and goodwill and joy to its inhabitants.  Therefore, at His birth, the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”  (Luke 2:14).

Peace was granted to the world and goodwill to its inhabitants, because the enmity ended and the middle wall of separation was broken.  To the earth that was cursed and its inhabitants, who have sinned, a great light has shone, as it is written, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”  (Matthew 4:16).

Let us joyfully listen to the good tidings of the angel to the shepherds and to us, as well, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”  (Luke 2:10-11).

Our Good Saviour is calling us to be His ambassadors, to call people to be reconciled with Him.  Which one of us will join Isaiah the Prophet in saying, “Here am I!  Send me.”  (Isaiah 6:8).

Let us pray that God will move our hearts to be ambassadors for Christ, imploring the world to “be reconciled to God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:20).

May the Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, bless our beloved country Australia, its people and its government.

God bless you all

Bishop Daniel
Coptic Orthodox Church, Diocese of NSW, QLD & NT
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Congregational Federation of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand

As we again enter this exciting and joyful time of year we are reminded that God’s Son came to us in the same form that all of us enter this world, as a baby, and that what followed was a life saturated and overflowing with love through which we discern meaning for our own lives and begin to chart a course through life’s heights and deepest valleys.

May God grant that we encounter the Christ in a new and personal way either for the first time or in the renewal of our faith. May we approach this event with all the fervour that would attend the birth of our own first-born and may that joy remain with us through all the dark hours until the first light of dawn. Pax Christi.

Revd Allan Filipaina, Moderator
Congregational Federation of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand
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Catholic Church in Australia

On Christmas Day in 1939, King George VI reminded the world it was facing a terrible war.
Although we’re not in exactly the same position now, the fact of the matter is we are at war, and there are Australians confronting the seemingly insurmountable challenges of conflict.

There is war all over the world, and it is in such times that we do need, as the King said, a message of hope.

The celebration of Christmas is about real hope. We hope that the Lord will be true to his promises and will grant us the gift of peace.

We have to work with all our strength towards that and choose to find peaceful ways to settle our problems rather than using violence.

What the King said was quite correct then and still is today, that if we go out into the darkness and put our hand into the hand of God, “that shall be better to you than light, and safer than a known way”.

Archbishop Philip Wilson, President, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Catholic Church
(For more information, please phone Elizabeth Hook 0438 727 677)
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Baptist Union of Australia

Christmas heralds a new beginning for all Australians

Christmas offers an opportunity to take stock of the world around us, and determine to work together to make it better.  I hope the Rudd Government will make rapid progress on policy issues of significance to Australian Baptists.

These include a compassionate and consultative approach to Indigenous affairs; decisive leadership on new global climate change initiatives; increasing overseas development aid to 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income; and promoting strong economic growth while maintaining a just and equitable safety net for the less fortunate.

In addition, it is important for the Federal Government to examine ways to reduce state government reliance on poker machines for revenue.

It is shocking that a report released by the Australian National University’s Centre for Gambling Research has found the states collected about $4 billion in gaming taxes in 2005.  This is misery money and governments need to do more to reform the gambling industry and state reliance on gambling.

But it is a mistake to look only to the material and temporal.  In the birth of Jesus Christ, we find that our significance and dignity as human persons is so profound that God sent his only Son to give us new life.  A living and personal faith in Jesus brings forgiveness, reconciliation and hope to our lives.

Let us accept the new beginning that God offered through Jesus, and as disciples of Jesus to help make Australia a better place to live for all.

Revd Dr Ross Clifford, President
Baptist Union of Australia
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Assyrian Church of the East

To our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ:
On the occasion of the Holy Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ we take this opportunity to extend our Episcopal greetings to the faithful sons and daughters of the National Council of Churches in Australia’s member churches, all Christians in Australia and around the world and to convey upon them our blessings.

Importantly this Holy season should for Christians be a time of intense prayer and meditation on the teaching and message of the Holy Scriptures. As Christians we rejoice that through Christ’s birth, peace, hope and good will are brought to humankind. The Holy Church offers thanksgiving and worship to our Heavenly Father for his paternal love and kindness toward humankind by the act of sending His Only Son to earth. Christians are compelled to reflect on the message emanating from the Messiah’s birth and the ensuing covenant created between humanity and the Lord God. Indeed God incarnate comes to earth and dwells amongst His creations attesting to His love for humankind. This act paves the path for the Lord Jesus Christ’s ensuing death and resurrection.

The Christmas season should also be a time to remember the persecuted Church universally and to beseech the Lord God to provide comfort and flight to those Christians who continue to remain victimized, persecuted and martyred for their unwavering Christian faith in spite of heinous oppression. Particularly we call upon our fellow Christians in Australia and worldwide to remember in their thoughts and prayers the Assyrian Christians of Iraq who continue to endure the brunt of immense persecution in their historical homeland at the hands of those intent on advancing evil. The Assyrian Christians however remain steadfast in their faith, zeal and commitment to our life-giving Creator and in the face of persecution become living martyrs for the Holy Church.

May the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, forever and ever: Amen.

Bishop Mar Meelis Zaia
Diocese of Australia and New Zealand Assyrian Church of the East
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AOG in Australia/Australian Christian Churches   

Last week I was talking to a man who appears to have all the attributes of success, yet he describes his desperate loneliness as an ache or a grief on the inside. Clearly crowds or people do not calm the feelings of emptiness and loneliness that grip him, as he has a big family, attends our big church, and lives in a huge city. He is dealing with hollowness which external factors and material things have failed to alleviate. He is not seeking more company or friends; he just would like the internal ache to stop.

Our cities are filled with people who, although surrounded by others, are overwhelmed by powerful feelings of loneliness, separation, disconnection and isolation from the world.

Mother Teresa once said, "The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved."

This from a woman confronted each day by people living in the most abject of poverty. She knew that physical poverty could be comforted by a warm meal, medical attention or bed at night, but emotional poverty required a different cure.

This cure comes in the form of Jesus Christ. In Him humanity was sent a friend. He came to forgive, embrace, accept and love each of us unconditionally. Through Him we can find hope for today and for our future.

This Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Christ the Saviour, my prayer is that each and every person would know the love and inner peace that comes in and through a relationship with Him.

Wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

Pastor Brian Houston, Senior Pastor – Hillsong Church &
National President, AOG in Australia/Australian Christian Churches
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Armenian Apostolic Church

For Christians, the end of another year heralds the Good News of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is not the 365 days of the year that bring meaning to our lives but those that fill us with heavenly wisdom.   Holy Christmas signifies the day when the wisdom of heaven was revealed to mankind through the birth of the Heavenly Prince.

With Christ’s birth, heaven and earth embraced the message “Glory to the highest O God, peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

The world is now more than ever in need of peace and goodwill however these values first and foremost need to be embraced by mankind.  Jesus was born to establish this message unto the world.  

In the small and unassuming city of Bethlehem, he drew both shepherds and wise men, and today continues to draw people from all walks of life, opening the gates of the kingdom to all and teaching the path of righteousness.

At this very special time of year, I send greetings of love and blessings to all, with the hope that heavenly wisdom and revelation will fill your lives and lead your actions.

"Christ is born and revealed.  Blessed is the revelation of Christ."

Archbishop Aghan Baliozian, Primate
Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia and New Zealand
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Anglican Church of Australia

Plenty of room in the inn

Two weeks ago I was in Bethlehem where Jesus and Christmas were born. A Palestinian man said to me ‘2000 years ago we made a mistake saying “There is no room at the inn". Today there’s plenty of room.’

It was a sad comment on the devastating effects on the Palestinian economy of the long-running conflict with Israel. Hotel occupancy has actually improved from 10% a few years ago to 50% today. But with unemployment running at about the same rate and a segregated road system, road blocks and checkpoints making movement of people and goods difficult at best and impossible at worst things are grim. Christmas is not such a happy time in Bethlehem these days.

A few days earlier I had stood on the Mount of Olives and looked across the valley to Jerusalem. I had stood in roughly the same place Jesus stood 2000 years ago. Then he wept for the city saying, ‘If only you recognised the things that make for peace.’ As I stood there these words echoed in my ears.

At his birth the angels announced ‘peace on earth’. 2000 years later there is trouble and conflict as far as the eye can see.

Yet Christmas remains a festival of hope because the life lived by the Christmas child revealed the things that make for peace: respect for all human beings, acceptance, neighbourliness, kindness, gentleness, humility, forgiveness, wisdom. These things make for peace in our own hearts, in our families, in our neighbourhoods and workplaces, in our nation and in our world.

Let us recognise the things that make for peace and grasp the hope held out to us by this birth.

Archbishop Dr Phillip Aspinall, Primate
Anglican Church of Australia
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In December 2007 a delegation of nine Australian Church leaders visited Jerusalem and the Holy Land to:

meet with and express friendship and support for Christians in Palestine and Israel;
meet with Jewish and Muslim faith leaders and representatives of the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority; and
help Australians more fully understand and respond to the situation in Israel and Palestine.
It was a profound privilege to visit Palestine and Israel.  We felt very welcome and safe, and greatly appreciated the friendship and hospitality extended to us.  We consulted widely, visiting the Old City of Jerusalem, West and East Jerusalem, Hebron, Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and refugee camps where churches are providing humanitarian support.  We met with Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, Israeli government and Palestinian National Authority representatives, and civic and human rights leaders.

We have been encouraged by international efforts toward a just peace renewed at Annapolis, and by the desire for negotiations between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.

We were distressed to hear Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, relate the suffering and fear experienced daily by large numbers of their people.  We saw and heard evidence of systematic harassment, physical and psychological oppression, widespread unemployment, poverty, and economic deprivation, resulting directly or indirectly from Israeli military occupation of the West Bank.  Their suffering compels us to respond, and we assure Palestinians of our compassion and concern.

We visited Yad Vashem and laid a wreath in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.  We heard of Israeli grief and pain resulting from violent attacks and continuing fear of terrorist activity.  We condemn all acts of terrorism and assure Israelis of our compassion and concern.

We recognise the complex nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  We strongly affirm the right of both Israel and Palestine to political autonomy, security and self-determination.  We join with a large majority of the people of Palestine and Israel in longing for a just and lasting peace.  We understand the reluctance to make concessions or to trust those who are the source of fear and oppression, but the time for courageous and inspiring leadership has come.

In the light of what we have seen and heard during this visit, we support actions to enable Israel and Palestine to negotiate just outcomes on borders, settlements, water, refugees, prisoners, Jerusalem, and security.

We are particularly concerned by the imprisonment of teenagers, mothers with dependent children, and those detained without trial for long periods.  We encountered the debilitating effects on the Palestinian economy and impacts on daily life of the segregated road system, the proliferation of checkpoints and road blocks throughout the West Bank, restrictions on movement of people and goods, and the effective isolation of Palestinian communities from one another.  We were repeatedly told that these matters stand in the way of a just peace.

We are heartened by important signs of hope in the face of persistent difficulties.  The emergence in Jerusalem of the Council for Religious Institutions promises greater understanding and cooperation among Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders and communities.  Human rights organisations in both Palestine and Israel undertake significant and sometimes dangerous work with courage and passion.  Vibrant educational and cultural initiatives are evident in oppressed communities and refugee camps.

We ask Australian Churches to:

pray for a just and lasting peace for Jerusalem and the Holy Land;
encourage the Australian Government to take more action to support a just and lasting peace for Israel and Palestine;
hear the stories of the suffering and oppression, perseverance and hope of the people of the Holy Land;
sponsor aid and development projects in the West Bank and Gaza;
support the status of Jerusalem as an open city for all faiths and peoples;
encourage Australian Christians to visit the Holy Land and foster relationships with Palestinian Christians;
build stronger relationships with Jewish and Muslim communities in Australia.
Our common humanity and legitimate desires for security and freedom can drive the peace process forward.  We are confident that a just and lasting peace for Palestine and Israel can be realised.

As Christmas approaches, we look to the future with hope, confident in God’s promise of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace!” (Luke 2:14 NRSV)

Bethlehem,
12 December 2007

+ Archbishop Phillip Aspinall – Primate, Anglican Church of Australia, and Archbishop of Brisbane
Revd Rod Benson – Ethicist, National Council, Baptist Union of Australia
Dr Kevin Bray – National Council, Churches of Christ in Australia
+ Archbishop Francis Carroll – Roman Catholic Archbishop emeritus, and Immediate Past President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Revd Terence Corkin – Assembly General Secretary, Uniting Church in Australia
Lyndsay Farrall – Presiding Clerk, Australian Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Revd Gregor Henderson – President, Uniting Church in Australia
Revd John Henderson – General Secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia
Revd Merrill Kitchen - National Council, Churches of Christ in Australia

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For further information:
Archbishop Aspinall    – contact Darrin Davies     0420 970 605
Archbishop Carroll     – contact Debra Vermeer   0414 880 475
Revd Gregor Henderson – contact Penny Monger 0417 416 674
Revd John Henderson – contact Debra Porter       0427 789 410

 from the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission
                of the National Council of Churches in Australia

At this time of the year, as we turn our minds to Christmas and reflect on the year that was (and what a year it was) and look forward to the year to come, I cannot help but think of many of my Indigenous brothers and sisters.  This season of peace, hope and joy leads me to ask, ‘what peace, hope and joy will be given unto us with the coming of the Christ Child into the world?’  Over the last 237 years since Lt. James Cook arrived, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been denied a proper place within our own country.  Just like Jesus’ family on returning to their home country we also have not been able to find a proper place for ourselves in our own land.

Too many other interests seem to distract the country where we once roamed freely.  We have been turned away at the door and given scant attention and meagre generosity by the new Innkeepers.  It is interesting that we, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, were not part of Federation, were forgotten about as the new wave of Immigrants came from the Mediterranean during the post war years and were not on the radar until the 1967 referendum.  Except, of course, when we were allowed to lose our lives fighting for this country, or when we were seen as strange curiosities of a bygone era.  Mostly, we were labelled as a troublesome few dissidents who should not expect the same rights as everyone else.

Children were removed from their families because it was perceived that they were not being cared for to acceptable western standards.  Or they were taken away simply so they could be given the ‘western makeover’ to fit better into western society.  The only problem was that they still had a different colour than those holding up the bar of mainstream society.


This brings me to the question of an apology.  The former Howard Government was against any apology as it was seen that the mainstream should not be held accountable for the past, and such an apology could hold the State open to litigation.  It’s an interesting irony that in this corporate world we live in, mainstream Australia will hold accountable corporations for their past organisational failings, and yet the nation cannot live up to its own corporate responsibilities.  As for the apology itself, the Nation is either Sorry or it’s not.  Putting provisos on it (we regret etc.) is not an apology.  If we are going to move forward then it is very important that the Nation says Sorry and accepts any consequences that might result.  The present Rudd Government must take the lead on this and soon.


The continual denial of the rights of Indigenous peoples, as Australian Citizens, has gone on for too long. We have a right to education, health and the many opportunities that most Australians take for granted. Governments need to act now to correct these situations, which occur around the country not just the Northern Territory, and close the gap between us and the mainstream.  As I’ve often said in other Forums, how can Australia set out to save the world when there is so much to be done at home?  What credibility does Australia have if it is not working to correct the situations in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?


There needs to be a plan, not knee jerk reactions, to address these situations.  The Millennium Development Goals help us in this area.  These eight time bound and measurable goals discourage empty rhetoric.  They encourage us to formulate concrete plans to build a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The first step to any action is recognition of what is currently happening.  We have no real voice or say or control in what is happening to us.  Outsiders are dictating our future.  There is no national representative voice to carry our hopes, dreams and desires forward into the future.  Hand picked advisors are not a representative voice.  A process needs to be put into place where a representative voice can be heard and acted upon.  National conventions need to be held so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can contribute to the process of forming this new voice and eventually own the outcomes.


People say that there is not one voice in Indigenous Australia, but surely that can also be said of mainstream Australia.  Our Federal Parliament, with different parties and different factions, continues to exist.  The one voice comes when these groups are allowed a forum like Parliament to reach compromise and consensus for the good of all.  This forum will help lead us into a better tomorrow for our children and children’s children.  The issue of whether we should be included in the preamble to the constitution of Australia can also be debated in these forums and a proposition then put forward to the Australian people in a future referendum.  These issues cannot be put off until tomorrow for tomorrow may never come. Many of our great Indigenous leaders are already passing on and we need their valuable input into these forums.


As I reflect this Christmas time, I wonder if Australia will place their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians again in the stable, as Jesus was over 2,000 years ago, or will we be invited in to share fully in the Australia which is so gifted, diverse and forward looking.  Will we begin to “Make Indigenous Poverty History” this Christmas?

May the peace, hope and Joy of Christmas fill all Australians with the hope of a new tomorrow!


Graeme Mundine
Executive Secretary
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission
National Council of Churches in Australia
Mb: 0419 238 788

a statement from Australian national heads of Churches

We, the undersigned heads of Australia’s Churches, wish to draw attention to the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Iraq and the surrounding region.
Australia has a moral responsibility to help protect Iraqi civilians and those displaced by the violence.  The current debate, however, has focussed almost exclusively on whether Australian troops should be in Iraq.  Scant recognition has been given to the scale of the humanitarian crisis that now confronts the Middle East.

Australia’s leaders must recognise that Iraq is haemorrhaging.  Since the bombing of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra in February last year, the violence has increased exponentially.  4.2 million Iraqis have now fled their homes – 2 million internally and 2.2 million in neighbouring countries, mainly Syria and Jordan.  There are now more displaced people than the region has seen since the 1948 Palestinian exodus.  Each month, another 50,000 Iraqis flee Iraq and it is estimated that up to another 3 million people may be displaced.

With the closure of the Syrian border to Iraqis – the last to have remained open – and with 11 out of Iraq’s 18 provinces now denying entry to displaced Iraqis fleeing violence internally, Iraqi civilians have virtually nowhere to escape.  Conditions inside Iraq are also deteriorating as humanitarian access declines.  23% of children in Southern Iraq now have ‘chronic’ malnutrition.

While the international community has pledged billions of dollars for recovery and development programs, these pledges are of little use until the situation has stabilized.

In this context, we ask that the Australian Government:

1. significantly increase aid to Iraq’s internally displaced people and Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria to alleviate the burden of support placed on these host countries and encourage them to continue to provide protection to Iraqis fleeing their homeland, and;

2. ensure that adequate funds are available for later repatriation, reintegration, reconstruction and development to support Iraq’s internally displaced people and Iraqi refugees in the region that will eventually wish to return home.

Signed by:
The Most Reverend Phillip Aspinall (Primate, Anglican Church)
His Eminence Archbishop Aghan Baliozian (Primate, Armenian Apostolic Church)
The Revd Robert Benn (Moderator General, Presbyterian Church)
Bishop Albert Chiew (Bishop, Chinese Methodist Church)
The Revd Dr Ross Clifford (President, Baptist Union)
His Grace Bishop Daniel (Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church)
Lyndsay Farrall (Presiding Clerk, Religious Society of Friends)
The Revd Allan Filipaina (Moderator, Congregational Federation)
The Revd Gregor Henderson (President, Uniting Church)
His Grace Bishop Irinej (Bishop, Serbian Orthodox Church)
His Eminence Archbishop Mor Malatius Malki (Archbishop, Syrian Orthodox Church)
Mr Richard Menteith (President, Churches of Christ)
The Revd Dr Mike Semmler (President, Lutheran Church)
His Grace Bishop Suriel (Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church)
The Most Revd Philip Wilson (President, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference)
His Grace Bishop Mar Meelis Zaia (Bishop, Assyrian Church of the East)
 
For further information contact:
Archbishop Philip Wilson       (08) 8210 8117
Archbishop Aghan Baliozian  (02) 9419 8056
Archbishop Phillip Aspinall    (07) 3835 2210 or 0420 970 605

from the National Council of Churches in Australia

Next week a group of Australian Church leaders will visit the birthplace of Jesus Christ in the lead up to Christmas, as they learn at first hand about the day-to-day realities of Christians living in the Middle East.  Recent years have seen a mass exodus of Christians from the region, particularly from the Palestinian territories.  Many have come to Australia enriching our multicultural Christian community.

The group will visit Christian leaders, churches and humanitarian projects in Palestine-Israel.  It will also have discussions with Jewish and Muslim leaders, and meet with representatives of the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority.

“The visit comes as Christians world-wide prepare to celebrate the nativity of Jesus.  The leaders will visit Bethlehem and other historic sites that feature in the life of Jesus, and the Christian message of God’s love for humanity,” said the Revd John Henderson, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA).

Australian Churches to be represented on the visit include: the Anglican Church, the Baptist Union, the Catholic Church, the Churches of Christ, the Religious Society of Friends, and the Uniting Church.  Revd Henderson will also take part in the visit, representing the NCCA.

For further information, contact:
Revd John Henderson (02) 9299 2215

From the NCCA Christian World Service

In an unprecedented step, Church Leaders from around the nation have entered into the election campaign calling for prayer and action to tackle global poverty.

The leaders of 14 Churches are calling on Christians around Australia to pray for the poor and urged all political parties to boost overseas aid to meet Australia’s commitments to the Millennium Development Goals – the world’s blueprint to halve global poverty by 2015.

“This is not an issue of left or right – it is a moral issue and an issue of such importance that the church leaders have taken this unprecedented step amid the Federal election campaign,” said Alistair Gee, Executive Director of CWS (the international development agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia).

The statement of the Church Leaders said:
As Church Leaders we call for churches around Australia to pray especially this Sunday for the poor and all working to reduce poverty. We also encourage churches to further reflect on the importance of effective overseas aid as a tool in poverty reduction and in meeting Australia’s commitments to halve extreme poverty and achieve the other Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

We see the continuing suffering of millions of people due to poverty as a moral challenge that must be addressed. We are sure that genuine progress can be made and acknowledge the encouraging news that for the first time, the number of children dying before they reach their 5th birthday has dropped below ten million per year.

Overseas aid should not be a party-political issue and we call on all parties to support overseas aid policies to meet Australia’s commitments to the Millennium Development Goals.

We make this statement in the name of the Triune God, who “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry… and sustains the fatherless and the widow” and pray decisions of our political leaders will be positive and just and that they will act with wisdom and boldness for the poor.

Statement made by:

The Revd Gregor Henderson, President of the Uniting Church in Australia
Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia
Archbishop Philip Wilson, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Brian Houston, President of Australian Christian Churches (AOG)
The Revd Dr Michael Semmler, President of the Lutheran Church of Australia
The Revd Dr Ross Clifford, President of the Baptist Union of Australia
Lyndsay Farrall, Presiding Clerk of the Australian Session of the Religious Society of Friends
The Revd Robert Benn, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Australia
Archbishop Aghan Baliozian, Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church
Archbishop Mor Malatius Malki Malki, Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church
Bishop Daniel, Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church (Sydney and Affiliated Regions)
Bishop Albert Chiew, Bishop of the Chinese Methodist Church
Bishop Mar Meelis Zaia, Bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East
The Revd Allan Filipaina, of the Congregational Federation of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand
Bishop Suriel, Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church (Diocese of Melbourne)

Along with increasing overseas aid, the other important tools in poverty reduction are fairer trade, tackling corruption, improving governance, addressing climate change and cancelling unjust debt.
_______________________________
For further information contact:
Archbishop Philip Wilson       (08) 8210 8117
Revd Gregor Henderson       (02) 6295 3680
Archbishop Phillip Aspinall    (07) 3835 2210 or 0420 970 605

Thursday, 06 September 2007 00:00

In Whose Interest? Australia as a Global Citizen

From the National Council of Churches in Australia

Every year, at the end of September, many Churches around Australia celebrate Social Justice Sunday.  This year the theme is Australia as a Global Citizen.

“Christians have a responsibility to be useful and productive members of society,” said the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia, the Revd John Henderson, commenting on the theme for 2007.  “In an open and vibrant democracy such as Australia, that responsibility includes thoughtful contributions to our national image, the way our country acts on the global stage.

“The days are gone, if they ever were, of thinking of ourselves as an isolated country that just looks after itself.  How Australia behaves internationally is a matter that concerns Christians because we can behave well, and be a force for peace and justice in the world, or we can behave poorly, and reinforce structures of oppression and abuse.  As good citizens of Australia we need to think about these things and Churches need to find a voice that supports the cries of the dispossessed and vulnerable,” said Mr Henderson.

“In an increasingly globalised world we are forced to reassess our national self image, and Australia’s capacity to be an instrument of peace and goodwill.”

The theme this year has been chosen with Australia’s much vaunted prosperity in mind.  With wealth comes responsibility.  With our concern for safety and security at home comes the question of what it might cost other people, in other countries.  There are so many choices before us – how will we make them?  Will we blindly leave them up to others, or will we thoughtfully engage with our democratic processes and play our part in seeing to it that our nation makes choices that are wise, sustainable, and provide for the common good?

The resources prepared for this year are designed to help Christians discuss these issues, and consider a range of topics, from prosperity and economic justice to conflict, weapons, and non violence.  They can be used individually, in small groups, in Bible studies and home fellowships, and there are resources for worship.

The resource booklet is available to download at http://www.ncca.org.au/sjs.  Hard copy booklets are available from some national Church offices.  A limited number of hard copy booklets are available from the NCCA office, call (02) 9299 2215.

from the National Council of Churches in Australia

“As both a coalition member and an influential member of the international community, Australia must do more to address the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and its neighbouring countries,” said the Revd John Henderson, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA).

The recent 6th National Forum of the NCCA, agreed to encourage member Churches “to pray for Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq”; and “to do whatever is in their power to urge the Australian Government and other governments to assist refugees, particularly Christians who have been singled out for persecution in the Middle East, by providing financial assistance and granting humanitarian and other visas.”

“Iraq is haemorrhaging.  We must recognise that there is a grave and escalating humanitarian crisis to be addressed.  Not since 1948 has the Middle East seen so many people forced to flee their homes,” said Mr Henderson.

While the mass displacement has emerged quietly and without fanfare, the numbers affected are in excess of what many agencies had predicted in 2003.  Over 500,000 Iraqis have been displaced since the 2006 Samarra bombings with some 2-3,000 Iraqis leaving every day.  There are now at least 2 million internally displaced Iraqis and another 2 million Iraqi refugees that have fled to neighbouring states.  Moreover, this mass exodus shows no sign of abating.

Tomorrow, August 7, at 10:00 am Assyrian Christians and supporters will rally outside Parliament House, Canberra.  Mr Henderson will join those speaking in support of a humanitarian response to this crisis, and call all Christians to pray for the displaced on Refugee & Migrant Sunday.

Each year, on the last Sunday in August, Churches in Australia celebrate Refugee and Migrant Sunday, a celebration of the contribution refugees and migrants have made in Australia.  This year, the National Council of Churches in Australia is urging its member Churches to pray for Christians and other minorities being persecuted in Iraq.  Copies of the Refugee and Migrant Sunday Kit are available by calling (02) 9299 2215.

Background: The Persecution of Iraq’s Christians

Accused of siding with coalition forces and being modern day crusaders, Iraq’s Christian population, has been increasingly targeted by extremists and insurgents.  Church bombings, kidnappings, extortion, beheadings, rape and forced taxation for being non-Muslims have forced hundreds of thousands of Assyrians – together with other Christians – to abandon their ancestral land and flee to Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon.

Known also as Chaldeans and Syriacs, the Assyrian Christians once stood at over a million.  Since 2003 many have been singled out for retribution because they worked for the UN prior to 2003 or for the US, who has made use of their skills and employed them as interpreters, construction workers, contractors and maids in the Green Zone and US bases.  Many Assyrian liquor storeowners, hairdressers and music storeowners have been murdered.

Dora and other Assyrian neighbourhoods of Baghdad have been emptied.  It is estimated that up to 150,000 Assyrians have fled as refugees to Jordan, but the exact number is unknown as Jordan has refused to acknowledge and register refugees until recently.  Iraqi refugees fear being singled out and forcibly repatriated.

Saddam Hussein changed the Iraqi constitution in 1978, establishing that there were only two peoples in Iraq: Kurds and Arabs.  The Assyrians were thus to be called Christian Kurds or Christian Arabs.  Those who accepted it were tolerated, allowed to exercise their religion, culture and language freely.  Those who opposed and wanted to maintain their Assyrian identity were accused of treason and risked death penalties.  Assyrians in northern Iraq therefore joined the Kurdish opposition and fought together against the regime.  Today the Assyrians have no allies and are safe nowhere in Iraq.

Iraq and the Escalating Regional Humanitarian Crisis - NCCA CWS Aug 2007
(a pdf file background document)

Minority Religious Groups in Iraq
Late Night Live, ABC Radio Australia - 21 August 2007
(interview begins approximately 12 minutes into the program)

For more information contact:
Debra Porter, NCCA Communications Officer, (02) 8259 0802 or 0427 789 410.

From the National Council of Churches in Australia

The National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) will hold its 6th National Forum from 13-17 July at Alexandra Park Conference Centre, Mari Street, Alexandra Headlands on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

The National Forum is a gathering of around 110 people consisting of national leaders and representatives from 15 member Churches, and observers from several others.  It is the highest meeting of the Council at which it sets its objectives for the next 3 years.

The Forum theme, Life Together, is the title of a book by the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  More than 60 years after his martyrdom at the hands of the Gestapo in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer continues his witness in the hearts of Christians around the world.  Life Together is practical advice on living together in Christ through the story of a unique fellowship in an underground seminary.

“This Forum is a chance for Churches to grow in understanding each other and working together in our Australian society,” said the Revd John Henderson, NCCA General Secretary.  “The message of Christian unity is a simple one, but centuries of historical, geographical, and theological separation have divided us, sometimes in very profound ways.  Today God is giving us a chance to change things.  We can share God’s message of love, peace, and justice with each other, and the world,” said Mr Henderson.

On Friday evening, 13 July, Forum participants will be welcomed to the land of the Gubbi Gubbi people.

On Sunday morning, 15 July, there will be a public worship service at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Forest Drive (off Paveways Drive/Wises Road) Buderim, Queensland.  It will take place from 11:00 am on Sunday, 15 July.  Everyone is welcome to join the Forum participants at this ecumenical service.

On Monday, 16 July, two sessions at the Alexandra Park Conference Centre will also be open to the public.  At 3:00 pm Sylvia Haddad, Executive Secretary of the Joint Christian Committee (JCC) in Lebanon, will address the Forum.  The JCC is one of the five regional committees of the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches.

Following dinner, at 7:30 pm, Monsignor Don Bolen from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, based at the Vatican, will address the Forum.  He will share his experience of Catholic involvement in a wide variety of ecumenical dialogues.