Friday, 01 May 2020

UCA diversity shines in adversity

Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer and Rob Floyd and Rev Dr Apwee Ting from the Assembly Resourcing Unit staff held a videoconference catch-up with leaders of nine National Conferences within the UCA on 22 April 2020.

The meeting included leaders from our Fijian, Ibero-Latino, Middle East, Korean, Samoan, Tamil, Chinese, Tongan and Filipino National Conferences.

After opening the meeting, Deidre provided an update of the Church’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other work currently being undertaken by the Assembly.

Each National Conference leader shared from their own context in the midst of COVID-19.

Assembly Associate General Secretary Rob Floyd said it was inspiring to hear of the ways in which ministers, lay leaders, pastors and members of our CALD congregations are adapting to new ways of being a church.

“Some told of vibrant online worship, where people from across their communities are working together to ensure that technology isn’t a barrier to offering leadership and real community,” said Rob.

“Several leaders are seeing the opportunity to connect to a wider audience beyond their congregations, as people from across Australia and overseas join them in their worship.”

Leaders also described their joy at seeing re-invigorated pastoral care networks amongst their members, caring for people, delivering meals, worship and devotional resources to those most vulnerable.

Speaking to Assembly Communications following the meeting, Rev Zhu Enshuo of the Chinese National Conference said his community had responded strongly to that pastoral care.

“Our ministry team has spent a lot of time to care for people during the isolation. People are moved, so they give more to the church for this ministry,” said Rev. Zhu.

“For example, we have many members returning to Australia as permanent residents. They have to stay home. During this 14-day isolation, we have non-contact delivery services – helping people shopping, doing essential works, etc.

“The Church has also organised and donated masks, so every person in the church can have a mask.

“We also donated N95 masks to three hospitals in Melbourne and three UnitingCare agencies with aged care centres.”

National Conference leaders also shared significant challenges.

Many are caring for people who have lost their jobs and struggling to provide for their families.

Others are caring for people who are on Visitor or Temporary Visas and international students, ineligible for government assistance, and unable to return to their home countries.

Rev. Berlin Guerrero from the Filipino National Conference said his community had great concerns for how friends and families in the Philippines were faring under the “enhanced community quarantine” enforced by the Duterte regime.

As the ABC has reported, more than 30,000 people have been arrested in the Philippines for allegedly violating curfew and quarantine restrictions.

In Australia, Rev. Guerrero said Filipino migrant workers and international students were even more vulnerable than before, although some state governments were now offering support measures.

Other leaders mentioned the challenge communities faced with death and illness among families here in Australia and overseas, when proper funerals, contact and support cannot be readily maintained.

Deidre said of the gathering:

“It was a joy to be with our National Conference leaders and to encourage one another, as we creatively and faithfully respond to the challenges and opportunities we face as the Uniting Church in this difficult time.

“We heard hope-filled stories of leaders in congregations conducting weekly worship and Bible studies, and offering devotions through online platforms.”

“Congregations are compassionately supporting vulnerable people in communities through advocacy and pastoral care.

“While we missed the informal conversations that are such a vibrant part of our face to face meetings, we were blessed by the community we share in Christ.

“We continue to pray for God's sustaining hope and love for our Church, as we bear witness to the compassionate love of Christ in our world.”

A follow-up meeting is planned to allow conversation with the Chairs and Leaders of the remaining National Conferences, South Sudanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Niuean, who were unable to attend.