Just recently I witnessed the value of good friends. About 150 people turned up for lunch on Saturday last in Teasdale. The Revd Tim Smith and the Belmont parishioners were absolutely wonderful hosts, so well organised, gracious and kindly, opening their doors and hearts to a number of recently arrived Iraqi Christians. It was truly beautiful to see the happiness surrounding our Iraqi friends. They had come from such desolation and misery and shared with us what ISIS has done to their former homes and Church. We sang “We three kings of orient are”, and noted the legend that Iraq is where the magi came from, following the Bethlehem star. A number of clergy present have written to me since to say how much they valued their conversations with our guests.
One next contribution is to link these Iraqi Christians with folk who can help with English conversation, matching families with kids around the same age, to assist with conversational language skills. We all know that the acquisition of the local language is crucial to education, employment outcomes and belonging. We are awaiting information in order to make these connections. One of the Revd Will Orpwood’s Highton parishioners is happy to coordinate this and also swimming lessons for these people who have never lived near the ocean.
Parishioners from Christ Church and Eltham areas are seeking to help in like fashion as similar families join their community. The practical goodwill and Christian care of our clergy and parishioners is vivid in all this. This has poignantly raised our ministry of reconciliation as “Ambassadors of Christ”. Reconciliation, the love of Jesus compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14-20), reconciled and reconciling, “a sign of the coming unity of the whole human family”. (World Council of Churches): That is our high calling as Church, disciples of Jesus! The necessity for our ministry of reconciliation, in the grace of Jesus, could not be plainer, not only amongst our-selves but as agents of reconciliation in the local, national and international community. Wherever one turns, the necessity for deep reconciliation is vivid. If we look at the world through the eyes of children, what do we see?
My suggestion is that we make Reconciliation an Advent theme for study and prayer. It fits with the deep themes of Advent – life, death and eternity. To this end, ahead of the normal time, can I commend the 2017 worship and study material for the World Council of Churches Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Produced by the German Churches, with their parallels to our Australian setting in the context of the Reformation Anniversary, it is a timely and insightful resource.
As we read in 2 Corinthians 5, God in Christ has reconciled us and now gives us the ministry of reconciliation. We are given this ministry of reconciliation and it is entrusted it to us! “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making God’s appeal through us.” (v 20) Yes, the love of Jesus for the whole human family compels us to give our all to this high calling.
In the past week I have been attentive to various parish conflicts whilst also, like you, being aware of sadness in Syria, South Sudan, amidst our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and also the fears sparked by news of a new global arms race, including in South Asian our Region (the opportunity cost of which will cause more of the poor to starve).
You will have your own litany of other sad and unreconciled matters. The point is, Advent is a season for going deeper. Our prayer, fasting and acts of reconciliation are needed. “The love of Jesus compels us.” May I commend this theme to you and those for whom you care.
Bishop Philip Huggins
National Council of Churches in Australia