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Being havens of hope

I have been married to my bicycle-riding husband for more than 30 years and I still don't get it.

How can all that pain and sweat be so satisfying?

He likes competition and he likes challenging himself.

He has ridden across the Simpson Desert and East Timor.

At school I was always in the B team for softball, hockey and netball.

I was usually the one with the oranges.

For the Army Reserve I had to pass fitness tests and have completed a number of lengthy marches, but I would not describe myself as an athlete.

I like walking, but for me it is usually about having time alone with God and being nurtured by nature.

In my life the challenges come from belonging to the Uniting Church. During the 35 years since it was formed we have faced many challenges together.

In the early years, there was pain about the differences in practices of Holy Communion.

Methodists were used to kneeling at the rail and the monthly ritual.

Presbyterians were served in their seats and elders delivered a token to members every three months.

Congregationalists appreciated having communion every month.

We debated whether or not to allow children to receive communion before being confirmed.

A point of pain for many ex-Methodists was that some members of the other churches were more permissive about drinking alcohol.

Heated discussions at parish councils and synod meetings revealed the deeply held positions.

Different opinions remain about whether or not congregations and agencies

should accept money for projects from the casinos' community benefit funds.

Some congregations view it as God's provision for mission, while others see it as hypocritical even to consider using money gained from people affected by problem gambling.

Mostly we have found a way to live together respectfully despite some profound differences in lifestyles and values.

Along the journey we have also argued about land rights, abortion, Indigenous affairs, divorce and remarriage, sexuality and leadership, and many more issues.

The National Assembly will gather in Adelaide this month.

A range of issues will take the attention of members. One proposal requests the Assembly to reaffirm its public statement on marriage; however, another requests the church to develop a liturgy for blessing same gender relationships.

Once again we will find ourselves in a season of heated discussions on matters of doctrine, theology, beliefs and lifestyle.

Some of my own hot buttons are pushed by the current conversations about the meaning of marriage.

Managing our responses is just as important as making the right decisions.

What we have learned from past debates in the church is that there will be people who hold polarised positions with a Bible in hand and knees callused from prayer.

We have also discovered that guarding deeply held beliefs and seeking to convey "the truth" can lead people to behaviour that is just as despicable as the sins (actions and attitudes) they are condemning.

The media likes controversy because it makes news.

Choose carefully who you listen to and read.

It would be easy to make our debates in the Christian church a competition with winners and losers.

We can sweat over letters and emails and speeches and sermons by which we hope to

convince others of the rightness of our positions.

We can add to the anxiety in our communities- or we can be havens of hope where people work to build one another up rather than tear each other down.

I urge you to stretch yourself to consider the point of view of the other; to challenge yourself to seek to understand how a Christian with a different point of view might have arrived at it on the journey.

I urge you to pray for all who will attend the Assembly, for the discernment of the church, and for all who will implement the decisions – including the ones that won't make the media.

Presbytery ministers, the General Secretary Dr Shirley Coulson, and Synod Ministries Coordinator Rev John Cox meet in June. Photo by Kaye Ronalds

Where's the Moderator?

This month Rev Kaye Ronalds will be at many events, including:

15 – 21 July 13th National Assembly, Adelaide.

27 July Logan Central Multicultural Uniting Church Youth Rally.

28 – 29 July Central Queensland Presbyter meeting, Pioneer Valley, near Mackay.