Pastor’s Report 2014
How blessed we are! Look at how God has been calling us, shaping us and directing us over the past twelve months! In our worship, our study, the walking, the talking, the eating, the visiting, the praying, in all the doing, and in all the being, God has graced us with His loving presence. Do you feel it? An excitement. An expectancy. I know I have sensed this in our highs and yes, even in our lows. God is weaving us together for His mission, the mission that matters most!
I would like to thank my two counsellors, Bill and Helen, for their deep passion to serve Christ, borne out by their love for each one us in their ministry of presence, wisdom, discernment of the spirit, and devotion to prayer for myself and our congregation. I have felt the blessing of God from these prayers on a number of occasions.
This year we have also been blessed with the new friendships of Ange, Brad, Ann, Matt P, Shelly and Dave and we have welcomed Lauren and Annette who committed their lives to Christ and our church in baptism and confirmation.
This year saw our very first Open Door ordinations. After several months of priesthood study and training, Rob, Matt, Trish, Lesley and Liz were ordained on April 6th. I have been filled with joy to see each of our new ministers begin to serve in their new callings this year. The congregation has been enriched by the presence of God’s spirit and the ministry of angels as each of these five have faithfully stepped up to serve.
Outreach and community events this year have included being a part of ‘Fairday’ for Mardigras, as well as ‘O’ week at the UWS in Kingswood with Open Door stalls. We also held a special IDAHOT event in May with guest speaker Reverend Rob Bowers from Gosford Anglican church.
The Care n Share and Bible study groups have met once a month, capably led by Rob and Trish. These two groups have provided focus on study and prayer as well as sharing time outside of a Sunday evening. The Water and Spirit class has also been held regularly on Sunday afternoons. This class has given opportunity for those attending to discuss a range of topics associated with what it means to be a Christian and to be part of Community of Christ.
Other highlights this year have included our Anniversary Dinner in July with Bambam Woopie and the Get Nuns. And our trivia night in October raised over $1000 for the congregation. Special guests for Family Night in August and Community Night in September have included Cynthia Burdon-Carr and Brad McCarthy. The Music n Munchies Sundays began in August, bringing extra fun to worship. We also enjoyed a visit from Evangelist Helen McIlroy in April and Apostle Susan Oxley in June, visiting in homes and attending our activities. Our road trip to Newcastle in September for worship and lunch with the Wallsend congregation, was another highlight. And The Outdoor Trekkers has been a source of fun and fitness too, especially during the cooler months.
The Open Door Sunday weekly attendance average for the Nov ‘13 – Oct ‘14 is 21. In 2015 one of the aims is to grow this number to 30. The Facebook page has now attracted over 760 likes and the Open Door continues to provide ministry to a large peripheral of the congregation. The sacrament of the ‘Laying on of Hands’ has provided God’s healing blessing to many people this year. And the oblation fund offered by Community of Christ has been utilized to help people in need.
We are on the way to becoming a seven – day – a- week church. The Community Garden and Food Drive, which have recently started, are two projects that are going to help make a difference in our community. Next year, we are also hoping to begin Healthy Lunch Wednesdays and a Drop Inn.
On a personal note, I must say that being freed up this year from full time class room teaching has given me time to focus more fully on the needs and direction of the congregation. It has given me time to be more available to visit and socialise. I have had more time to pray and study, and not fly by the seat of my pants, quite as much. I hope to be able to continue working this way for 2015.
When I make an inventory of all of the tasks I have personally accomplished in 2014, I think many of these tasks are fairly insignificant ones when compared to the grand picture of making a difference in the world. But what gives me hope is the idea of the domino effect. One little action here, one right decision there, little by little, I can, we can, make a difference. We can be the difference! The mission of Jesus Christ is truly what matters most for our journey ahead!
Thank you, each one of you, for the journey so far, and I invite you to see what God has for us on the path ahead for 2015.
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Sue Palmer
Some might say the journey towards equality for ordination in the church for people in same sex relationship has been a long and arduous one. And in many countries today, that journey remains very difficult as nations continue to grapple with homophobia and discrimination against people who are same sex attracted.
The Australian journey has in many ways been a much easier road than it has in other parts of the world. Community of Christ, in Australia, has always had a high level of support and acceptance towards lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people.
When the Open Door first began in 1999, it was with the blessing of the then Mission (or Region) president, Matt Naylor. As the Open Door grew, other congregations around the mission extended love, friendship and ministry.
At the Australia Mission Centre Conference on June 7th 2008 140 delegates from around Australia unanimously approved the following resolution presented by the Open Door.
AMCC 2008-1 Sexual Orientation and Ordination
WHEREAS the world views on sexual orientation are very diverse and
WHEREAS in some countries diversity of sexual orientation is not even acknowledged, let alone discussed, and
WHEREAS all are called according to the gifts of God unto them, and
WHEREAS we uphold ordination as a call by God with the common consent of the church in that jurisdiction, and
WHEREAS in some parts of the world there are congregations comprised primarily of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and transexual people, and
WHEREAS there is very little hope at this time of getting complete agreement on a world wide level on the issue of sexual orientation and ordination, be it
RESOLVED this matter be referred to the Australia Mission Centre Presidency for the purpose of arranging discussion and dialogue within the Australia Mission Centre, that the Australia Mission Centre be given time for prayerful consideration of this matter and be it further
RESOLVED that a resolution on this matter be presented to the 2009 Australia Special Mission Centre Conference to be voted upon and if approved then be it further
RESOLVED that a resolution be presented to the 2010 World Conference, calling for the principle of self determination to guide Mission Centres in the matter of sexual orientation and ordination.
We were thrilled with this result and waited to see this legislation be brought to the 2010 Community of Christ World Conference. It would be at the 2010 World Conference that the world wide membership of the church would consider and vote on this motion. We were proud of the Australian Mission Centre for taking us one step closer to bringing equality to the church regarding the ordination of those who have been called by God and who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
At the 2010 World Conference, approval was given for a process involving National Conferences to convene in Mission Centers around the world. The purpose of the National Conference would be to give each jurisdiction the ability to vote for ordination of people in same sex relationship.
The Australian Mission Center Presidency allocated a two year 'broader dialogue' period with a National Conference to be held in June 2012.
In June 2012 the Australian National conference voted overwhelmingly in favour on the legislation to uphold ordination for same sex members of the church.
It was another twelve months before the policy was written for ordinations of same sex couples to be permitted.
In the meantime, the Open Door congregation continued to grow in understanding of what priesthood actually is, who and how people are called to priesthood, and how priesthood brings added blessing of God's spirit into our lives.
God indeed has blessed our journey and on April 6th, 2014, the Open Door will hold its first ordination service. Five people are to be ordained. Lesley to deacon, Matt to priest, Liz to priest, Rob to elder and Trish to elder. A lot of prayerful preparation, training and education has been the focus over the past several months for our ordinands, and we look forward now with elation and joy as God adds blessing through these willing disciples who have raised their hands to say 'Here Am I Lord, Send Me'.
THE BIBLE AND SEXUALITY
It seems a shame to me that the Bible is portrayed as an enemy to homosexuality. What concerns me most is that when the Bible is used to preach against homosexuality, then we of the gay and lesbian community lose faith in the scriptures and stop looking to them for inspiration, help, and connection with God.
So much confusion and guilt has been placed upon GLBT people because of what’s been taught and mistaught from the Bible. The Bible is a collection of books from varied writers in a time and setting far removed from today. So to read the Bible as the literal word of God just does not work. I see the scriptures as containing much truth. Timely truth - for a particular people in a particular place and time... and Timeless truth - words for all people in all times and places. John 3:16 'For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" is an example of timeless truth. When you open your scriptures, Let God speak to you personally, because He truly is the Living Word. And His Spirit can uplift you and draw you to Him as you look to Him in these sacred writings.
If the Bible is to be read literally, then most people today do not follow all of its teachings. For instance, the Bible teaches that men who shave their beards should be put to death. And women are not permitted to speak in church, or wear cotton or polyester. The writings contained in our scriptures were written by ancient peoples who dwelt in tents and who thought the world was flat. They had no idea of sexual orientation and the word 'homosexuality' did not even exist.
Out of all the Old Testament passages, only two make any real reference to homosexual acts; Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13. Both of these passages are a part of the Levitical holiness code which is not kept by any Christian church today. That's because the code was written for a particular people in a particular time and place. It doesn't make sense to try and keep the same rules today. So if the holiness code was 'timely' scripture, then why should the homosexual reference in it be used as a 'timeless' scripture?
Perhaps the Old Testament scriptures were trying to condemn the act of rape and other acts of sex that were not love based. This is certainly how I would read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Bible has several examples of same-sex love. David's love for Jonathan was said to exceed his love for women. Ruth's relationship with Naomi is certainly an example of a deep, bonding love. The Bible does value love between persons of the same sex.
Paul's statement in Romans 1:18-32 has been taken as the strongest New Testament rejection of homosexuality. He is concerned about the influence of pagan culture on the Roman Christians. Most scholars today believe that Paul was referring to homosexual temple prostitution which was performed by various cults. And when he refers to women leaving their natural affections to be with other women, I think he was speaking about heterosexual women. Because I know that if I was to leave my natural affections then I would end up being with a man!
After a two year coming out period in my life where I waged a battle within myself to try to rid myself of this 'sin', petitioning God time and time again for healing, attending healing services, even having an exorcism performed on me, I finally received God's blessing of peace, and an affirmation and reasurance that I am ok the way I am. God made me and God does love me.
During this two year war within myself, I tried to change something about me that I had no choice over. I recall thinking about how my auburn coloured hair would be just as difficult to change ( without help from a bottle) as it would be to change who I am attracted to. Sin involves choice. I did not choose to be a red head and I did not choose to be same sex attracted.
Does this argument then open the door to the idea that homosexuality can be put into the same basket as pedophilia? A pedophile may say that their attraction to minors is something they have no choice about...but Pedophilia is not an orientation. It is not equal love. It is one of the greatest evils in the world because of the trauma and lifelong devasting impact it has on its victims. It is not comparable to same sex love between two consenting adults and it is certainly not of God.
Paul's other reference to homosexual acts is in 1 Timothy 1:8-11. Again, I don't think Paul is referring to same-sex love, and he clearly has no idea about those for whom this lifestyle is "natural".
In my opinion, none of these passages refer to same-sex orientation, but to those who used sex for personal gain.
Isn't it strange that if homosexuality is such a giant evil in the world, our Lord never once spokeabout it. Instead, he spent his time on the real issues of love and justice. The ones who were condemned by Him were those who sought to abuse their position and power for personal gain. Jesus shows us, through his actions and his words, that God is concerned about not who we love, but how well we love. This is why, in God's eyes, there is no bond or free, no Jew or Gentile, no gay or straight... We are all ONE in Christ Jesus.
So please don't throw the baby out with the bath water. The Bible is a precious jewel that can enrich our understanding of, and relationship with, our Heavenly Parent. Don't let the scriptures gather dust on your bookshelf. Feast upon the words and let God's spirit guide you in all things.
Pastor Sue Palmer © 2007