All posts by Judy

St John’s Dedication Festival

Personal reflections on the St John the Evangelist Halifax Street Adelaide, History of a Colonial Church (working draft 2021).

Judy Gilbertson

Firstly, I must say that I could never be construed as a historian. At St Johns that cap fits firmly on two heads whom we all know and respect. But I do find enjoyment in good stories and this church certainly has a few.

Guests who roam around our church may wonder at the aged fixtures, beautiful glass windows and … they may even look at the Rood and wonder where these features all came from…and indeed they should. For we are a part of this city’s colonial past and on a journey to this present moment.

When Rev’d James Farrell sailed from the motherland to lead his new congregation at St Johns- in -the- Wilderness he was no doubt full of energy. He was sent out into the bush to find his church only to discover its foundations. The tears he is said to have shed can be understood as he was expecting something much much better.

Eventually the church was built but it was far from serviceable. Indeed, it was with time so woebegone (according to Rev’d Slaney Poole) that it was condemned by the City Council. The walls were out of plumb and cracked and the floor a home to white ants. All I can say is that the parishioners must have been sturdy folk at that time. Given our risk management focus these days most of us may have felt compelled to stay at home, or listen to the service from one of the cracks in the walls.

With the passage of time a new church was built and many of the old bricks provided for the building of what is now known as St Mary Magdelene….so all was not lost. The style of that new church is the form we have today.

Over the next few decades, the depression, world wars, and indeed the great flood of the river Murray created havoc in society. St Johns led the way with youth shelters and accommodation for homeless men and women. We should be proud as parents of these programs.

More recently arrangements with the Society of the Sacred Mission proved hugely beneficial to both parties. It seems to me that a pivotal point came when Father Christopher Myers was appointed as he took to heart the outcomes of the Second Vatican Council. I recall him saying to me how important he thought visual experience and power of beauty was to worship “to move people beyond words alone.”

Thus began a monumental shift in the St Johns interior decor. I have no doubt many of you may recall those heady days of renovation. They must have been all consuming. Ron Danvers told me that when Father Christopher hung the Rood, he felt the church’s keystone was at last in place…. how special is that!

To those of you who are part of that history and the wonderful restoration work I say thank you.

Looking back over our grand history I am taken by the faith, resilience, and sheer determination of our forebears. Even we, who seem to live in a time bubble, can if prompted, look back at our youth and marvel at the journey that has led us here.

The thing that is the bedrock of our lives, and that unites us as a community is our faith. Without this certainty and guidance, life would be lived from one moment to the next and from one challenge to the next, without recourse to a rationale for the journey we seem to be on. Similarly church life can either be lived thinking of short-term goals or perhaps expanding them to a more distant horizon, the “long game”. That is the difference between strategies quickly achieved and those that are worked through over time.

I would like to think that at some point in the future a historian will say …look at the St Johns church and its community…still strong and purposeful. They must be blessed … and indeed we are. Let’s be grateful for God’s guidance and for providing us with an anchor and strength as we move through this life to the next.

But let’s also look at the journey of our forebears as they can teach us much.

David Hilliard OAM

St John’s is one of a handful of congregations in Adelaide which have had a continuous existence since the early years of the colony of South Australia. And unlike most of the others it remains on the same site.

In reading the history of this church, which was initiated by Caroline Adams and Ted Ward and brought to completion by Judy Gilbertson, I am struck by these particular features.

Churches change. This is pretty obvious. And they have their ups and downs. St John’s had a near-death experience in the 1970s and was rescued by the arrival of the Society of the Sacred Mission which brought in new people and revitalised the parish. Sunday worship and the preaching at St John’s in the 1840s was very different from, say, 1901 and there are many differences between 1950 and the present.

This is one of the few churches in the south-east corner of the city of Adelaide and therefore it has a unique relationship with this area. The only other churches are, I think the Christian Spiritualist church in Carrington Street and the Christadelphian Temple in Halifax Street which do not see themselves as part of the local community. Madge Memorial Methodist Church, further west along Halifax Street, was closed in 1960.

When this area was thickly inhabited St John’s was parish church for all sorts of people who lived here, in the big houses along East Terrace and the little cottages in the side streets. This is shown by the number of names on the First World War honour roll of young men from the parish who served and died. But today St John’s does not have the same local connections that it once did and not many parishioners live in the area. For the people who occupy the cafes and restaurants in Hutt Street on Sundays this church is foreign territory.

For much of the last 130 years, since the opening of the new church in 1887, St John’s has a strong tradition of church music. In the early years there was large choir of men and boys and H. P. Finniss, who was rector in the 1920s was a noted church musician. In recent years this tradition has been revived. The church has come to be a popular location for concerts and recitals.

Notable people have been associated with this church. Not many can claim as a parishioner a professor who was later awarded a Nobel Prize – Sir William Bragg. Many parishioners have played an important role in the public life of this city and state.

The people of St John’s have not been concerned only with personal piety and the church world. They have looked outside. They have sought to meet the physical needs of people of the area – relief during the Great Depression, Father Wallace’s assistance to homeless men in the 1970s, and notably the youth shelter that evolved into St John’s Youth Services.

There is much to be proud of. However, no church can live off its history. This church has shown that it can adapt. It has great resources to meet the challenges ahead.

Caroline Adams

As the second Anglican church in South Australia St John’s holds an important place in the European history of the colony. Since its shaky beginnings from the laying of the foundation stone in October 1839 and its early meetings in the ‘Temple of Ease’ in Halifax Street it has been a part of Adelaide life. It has been a constant through depressions, wars, good times and pandemics. Such as constant can be a great comfort to the community. It is also important to consider that the land that St John’s was built on was sacred to the traditional owners. In a way we are continuing to uphold a sense of sacredness.

Researching the history of St John’s allows me to enter into the lives of others. Yes, the past is a foreign country that we can never fully understand, but we can appreciate the faith of those who came before us, from Jane Cox of Derby who, it is reported in 1841 donated amongst other things, some 200 hymn books to the fledging church, to local parishioner Professor Bragg. (How many churches can boast a Nobel prize winner as a sidesman!) Reading old copies of the parish magazine reveals that they had similar issues to us, from fund raising activities to caring for the welfare of others. They also had to deal with war, and indeed much of the fabric of the church has some connection to the memory of those who served Australia in war, from the memorial candlesticks (and snuffer) to the font and various stained-glass windows. There is a certain incongruency in that so much of the beauty of the church, much commented upon by visitors, is as a result of such remembrance.

Rev Don Wallace, writing on the 125th anniversary of St John’s wrote how ‘[T]he original St John’s congregation were pioneers. They faced the task of establishing a nation, and the equally formidable task of meeting and dealing with all the new knowledge that was just waiting to be born …’. In the 21st century we are still pioneers, exploring how we can best use technology, negotiating living in a postmodern world with a multiplicity of voices and working out how we can live ecologically sound in God’s creation. Perhaps in years to come, historians will be writing about how we, in our little corner of Adelaide, tackled these challenges.



Experiencing alienation, suffering and uncertainty may lead to true compassion

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 20 B – Job 23 1-9, 16-17, Ps  22 1-15, Heb 4 12-16, Mk 10 17-31

Heb 4.15 we don’t have a high priest who’s unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.

Today our scripture readings are about people being tested: their pain thresholds are tested; their faith is tested; their relationships with family and friends are tested; their commitment to God is tested. We’ve heard Job’s cry of fearful despair, 17If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face. Then the Psalmist’s anguished cry, My God, I cry to you by day, but you don’t answer: and by night also I take no rest. And in the Gospel, when Jesus calls the rich man to exchange his worldly inheritance for the inheritance of eternal life he seeks, the test is beyond him, and we witness his shocked grief as he goes away from Jesus.

We’d have more difficulty relating to all this if it hadn’t been for the past eighteen months where the pandemic response has seen the world turned upside down for us and billions of people. Old certainties have been swept away; connections with friends and family cruelly disrupted; people’s jobs dramatically changed – if they haven’t disappeared altogether – and making plans for the future has become frustratingly provisional. Most unusually for citizens of a country like Australia, we’ve had a taste of what life is like for much of the world much of the time. So this morning’s readings may speak to us more immediately than they usually do.

Job, the Psalm and the Gospel give eloquent portraits of human suffering in the face of God’s apparent silence, and Hebrews gives us Christ entering into that pain as both the mediator between us and God, and as the embodiment of both us and God. Heb 4.15 we don’t have a high priest who’s unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.

This comes up in so many conversations – the question of where God is when it hurts. So many people are caught up in the apparent meaninglessness of their chronic pain, or that of their loved ones. Yet we, the Church, assert that God loves us. Does this make sense? How can God really be loving if this sort of thing is allowed? There are people all over the world asking this question right now – children orphaned by Covid, medical staff bearing the brunt of the unspeakable suffering of patients cut off from their families.

Online, there’s a parallel pandemic of unfeeling opportunism which makes things even worse for the victims of Covid. Where on earth is God? It’s no wonder that people feel cut off from the love of God when so much of the commentary offers such a cruel parody of the care God wants for them. People feel cut off.

Our readings today speak out of that experience of being cut off. They face the fact head on that being a person of faith doesn’t give us immunity from suffering or misfortune or unfulfilment. Job’s is a story of someone whose world collapsed around him. His neighbours turned out to be the exact opposite of the proverbial friends in need. His faith was no guarantee of him finding meaning in his suffering. And the Psalmist laments God’s silence in the midst of terrible pain. And then, out of the blue, we run into that rich man in the gospel. He had all his financial and religious ducks in a row in this life, but he wasn’t confident of his place in the next.

Faith is no insurance against being a mortal human. The rich man sensed this, so he asked Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ It’s a question someone only asks if they’ve inherited everything they need in this life. Now he wants to know how he can inherit the life to come? The heart of this story is where Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you’ll have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ Give away your family inheritance; your responsibility to your parents and your children; all you’ve been entrusted with; everyone you belong to. Go, give it to the poor. Then come and join me, says Jesus. I offer you a new family; me and my followers.

Jesus, looking at us, loves us. He calls us to be his family – to work with him to alleviate people’s poverty, their fear, their illnesses and their loneliness – to adopt these dear ones into Christ’s family by being family to them, and by doing that, to end the silence they’ve endured when they cried out for God.

And these stories today make me ask if there’s one more thing Jesus is asking of us – whether we may need to experience alienation and suffering and uncertainty like Job and the Psalmist and the rich man did so that we can offer true compassion to the poor and the needy – the compassion that comes from experience – maybe even of poverty. Then through us, these dear ones might just meet the one who’s able to sympathize with all our weaknesses, because we’ve been tested as they are.  Amen

The Season of Creation 5: St Francis Sunday

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

St Francis Sunday – Season of Creation 5B

For me, this Season of Creation has again been one of deep challenge. In no other season of the year are we challenged so directly to renounce our current lifestyle and live simply so that others may simply live. The immediate urgency of that message is amplified by the international Covid vaccine disparities. While we rich countries discuss the possible benefit of a third booster dose, millions fall ill in poor countries and their health systems collapse as their governments cry out for even a first dose. What on earth do we think we’re doing?!

Live simply so that others may simply live. It’s very like a call to renounce the world of materialism and enter a religious order, and by doing that, to choose to proclaim the Gospel through a decision to live simply. Franciscans and many other orders choose a life of poverty, chastity and obedience; a choice for renunciation.

I had a childhood where a type of renunciation was a very attractive proposition; it was taken up by people who were just a little bit older than me. Their way was to drop out, leave the rat-race behind and embrace peace and love. It was the reaction of young, idealistic people against the lifestyle of their parents and the Vietnam War. They sang about these things in the protest songs of their era, and they carried their message to the world in VW Kombi vans painted with iridescent flowers. It’s an irony that some of them grew up to become prominent billionaire entrepreneurs.

So I’ve been left with an ethos inside me that’s a combination of the flower-power peacenik, the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus’ command to mission. And on St Francis’ Day, it all comes to a head. It’s been given a much sharper edge by the intertwined messages of this year’s Season of Creation – creation care and social justice. They can’t be separated. I’m also aware that this Season of Creation is being observed by people of other faiths too. The call to detach ourselves from the ties that bind us to selfish lives, and instead live in simple ways that leave enough for everyone and everything to share in life; this rings true in other world faiths too.

So what are the next steps? Overcoming fear is one of them. Rowan Williams says that when we are healed of our sin and our fear, when we find our healing, our deliverance from selfishness and greed and anxiety, it begins to make a mysterious difference to everything. We begin to see that God’s purpose for the whole creation is glory for all that is made, where human beings share with all other things. As St Paul puts it, creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Rm 8.21 What joy!

Rowan Williams says that somehow our deliverance into joy and thanksgiving – into reconciliation with God and one another – spills over into the reconciliation and the transfiguration of the whole world we’re in. Our liberation is the world’s liberation. Good news for us should be good news for the whole of God’s world.

So for us to be sharing good news with the whole human race and the whole world in which and from which we live, means first of all for us to be set free; set free from the myth that somehow human beings really exist somewhere else than in the world as it truly is; that somehow we’re in charge; that somehow this is given to us to use as we wish, as if we were not embodied but disembodied.

Rowan Williams says we need to be delivered from all that. We need to be delivered not only from untruth but from fear; the fear that if we take steps of courage and generosity in relation to the world and to each other, that there’s anything fearful in that. We can live simply so that others may simply live. And that’s a new life; life for us, life for our neighbours, life for the creation in which God has placed us. That’s something for joy not fear. So let’s focus on the thanksgiving and the wonder of the gift we’ve been given in our universe. And the gift of faith, perspective, courage, and spirit-filled vision that is ours.

It starts right now. We begin this right now with our prayers for healing. Today, they’re worded in a way that calls each of us to the vocation of healing; healing for each other, healing for the sick and the poor, and healing for the Earth. Amen

The Season of Creation 4: God has created a place of wonder, keeping it all in balance,

Father John Beiers

As we read the Psalms, we become aware that the writers stood in awe of the created world, and constantly praised God as the creator. Over and over again, we read phrases like…(Ps. 8:4&5) “when I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you have set in order, what are we that You should be mindful of us?” Also Ps. 19:1 “The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His  handiwork.” The Hebrews recognised the splendour of God’s creation, praised Him for it, and pointed out that only the wisdom and power of God could bring it into being. Indeed this was their proof of the existence of God.

As a child, the beauty and immensity of the created world was wondrous to me, but it did not yet point me to the glory of God, the Creator. But, as a child, I wondered why orange trees always produced oranges, and not avocados sometimes, or a mixture of both. Something or someone of intelligence was keeping things constant, not chaotic. As I learned about God through correspondence Sunday School lessons, I came to understand that God was the source of a stable and reliable creation all around me. How wonderful! And here are some instances that struck me as wonderful, and revealed a God of glory to me.

Brisbane Sunsets

Real awareness began when I was about 18, and the family had moved to Brisbane. We lived in an old Queenslander house on the top of a hill, in a suburb called Wavell Heights. The front verandah looked to the West, and often in the Summer there would be a heavy rainstorm at the end of the day. Residual clouds packed like fairy floss on the top of the ranges in the distance, at sunset, with colours that dazzled you. They were bright red, luminous green, royal purple, shiny yellow, and all colours in between. It was unbelievable. It made my heart glow. It made me think of God, in whom there is no darkness at all. The clouds could have been all black, grey and brown…but they weren’t. Neither was a rainbow, when it appeared. Nor was sunrise. Clouds were white, except when warning us of a storm. It seems that God planned the colours of such events to lift up the human heart, and to be glorious to behold. I was beginning to see the glory of God displayed in His creation.

I sometimes mentioned these wonders to others, and if they hesitated to use the word “God”, they gave the credit to a wondrous woman called Mother Nature. I could never track her down. There was no record of Father Nature, nor their children, but she seemed to be the source of all the wonders of creation, and no-one knew where she lived.

Reading the History of the Earth:

I was starting to see the Wisdom of God all around. At University I studied Mining Engineering and one major subject was Geology. Like all geology students, I bought myself a little geology pick, to collect specimens of rock. We would be travelling in the car, and I would say, “Dad! Stop” . He would say, “Oh, no, not again, more rocks to take home!” We were also taught how to read the history of local areas by studying exposed rock faces in quarries and road cuttings. The highway cuttings through the sandstone north of Sydney were great, but the cuttings on the South Eastern Freeway from Adelaide were the best. Clear for all to see were layers of sand, then clay, then maybe ocean sediments, where maritime fossils stood out. You could see where there had been a fault, where the earth had moved, and layers shifted relative to each other. Our geological history was not chaotic, but ordered, controlled by an intelligent mind.

Made in the Womb:

In the Old Testament, Psalm 139 says:-   “For you have created my inward parts:  you knit me together in my mother’s womb. You knew my soul, and my bones were not hidden from you; when I was formed in secret, and woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my limbs when they were yet imperfect. Day by day they were fashioned: and not one was late in growing.”

Even then, King David and others recognised that the world had  not randomly developed, but was the product of a divine intelligence, which maintained order and constancy. If it were not so, then woman could give birth to animals, fruit trees would produce any fruit at all, flowers would be chaotic, and the atmosphere would be totally unpredictable .Life would be unbearable and we would go mad in the confusion of it all.

Evensong in the Grove:

As part of creation, we have an ability  to recognise its beauty and attraction. For example, when, on one occasion, as a Bush Brother I was on a long drive from one centre to another, I saw a grove of tall trees on a sand hill just off the road a bit, I was drawn to stop and have my Evening Prayers there. I later mentioned this to Brother Godfrey, who said, “That is strange. I was attracted to something in that Grove, and I say Evening Prayer there too!”

Flying from Birdsville to Alice Springs:

Now that is a small thing, but significant to me. Now for something bigger. I have already told some of you here today about the following  phenomenon, so please forgive the repetition. I was elected to be Head Brother of the Bush Brothers, and part of my duty was to visit other Brothers in isolated places to encourage them in their ministry. I was greatly blessed to have a Cessna 182 to get around all over Western Queensland and NSW and the NT. I was the pilot. It so happened that I needed to fly to Alice Springs, and the fastest way was from Birdsville, a distance of about 600 km. This required me to cross the Simpson Desert, which I had never done before, and which, quite frankly, scared me a bit.

Our plane had two Automatic Direction Finders, or ADFs. Nearly alI aerodromes at that time had a radio beacon which broadcasted a signal in all directions, on a particular frequency, which could be picked up by an ADF in a plane. The ADF’s needle then pointed to the destination. I knew that I would lose the Birdsville signal about 100 km out into the Desert, and that there would be a considerable time before I could pick up the signal from Alice Springs. I would be flying about 100 km or more without any visible means of knowing where I was, but I would have radio contact with Alice Springs for some of the way. So I sat down with my aeronautical maps, and studied the route. There was sandhill after sandhill for most of the route. But I discovered something wonderful. Every sandhill was recorded on the map, all the way along my path. This meant that those hills were stationary. They did not move. They could be used as landmarks for navigation. Some forked then rejoined, some just terminated. Others just started. Obviously, God had designed them especially for aviators.

So then, with full fuel, I started the engine, and activated the signal from the Birdsville beacon, about 100 metres away. It was a strong signal. Then I switched on my second direction finder, dialled up Alice Springs, and, wonder of wonders, the needle slowly swung round to point to Alice Springs. It should not have happened like that. I was not in the air, and I was certainly out of range. Thanks be to God, I now felt much better. The trip went well, with recognisable sandhills all along the path.

But it doesn’t have to be something major like that trip over the desert to see the glory of creation. Anyone can see it.  Consider a sunflower. It’s big and there is an evident pattern to the arrangement of its parts ,which never changes. It is called fractal, and it happens with many flowers. Here is a tiny flower, so small that it takes a magnifying glass to see the detail. And guess what? It has the same repeated pattern of a fractal. Coincidence? I don’t think so. God appears to have a whimsical nature.


Finally, I want to say that God’s Creation is wonderful for us, like it was for the Hebrews, even if we live in a technological world, and that it is relatively stable, allowing for the fact that Los Angeles is prone to earthquakes, that Hawaii has active volcanoes, and that certain islands grow while others disappear. If we respect these anomalies, then our world is a safe and predictable place to be. If we know that our wildlife has specific habitats, we must respect and preserve them. But, above all, it is clear to see, for those who open their eyes, that our God has created a place of wonder, keeping it all in balance, where we can live in harmony with it all. And if you are spiritually depressed, look into a tiny flower, and realise that God made it to lift your heart to Him, and say “Thank you”.   End.



The Season of Creation 3: We are called to Earth care

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

SOC 3  – The family of God in our Common Home – Prov 31, Ps 1, Jas 3-4, Mk 9 30-37

A capable wife who can find? What we heard from Proverbs today is the culmination of the book. The environmental scientist and priest, Shaun Cozett writes, [It’s a book where] Wisdom is often spoken of in feminine terms. So to speak of Wisdom as a woman or a wife is nothing strange. Here … Wisdom models the way to look after our home. … She ensures that everyone and everything can flourish: her family15, the poor20, the land16 and the economy.24

I notice too ‘she’s not afraid for her household’21 and ‘she laughs at the time to come’.25 If only that were true for everyone now.

The Season of Creation is a time when we, the Church, focus on something called incarnational spirituality – the understanding that a physical, flesh-and-blood life can be a true expression of the Spirit of God. We Christians know this most clearly expressed in Jesus, the Word of God, born and living as one of us.

With Jesus as our central focus, we might easily overlook a passage like Proverbs 31 where the Spirit of Wisdom is presented to us incarnated as a woman. Like Jesus, she embodies Wisdom’s gracious and life-affirming nature. She too is an expression of incarnational spirituality. The lesson she offers is that every aspect of our physical life is spiritually significant; our choices and actions don’t just affect ourselves and other people; they are important to God, and essential to true flourishing. That’s the message of today’s Psalm too; we are to be like trees planted by streams of water, who yield our fruit in due season.

Our New Testament scripture readings, like the Psalm, present us with the seriousness of choosing otherwise. We get a sense from them of the destructive power of passions, divisions, bitter jealousies, selfish ambition, and competition. James describes as demonic the way these impulses can distort wisdom.

We saw Jesus confronted by these impulses among his followers today. For a second time – even despite the disastrous episode with Peter we saw last week – Jesus tries to teach them about his death and resurrection. Again they don’t get it. Their response is to argue among themselves about who is the greatest. So Jesus teaches them that leadership is service, not dominance. Mk 9.36 Then he takes a little child … in his arms, and says to his disciples, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ Yet another chance! That’s grace at work for you.

True leadership is shown in care for the most vulnerable, and it is in giving this particular kind of care – where we don’t anticipate a repayment or a higher status for ourselves – it is in service and care that we meet God in each other and in ourselves.

In the language that incarnational spirituality might apply to this sort of choice, we’d be exercising our primal vocation to serve and care for Earth Gen 2.15, and realising our primal identity as Earth-creatures made in God’s image and likeness. Gen 1.27

That’s what the Woman-Wisdom of Proverbs is teaching us; what the birth and ministry of Jesus is teaching us; that we can embody God’s life-giving kindness and service too. The Good News is that God offers us divine wisdom and the rewards of wise living, even while we are still acting unwisely. That’s Shaun Cozett’s helpful paraphrase of Romans 5.8 – God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Here it is again; God offers us divine wisdom and the rewards of wise living, even while we are still acting unwisely.

So we are called to Earth care. Those who are teaching us about the best exercise of this care – scientists who work in meteorology, biology, oceanography and geography, and agencies of the United Nations and NGOs who work with the people and other creatures hardest hit by global heating and habitat destruction – they are all crying out to everyone to do what we can. Wisdom cries out in the marketplace, and thankfully, many people are answering that call.

In this Season of Creation, the world’s churches and people of all other faiths are joining together in an unprecedented alliance to heed these calls for concerted action. I’ve given you a link in my weekly so you can connect with an organisation which is coordinating this multi-faith action. There is much to be done in a country where the government is wilfully blind and deaf to wisdom’s cries for climate justice and the preservation of life, and instead places its faith, and the welfare of our region, in unspecified technology and a wild ‘for-ever-after’ arms race.

Wisdom’s call and our united response could not be more urgent. At deanery this week, as we were talking about these things, our Area Dean, Jenny Wilson shared a powerful statement from Dr Elizabeth Johnson SOSJ which drives home the meaning of inaction; Extinction is the death of birth itself.

Shaun Cozett asks, Could Earth be facing what Jesus was trying to teach his apostles in today’s gospel: “I will be handed over to people who will kill me…”? It’s the poorest and most vulnerable of Earth’s people and the creatures of Earth who have no voice, those who have done nothing to create this crisis, who are the first to bear its horror.

Jesus takes them in his arms and says to us now, ‘Whoever welcomes one such little one in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ Wisdom cries out to be visible, active, engaged – Wisdom must not let herself be gagged. God offers us divine wisdom and the rewards of wise living, even while we are still acting unwisely. I pray that we and people of faith everywhere may follow her lead.  Amen

The Season of Creation 2: Sacrifices needed for the sake of the Earth and the poor.

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

SOC 2  – Mark 8.27-38

Mk 8.34 Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

We’ve probably heard these words all our lives, and each time, we may have wondered what they’re asking of us. Jesus calls to the crowd and the disciples, it says. This is Mark’s way of saying that Jesus is looking straight out of the page at you and me – the crowd; it’s Mark’s way of saying Jesus is calling to each of us, and if we want to be his followers, we are meant to respond to this.

The words about gaining the whole world speak directly to me. I lack for nothing in this world. Yet I’ve just heard Jesus equate worldly gain with forfeiting life, and losing life for his sake and for the sake of the Gospel as the way of salvation. I’m strongly reminded of the words I quoted from Rev Sabelo Mthimkhulu last week. Those of us who live comfortable lives, can no longer live as if we are ignorant of the links between our comforts – built on exploitative and unsustainable economic practices – and the suffering of the poor. … So what’s a way forward?

Roman Catholic social teaching has always been very forthright. Discussing today’s gospel (in materials I’ve sent you), they make a clear link between those who lose their life for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the gospel and the ones they call present-day climate martyrs. They write, ‘people around the planet who are raising their prophetic voices for Care of Earth and Care of the Poor in these times are enduring the resistance, persecution, suffering, and death we hear about. They make up a community of the human martyrs of this age, joining the plants, animals and other species suffering extinction from the effects of human-generated climate change. These human martyrs have numbered between one and two hundred each year in the last two decades and represent all major areas of the planet: powerful witnesses calling us all to the seriousness of our mission and to courage and hope.’

This is powerful teaching; it presents contemporary examples of people who deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Jesus. And it’s very, very confronting for ‘developed-world’ Christians. It’s a call to each of us to make real sacrifices for the sake of the Earth and for the sake of the Poor. I know that some of the goods and services I consume here cause the sufferings and deaths of poor people and wild creatures. If I wish to be a follower of Jesus, I must change the way I live, and I must urge people of influence to change the way the economy operates.

A story of economic regulations imposed on the economies of poor countries burdened by loans. These so-called ‘structural adjustments’ are required by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund who act on behalf of wealthy donor nations. The loan recipient countries are required to sell essential utilities to foreign bodies, and ordered to gear their primary industries – agriculture and resource extraction – so as to generate cash to service the loans. The fact that these requirements are imposed on many countries, and many are required to produce the same ‘cash crops’ simultaneously mean that the World Bank can ensure that we of the rich world pay these countries rock-bottom prices for them, and so the loans can almost never be paid off; eg, sugar in the 1980s and palm oil now.

If I wish to be a follower of Jesus, I must change the way I live, and I must urge people of influence to change the way the world economy operates. As a group, we’re not good at hearing this. We sing God’s praises for the plenty we enjoy. But if we get fired up to protest, it’s about personal liberties being infringed by others – like the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls, or other repressive governments’ unfair control of their citizens.

Yet when it comes to the effect of our developed-world economic system on the Earth-community and the poor of this world, as a society and as a church, we’re often deaf, or we think we have no voice.

There are loud voices out there who champion the status quo – angry, dangerous, false voices that intimidate and ridicule to silence the truth. It’s always been so; witness Good Friday.

But as followers of Jesus, we answer to the God who calls us to serve and protect the Earth, and in the Spirit’s strength, to proclaim good news to the poor and to set the oppressed free. Time is short, and the call is crystal clear to all of us. And of course, it’s risky to do this; our lifestyle will need to change.

This is how I hear Jesus’ words today; Jesus calls us, and says to us, ‘If you want to be my followers, deny yourselves and take up your cross and follow me.

In their joint statement, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin link our experience of the Covid pandemic with the climate catastrophe in terms of the importance of justice. They remind us how we’ve ‘realised that, in facing this worldwide calamity [of Covid-19], no one is safe until everyone is safe, that our actions really do affect one another, and that what we do today affects what happens tomorrow.

These are not new lessons, but we have had to face them anew. May we not waste this moment. We must decide what kind of world we want to leave to future generations. God mandates: ‘Choose life, so that you and your children might live’ (Deut 30:19). We must choose to live differently; we must choose life.’   Amen

The Season of Creation 1: Climate Injustice

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Season of Creation 1 – Prov 22, Ps 125, Jas 2, Mark 7

Today we begin our Season of Creation. Creation astonishes me with its beauty, its incomprehensible vastness and its microscopic intricacy; with its tremendous age and inexhaustible energy. We experience Creation directly in Earth’s disinterested generosity; in the way Earth engenders and sustains a staggeringly diverse and balanced web of life in perfect balance, and yet in terrifying vulnerability– there’s a home for every creature under the sun. And when any creature confronts a barrier to its thriving, creation has endowed life with the gift of adaptation, evolution.

The more I learn of all this the more astounding it is. Creation teaches me about the divine Spirit who infuses, embodies and bathes all this; love and delight, weaving an ever more diverse web of interconnected mutual being, balance and life. This is reflected in the life of Jesus; in his way of building beautiful, healing, life-giving community. This isn’t to ignore the traumas and tragedies that are a part of life – and the witness of Jesus shows that God is no stranger to them. Death and suffering are part of life. God has entered all of this with us in Christ; that’s compassion.

For me, all this is what reveals our God whom we worship as Trinity. And yet, on this first Sunday in the Season of Creation, in the face of Creation’s generous provision for all, we are confronted by scriptures which speak to us about the breakdown in justice between people and peoples which produces obscene discrepancies of wealth and poverty; scriptures which speak to us about the greedy and the dispossessed, scriptures which challenge those with the means to clothe and feed the poor or heal the sick – that we should get on and do so.

In world terms, I am being addressed here personally as one who has those means, and so what I might say about these things can hardly have a ring of authenticity about it. So I’m going to share part of a sermon on today’s scriptures from someone who speaks to us from the place of the dispossessed and the poor; Rev Sabelo Mthimkhulu, of the Diocese of Natal. Let’s hear what he has to say.

Rev Sabelo says, “Jas 2.15-17 is a direct challenge to us in a world of climate injustice. It is not enough to send ‘thoughts and prayers’ to those impacted by drought or extreme weather events.

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:15-17

In a world of climate injustice, where careless use of fossil fuels leads to insecurity, disaster, and suffering for the world’s poor and marginalised, we can no longer send ‘thoughts and prayers’ to those who are victims of drought and extreme weather events. We must do something, take action, both in terms of our carbon footprint, but also to pressurize our church institutions, our politicians and our businesses to hear the cry of the poor and hungry.

  1. 6 Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?

For those of us who live comfortable lives, we can no longer live as if we are ignorant of the links between our comforts – built on exploitative and unsustainable economic practices – and the suffering of the poor. … Many churches are involved in relief efforts, when we hear of a hurricane or drought made worse by climate change, in the face of media photos we give, we donate, and we pray. We must also support developmental projects assisting people to adapt to climate change (for instance water tanks in drought areas, agro-forestry efforts.) But we also need to challenge the structural injustices and root causes of climate change and environmental degradation. We need to re-activate the prophetic voice of the church, particularly by amplifying the voices of women and youth. And we must be willing to be converted ourselves, by the voices of the marginalised. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, ‘If you are being neutral in the situation of injustice, you have already chosen the side of the oppressor.’” (I’ll include Rev Sabelo’s full text on our website)

Back to me. Today’s readings speak about injustice; about shamefully unequal sharing in the good gifts of Earth which God has provided. They expose the way the celebration and joy and thanks we want to offer to God in this Season for Creation’s wonder, intricacy, beauty and bounty are mocked and thwarted by the injustices they name and denounce. These are injustices which are instrumental in sustaining our lifestyle. The readings remind us that injustice is the product of greed, which is self-worship. And in the Season of Creation, we become especially mindful of this greed being so out of control now that it threatens the existence of life on Earth within the lifetimes of our own children, if not our own lives.

The materials I attached to my weekly newsletter offer suggestions for strong action that we can take to make a difference. Over the coming weeks of this Season, let’s think about how we as individuals and as a community can make changes to the way we live, and how, together, we can amplify the call for justice.      Amen

Perfect gifts that are the stock in trade of St John’s Youth Services

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 14 – James 1 17-27 Mark 7 1-8 14-23

At last week’s meeting of the local ministers’ association, I sat down with three of my Lutheran colleagues to discuss the scriptures that were to come up today. We share the same lectionary with them and with many other churches. Seeing as the Letter of St James was among these readings, I rudely asked them if the Lutherans were okay with James these days. One of the best known facts about the Letter of St James is that Martin Luther really didn’t think it should be included in the Bible.

Luther was a great supporter of St Paul’s teaching that we are saved by faith alone. Paul says we can’t be saved by doing good works or earning merit, but rather – God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Rom 5.8 Luther read that to mean that the Pope was teaching the wrong thing back then; all those indulgences – buying Rome’s merit to earn salvation. For Paul, Jesus died for us even though we don’t deserve it; even though we don’t have lots of stars beside our names in God’s little black book. By God’s grace, salvation is an unearned gift.

So when Luther read in James faith without works is dead 2.26 he called it Popish; he saw it as directly opposed Paul’s teaching, so it should be left out. Anyway, you’ll be pleased to know that my Lutheran colleagues assured me they’re okay with James these days. And part of the reason why is in the first verse we read from his letter today; Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above.

What that means is that people’s good works and kindness are also God’s gift to us; they’re the Holy Spirit’s gift through us. The Holy Spirit inspires gifts of generosity and compassion in people. James builds on this; he teaches Christians about daily life. He calls us to be responsible, taking seriously our emotional lives, our religious faith, and our behavior. For James, we can even see ourselves as early signs of God’s new creation. But there’s something else very interesting in this verse. Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above. The Letter of James doesn’t confine itself to the generous acts and perfect gifts of people who profess a faith in God; it says every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above.

James actually sounds a lot like Paul to me here. Just as Paul teaches that God doesn’t wait for us to earn salvation before offering it to us, James teaches that God’s grace doesn’t wait for us have a faith, or to earn a gift of generosity or kindness before we find those gifts at work in our lives. They’re gifts we see being used everywhere, not just among people of religion, but anywhere they’re needed. Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above.

Some people seem uncomfortable with the notion of God being involved in their kindness and generosity. But they seem happy to say the Universe has somehow had a hand in it, and I’m sure God’s okay with that. Anyway, today, I’m delighted that we have the letter of St James in front of us with its focus on generous social justice. Because today, I want to celebrate the generous acts of giving – perfect gifts – that are the stock in trade of St John’s Youth Services.

Every month, I look forward to the stories in the CEO’s report to the board; stories of case workers going a huge extra distance; of young people receiving a new start in life they’d never imagined possible; lives characterised by security, possibility, safety, hope, confidence, joy; things we want for all young people. After their encounter with SJYS, almost none of these young people ever need to come back there for more support. They’ve been launched, carrying that love and commitment within them. Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above.

Because of SJYS, over the past three decades, more than 15,000 of SA’s street kids have experienced perfect gifts; gifts of compassion, respect and dedication. They’ve experienced the most sincere belief in them; belief in their value, their ability and their potential. They’ve been championed by the most skilled, united team of tenacious advocates walking alongside them that I can think of anywhere. In my language, they’ve experienced God’s love for them. The SJYS team has a collective sense of family and purpose, there’s an atmosphere of compassion and commitment that seems to be the air these people breathe. Perfect gifts for the job. Today as Wendy retires after 28 years as CEO, we give thanks for all this.          Amen.

Commit to following the way of Jesus

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 13 – John 6.56-69… eat my flesh and drink my blood …

This is the year when the Church all over the world reads the Gospel of Mark. But for the past month, we’ve been reading the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. We started this just as we were about to read Mark’s account of Jesus feeding five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. Instead of reading it in Mark’s version, we swapped to John’s. And since then, we’ve stayed with John 6 where the theme is belief in Jesus who calls himself the living bread from heaven.

These weeks with John 6 mean we don’t simply witness a miracle and move on, but we stay and learn what it calls from us; it’s a call to deepen our faith and live it out in a way that bears witness to the character of Jesus; it’s a call to be discipled. It’s also a chance to deepen our thinking about the Holy Communion. John doesn’t actually give an account of the Last Supper, but rather teaches us about it by building on the sign of Jesus multiplying a boy’s bread and fish to feed everyone around him.

Today, when we hear Jesus describing himself as the bread that came down from heaven – and that whoever eats [him] will live forever – John wants us to see in this a definite continuity with Jesus’ multiplication of the bread; a continuity that carries into our weekly practice of Holy Communion, where Jesus continues to feed all of us. All the way through John 6, the challenge to believe is not the common one of whether or not we can accept that the sign of the feeding happened just as it was described. We’re called to look beyond that question. We’re called to respond to the one that the sign points to – we’re called to respond to the call to believe in Jesus.

The sign directs us to give attention to the one who shows us what God is really like; the one who shows us God who provides for all, unconditionally, who loves all unconditionally; God whose providence multiplies grace, love and justice.

These characteristics are most perfectly shown in the life and witness of Jesus. So in John’s Gospel, rather than a shared meal on the eve of the crucifixion, it is the whole earthly life of Jesus which institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist.

This means sharing in the Eucharistic meal means more than remembering or commemorating one particular event; rather, it’s a sharing in all of Jesus’ life, including ultimately his death and resurrection.’ NISB 1920

One of the challenges of this chapter in John is the astonishing way Jesus expresses himself. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. We know that most people there found these words from Jesus very hard to hear. And that difficulty remains for many. Jesus says that HE is the food that gives life, not Manna or any other bread. And it’s through eating his flesh and drinking his blood (6.53-6) in the Eucharist that we fully share in him and that we embody him. NISB 1920 We proclaim this in our Eucharistic prayers each week.

But the language of these prayers varies from church to church. There’s plenty of variety; a whole continuum from HC/ the Eucharist being an act of remembrance and no more, to it being a literal partaking in Christ’s flesh and blood. But across that spectrum, we agree that joining in HC/ the Eucharist embodies a relationship between Jesus and the believer which contains within it the promise of new life.

John the Evangelist declares that Jesus is the flesh and blood Word of God – the almighty creator of the universe. Yet today, he also shows us how Jesus’ most recent followers melt away appalled by his difficult call to eat his flesh and drink his blood. So Jesus is also the one who ends up abandoned to his first tiny band of disciples – and to us. Then Jesus addresses you and me directly. As he asks the twelve who remain with him, he also asks you and me ‘Do you also wish to go away?’

In this chapter and throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to move from a faith based on miracles that fulfil our own physical needs to a faith that is total trust in him, and in his words; words that can appear foolish, absurd, impossible, even scandalous.

John 6 is a difficult passage for us all. Jesus leads us from the excitement and enthusiasm of star-struck, new discipleship to one of sustained mutual love and friendship; a discipleship that is more hidden and humble. It’s the long road of choosing to be trustworthy, decent people; people who persist in believing that the cost of compassion and love, and the daily fight against injustice, greed and deceit abuse are sustained at a personal level by a lifelong commitment to following the way of Jesus. Are we prepared for that journey?

In God’s providence, those first disciples were able to travel that road. Jesus says to such as these, 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.

Do you also wish to go away? Simon Peter spoke for us when the challenge was most intense, 68 ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.

We go to Jesus – we go with Jesus; we follow him.

I pray that these six Sundays with the Bread of Life, the Word made flesh – our retreat from the headlong energy of Mark’s Gospel – gives us a deeper insight into both Gospels, and food for our journey with Jesus.  Amen

‘Headship’ and Domestic Violence

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 12 – Ephesians 5.11-31

I imagine parts of the Epistle reading shocked some of us this morning. Last week, I was contacted by a year 12 student who’s doing a research project on something called headship. Headship is a teaching emphasised in conservative and evangelical churches. It holds that in a marriage, the husband is the head of the household, and the wife should be subject to her husband in everything. This teaching is based in part on verses we heard in today’s epistle reading. The lectionary gave us the option of leaving these verses out, but I thought it better to confront them head on because of how they’ve been misused and how they’re still being misused to violate women.

The student’s research question is this: To what extent is the theology of male headship being used to justify domestic violence in marriages and against women in Christianity? You’ll notice that the question is not if headship is used to justify domestic violence; it’s asking to what extent it’s being used to justify it. There’s no question that it’s happening, and that is appalling.

I shared evidence of this with you in my weekly letter of June 18, where I included a copy of Abp Geoff’s pastoral letter. He directed our attention to a report which had just then been released by the National Anglican Family Violence Project. I emailed you the summary of that report on Friday to refresh your memories, and I have copies available here this morning for anyone who’s not on email.

Among the shocking findings of this report are that intimate partner violence happens more in Anglican households than in it does in the wider Australian community, and further, that it happens more in Anglican households where householders attend church than it does in homes where their church membership is nominal.

Does this mean headship teaching is heard as allowing intimate partner violence? Yes it does. And so it should come as no surprise that the majority of Anglicans experiencing ‘headship’-justified violence don’t approach a church for help.

Why would they? That’s where the teaching about ‘headship’ comes from; teaching that their abusers twist into violence. What help could they expect from a Church?

So to answer my year 12 student’s question, yes, this report shows that church teaching about male headship is definitely exploited by perpetrators to justify the violent abuse of their female partners. This is absolutely horrifying.

So to anyone who has endured bad teaching from the Church which has been further twisted to violate you, I say sorry. On behalf of the Church, I apologise.

Headship is not a new teaching, and it’s not confined to evangelical or conservative churches in our Anglican tradition. Looking back over the marriage vows in our prayer books, it’s been there all along. In the 1662 BCP marriage service, the bridegroom is asked to promise that he will love, comfort, honour, and keep the bride. But the bride must promise to obey, serve, love, honour, and keep the groom.

So for some reason, being ‘subject to the husband’ in Ephesians is interpreted in the BCP to mean obey and serve. The proposed 1928 revision of the BCP tried to make the vows equal – that each would love, comfort, honour, cherish and keep the other – but the Westminster parliament rejected that change.

In our 1978 AAPB, obey was still there in the first service, but not in the second one. In our current 1995 APBA, obey is finally gone altogether, but its shadow remains in the first service where the bride must honour the groom, but the groom is not asked to honour the bride. It’s an awful distortion of scripture, all the way through. It reflects an attitude that there is a hierarchy in households which admits of domestic abuse – the statistics bear witness to this.

So what is the right way to understand the scripture which gets invoked as a warrant for this hierarchical reading and the abuse which proceeds from it?

Ephesians 5.22 – 6.9 is a set of instructions which we call ‘household codes. This household code is one of several we find in the New Testament. They are quite similar to others we find in Roman and Greek writings of the time.

They are sets of guidelines on the conduct of relationships within a household. This one in Ephesians 5 deals with relationships between married couples, between parents and children, and between slaves and their owners.

Scholars (Keener 1992, Crouch 1972) believe that a major reason for the inclusion of household codes in the epistles was so church communities who were being accused of undermining the moral fabric of Roman society could show written proof that their teachings conformed to traditional Roman values. They also had the function of discouraging new believers from taking their new freedom in Christ to the point of publicly casting off all normal social constraints, and again, risking the safety of the church community – this was something which looked like happening in Corinth (1 Cor 5 – 7).

The household code in Ephesians 5 differs from the secular codes in a very particular way. It’s headed by verse 21 – Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. This is the principle which governs the code that follows it. It tells Christians to renounce any sense of priority over each other out of reverence for Christ – who emptied himself (Phil 2.7). So relationships between marriage partners, parents and children, slaves and owners are all to be seen in this light.

Our translations disguise the fact that in the most ancient Greek authorities, the injunction in verse 22 to wives does not contain the words be subject at all. So the original text works as though there is a semi-colon after verse 21 to be followed by a list. So verse 22 would then read as the first in a list of injunctions to Christians who must all respect this command … Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ; wives, to your husbands, as to the Lord … with the implication that in verse 25, husbands are the second ones thus addressed. This is underlined where husbands are charged in verse 25 to treat their wives like Christ who gave himself up for the Church. There is NO marital hierarchy here; and NO licence to control.

All followers of Jesus are to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ Jesus, who taught that service is the mark of discipleship – not dominance.

So understood rightly, this code teaches mutual care and service. But we have to name the fact that over the centuries, their reflection of first-century Mediterranean cultural mores has seen this and the other biblical household codes used not to promote care and service, but domination and patriarchy. And that’s abuse.

So what do we do with these codes now? We can reject them or ignore them, though that may sweep them under the carpet. And things under the carpet tend to pop up in unexpected and ugly ways. So instead, we can reclaim and teach a truer sense of these instructions; we can proclaim verse 21 as the key: Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Every Christian needs to reflect on how our intimate relationships can increasingly reflect Christ’s character – generous kindness, consistency, gracious forgiveness, open-hearted love.

In the meantime, we have much work to do to offer practical support and protection to victims and survivors of intimate partner violence. The Church owes these dear ones whatever is needed to break their prison bars open and release them into the true freedom of Christ.

May God give us the will and the strength to do that here – to do much better – so the true character of Christ may be seen by all – and so that every member of God’s household flourishes. Amen.