Author: Dean Eland

Telling the Story. Our History Tells Us Who We Are

Published / by Dean Eland

Congregations tell their story in print and orally in conversations and special events. Stories are shared through art exhibitions, displays, photo collections, murals, brochures and media including Facebook and web sites. Special events and anniversaries acknowledge the gifts and practices of those who have gone before.

Congregation stories are grounded in their local context, denominational and cultural traditions and through the shared memories of members and family connections.

The UCAs commitment to Covenanting reminds us that congregations now begin their story by acknowledging the land where they meet. Stories that explore their relationship with Australia’s First peoples who have a sense of place and belonging, who have practiced their culture and spiritual traditions over thousands of years before the founding of 19th century churches by colonists and those who came later.

We can encourage each other by sharing our unique stories in networks and workshops. Our sense of purpose and calling are also expressed through the songs we sing, liturgies, reflection and prayers and these weekly patterns empower our collective imagination, gives voice to our theological hopes and shape our actions into the future.

Stories also powerful when they recall the concrete, specific and achievable events that have influenced the lives of many. New identities also emerge for congregations as they recall elements from their story and re-interpret these insights to meet current challenges. Story rich experiences and in-depth reflection generates a new story and emerging identities are reaffirmed by theological insights and themes that describe who they are what they are called to do.

The United Reformed Church: A Paradoxical Church at a Crossroads

Published / by Dean Eland

It is easy to see small churches and read a narrative of decline. The lived reality is that, very frequently, small congregations have a disproportionate effect within their local communities. Small groups of people act as salt and light, offering transformation in the light of Christ to the communities they serve. In the quantitative element of this research, we found URC respondents listing “community outreach” as their highest priority, even above pastoral care of their own members. In towns, villages and cities across the three nations, the URC is in partnership with many others at local level, meeting community needs, and serving Christ as it serves those beyond its walls. (Foreword. Page 8)

Popular perspectives of historic denominations are that they represent an overwhelmingly older demographic. There is much truth in this. But again, behind that reality lies something more complex. The URC is a place where the voices of children and young people are heard, and actively influence the decision-making of all the governing councils of the church. Just as the URC places service to the local community above meeting the needs of its own members, its members, who are of an older demographic, place attending to the voices of young people centrally within the decision-making processes of the church.

In the end, then, the Church’s place in a changing religious landscape is not solely understood by grasping the right statistics or the high-level demographic changes, but by The United Reformed Church the way it acts on the ground. This report illustrates that the human face of the Church in modern Britain is found locally, as it is called to love its neighbour as itself.

As came through in the qualitative and the quantitative elements of the research, a clear strength of the URC is its vibrant activism or, as one survey respondent put it, “its unrelenting generosity to the local community”. All the churches we visited as part of the research had at least one project or initiative of building relationship with, and serving, its local community. In many cases, despite their small size, churches were involved in multiple projects, engaging a variety of groups, and responding to a variety of needs. (Aspects of Flourishing 1. Page 15.)

Our mission is to be out there, doing the work, and maintaining a place of welcome, friendship, love and support, where we talk honestly about things and where we share as much as we can of our life and faith, and our assets of time, money, and gifts. The marks of successful community outreach that we came across include (1) intentionally listening to the needs of the community; (2) recognising the assets of the community; (3) creatively deploying the assets of the congregation, and (4) working as much as possible in partnership with the community, in a model of mutual, rather than unidirectional service (Aspects of Flourishing 1. Page 20).

Chine McDonald (Director, Theos). Rev. Dr. John Bradbury (General Secretary, United Reformed Church.

The Junction Story: Spirit of Place 

Published / by Dean Eland

Church buildings on the corner of Grand Junction Rd and May Tce Ottoway have been a meeting place for local residents since the congregation was established by the Port Adelaide Congregational church in 1911.  Throughout WW1, the depression and post WW 2 years the neighbourhood minister was the Rev Norm Fraser who served for three terms, a total of 24 years. In the 1950s new homes were built by the SA Housing Trust and the arrival of migrants at the Pennington hostel saw major changes in the social makeup of the region.

Following the formation of the Uniting Church in 1977 the Ottoway congregation became part of a joint pastorate with Port Adelaide and in 1983 merged with three other churches to form the Trinity Alberton congregation on the corner of Torrens Rd and Station Place.

In 1984 I began an 8-year ministry and questions were raised about the future of the Ottoway property. Following discussions with local Port Adelaide councillor, Rex Searle, Sister Marie Victory, principal of the local catholic school, St Joseph’s, local businessman Clare Nicholls and the Mothers and Babies nurse, Mary Foley, the UCA Alberton Port Adelaide parish agreed to support the Junction Community Centre as a locally based incorporated association. The Junction Community Centre was opened on 28 Oct 1989 by the SA Minister for Community Welfare Don Hopgood.

Over the past 37 years the Junction has captured the spirit of place that marked the ministry of the congregation from its early days. With active and experienced staff and volunteers the Junction is now a busy seven day a week social and support centre for residents from many backgrounds. Local UC congregations continue to be involved based on a lease arrangement with the Uniting Church. As the song goes, All are welcome so check out their web site.

In many ways its current seven days a week programme reflects the social experience that made up the weekly routine of the former congregation. Visitors often comment that the centre is a wonderful model of adaptation and reuse of a church building that continues to be a meeting place, bringing people together to support one another, a chance to rebuild their lives, feel at home and sense the spirit of place.

A recent visitor to the Junction shared her impressions. “This is a great example of the UCA using its assets for the benefit of the neighbourhood. A community building opportunity with an attitude of hope and care in some of our most disadvantaged suburbs. The Junction is a thriving neighbourhood centre running all kinds of activities from sewing to Tai Chi, dance groups, bus trips, markets, fitness classes to cooking adventures. There are lots and lots of activities; basically, if someone wants to run something, the Steering Committee gives it a go.”

Rev Dr Dean Eland. President of the UC SA Historical Society.

Contact Dean if your group or congregation have questions or would like to know about the way the historical society serves the church.

” In order to understand the present its necessary to know the past.”




Published / by Dean Eland

Community building refers to the process of bringing people together to form connections, establish relationships, and develop a sense of shared identity and purpose. It involves creating a supportive and inclusive environment where people can come together to work towards common goals and address shared challenges.

Community building can take many different forms, depending on the context and the needs of the community. Some examples include:

Creating spaces for people to gather: This can involve establishing physical spaces like community centres, parks, or public squares, as well as virtual spaces like online forums or social media groups.

Facilitating communication and collaboration: Effective community building involves fostering open and honest communication between members, as well as encouraging collaboration and teamwork towards shared goals.

Providing opportunities for learning and growth: Community building can also involve providing educational or training opportunities for members to develop new skills and knowledge, which can help them better contribute to the community.

Promoting diversity and inclusion: Building a strong and resilient community requires recognizing and celebrating the diversity of its members and working to create a culture of inclusivity and mutual respect.

Addressing shared challenges: Finally, community building involves coming together to address shared challenges and work towards common goals. This can involve everything from organizing neighborhood clean-up events to advocating for policy change at the local or national level.

Overall, community building is about creating a sense of belonging and connection among members and empowering them to work together towards a shared vision for the future.

ChatGPT 29 March 2023

From Idea to Reality

Published / by Dean Eland

Have you been in a brainstorming session lately? In these sessions, we bring together a group of people to discuss a problem and ideate solutions until we come up with a list of potential options that we like. This is really good work for teams to do. It’s amazing what we can conceive when we gather people with diverse talents and perspectives. Unfortunately, this is often where the work stops. We have a dry erase board filled with ideas, but nothing changes in our work.

The tyranny of the urgent prevents us from moving ideas to execution. It is hard to do something new when our attention is constantly distracted by issues that require our full focus. But there is a reason a performance review is not called an “idea review.” Ideas happen all the time. But your leadership is not determined by the number or scale of your ideas. The real work involves execution. How do you bring the ideas to life? What does it take to fulfill the vision?

Execution can stall when we don’t track our progress. It is vital that you measure your movement toward your stated goal. How many people do you want to see in discipleship classes? By what date? What strategies will you use to communicate the goal? Without effective communication, people who need to be involved in executing the idea will not know what to do. But even if you are careful to take the necessary steps involved in execution, it’s important to expect resistance. New ideas lead to new plans — and people might not be excited to do something new. Be sure to plan for how you will work through resistance, because that might make the difference between a good idea and good execution.

Alban at Duke Divinity School. 15 May 2023. Aliaksandr Zadoryn / Canva

Go Beyond the Sanctuary.

Published / by Dean Eland

Now that many congregations can celebrate an uptick in the numbers of people returning to in-person worship, it is tempting to rely on some of the same metrics that guided us before the COVID-19 pandemic — like the number of bodies in the pews — as a measure of church health. The return to in-person worship is truly a sign of hope, but even before the pandemic, the number of people in the building was not the church health bellwether we thought it was. How easily we forget.

The post-resurrection narratives in the gospels clearly point us to ministry beyond the sanctuary. Perhaps Eastertide is a good time to call the church to recommit itself to its mission in the world. A congregation that seeks to revitalize and reengage its members should not make the mistake of turning inward. If we want to compel people to reengage and get involved, we need to invite the church to respond innovatively and courageously to the community’s needs.

After the resurrection, Jesus commissions the disciples to go somewhere or do something. In Matthew, he tells the disciples to “go therefore and make disciples.” In the longer ending of Mark, he tells the disciples to “go into all the world.” In John, Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus had no plans for the disciples to hide from the world. He sent the disciples out into the cities.

What do you know about the needs of your city? Is there an affordable housing shortage? Do lower-income families have access to high-quality summer camps and childcare? Do senior adults have meaningful activities to occupy their time during the day? What issues pose the greatest challenges for immigrants in your area? When church leaders become experts on the issues in their local community, they can provide visionary leadership for how the church continues its mission beyond the sanctuary. We might be surprised who shows up.

Alban at Duke Divinity School APRIL 17, 2023

Neighbours Every Day

Published / by Dean Eland

Guest blog by Neighbours Every Day Ambassador Hugh Mackay AO

Every community has its differences of opinion, its social divisions, and its cultural tensions, which is simply to say that every community is both diverse and, inescapably, human. If you want to master the art of belonging, you’ll need to accept the imperfections and deal with them. And the best way of dealing with them is to overlook them. There’s a lot of tolerance – a lot of forgiveness – in the art of belonging.

Finding your community is about developing your capacity to make sacrifices for the common good, not about permanent exposure to the stimulation of the exotic. The secret to the art of belonging is no secret at all: it is to accept that belonging is not dependent on finding some Utopian setting. There is no wondrous community waiting somewhere for you to arrive so you can be embraced by the natives and imbued with the great Spirit of Belonging.

Although we often feel ourselves to be independent, we know that in practice, we are all interdependent; we utterly rely on families, neighbourhoods, schools, faith communities, workplaces, assorted clubs and associations and other groups sustain and nurture us and to give us the all-important sense of belonging that helps define who we are and how we fit into society.

And we rely on others to help us out of trouble – who wouldn’t call on their neighbours in an emergency or seek legal or medical advice when they are confronted by problems they can’t solve on their own? There is nothing like a health crisis to remind us of how dependent we are on others.

So, why bother to master the art of belonging? There are three reasons, at least.

The experience of belonging to a community enhances your feelings of physical safety and emotional security and enriches your sense of identity.

You will benefit from the mental stimulation of unplanned social encounters and interactions that are characteristic of life in a community. (Indeed, as you grow older, frequent social interaction is the best way of keeping dementia at bay – more effective than that daily crossword!

The ‘state of the nation’ starts in your own street, and your own workplace: the way we interact with the communities we belong to ultimately determines the type of society we become.

It’s not where you live. It’s how you live.

Together we create belonging.

Neighbours Every Day Ambassador Hugh Mackay AO is one of Australia’s best known social researchers and the author of twenty-three books – fourteen in the fields of social psychology and ethics, and nine novels. Hugh’s book, ‘The Art of Belonging’, explores the reasons why some communities thrive, and others break down, and explains how community engagement enriches us all. In this blog Hugh talks about the importance of being socially connected to others. His recent book ‘The Kindness Revolution’ looks at how we can restore hope, rebuild trust, and inspire optimism.

Mar 8, 2023, Relationships Australia.





Published / by Dean Eland

Working for the common good refers to the idea of promoting the well-being of all members of a community, rather than just pursuing individual or narrow group interests. It involves a commitment to the values of social justice, equity, and human dignity, and a recognition that we all have a stake in creating a better world for everyone.

Working for the common good requires a collaborative approach that involves working with others towards shared goals and outcomes. It involves recognizing and valuing the contributions of others and being willing to listen to diverse perspectives and experiences. It also requires a commitment to ethical principles and values, such as honesty, transparency, and accountability.

Some examples of working for the common good include:

  1. Advocating for policies that promote social justice and equity: This can involve advocating for policies that address issues such as poverty, inequality, and discrimination, and that promote the well-being of all members of society.
  2. Volunteering or donating to support community organizations: This can involve volunteering at a local food bank, donating to a community-based organization, or participating in a community service project.
  3. Building bridges across differences: This involves working to build relationships and understanding across social, cultural, and political divides, and finding common ground to work towards shared goals.
  4. Promoting sustainable and environmentally responsible practices: This involves recognizing our responsibility to care for the planet and future generations and working to promote sustainable and environmentally responsible practices.
  5. Supporting education and opportunities for all: This involves advocating for access to quality education and opportunities for all members of society, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status.

Overall, working for the common good is about recognizing that we are all connected and interdependent, and that we all have a role to play in creating a better world for everyone.

Chat-GPT 29 March 2023




Published / by Dean Eland

Public theology is an approach to theological reflection and engagement that seeks to address social, political, and cultural issues from a theological perspective. It is concerned with the intersection of religion and society and seeks to explore the implications of faith for public life.

At its core, public theology is about bridging the gap between faith and the wider public sphere and promoting dialogue and engagement between the church and society. This can involve addressing issues such as poverty, justice, peace, human rights, and the environment, and seeking to offer a theological perspective on these issues.

Public theologians often engage with a range of different disciplines, including philosophy, political science, sociology, and economics, in order to better understand the complex social and political dynamics at play in contemporary society. They may also work closely with community organizations, policy makers, and other stakeholders in order to have a tangible impact on public policy and discourse.

Overall, public theology is about using theological insights and perspectives to inform and shape public discourse and action, and to promote the common good.

ChatGPT 29 March 2023

Local Yet Connected: Towards An Ecclesiology for the Urban Context

Published / by Dean Eland

By Michael Crane

The nature and posture of the church in urban settings has been given too little attention. In many respects, churches function as if they are in tight-knit smaller towns, assuming mutual trust, established relationships, and community. Churches have given into superficial tribalizations (ethnic homogeneity, partisan political affiliations, and other more subtle ques like dress, jargon, or unexplained rituals). Well-intentioned churches are often slow to respond and engage swift-moving urban society.

In order for the church to thrive in the city, fresh thinking is necessary. Moreover, “structural differentiation” is exigent if the church aims to address needs in the broader society.

The phrase “local church” has gained popularity in usage in recent years, but seldom includes thoughtful reflection on the locality of the local church. The very notion of “local” is not easy to define. There is an argument to consider physical and nonphysical spaces as localities: “Locality today is rendered more complex because people live in both spatial and virtual neighborhoods.”

This blurred understanding of what is local pushes people to attachment with a particular place. “This social pattern of disintegration fosters our lifestyle, which means that it is very difficult to bring the differing parts of our lives together.”

Cities are full of diverse people spread over vast and complicated geography. I lived in the Los Angeles Metro Area where it can easily take an hour to go fifteen miles. Churches (particularly in the Free Church tradition) have had a tendency to be ruggedly independent, preferring to do everything on their own (it is perhaps another casualty of urban choice-driven culture). Churches as well as people can become individualistic. Lesslie Newbigin noted the negative outcome of this tendency: “When numerical growth is taken as the criterion of judgment on the church, we are transported with alarming ease into the world of the military campaign or the commercial sales drive.” How do we maintain a strong understanding of the local church while also addressing the needs of the city?

Neighborhoods Matter

Published / by Dean Eland

The November 2022 edition of Alban at the Duke Divinity School by Tom Rumble invites churches to ask…Who is your neighbor?

Far from being quaint relics of a bygone era, neighbors and neighborhoods still matter, even for churches. A 2017 Baylor University study found that people prefer to keep church local. The study determined that on average, we drive about half the distance (or less) to church that we drive to work. Neighborhoods are the places and spaces where people in our churches are living their faith Monday through Saturday.

If we have learned nothing else in recent years, we’ve learned that we cannot thrive without strong personal connections. Churches are often long-standing institutions within neighborhoods, but churches often lose their connection with their neighbors over time. Children grow up, families relocate and the connections that once happened organically because of the overlap between the church and community cease to exist.

Tending to the relationships in our neighborhoods is central to living out the gospel. As we get to know our neighborhoods, we get better acquainted with the hurts, hopes and gifts of the people who live among us. When we know each other’s gifts, innovative possibilities emerge. People who were once unseen become seen. An expert in the law once asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) How might your leadership team answer that question?

Close-to-the-ground Particulars

Published / by Dean Eland

The Concrete Specific and the Ordinary

In their October 2022 newsletter, Armen and Karina from Neighbourhood Matters invites readers to reflect on the following quotes and asks, “when have you gained an understanding of universal meaning through the concrete, specific and ordinary?”

We’re inspired by this quote from Catholic priest Richard Rohr on why place, neighbourhood, presence, the particular and the ordinary matter so much:

The doctrine of haecceity (“thisness”) says that we come to universal meaning deeply and rightly through the concrete, the specific, and the ordinary, and not the other way around. The principle here is “go deep in any one place and we will meet all places”. When we start with big universal ideas, at the level of concepts and -isms, we too often stay there — arguing about theories, forever making more distinctions. At that level, the mind is totally in charge. It’s easier to love humanity then, but not any individual people. We defend principles of justice but can’t muster the courage to live fully just lives ourselves.

And in the words of 20th century German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community”.

In his introduction to “Missional leadership–entering the Trialogue” Nelus Niemandt claims that participation “in God’s mission is seen as best suited to the adaptive leadership challenges that face the missional church, and it allows the church to stop fretting over the church by entering into the trialogue. The trialogue is the discerning interaction between church, culture and biblical narrative – to seek, discover, understand and share in what the Holy Spirit is up to in the close-to-the-ground particulars of the church’s engagement in, with, against and for the world.”





Reflecting cultural diversity in the life of the church.

Published / by Dean Eland

Intercultural Neighbouring Sunday.. Report from the 16th Assembly of the UCA. Queensland. May 9 2022

The 16th Assembly has passed a proposal that seeks to deepen the Uniting Church’s commitment to living faith and life interculturally through a range of measures including a new annual Sunday of celebration, ‘Intercultural Neighbouring Sunday’.

It also requests some review of the Regulations, UCA policies and other key documents to consider opportunities for simpler and more equitable church structures, processes, and ways of working that foster CALD participation and intercultural partnership.

Rev Dr Paul Goh from the Synod of South Australia introduced the proposal. “Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Yet our congregations still lag far behind our neighbourhoods in reflecting cultural diversity in the life of the church.”

“We seek a move to a truly intercultural church living faith and life cross-culturally in our worship, witness and discipleship – a two-way process of reciprocity.”

“How can our congregations connect in the spirit of loving our neighbours, so we can be in relationship and partnership in shared local mission and ministry together?”

One answer to this is Intercultural Neighbouring Sunday, a new annual day on the Uniting Church calendar established by this resolution to celebrate our multicultural identity. It is hoped that local communities might use this day to connect and build relationships with culturally and linguistically diverse communities in their neighbourhoods.

It will replace One Great Sunday of Sharing, the Uniting Church’s national multicultural Sunday which has taken place annually since 1996.

The resolution suggests that congregations might celebrate the day on the 3rd Sunday in July or another date best suited to the local setting.

The Assembly Standing Committee will develop a process to make liturgical, theological, and practical resources available for the wider church in becoming more meaningfully intercultural and to celebrate the event. It will consult with the National Conferences and relevant Assembly Circles.

Mark Schultz from the Synod of South Australia seconded the proposal. “A significant proportion of migrants come to our shores with a faith that we share. Many have found themselves among our communities. But often, sadly, our congregations have seen the building in which they meet as their own rather than God’s.”

“Surely we all have more to gain by sharing our life together, celebrating our multicultural and maybe even intercultural church, and supporting discipleship and formation in culturally appropriate ways rather than just keeping our distance.”

Towards this end the Assembly Standing Committee will also review aspects of the UCA’s National Property Policy that deal with property shared with non-UCA communities, and Regulations concerned with Faith Communities. A protocol for recognising communities from other CALD churches will be developed.

Synod and Presbytery committees that deal with placement profiles are also encouraged to review the templates in use, and if necessary revise them, so they best reflect the interfaith and ecumenical ethos and characteristics of the Uniting Church.

Church in the Neighbourhood

Published / by Dean Eland

I was surprised on the weekend when I read the special feature in the At Home magazine published by The Advertiser, “The Surprise Benefits of Helping Out.” “We have seen an outpouring of community engagement and willingness to help out informally in recent times whether by fetching groceries for a neighbour or gathering supplies for flood affected communities.” One author, Heather Mitchell, researcher from the ANU affirmed the benefits of volunteerism and the way it develops a sense of purpose, “If you sit around all day, you get old. I’d much rather be out there doing things, meeting people and imparting knowledge.”

A recent research project is summarised in COTA’s March-May newsletter. The Bankwest Curtain Economics Centre has released their “Stronger Together: Loneliness and Social Connectedness in Australia study.”

Their report explores recent trends in social connectivity and concludes that “there has been in steady decline for the past decade and decreased dramatically during the pandemic with associated poor health outcomes. Co authors spoke at the launch and reported that the study found loneliness was associated with poor physical and mental health outcomes and came at a social and economic cost.”

For me insights about the value of volunteerism and its response to social isolation raises critical questions about assets that local churches bring to changing communities. Many volunteer groups and community building initiatives will not only have questions about where can we meet but who can we work with and who will be our partners in creating stronger caring communities?

Congregations that are incarnational in their neighbourhoods will find new ways to use their buildings. This involves using space for volunteers to meet and serve. Groups that share space will also commit to being partners with others and discover new ways to strengthen community links and support for those isolated and living alone. Not so much now as us doing it to or for them but together in partnerships and collaboration finding the resources to do what’s needed.

Well know US public theologian, H Richard Niebuhr concludes his paper on “The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry” with this insight, “When all is said and done the increase of this love of God and neighbor remains the purpose and the hope of our preaching of the gospel, of all our church organization and activity, of all our ministry, of Christianity itself.”

Reflections on the SA Elections

Published / by Dean Eland

Listening in to the ABCs election commentary and follow up radio callers one phrase caught my attention, “it was a community-based election”.   Normally correspondents attribute voting trends to the way party leaders perform and what their platforms promise! Whether its about car parking or grants for sport clubs!

The decision of several candidates in SA to defect and stand as independents was in part a response to the support they received from residents when they walked the streets, when they were listening to what locals were saying and were accessible and responsive to local issues.  Not so much then about major state-wide issues but about the time spent paying attention, responding and being visible in the community.

In his book, Excerpted from Palaces for the People Eric Klinenberg begins with a question, “How can we bring people together?”

He makes a case out for the way meeting places are important for developing and strengthening community life. “Too often we take for granted and neglect our libraries, parks, markets, schools, playgrounds, gardens and communal spaces, but decades of research now shows that these places can have an extraordinary effect on personal and collective well-being. Why? Because wherever we gather informally, strike up a conversation and get to know one another, relationships blossom and communities emerge-and where communities are strong, people are safer and healthier, crime drops and commerce thrives, and peace tolerance and stability take root.”

This is an important insight for churches and the way they relate to their local context. If places have an “extraordinary effect on personal and collective well-being” then community based open door congregations will be gathering places seven days a week. Not all about what happens on Sunday and not about “us and them” or “what we can do for you” but what is it we can do together.

Dean Eland

March 2022

Congregations should see their buildings as assets, not albatrosses

Published / by Dean Eland

The following article is an edited version of an interview with Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and was  listed by Alban at Duke Divinity School in their Faith and Leadership publication 9 February 2021.

Talking about church buildings is fun for the bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis — not just because she is trained in architecture and historic preservation, but also because it leads to questions like, “What is this congregation for?” When Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows was growing up in New York, she walked all over the city, revelling in the historic buildings all around her. She was inspired to study architecture, urban planning and historic preservation as an undergraduate and graduate student. Then, encouraged to discern a call to ministry by leaders at Trinity Church Wall Street, where she was an active member, she earned an M.Div. from Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

“I was being called to be a priest who also knew something about preserving all of these old church buildings,” said Baskerville-Burrows, who wrote her master’s thesis at Cornell University on the role of church buildings in revitalizing downtown communities.

In her current role as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, she continues to combine these areas of expertise.

“Instead of seeing buildings as albatrosses, I have always seen them as opportunities for ministry,” she said. “To me, they are part and parcel of the work of being bishop.”

Baskerville-Burrows, the first Black woman to be elected diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church, oversees 48 churches in central and southern Indiana. She spoke with Faith & Leadership’s Sally Hicks about the role of religious buildings in ministry, in communities and in the work of racial justice.

Faith & Leadership: How do these interests combine in your work now?

Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows: Bishops have oversight over people and assets that make ministry possible, and buildings are usually the largest asset that congregations hold if they don’t have endowment funds.

If a congregation is going to have a place out of which to do ministry and worship, then it’s got to have a building that’s connected to and appropriate for that purpose. And if a congregation is going to be planted in a community that it has relationships with, then ideally the building is serving a role in the community beyond that of just the congregation.

I am always asking the question, “Who else shares your space?

“Who else has access? I entered your building, and I didn’t know even how to get in. How are you thinking about your signage? How are you thinking about your neighbors who are adjacent to your property?”

Those are all signs and signals about the vitality and possibility for ministry of a congregation, to me.

Buildings come with all kinds of anxiety, because often people don’t know what to do about them. I see that part of my role pastorally is to help congregations and their leaders not see them only as sources of anxiety.

F&L: How do you do this?

JBB: I talk about it a lot. We try to create a context where the building is not just a topic for when there’s an emergency — the roof fell in or there’s a flood or we can’t get in our buildings because there’s a pandemic.

I meet with all the priests and deacons of the diocese who are active every year. We talk a lot about how if you’re going to have a building, it’s got to be tied to the mission. And congregations then need to know what their mission is.

This time that we’re in a pandemic, we’re saying, “Well, what kind of use do you want these buildings to serve, now that you’ve been out of them for all this time?”

I can set the conversation. It’s a lot of fun to be able to do that.

Built Up History

Published / by Dean Eland

Eileen Power in her 1924 book Medieval People suggests that “history need not be written down; for it may be something built up, and churches, houses, bridges or Amphitheatre’s tell their story as plainly as print for those who have eyes to read.”

Many local histories record the connection between buildings and residents, sometimes described as their second home. Schools, pubs, offices, commercial and industrial sites, community and civic centres including institutes and the Town Hall, places where residents met week after week.

Port Adelaide for example is privileged to retain many buildings that are communities of memory. They communicate or embody the character of working life, social and cultural association and communities of faith. Many sites representing experiences of community life over time and across generations.

As artefacts public buildings cannot be understood without reference to the people who conceived it, worked to ensure its completion and who held strong convictions about its purpose. As anchors of memory buildings on the current State Heritage listing remind us of those who were adventurous, took risks, were committed and created a legacy we enjoy today.

Civic and religious traditions are a feature of the urban and rural landscape and are expressed in heritage buildings. The language of buildings, their style, visibility and street presence contribute to place making. They remind us of life turning points, surviving major social change while being adapted in relation to changing social attitudes and expectations.

Nineteenth century immigrants to SA settled and “provided places for shaping, displaying and celebrating their inherited and emergent ways of life and their understandings of the world.” [i] In the second half of the nineteenth century buildings were expressions of what they were hoping for and intended.

Place making on main streets was often about the experience of generous hospitality, welcome and openness to one another and generated a sense of belonging. Sites in Port Adelaide were centres that generated support for social causes including campaigns for public education, votes for women, working conditions and support in times of crisis including times of war, unemployment, poverty and plagues!

The study and preservation of buildings also relate to other disciplines that help us appreciate the places where we live and work and plan for the future. Urban planning, geography, sociology, anthropology, demographics, politics, and cultural studies are indictors of trends that assist us address present challenges and opportunities and anticipate future directions.

[i] Orsi, Robert A. ed. 1999. Gods of the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape. Indiana University Press.

Second in the Series

Published / by Dean Eland

Churches and Community Building

There are many Australian stories where ministry grows by engaging with partners and connecting with others in the community. Churches have found new ways to provide hospitality and contribute to community bonding and growing neighbourhood networks. Congregations become instruments for building social capital by joining with others in partnerships, creating and developing community life by ensuring that their buildings and sites are places where residents meet and discover others who care and affirm the gifts that all bring to the table.

Over the past forty years I have followed with interest the mission activity of a small congregation inner city congregation, the South Sydney UC. Members became fed up with the biased reporting and dearth of a good public newspaper and felt it was important to cover some of the major issues affecting community life and they produced a simple free photocopied newsletter. This ministry has grown and they now distribute a monthly broadsheet local newspaper and web site, The South Sydney Herald, to 25,000 households.

To celebrate their 200th edition in December 2021 federal member for Sydney Tanya Plibersek writes, “Congratulations to the SSH on their milestone 200th edition! The SSH consistently delivers on their commitment to provide independent, high-quality journalism with a focus on local issues, politics and social justice. They amplify the voices of our community, telling stories, celebrating success and sharing concerns of people who mainstream publications often overlook. It’s not just a newspaper, it is an essential service for our community. I’d like to thank all the writers, photographers, editors, illustrators, the delivery workers and everyone who makes this paper happen.”

Many UC congregations are working hard in becoming a second home for those living isolated lives. One of churches in the inner southern suburban area of the Adelaide has extended its ministry though the Effective Living Centre. The centre provides a range of events, forums, poetry nights and promotes community arts. Our primary purpose is to promote living effectively in our present time and creating partnerships with members of the wider community who identify with achieving the aims of the ELC. We seek to enlighten and empower people to take responsibility for advancing our society towards the common good. We are open to all people regardless of any social, political or religious persuasion.

In the north-west region of Adelaide the Port Adelaide UC has contributed to community bonding by planting a community garden, being involved in recycling projects and artwork through a wall mural. Through the Bent Pine community garden we promote ‘green-ness’ in small, urban spaces. We grow and teach the growing of healthy organic food for those who can least afford it. We believe that it is important in how we deal with waste. We therefore make use of local resources (e.g. plane tree leaves, garden material, and organic waste from partners such as the Red Lime Café) to recycle and compost. Members continue to support the Junction Community Centre Ottoway, one of the city’s most disadvantaged suburbs and for 40 years has adapted its shop front ministry in St Vincent St for community use..

In the eastern suburbs Clayton Wesley church at the top of Norwood Parade is known as the Spire Community, a Place of Welcome. The Spire Community is a joint collaboration between the Clayton Wesley Uniting Church and Uniting Communities Eastern Services. Together, we’ve become a community of helpers, collaborators, social support seekers, arts enthusiasts, music buffs, creative types, bargain hunters, volunteers, and spiritual revellers. The projects and activities we develop aim to promote inclusivity and welcome.

These projects include: Our Jesus was a Refugee campaign aims to educate the wider community about the difficulties refugees and new arrivals face and assists them to meet new people and settle into their new community. Hope’s Café is a cafe in Hope Hall with an aim to provide food and conversation to members of our community who are seeking companionship and assistance. Hope’s Café serves great food and great coffee. Open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays between 11:00am and 3:00pm (food 11:00am to 2:00pm). From 11am on Fridays, it offers free English language classes and conversation for new arrivals and other members of our community who need language assistance.

In the Adelaide hills Blackwood UC, at the roundabout, is more than a Sunday church. One of its many weekday activities is its community classes. We have a commitment to provide friendship and fun through craft, fitness and learning in a caring community environment. Our classes are held both morning and afternoons on Wednesday and Thursdays during school terms.  We have many classes on offer this year, so come and learn something new or hone a skill you already have. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, or even if you are just learning… everyone is welcome!

Other examples of community building are evident when local congregations make connection to national social justice issues. Some years ago, at the height of the refugee crisis, many SA congregations supported the Circles of Friends movement and these groups were to the fore in providing hospitality and in campaigning to change government policies. Many churches now provide a home and a place to meet for those who have come from other nations and who retain their cultural and faith traditions.

Locally based initiatives also connect with national campaigns including support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and climate change. Early in 2021 members of the Unley UC in Adelaide organised an ecumenical Lenten study programme and this involved residents from different backgrounds working together in a community campaign to support the 2017 statement. A candidates’ forum will be held in the federal electorate of Adelaide when the election date is announced in 2022.

A congregation’s sense of purpose emerges when community connections and relationships grow and flourish. Partnership in ministry will grow when we do not try to do it all by ourselves or create dependency, where it’s about service with them not to them. A diaconal theology of service is not about church growth to get more members or a way to win converts. Congregations are renewed and empowered when they “re-tradition” their ministry and discover that others join by finding a community committed to justice, place making and a spirit of welcome.

Dean Eland

7 December 2021



Congregation Identity: The Church in the Heart of Community

Published / by Dean Eland

First in the Series

This article is the first in a series of reflections about the significance of context and the way churches develop partnership with others to enrich community life. While maintaining our traditional patterns of ministry congregations become learning communities by listening to the rhythms of community life, sharing insights with others and connect with others by sharing common goals and aspirations.

Local vision can reflect a global perspective where in “the imagined city… there is a space for openness, tolerance, and justice in which the nations of the world can gather and live-in peace” (Beaumont and Baker 2011).

Our vision statements are a profound declaration and resonate with our hopes and aspirations. They often share similar insights with others. All churches share common practices and liturgies, prayers, songs, traditions and practices link us with the worldwide Christian community. In many diverse Australian settings, in remote or small rural towns, in inner urban and industrial towns, in the suburbs and regional and city centres we share songs, liturgies and readings in common. Yet in this midst of shared traditions, we are often intrigued by discovering the unique identity, character, culture or DNA of each congregation.  At least three perspectives help to create a congregation’s identity.

Congregational identity is shaped by experiences and history. Current practices, the way we do things around here, is the product of those in the past who have made critical decisions and established patterns of behaviour and agreed procedures. These repertoires of community life enshrine values and express what is important and central to a congregation’s life. Those who have gone before having built community, celebrated faith and developed their own narrative and story. Corporate memory includes moments when risks were taken, achievements celebrated, and difficult decisions negotiated. There are times when members have worked together and found a strong sense of purpose and direction and there are moments when disagreements and conflict have been to the fore.

A congregation’s character is shaped by those who developed and pursued a vision for the church in their time and context. A congregation’s legacy is made up from those who not only talked or imagined possibilities but developed practices and turned vision into reality.  As with individuals, memories and experiences are the foundations for our assumptions and shape our outlook. Sometimes we need to confront these assumptions, come to terms with them, affirm them or set them aside.

Congregations also express their identity through their denominational association and over the past two decades this has become less meaningful for people in what has been called the post-Christian society.  Many of our congregations in South Australia were founded at a time when cultural distinctiveness reflected migration patterns and European custom. Now and in times past churches continue to be impacted by life changing events which are beyond the control of the church council! Following the 2020 epidemic lockdowns have impacted our routines and practices and challenge us to find creative ways in sustaining community life.

The next article in this series will explore the implications of particular contexts and the way this helps us ground our life and leads us to share in God’s mission in the world.


Members Only?

Published / by Dean Eland

Recent discussion in the SA Uniting Church has been prompted by local reports about what is needed to make church buildings safe and secure. Some have found these reports confronting and conversations have expressed anxiety and uncertainly about the capacity of members to find the money and keep buildings open.

Wider social trends and social change has affected many locally based organisations and the church is not the only group thinking about the future and best use of resources. Those walking around the neighbourhood will notice other public buildings that are often neglected, in disrepair or closed and up for sale. While local governments provide community services and facilities, they need to balance the budget. Wealthy LGAs find it easier to provide meeting places but four or five councils in the north and western regions of metropolitan Adelaide have suburbs with high rates of disadvantage. (SEIFA).

The church has a primary theological tradition to affirm that its resources and presence is not for members only.  As a servant community, in churches of the open-door, members know that their buildings are not just there for those who turn up on Sunday morning or only for people like us! Many congregations have long term connections and stories where we have joined forces and worked with others to enhance community life and build safe and welcoming neighbourhoods.

The Bank of Ideas 2021 March-April newsletter ‘Community & Economic Development Matters’ affirms the significance of the neighbourhood and the importance of working together not ‘to’ or ‘for’ people but with them. Their feature article quotes Hubert Humphrey, “The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbour’.

“Now is the time to dispense with the dominant model of so-called modern day community development – doing things ‘for’ and ‘to’ people and replace it in practice with the focus strongly on ‘with’ and ‘of and by’ people. COVID has shown the power of this focus at the neighbourhood level. May the words of Margaret Wheatley echo strongly in professional community development circles and local communities – ‘It is time for all the heroes to go home… It is time to stop waiting for someone to save us. It is time to face the truth of our situation – that we’re all in this together, that we all have a voice – and figure out how to mobilize the hearts and minds of everyone in our communities’. “

Back Roads. A great ABC TV series.

Published / by Dean Eland

Judy and I look forward to viewing Heather Ewart’s episodes in the ABCs Back Roads series. You might ask what is it that prompts us to make sure we do not miss the repeats and listen to the interviews from those living in outback towns? Hearing from those who are doing what they can to address the challenges that come with declining population, young people leaving town for the big city, mechanization of farm work and climate change.

Each town in its own setting and history; on the coast or on the mountain range or on the plain, communities now bypassed by a new highway. And then there is also the risk that comes from the fires, droughts and flooding rains. 

Often its one or two local friends who come up with an idea and take steps to translate the idea into action. At this point we are inspired and begin to appreciate how creative community building events make all the difference and lift the spirits. Locals not paralysed but setting out and working together, supporting one another to enrich community life and finding new ways ahead.

Sometimes it is a project to care for the environment, planting trees or a new park for the kids, food sharing from back yard veggie and fruit gardens, trying out an arts or music group, a tourist attraction, a shop front museum, information or history centre, an annual festival or local newspaper to keep in touch, volunteers on a roster to support the local school.  I am sure you have heard about or been involved in similar projects in urban settings, community building events that make a difference in curing loneliness and social isolation.  

In the past few weeks, the season of Epiphany, we have been reflecting on stories from the first chapter of Mark. Clearly a new way of life is being demonstrated in outback towns on the margins of the empire, back roads of the Roman occupation. In these events, on the street, there are signs of hope and a new day dawning.

What is it that the local church can do by joining in God’s mission in the world? One author suggests that “the scope of the church’s mission is as broad and includes evangelizing, healing the sick, feeding the poor, transforming unjust political and socioeconomic structures, practicing good stewardship of creational resources, and working for relief and development. The wide scope of the missio ecclesiae derives from and reflects the universal love of God, and it looks forward to the coming new creation by participating in its advancing reality. Central to the missio ecclesiae is the incarnational community’s task of bearing witness to Christ through both being and action.  (Adam Dodds, “The Centrality of the Church’s Missionary Nature: Theological Reflections and Practical Implications”, Missiology: An International Review Vol. XL No. 4 (October 2012: 393-407).

While these and other theological summaries are broad in scope local congregations are called to embody particular signs of hope and possibility. Shared action and networking mean we do not need to do it alone, just by ourselves or for members only. As we look outward and connect we discover others with a similar passion for achievable, practical and realistic projects that speak when words fail, actions that are signs and bear witness to a new way of living.  

A Lot with a Little

Published / by Dean Eland

The title of Tim Costello’s 2019 autobiography A Lot with a Little prompted me to document stories of churches who partner with others in their neighbourhood. Their contribution to building stronger communities is often achieved by a few who respond creatively to the challenge of social change and remain committed over many years.

The Port Adelaide Uniting Church (PAUC) is one place where this is evident. With a congregation of about 50 members and no full-time minister for the past 20 or more years, lay members have demonstrated how to be creative in sharing gifts and skills and in being generous with their resources. There are at least eight specific ways this congregation expresses their love of neighbourhood, the place where they are located.  Founded 170 years ago this church has adapted its ministry in response to population trends and economic ups and downs over the years and that commitment continues.

In the past two years they have reworked the ministry of their CK Community Hub (CK), a shop-front at 160 St Vincent St (Bower Buildings 1870-1). This street ministry started in 1981 as a low-cost café provided a haven and a listening ear for people in need. The CK remains one of the few experiential church-based community innovations of the 70s and 80s to survive over the years. The hub operates as a community centre and provides a place of welcome for residents. Its aims include… a welcome to all: to actively find and work with local people: to make real friendships and grow together: to be a place where people can stop and talk about daily things or more important things.

Volunteers at the CK Community Hub have a heart for welcoming people with disadvantage (e.g. mental health issues), encouraging them to take on responsibility as appropriate, fostering self-esteem, skills, growth and friendship. We welcome people to be involved in an integrated community program where people can get to know each other and support each other. Those of us who volunteer here are very conscious of also being vulnerable listeners and learners and not always the ‘doers’.

The people who come are encouraged to set and review the norms: the values and behaviours by which we interact with each other. They regularly choose projects. Last year the group chose a watercolour and mosaic project and applied successfully to the local council to fund a local artist and materials. New people from the community joined us to participate in the project and we exhibited in SALA. This project like many others has enabled people to learn new skills, take on a range of responsibilities and welcome new people.

There are other regular CK programs and these include a community meal, exercise and walking groups. Email:

Bent Pine Community Garden

A recent project led by a few volunteers has led to the formation of a community garden in the church’s backyard. A fragile bent pine tree at the entrance gives the garden its name. The tree is a reminder of welcome, reminding all about the possibility that we can grow and dare to flourish with others even with our asymmetries and flaws.

We fossick in the dark, composted soil, planting and tending both flowers and vegetables; we recycle and compost organic waste which we find in our own space as well as that which we receive from two local cafes; and we talk with each other and with those who pass by. We try to create a beautiful green space in an otherwise concretized urban landscape.

Working on site at 169 Commercial Rd brings us into natural contact with our neighbours. There is greeting and sharing of fresh produce as those passing by call in and work with us.

The Bent Pine garden is also a member of The Semaphore Compost Network (SCN). SCN is like an extension of our neighbourhood. We are encouraged by what our neighbours and fellow community members are doing. We share experiences and food. And we learn from what others are doing. Together with the SCN we discover in our focus on the shared, common soil, the value of that which holds us together as a community in a larger environment otherwise characterized by polarization.

150th Anniversary Mural

One of several outstanding on-site church art projects is on public view on a neighbouring wall. This creative work continues to build on some particularly challenging moments when the 150-year-old two story heritage listed building and site needed imaginative adaptation and major restoration work.

This public art project was created when PAUC and local community members came together to design and paint a large vibrant mural adjacent to the Bent Pine Community Garden. The project was a feature of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the opening of the building and expresses the symbols and memories of the local environment, a sense of place to be celebrated. Using Mark 4: 31-32 as a starting point, the theme of Bent Pine became ‘Sanctuary’.

On two consecutive Saturday mornings open planning meetings designed the project with local flora, fauna with the bent pine tree in mind. The primary images include a great tree with roots into the ground (Psalm 1) by a stream (Tam ‘O Shanter Creek). Other images include beautiful flora and fauna, birds, reptiles, mammals, flowers, butterflies and bees that are seen along the Port River. Local totems of the Kaurna people include the black swan and emu.

A generous grant from City of Port Adelaide Enfield enabled the church to employ local artists Kalyna Mycenko and Bob Daly and they assisted by transferring our designs on to the wall in November 2018. Brave volunteers then spent two weeks painting using a scaffold and over forty painters, aged four to ninety old, included passers-by and visitors who read about it on Facebook and came to paint or watch. The mural is a significant contribution to the ongoing ‘Wonder Walls’ project in the Port Adelaide centre.

In addition to these creative projects’ members have maintained their long-term support for the Junction Community Centre at Ottoway. This community-based organisation has been able to grow a seven-day open house programme and brings residents together to share their many religious and ethnic traditions.

Members also keep in touch with the expansive UnitingSA agency, now one of the state’s largest community service organisations. In 2019 UnitingSA celebrated 100 years of church engagement in a changing community.

PAUC also has strong links with the Port Adelaide Historical Society. Over the past 50 years the society has played an important part in supporting the efforts of local and state governments to ensure that Port Adelaide centre becomes a historic tourist destination.  Check out their great photographic collection at

Not to be outdone in 2017 members welcomed and provided hospitality to a new congregation. The City International Christian Church shares the use of their sanctuary on Sundays and at other times. This independent congregation in the charismatic tradition is largely made up of immigrants from African nations with links to home churches in Tanzania.

The congregation meets each Sunday for worship at 9.00am and week day groups meet to support and encourage members to live out their vision… Port Uniting is an inclusive community and as Jesus welcomed and valued everyone, so do we. We believe that every person is important, and everybody matters. Our worship seeks to be a creative, vibrant experience, for all ages, and inviting to people from all walks of life.

The Morning Tea Club meet on the third Wednesday of the month at 10am and this session includes a range of activities including table games, jigsaws, draughts, scrabble, drawing and painting. In the winter, its Soup and Toast at 12noon before they return home. A Craft Group meets on the second and fourth Tuesday each month and members include both church and community residents. A Playgroup meets every Tuesday morning during school terms for babies and children up to 5 including carers and parents. Bible Study groups meet on Sunday nights during the seasons of Advent and Lent.

Thank you to Liz, Anne, Joan, Val, Norm and the two Ian’s for sharing your story.

Socio-historical Habitat as Partners in Discernment

Published / by Dean Eland

Sunday by Sunday the stories of faith and freedom are the rock-solid foundations we build on. Gathered in community members experience forgiveness, are reconciled, learn to live in peace and to love God and neighbour. The narratives we draw on are our lineage, ancestors in faith who composed songlines found in the stories we draw on week by week. Our task is to discover what this means in our context.  Discoveries about future directions result from the dialogue we have between those who have been there before and the realties we grapple with day by day.

The names and stories we share were grounded in particular moments of time and place.  They tell us something of the environments, situations and events of the day, life changing moments when people of faith lived out their calling, not bound to the past but walking the pilgrim way.

And this is the challenge for us also. Being part of the family of faith we are called to discern our own response to the settings, the contexts we find ourselves in. We live out the good news as a people on the way, working with universal, recurring themes and convictions and interpreting these in relation our times and places.

Places, urban or rural, poor and rich, are host communities and these life events are integral to our calling.  By implication congregation narratives express who we are, what we do and where we are. Purpose and directions are expressed through being missional in all we do, pastoral ministry, liturgical creativity and through the stewardship of our resources.

In articulating a commitment to host communities, Schreiter suggests that “the description of the environment is not something extrinsic to the theological process but is deeply part of it” (Schreiter 1998:26).  Theological reflection involves “naming the praxis” and becomes the basis for descriptive theology (Browning 1983:31).

When congregations discover their narrative and match it with sacred texts and heritage, the process itself reshapes identity and forms strategies for the future (Schreiter 1998:38).  In creating a local contextual theology congregations are “brought to the truth about our situation and ourselves and through this we are open to hear the gospel anew”. (Roxburgh 1997:59).

Local public theology practices express and demonstrate convictions.  They arise out of a process of reflection, engagement and dialogue with surrounding culture, a genuine give and take where the world is permitted to speak for itself (Hall 1991:79).  Hall suggests that in creating a social vision, congregations will discover their socio-historical habitat not only as a field to be investigated but partners in discernment and therefore a contributor to the theological task itself.

Browning, Don S. ed. 1983. Practical Theology: the emerging field in theology, church and world. San Francisco. Harper & Row.

Hall, Douglas John. 1991. Thinking the Faith. Minneapolis. Fortress Press.

Roxburgh, Alan J. 1997, The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality. Harrisburg. Trinity Press International.

Schreiter, R. 1998. Theology in the Congregation: Discovering and Doing, in Nancy T. Ammerman, et. al. Studying Congregations: a New Handbook. Nashville. Abingdon Press.

Eyes on the Street: See What is Around You

Published / by Dean Eland

One of the inspiring art installations at this year’s Adelaide Fringe was featured at Tandanya and titled, Yabarra-Dreaming in Light.   Visitors were invited to walk through, discover meaning in the dreaming stories and capture a sense of place. The 2020 Adelaide Fringe will be remembered well into the future as generations to come will recall the crowded events on the brink of the restrictions that came with the arrival of the Corona virus

One small notice at the entrance of a shelter titled Tikkaperendi Nakkondi: Sitting, seeking to know caught my attention.

You are invited to sit in the wodli and see what is around you; what you see you will begin to know.

Look and listen to the ways of understanding.

Learning comes from patience,

teachings comes from knowing,

and seeing comes from respectfully waiting to understand.

You are looking through the dreaming landscape

which breathes through the first and living culture.

Hold on to what you know you have seen. 

Now working with the discipline of social distancing I often return and reflect on the meaning of this invitation and the phrase, those with eyes to see and ears to hear has become a continuing refrain for me.

Confined to home and nearby streets I have been prompted to make the connections between Sitting, seeking to know and seeing comes from respectfully waiting to understand.

Is this happening now in our neighbourhoods? Residents finding creative ways to connect with strangers, new forms to belong, being at home and caring for others nearby and next door. Local missional churches becoming aware of the high number of people living alone and the risks associated with social isolation.

As we plan and think about the future we need to encourage one another to see the gifts, assets, qualities and opportunities that exist for small rural and suburban neighbourhood congregations. Surely now it is not the time to sell up, merge and only focus on developing centralised regional congregations.  Loving the neighbourhood is about being present, active, open and working with partners to make the most of what we have, to bring people together in community.

In the August newsletter of Neighbourhood Matters their lead article comments on our current focus, the places where we live.

We have rediscovered and re-embodied urbanist Jane Jacobs’ classic phrase ‘eyes on the street’. This is about local people engaging in their local spaces to keep those places safe and to retain and transmit the embedded knowledge of that place, strengthening social cohesion and building a resilient community that can withstand any disaster.

This web site also recommends recent publications with an emphasis on loving the neighbourhood as the primary focus of congregations.

In their 2018 publication, Kingdom Communities: Shining the Light of Christ through Faith, Hope and Love Australian authors, Andrew Menzies and Dean Phelan draw on their experience and study of churches in Australia. Sometimes confronting they invite readers to reimagine denominational priorities and discover ways for congregations to engage creatively with others by finding where God is already at work where they find themselves. We are convinced that local congregations have so much to offer. The combined synergy if all the gifts and skills of congregants can result in wonderful kingdom possibilities in many areas of the community if people are empowered, trained and released through Kingdom Communities. Pg. 277.



Henley Fulham Uniting Church

Published / by Dean Eland


The Henley Fulham Uniting church (HFUC) is one congregation meeting on two sites. The heritage listed Temple Centre at 214 Military Road Henley Beach and at 16 Madeline Cres Fulham Gardens.The Henley Fulham congregation was formed on 31st of October 1999 from the amalgamation of 3 congregations: Fulham, Temple and Wesley. The Rev Christa Megaw is minister of the congregation and the website can be found at…


HFUC is located in the local government council area of Charles Sturt with a population of 116,000 at the 2016 census. The census recorded that UCA nominals was 4.9% of the population with 5,466 residents. UCA percentage in SA was 7.1%. (Nominals are those who tick the denominational box at the census). Henley Beach population was estimated at 6,000 with 322 nominals at 5.4%. Fulham population is about 2,200 with 187 UCA nominals. Nearby Fulham Gardens population was 6,200 and the UCA percentage is not noted. In this suburb Eastern Orthodox nominals were 13.3% compared with the state at 2.5%, Catholic at 34.8% compared with 18% in South Australia.

There are eight Uniting Church congregations in the LGA. Woodville, Henley-Fulham, Grange, Seaton, Royal Park United, West Lakes United, West Croydon, and Western Link, Findon.

Further information about this community can be ordered through the National Church Life Survey research agency at…

Additional detailed information from the 2016 census can be found at… › census › quickstat › SSC41407

UnitingSA is a major UCA service agency and provides an extensive range of community based programmes in the region.


“We, the people of Henley Fulham Uniting Church, Are called by God to be a Christ Centred community, demonstrating Christ’s qualities, knowing Christ’s peace, and challenged to be active in the wider community… So that others can know Christ as their Saviour and friend.”

“Our Mission is to draw people to Christ through our worship and community life by offering relevant activities that connect with people in the wider community.” Our catch phrase is:  “Sharing Christ’s love with everyone”

 Active in the Wider Community

In the past at our church has had the capacity to host a monthly Friday night Kids’ Club where children shared activities and a meal. Other activities included ‘Out and About’ for 70-80 ‘shut ins’ who were picked up and brought to our hall for great food and entertainment.  Playgroups were held twice weekly and about 60 families were involved.

Now many members are elderly and unable to run programs such as these, but our people are still strong in the faith and keen to be involved in our local community.  Our current aims are tailored to our current capacity. Some are short term; some are in the form of sponsorship.

Henley Friends for Life

Formed about ten years ago this group encourages people with a disability and their families, to meet monthly in a safe place to enjoy themselves over a Saturday night meal and activities.  One of our congregation members instigated the group and members of the families involved have taken on the management of this group.  The church makes our facilities available free of charge.   Different groups within the church prepare and serve meals from time to time, and several regular church volunteers assist both in the program planning, and on the night.

Seeing Friends for Life relaxing and enjoying themselves immensely as they dance the night away (a very popular activity) and their families joining in an atmosphere that is safe, tolerant and encouraging testifies to the worth of this community connection.   The evening commences with ‘God Time’ – a short opportunity for any of the group who wish to be involved in a short time with God.

Friends for Life enjoying St Patrick’s celebration March 2020

Some of our short term projects are geared to Positive Ageing and include…

 Positive Ageing – Circle of Friends

Three years ago Henley Fulham decided to host a coffee morning once a month, based on the Alzheimer’s Café theme world-wide.   The participants preferred the name Circle of Friends.

There are many opportunities for people with dementia and their carers to attend support groups where often the two are separated: one to join activities, and one to attend support lectures.

The Alzheimers’ Café is a normal morning tea get together.  Sometimes we meet at the church and sometimes at a coffee shop – where all present are treated the same as we chat, discuss a subject for the day, receive our ‘wallet text’ for the month, and generally spend an enjoyable time together.  It is interesting that, over time, there have been joining requests from lonely people without dementia, and companions of people who have died have wanted to continue meeting – so the choosing of the name has worked well and all are welcome.

 Positive Ageing – Blokes in the Kitchen

An identified need for men over 55 to learn to cook healthy meals and gain some knowledge about nutrition was addressed by these popular cooking classes.  With three experienced, but not professional cooks, 8-10 men attend one night a week for 5 weeks, hear information about food handling and nutrition, they cook recipes especially selected to teach new skills each week.   They work in pairs (different each week) to prepare a soup, 2 main courses and a sweet.  Once cooked, the preparers serve their dish and all the men and the helpers share the meal together.    The participants have been both church members and community members, creating the opportunity for new relationships and great camaraderie between the men.

‘Blokes in the Kitchen’ – Session 3, March/April 2019

Current Challenges with COVID-19 !!!    What can we do?

 Pay it Forward.   After conversation with a café owner ‘ministering’ to overwhelmed, anxious, stressed people, our church responded with donations to a Pay it Forward program to supply coffees to these people via this café.

Teenage Checkout Staff under stress from abusive people.   How can we show compassion?   Our church responded with boxes of chocolate for two local supermarket check-out staff – greatly appreciated by the staff (and acknowledged with thanks by the Manager).

Stressed School Staff.  At the start of the crisis the whole school community, educators, pastoral/support staff, children, siblings, parents and carers all experiencing levels of stress.  Can the church provide strategies and ensure our school communities feel they are seen and heard?  Copies of Stress Less books were purchased and placed in staff rooms. To show gratitude and empathy for these front-line workers, the whole team at GP practices were given a Tea Tonic – wellbeing tea selection, with a touch of ‘take what you need’.

Messy Church Changes!  Messy Church is normally held on the 3rd Sunday of the month. During COVID-19 we have delivered activity bags to families who then had an artistic opportunity to contribute hearts, butterflies and Anzac Day poppies for the glass windows and doors of our churches.  No church but the church moved into the community. Other church members also constructed ‘Palm Leaves on Poles’ on Palm Sunday, and ‘Branch Crosses in the Ground’ over the Easter and Anzac period.

R U O K?  We Care. Our A-frame sign standing inside the glass window and clearly visible from the street has this message along with the Lifeline phone number on display during this difficult period.

Collation of our COVID-19 initiatives, April, May 2020

When we return to our normal routine other church groups welcome community members to…

  • Our Fellowship that meets monthly to hear a speaker, share morning tea and support various community organisations. This is a well-attended and hard working group who raises money by holding two fundraisers each year, and caters for various events, with the funds being distributed to community organisations at the end of each year.
  • A Craft Group that meets twice monthly to share skills and enjoy each other’s company over a cuppa. Some members prefer to finish something started previously while others join in to learn something new.  Having friends who are able to help solve a crafty problem is especially valued.
  • Each December our church is fortunate to be welcome at a local Primary School for a day to present in costume the Nativity story to each class of Junior Primary children (with parental permission). The focus is changed every year, but at the end of their session, each class is delighted to ice (and usually eat) a star biscuit which they decorate with tubes of icing and decorations provided by the church.   (150 children in 2019).

Hope Comes in the Strangest Guises

Published / by Dean Eland

 The following message is from a video clip sent by Jennie and Dr Bob Teasdale and shared with Pilgrim members via their on-line Easter Day service 2020.

Jennie (AM) and Bob (Deputy Mayor of KI) continue to be involved in providing support for Kangaroo Island schools through their Children’s Bushfire Fund.

 Bush Fire Smoke Tarnishes the Setting Sun

Kangaroo Island’s summer of catastrophic fires began on December 20. Days became weeks and still the Ravine Fire Storm raged, sulked, exploded and ravaged, consuming almost half our Island. Islanders grieved for our manifold losses. Livelihoods, lives, homes, sheds, livestock, destroyed; bushland, fences, pastures, wildlife decimated. The familiar Island world we knew inexorably changed.

But other people cared. You, our Pilgrim Community, reached out and shared, laying a foundation for hope.

 Australia Day 2020 – KI Re-gathers

As fires still smoldered, we gathered as a fragile community. On that day, Australia’s Day, KI began its silent, tentative journey of recovery.

At our airport, a temporary town emerged overnight. Members of the Australian Defence Force – 700 of them – came with truckloads of skill, goodwill and hope. With military precision they started the clean-up, doing everything and anything with care, carefulness and unconditional giving.

They made us feel safe. They buoyed us up. They attended to our fragility and helped us re-grow our hurting community. They offered us hope.

The RE-Growth Tree

People began calling our Island’s western end ‘The Black’. Stark, charcoaled tree trunks, hectares of eddying ash, contorted remains of buildings, dead livestock and deceased wildlife, dismayed and silenced us.

But already another silent miracle was manifesting itself. Post-fire fungi catapulted into life. Soon after insects and soil creatures emerged; echidnas, goannas and snakes explored their changed terrain. Remnant populations of kangaroos, possums, wallabies – even rare dunnarts – appeared, searching for food. The eucalypt forest and the amazing grass-trees sprouted. Seven year old Poppy, let loose on the fire ground with her Mum’s mobile, took this picture and named it ‘RE- Growth’.

Hope comes in the strangest guises.  Here it is captured through a camera lens and the eyes of a child. Nature does it without a fanfare.

Hope in a New Day’s Dawning

We here on KI are right now in a complex, multifaceted Recovery Phase. Questions line up like a million ants as we work to rebuild our compromised community. But we are discovering ‘how’ and we are moving forward. Like the regrowth on the blackened eucalypt, we too will regrow, regroup and recover. We see and feel signs of hope. It’s fragile – but it’s real.


And now the pandemic impacting us all … a silent, invisible, potentially soul-destroying force … changing our world.

Let us look for signs of hope. Together we must strengthen our resolve and move toward a new future. By connecting and caring for each other, we can create a stronger, more coherent, responsive community.

God of the ages, help us, strengthen us and guide us in this unchartered place. Be our road map, our inspiration for this unknown journey.


A Lot With a Little

Published / by Dean Eland

The Port Adelaide Uniting Church is one place where this is evident. With a congregation of about 50 members and no full time minister for the past 20 or more years, lay members have demonstrated how to be creative in sharing gifts and skills and in being generous with their resources at hand. There are at least eight specific ways this congregation expresses their love of neighbourhood, the place where they are located.  Founded 170 years ago this church has adapted its ministry in response to the many social changes over the years and that commitment continues.

In the past two years they have reworked the ministry of their CK Community Hub (CK), a shop-front at 160 St Vincent St (Bower Buildings 1870-1). This street ministry started in 1981 as a low-cost café provided a haven and a listening ear for people in need. The CK remains one of the few experiential and community based projects of the 70s and 80s to survive over the years. It now operates as a community centre and hosts several projects.

Its current aims include… a welcome to all: to actively find and work with local people: to make real friendships and grow together: to be a place where people can stop and talk about daily things or more important things.

Volunteers at the CK Community Hub have a heart for welcoming people with disadvantage (e.g. mental health issues), encouraging them to take on responsibility as appropriate, fostering self-esteem, skills, growth and friendship. We welcome people to be involved in an integrated community program where people can get to know each other and support each other. Those of us who volunteer here are very conscious of also being vulnerable listeners and learners and not always the ‘doers’.

The people who come are encouraged to set and review the norms: the values and behaviours by which we interact with each other. They regularly choose projects. Last year the group chose a watercolour and mosaic project and applied successfully to the local council to fund a local artist and materials. New people from the community joined us to participate in the project and we exhibited in Sala. This project like many others has enabled people to learn new skills, take on a range of responsibilities and welcome new people.

There are other regular CK programs and these include a community meal, exercises and walking groups. Email:

Bent Pine Community Garden

A recent project led by a few volunteers has led to the formation of a community garden in the church’s backyard. A fragile bent pine tree at the entrance gives the garden its name. The tree is a reminder of welcome, reminding all of the possibility that we can grow and dare to flourish with others even with our asymmetries and flaws.

We fossick in the dark, composted soil, planting and tending both flowers and vegetables; we recycle and compost organic waste which we find in our own space as well as that which we receive from two local cafes; and we talk with each other and with those who pass by. We try to create a beautiful green space in an otherwise concretized urban landscape.

Working on site at 169 Commercial Rd brings us into natural contact with our neighbours. There is greeting and sharing of fresh produce as those passing by call in and work with us.

The Bent Pine garden is also a member of The Semaphore Compost Network (SCN). SCN is like an extension of our neighbourhood. We are encouraged by what our neighbours and fellow community members are doing. We share experiences and food. And we learn from what others are doing. Together with the SCN we discover in our focus on the shared, common soil, the value of that which holds us together as a community in a larger environment otherwise characterized by polarization.

150th Anniversary Mural

One of several outstanding on site church art projects is on public view on a neighbouring wall. A large mural expresses the memories and symbols of the environment, a sense of place to be celebrated. This creative work continues to build on some very challenging moments when the 150 year old two story heritage listed building needed imaginative adaptation and major restoration work.

This public art project was created when PAUC and the local community came together to design and paint a large vibrant mural adjacent to the Bent Pine Community Garden. The project was a feature of the church building’s 150th anniversary celebrations and expresses the symbols and memories of the local environment, a sense of place to be celebrated. Using Mark 4: 31-32 as a starting point, the theme of Bent Pine became ‘Sanctuary’.

On two consecutive Saturday mornings open planning meetings designed the project with local flora, fauna with the bent pine tree in mind. The primary images include a great tree with roots into the ground (Psalm 1) by a stream (Tam ‘O Shanter Creek). Other images include beautiful flora and fauna, birds, reptiles, mammals, flowers, butterflies and bees that are seen along the Port River. Local totems of the Kaurna people include the black swan and emu.

A generous grant from City of Port Adelaide Enfield enabled the church to employ local artists Kalyna Mycenko and Bob Daly and they assisted by transferring our designs on to the wall in November 2018. Volunteers then spent two weeks painting with scaffolding for the brave. Over forty painters from four to ninety years old included passers-by and visitors who read about it on Facebook and came to paint or watch. The mural also adds beauty to the ongoing Port Adelaide ‘Wonder Walls’ project.

In addition to these commitments members have maintained their long term commitment to the Junction Community Centre at Ottoway. This community based organisation has been able to grow a seven day open house programme and brings residents together to share their many religious and ethnic traditions.

Members also keep in touch with the expansive UnitingSA agency, now one of the state’s largest community service organisations. In 2019 UnitingSA celebrated 100 years of church engagement in a changing community.

PAUC also has strong links with the Port Adelaide Historical Society. Over the past 50 years the society has played an important part in supporting the efforts of local and state governments to ensure that Port Adelaide becomes a historic tourist destination.  Check out their great photographic collection.

Not to be outdone in 2017 members welcomed and provided hospitality to a new congregation. The City International Christian Church shares the use of their sanctuary on Sundays and at other times. This independent congregation in the charismatic tradition is largely made up of immigrants from African nations with close links to home churches in Tanzania.

Meanwhile weekly and monthly events and group meetings continue to support and encourage members to live out their vision… Port Uniting is an inclusive community and as Jesus welcomed and valued everyone, so do we. We believe that every person is important and everybody matters. Our worship seeks to be a creative, vibrant experience, for all ages, and inviting to people from all walks of life.

The Morning Tea Club meet on the third Wednesday of the month at 10am and this session includes a range of activities including table games, jigsaws, draughts, scrabble, drawing and painting. In the winter its Soup and Toast at 12noon before they leave. A Craft Group also meets on the second and fourth Tuesday each month and members include both church and community residents.

A Playgroup meets every Tuesday morning during school terms for babies and children up to 5 including carers and parents. A regular Bible Study Group meets on Sunday nights during Advent and Lent.

Thank You

To Liz, Anne, Joan, Ian, Val and Norm for sharing your story.

Loving the Neighbourhood

Published / by Dean Eland

The purpose of this collection of articles is to record the stories of missional congregations in Australia. They will explore the what, who and the how of churches that are engaged and love their context, their local community.  Send me your notes and thoughts to add to this collection as there is much to learn from each other’s experience.

One of the aims is to demonstrate how the Uniting Church is missional when working in collaboration with others for the common good. Asset-based community development (ABCD) principles affirm the value of working with others with a focus on community strengths and assets rather than deficits and problems. Members and church buildings are a great asset, accessible seven days a week as neighbourhood centres. On location community gardens, art projects, murals, music groups, meals, hospitality programmes, interest groups and op shops become a way to build relationships and grow a sense of belonging.

This form of ministry has theological and missional assumptions that emerge by affirming the context and learning from experience.

Send your suggestions and ideas to the Editor, Dean Eland. Contact details on the contacts page HERE . . .

Memory Loss

Published / by Dean Eland

Ian Henschke’s article, “Why we need to tax the costly joke of religion” in the in SA Weekend November 24-25 set off a range of print and talk-back radio responses. I was prompted to ask if this media discourse was designed to stimulate debate, increase paper sales or appeal to those who generalise about “religion” assuming that Australia’s many expressions of faith are guilty of tax evasion!

Comments from talk-back listeners indicated lack of firsthand experience and understanding about the commitment churches bring to local communities and society at large. Maybe memory loss is another explanation for the misunderstandings this debate has brought to light.

Christian churches and their service agencies are tax exempt (council rates included) as they are not-for-profit organisations, not a money making business meeting the expectation of shareholders. They serve by maintaining a wide range of non-government services, including aged care, unemployment support, emergency relief and health-related programmes.

Almost any week ABC TV’s mental health documentaries and reports conclude with a reference to Lifeline services. This Australia-wide 24-hour crisis support line was founded in 1963 by the late Rev. Dr Alan Walker, superintendent of the Wesley Methodist Mission in Sydney, and involved many church members as phone counsellors. “This service (13 11 14) now answers around 1,800 calls each day, with around 50 calls from people at high risk of suicide.” Lifeline’s services are now made possible through the efforts of around 1,000 staff and 11,000 volunteers, operating from over 60 locations nationwide.”

Do many Australians know that the respected outback Royal Flying Doctor Service is celebrating 90 years? This service was founded by Rev. John Flynn of the Australian Inland Mission in response to work accidents and those living in remote and isolated rural communities. The story of this venture, “a mantle of safety”, is recorded on their web site.

Many South Australians experience the care and hospitality of a wide range of not-for-profit aged care homes and services. For more than 40 years the Uniting Church has developed and built on the ministry of its previous denominations. Resthaven, for example, is one of many aged care services providing accommodation and home support for an ageing population. Founded by the Methodist church in 1932, the church “embarked on a vision to alleviate the suffering of the many elderly people who….had no home or family to care for them as they became frail and aged.”

In addition to these national and state-wide institutions we cannot underestimate or ignore the many local congregations who provide affordable spaces for neighbourhood groups to meet and support those who are socially isolated and without nearby family members. UCA and other neighbourhood churches of all denominations do not meet only on a Sunday. Many are adventurous, innovative and generous in and through their weekday programmes in hosting and initiating programmes for neighbours to discover a sense of place and experience belonging. Most are not private clubs based on selective membership, but are public churches open to those who walk in off the street and who are looking for others to work with in building a better world. The list of groups and self-help services is endless as volunteers partner with neighbours in providing places to meet and groups that greet!

The prayerful words of Michael Leunig are a helpful way to describe the gifts shared and given in helping our neighbourhoods become great friendly places to live and work.

Fill this place… that it may be a sanctuary, a wayside place for all people. A shelter, a place of refuge to bind up the broken-hearted, a place of welcome and hospitality.

Here we meet to give thanks, to enter into binding relationships with one another, to rally for a cause, to confront injustice, to wait upon the Spirit.

Here we are encouraged to seek a purpose, to be challenged and invited to discern new directions and priorities for our life.

Rev. Dr Dean Eland



As the year draws to a close…

Published / by Dean Eland

Let’s not take the places where we meet for granted; the work, dedication, gifts and skills we have shared in being together.  We are thankful for all those who make the connections between our Christian tradition and the challenges we face in becoming a public church. To do this we draw on an edited prayer of an Australian prophet, Michael Leunig who named this prayer, Here in this Place and we could respond, for what happens in this place.

Fill this place, O Lord, with a sense of your presence that it may be indeed a sanctuary, a wayside place for all people. A shelter, a place of refuge to bind up the broken hearted, a place of welcome and hospitality.

Here we meet for a sacred purpose, to celebrate our relationship to a covenanting God, to restore brokenness, to give thanks, to enter into binding relationships with one another, to rally for a cause, to confront injustice, to wait upon the Spirit.

A place where the good news is celebrated; a place where prayer is fulfilled according to your will. Here also we are encouraged to seek a purpose in life, to be challenged and invited to discern new directions and priorities for our life.

May the worship and service which is given here reflect your purpose for all humankind.

May we be a community receiving the gifts of your Spirit; rejoicing in the hearts that are opened through forgiveness. A community celebrating the differences which are welcomed into fellowship; a community witnessing the beginnings of courageous healing journeys.

As we travel inwards may we discover a renewed vision of the Good News and find ourselves embracing God’s wondrous purpose in reaching out to others in love and grace. And as we travel outwards from this place may we go knowing we are restoring what we can of our broken troubled world. Amen.

Your Access to Regular E News, Resources and Information

Published / by Dean Eland

Members of UC congregations today have online access to a great range of information, events and current events via weekly E news bulletins. Announcements and resource guides include information about Social Justice Campaigns, worship material, ecumenical news and UC updates from agencies and councils at national, state and local sources.

Paragraph two of the Basis of Union, Of the Whole Church, affirms that, The Uniting Church in Australia lives and works within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Our partnership with the global and local church is informed and strengthened when we sign up for regular bulletins via the following web sites.







CMLA. Centre for Music, Liturgy and the Arts

 Urban Mission Network

 William Temple Foundation.  Shaping debate on religion in public life.

On the Book Shelf. September 2018.

Published / by Dean Eland

Conversations between members of Pilgrim Uniting Church are frequently about current reading habits and this year we have been encouraged by two publications produced by members.

Geoff Boyce’s book, Radical Hospitality: space for human flourishing in a complex world, draws on his extensive experience at the Oasis Centre Flinders University and reflects on the relationship between faith traditions and hospitality. He takes an expansive, inclusive view in the context of contemporary society and explores both secular and religious practices that produce creative, satisfying lives.  Copies of this publication are available at the Pilgrim office for $20.00.

Judith Raftery has produced an essay of her study of the Quaker community in York UK. Just released, Being Quaker in York in the Twenty First Century, is the outcome of conversations with members of the Society of Friends in the Friargate community. There are many insights about the different relationship members take to their tradition and to current theological issues. Interesting comparisons could be drawn with members of Australian UC congregations. Copies are available from Judith.

Other challenging books are on the 2018 list of the bi monthly meetings of the Pilgrim Reading group. Books and essays are helping members appreciate the postmodern context for ministry while generating insights about public theology practices.

The group began the year by discussing the 2011 book by Charles Lemert, Why Niebuhr Matters. Lemert was guest of the Hawke Centre (SA Uni) March 2013 and the web link to his presentation on that occasion can be found at

Charles Lemert is University Professor and John C. Andrus Professor of Social Theory Emeritus at Wesleyan University and Senior Fellow of the Center for Comparative Research at Yale University. He is widely acknowledged as one of the most acclaimed sociologists working in the world today and hailed as “America’s most pre-eminent social theorists”. He is the author and editor of many books, most recently Globalization: An Introduction to the End of the Known World (Routledge, 2016).

Why Niebuhr begins with a story of a 2007 interview by the political writer for a major American newspaper. A young and relatively unknown political figure was asked what he has discovered from reading Niebuhr. He answered, “I take way the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things.” The interviewee, Barack Obama later became Americas 44th President.

Niebuhr “developed a political realism that refused to sacrifice ideals to mere pragmatism or politics to bitterness and greed. He examined the problem of morality in an immoral society and re imagined the balance between rights and freedom for the individual and social justice for the many”.

Pilgrim readers agreed that reading Lemert was a challenge in coming to terms with implications for Pilgrims commitment to social justice. Niebuhr was a significant prophetic voice of the 20th century and a summary of the group’s reflections are included in an early word at Pilgrim on 3 June by Judith Raftery, “What are we to make of Reinhold Niebuhr?”

A second major study, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, by the author Miroslav Volf, 2011. The basic argument of this book is that religious people should be free to “bring their visions of the good life into the public sphere“ and it would be oppressive to prohibit them from doing so. Volf argues that Christians are called to work towards human flourishing, not by coercion or imposition, but by bearing witness to Christ who embodies the good life. They therefore need a complex attitude towards the larger culture, an attitude marked by accepting and rejecting, learning from and transforming, subverting and putting to better use. Inevitably they will embrace pluralism as a political project and reject any form of religious totalitarianism. Pluralism isn’t, as some people fear, about “indiscriminately affirming anything and everything”, but about embracing opportunities to make common cause with others of goodwill, and to “rejoice in overlaps”. These insights resonate with many Pilgrims and inform our mission practices.

A new book by well-known Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay, Australia Reimagined: Towards a More Compassionate, Less Anxious Society” is on our list and the author’s insights address many of the current ethical and community concerns confronting the nation. Mackay’s work draws on social research and expert analysis and makes the current debate about Australian ethics and values accessible to the reader. The final chapter, Big Hearts, Open Minds invites readers to affirm or delete his Tick list of things we’d like to be able to say about an ideal Australia. In his diagnosis and positive affirmations there are echoes of Niebuhr’s social realism expressed in the words of Niebuhr’s original serenity prayer. “God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”



What are we to make of Reinhold Niebuhr?

Published / by Dean Eland

Pilgrim Uniting Church

9.30am Worship Community

 An Early Word. Dr Judith Raftery. 3 June 2018

If you are anything like me there are some writers whom you hear about on and off throughout your life and people say how important and influential they are — and you feel a bit embarrassed to confess you haven’t actually read them. People like Kafka, and Proust, for example. And then there are other people, usually people who have something to do with the church, who talk about Reinhold Niebuhr, and say how important and influential he was, that he was the biggest influence on their personal theological development and one of the big thinkers of the twentieth century — and again you feel a bit embarrassed because, although you keep hearing about him, you’ve never actually read him.

Well, at Pilgrim Reading Group we’ve been trying to do something about this embarrassing deficit. We’ve been reading a book by Charles Lemert, which has introduced us to Niebuhr’s life and offered us scholarly analysis of his ideas and legacy. This is not for the fainthearted or for those after an easy, feel-good read. It’s pretty challenging and thought-provoking, and, at times, confronting.

Reinhold Niebuhr, who lived from 1892-1971, was an American of German extraction, a pastor in a small Protestant denomination that combined both Evangelical and Reformed traditions and eventually became part of the United Church of Christ. He wrote and published a lot during his busy life as a cleric and an academic, and it seems to me that what most of his disciples are alluding to when they claim him as a great influence on them, is what he called “stiff political work between naïve idealism and bitter realism”. (Lemert, p.xii) This involves letting go of the traditional religious focus on the moral failings of individuals, and the hope that we can create a utopia here on earth if we all have enough faith. Niebuhr shows that to be a delusion. Naïve idealism. Not going to happen! He focusses instead on the evil of the structures of injustice that underpin our society and the destructive and life-denying ways in which power is used. That’s the bitter realism. We have to confront this reality, he says, and recognise the ways in which, without even knowing it, we collude with it and benefit from it.  That’s his “stiff political work” and it’s a million miles from the individualist, perfectionist style of Christianity that was around when I was growing up — the kind of Christianity that taught that it was all (or at least mostly) about Jesus and me, that everything was possible if I had enough faith, and that made no mention of the historical and political context in which I lived.

Niebuhr developed and wrote about these ideas in the 1930s in a famous book called Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932). At that time the Great Depression was highlighting the injustices and inadequacies of capitalism and the United States government, under its President, Franklin Roosevelt, was bringing in strong social reforms that served the collective good, not just the rights of individuals. Niebuhr ‘got’ this. He realised that Christianity was flawed and ineffective so long as it was individualistic, perfectionist and unable to confront structural injustice. Individualistic, perfectionist religion tended to “distract its adherents from the real political and economic concerns of this world” and thus “the full force of religious faith [would] never be available for the building of a just society”. (Lemert, pp.61-63.)

In the 1930s this focus on structural injustice was powerful and provocative stuff. Today it may not strike us as so new or big deal. Some of us have encountered it since then in studies of politics, or through Action for World Development. For me, it’s been fundamental to my teaching and research in public health. But the thing about Niebuhr was that he understood that it was integrally connected to preaching and living the gospel. Even while he was coming to public attention as a critic of the social evil of modern industrial society, and of individualistic, perfectionist religon, he remained a preacher and pastor, and that’s what allowed him to be so influential. And it’s why we keep hearing about him.

So: what are we to make of Reinhold Niebuhr?  And what would he make of us here at Pilgrim? It’s worth thinking about.





Connecting with Community.

Published / by Dean Eland

Connecting with Community. A core commitment of UC congregations in SA.

The 2018 April-May edition of New Times featured six articles on the way churches in SA connect with their community’s. Stories included Dernancourt‘s “Man What a Meal” , seniors thriving at Walkerville, public music options at Pilgrim Church Flinders St, and advance warning of “A Pumpkin Seed” event at Hawker. Other news of Messy Church and the continuing commitment of the Centre for Music, Liturgy and the Arts (CLMA) were also noted.

The February -March edition included stories about the commitment of the Grange church in developing their relationship with the local area through a Community BBQ, a report about Broadview’s  Wellbeing for the Ageing Project and the follow up to the tragic events of the Pinery fire by Lower Mid North congregations. Community based articles in 2017 also included stories about the community ministry of the Meadows, Sandy Creek, Royal Park and Oodnadatta congregations.

These accounts represent the diverse and creative ways UC congregations connect with their context. Various expressions used to describe this relationship indicate a range of expectations. “Serving the community, Connecting with Community, Engaging with Community, Reaching out to Younger Families” invite us to reflect about the hopes and expectations of this local ministry emphasis.

Some projects draw on resources in the geographical setting, where people live. Other projects bring people together through their commitment to a common cause or mutual interest like music or art. In developing a Messy Church programme Judyth Roberts suggests, “that it is a good fit for many Uniting Churches because it is open, creative and hospitable and embodies the UC ethos.” (New Times. April-May 2018. Pg. 13.)

Working with others through community ministry is an emphasis shared across the theological spectrum from Anglo Catholic to evangelical and charismatic traditions.  For some they hope that the church will grow through self-less giving and generous hospitality with no strings attached. For others it’s a form of prophetic ministry, working and becoming partners with others to address injustice, strengthening community life and building up social capital.

Nearly eighty years ago Bonhoeffer, in a very different context, used the phrase, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving.” Others have explored the mission implications of the Tim Dearborn quote, “It is not the church of God which has a mission, it is the God of mission who has a church.” (April-May New Times. Page 9 in an article introducing Mark Schultz Executive Officer Mission and Resourcing SA Synod).

Over the past decade the Urban Mission Network has developed resources and organised events to assist congregations share their experiences and to learn from one another. The May gathering will focus on the diaconal tradition within the UCA and this will be an opportunity to share and discover again how this mission emphasis is a core theme for the whole church.

The UMN is also planning to provide additional assistance by offering local workshops. The aim of these sessions will be to listen, record and document the way congregations are involved in local areas. Workshops will offer suggestions and resources to adapt and use when local activists are thinking about future possibilities and options. Workshops will take the local setting seriously and work with the question, “What is the best model?”  In commenting on this recurring question Stephen  Bevans notes that, within today’s world of radical plurality and ambiguity the best answer to the question can only be: ‘It depends on the context’” (Stephen B. Bevans. Models of Contextual Theology. 1997:112.).

Community connection emphasis is also an important ingredient as denominational committees and boards (SA Synod) plan and allocate grants, name resource congregations and appoint staff. In the 1980s the annual meeting of PACT (Planning and Coordinating Team), SA Synod, involved representatives from seven Presbyteries and members were part of a discernment process. This ensured that local project initiatives and mission opportunities were affirmed and given careful consideration by a team representing the whole church, rural and urban, diaconal and evangelical. This discernment process was based on the assumption that the Uniting Church was a grass roots movement, committed to strengthening community life from below. Decisions about the use of resources were based on the commitment of congregations to their local mission regardless of their membership numbers, theological outlook or location.

In commenting on the growth of the urban village ( author Amanda Abrams captures brilliantly, the essence and importance of the  movement as well as giving us some gems about deepening community such as – ‘The goal, ultimately, is to utilize the growing “participation culture” to build resilience and build community. After all, in a world where the social fabric seems to be rapidly fraying, the economy is uncertain, and the future of the planet is at risk, is there a better way to hit the reset button than to come back to the neighbourhood level and begin to genuinely rely on one another again?’

For articles and resources access Pilgrim church web site at

Rev Dr Dean Eland

7 May 2018


Art of Association: Facing the Future with Hope

Published / by Dean Eland

Many stories can be told when Uniting Church congregations were important centres of community life. Until the 1960s congregations were neighbourhood gathering places and children walked to Sunday School, teenagers readily joined drama and music groups and local sporting teams. In adult life the local minister served as pastor to church members and others in the local community by conducting family baptisms, weddings and funerals.

In the new post-Christian world, the closing decades of the 20th and early years of the 21st century, churches are discovering ways to respond creatively in a very different context. Profound changes are evident in personal preferences, shifting loyalties, attitudes and outlook on life. Note: these social changes are beyond the control of your church council!

Congregations once shaped with strong identities and cultural homogeneity are now present in diverse, cross cultural and hybridised contexts. The challenge for ministry, the public presence of any faith community today is found in the context of this radical pluralism and social diversity.

In responding to this sociohistorical habitat many congregations are responding to emerging opportunities by forging partnerships with others who are working to strengthen and build community life.  Many now are committed to the “art of association”, helping neighbours to find places where strangers meet, where the lonely and isolated find friendship, experience hospitality and welcome.

In practical terms this suggests that congregations do not need to do it all. Others are also part of being a serving community, neighbours working together to create a better and more just world,

Creative and innovative responses to this new age are expressed in the groups and activities located in church buildings, seven day a week places to meet. Buildings and a committed core of members is a valuable neighbourhood asset. Congregations of the open door are becoming new again when they provide a welcome and join with others as equal partners. Not a ministry of us to them but a collaborative task, together with others, discovering new ways to develop a local culture of community care.

The greatest benefit of civic participation, Tocqueville argued, was not its effects in the world, but on the relationships between people engaged in civic life, the “schoolhouse of democracy”.  This we could name as, “gospel practice”, habits and practices fostered and beneficial changes generated by citizens themselves.

In becoming a servant community today neighbourhood churches are becoming a catalyst for new forms of local association. There are many examples to draw on and the list includes…community gardens, cafes and meals, op shops, interest groups including choirs, book, arts, health and craft groups, English classes, positive aging activates and play groups for children. Networking opportunities also emerge when locals are campaigning to protect open spaces and heritage sites.

Insights and concepts about mission theologies have also challenged congregations to discover they are called to follow and join in missio Dei, God’s mission in the world. “To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.” “Mission as solidarity with the incarnate and crucified Christ.” (Bosch 390).

For further reading…

Diana Butler Bass. The Practicing Congregation: Imaging a New Old Church. 2004.

David J Bosch. Transforming Mission. Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. 1994.

Patrick J. Deneen. The Triumphant Failure of Liberalism. ABC Religion and Ethics. Updated 16 Feb 2018 (First posted 15 Feb 2018).

Ann Morisy. Journeying Out. A New Approach to Christian Mission. 2004.



Fund (Love) My Neighbourhood

Published / by Dean Eland

Fund (Love) My Neighbourhood

When the results were announced I am sure many Uniting church members were asking, “what if we had taken action to prepare a submission to…?”  The 2017 State governments’ Fund My Neighbourhood results include grants for at least two suburban UC churches. A restoration project of the Unley Uniting Church where 453 people voted for a $150,000 grant to undertake restoration work on their main street steeple! The Morialta UC Netball club, managed by dedicated volunteers, received $80.000 for resurfacing netball courts to meet the growing demand as the number of teams has grown from 4 to 20 over the past 10 years.

Unley Uniting Church has been home of Kindergym Unley for many years and this programme involves 500 active kids every term. Other on site community programmes includes youth and children’s activities and social support for residents in every stage of life. As part of its community history the heritage-listed building has weathered over 100 years and the steeple is in need of urgent repair. Repair estimates exceeded available funds and the future of the building with a small congregation was uncertain.  The congregation expressed their feelings when they noted, “we deeply valued every opportunity to provide care over the last 100 years.”

The growth of the Morialta UC Netball Club involves over 120 enthusiastic families and a grant to resurface the courts was needed as extensive cracking and lifting over 20 years was evident. “The benefits to the club, the Church and associated community will continue our club base and provide opportunities for girls in the community to play affordable netball.”

Uniting churches in SA play a critical and often unacknowledged part in helping neighbours meet and build welcoming and compassionate communities. While many congregations have 30 to 40 attending on a Sunday there are many emerging opportunities to make better use of our gifts and assets by working with others with a shared vision. A significant number of churches are now hosting and supporting new congregations based on ethnic identity others have a range of face to face groups meeting on week days and these play an important role in being good neighbours.

A recent national survey by Red Cross has found that for nearly one-in-four Australians loneliness is a regular part of their lives. According to Red Cross spokeswoman Isabel Stankiewicz, loneliness or social isolation can strike anyone, at any time. “Loneliness does not discriminate whether you are sleeping rough or sleeping in the penthouse — loneliness can touch you,” she said. “It might be you have left your job, lost a loved one, having a baby, it is these vulnerable times loneliness can attack.”

The survey found that reasons for loneliness included…death of loved one, 34 per cent. Moving from friends/family, 31 per cent. Isolation at school or work, 22 per cent. Divorce or separation, 21 per cent. Losing a job, 17 per cent. Source: Australian Red Cross Loneliness Survey 2017

Congratulations to Unley UC and Morialta UC for taking the initiative and in working with others to prepare grant submissions. In 2018 the Urban Mission Network will be supporting and encouraging congregations to be good neighbours.  Several publications and on line networks are valuable resources as we set a course to assist each other and learn from experience.

Rev Dr Dean Eland

December 2017

Looking Ahead to 2018

Published / by Dean Eland

Looking Ahead to 2018. Collaboration for Local Public Theology.

In 2017 the Urban Mission Network and Pilgrim Uniting Church joined with others to provide insight and inspiration about the church’s call to mission, called to give witness to the love of God in Christ as word and deed (UMN Vision). The program included quarterly workshops with guest resource leaders from the UK and interstate. Reports and records of these events can be found on the UMN and Pilgrim Church web sites.

In 2018 we will be extending our collaboration with others and this will include the SA Synod Subcommittee for Public Theology and Mission with Rev Sandy Boyce as convenor.  The Local Public Theology programme will build on what has been achieved and draw on the experience of others, including insights and ideas about the way congregations connect with their neighbourhood and respond to changing social attitudes and cultural trends. A draft resource paper is available with recommended web site links to a range of networks and groups in Australia, Europe and North America that share this vision.

The annual programme of the UMN will assist congregations learn from practice through shared gatherings and conversations.  Other threads in working together will draw on the Assembly commitment to Social justice and Advocacy, the annual Pilgrim Symposium and Effective Living Centre workshops and events. Support for existing groups will include the Covenanting Committee, Multicultural and Cross Cultural Ministry and Circle of Friends.

Check out our web sites as we plan to have dates and events listed in January 2018.

For further information and your suggestions and insights contact…

Dean Eland

Susan Burt

Sandy Boyce



Legacy…Australian Urban Mission

Published / by Dean Eland

Australian Association of Mission Studies Conference

July 2017 Rev Dr Dean Eland


In the 1960s and 70s Australian urban mission activists embodied their mission theology in community development practices. Located in disadvantaged inner city communities, small remnant mainline protestant congregations adopted the term urban mission to describe this ministry.

Models of community development ranged across a changing scene from left wing, old style confrontation and campaigning, sit ins, resident action, or green bans to the more holistic and systemic reformulation emphasis of the Chicago based Ecumenical Institute. The current asset-based community-driven development (ABCD) model has a focus on community strengths and assets.

The church’s involvement with community development projects were characterised as radical and experimental and included collaboration with social movements generated by a commitment to the common good. Community building projects created social capital and provided opportunities for people from different cultural and social backgrounds to work together by affirming cultural diversity and strengthen civil society.

This innovative mission style anticipated the challenge facing the church today, an invitation to join in Gods mission (missio Dei), being with God in the world. By partnering with isolated and disenchanted citizens, churches join with others to work for the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7). Churches on the margins are communities in exile and Brueggemann suggests this, “throws upon this vulnerable, small community a large missional responsibility (Brueggemann 1991: 32).

Urban Mission Experience

In his speech at the opening the 1974 South Sydney Festival at St Lukes church, Redfern, Al Grassby, Minister for Immigration in the second Whitlam Labor Government, used the phrase, what happens in South Sydney today happens in Australia tomorrow.  Members of the Inner City Parish team who were active in forming the South Sydney Community Aid agency in 1968, often referred to this comment. The phrase captured the pioneering spirit they felt in the commitment they made to community development practices in one of Australia’s most disadvantaged urban regions.  Sometimes known as the ”Black Capital of Australia the population of Redfern and surrounding neighbourhoods included diverse and culturally defined groups including indigenous Australians, older Anglo working class population and Greek and Lebanese families.

The Inner City Parish, later named South Sydney Parish of the Uniting Church, included several small Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches in inner city neighbourhoods. These congregations established in the mid nineteenth century, were second generation congregations, formed with the support of the first mother churches in the city.  Early in the 20th century middle class members moved to newer suburbs as inner city areas became industrialised and home for working class residents.

Many mainline congregations in Melbourne and Sydney from similar denominational traditions were also confronted by poverty and social changes in their host communities. Mission, evangelism and pastoral practices evolved to meet social needs and provide emergency relief.  When government grants were made available in the post WW2 years some congregation based voluntary efforts based on a word and deed theology expanded and became professionally staffed social service agencies.   Fifty years later these gentrified suburbs with residents from many cultural and diverse social backgrounds continue to develop creative forms of social capital and maintain innovative community building practices.

Inner City Context

The pluralist, diverse, cross cultural and multi faith nature of traditional working class inner city areas of the immediate post war years anticipated many features of Australias present metropolitan reality. With the advent of the Whitlam government, progressive social policies included an affirmation of multi-culturalism, provision of free tertiary education, support for the arts and funding for urban preservation and regeneration. Many of these policies were in response to the wide spread public debate about the scope and nature of poverty in Australia.

Research and public policy initiatives were a response to the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty set up in August 1972 by the coalition government. When Labor formed government in December that year the Commission expanded its work by, giving it specific responsibility to focus on the extent of poverty in Australia together with the groups most at risk of experiencing poverty, the income needs of those living in poverty, and issues relating to housing and welfare services.  ( These issues were addressed in the Commissions first main report, Poverty in Australia, released in August 1975. Known as the Henderson report after its chairperson Professor Ronald Henderson, recommendations were based on widespread consultation and research about the extent of poverty in Australia. Poverty was defined in terms of inadequate income relative to need.

Social science disciplines provided background information, data and conceptual models to inform social policies. Insights from urban sociology and community studies, anthropology, demography, geography, political economy and social work traditions were used to inform and explain the causes of poverty and propose solutions. Social atlases based on census figures and socioeconomic status became indictors of community health and disadvantage. Data was used by planners to describe the character and social needs of neighbourhoods and this research informed applicants who initiated projects based on grant funding.

This more expansive social analysis provided the background for innovative proposals and government social policy solutions. On the ground community development projects and social action involving resident participation required practitioners with a range of skills. Successful projects involved leaders who were persistent and be able to cope with conflicting viewpoints. Other skills involved a capacity to negotiate, organise alliances and support networks and identify opportunities.

The Henderson report prompted widespread public debate and the ALPs national urban agenda stimulated locally based community development projects for inner city areas.  One example involved the role of South Sydney Community Aid located in the suburb of Redfern. With support from local government, churches, volunteers, residents, and university students, this agency was well placed to support a number of major projects involving Aboriginal and migrant families.

Community Development Practices

Reflecting the diverse and conflicting views about the scope and aims of community development different names were used and included, community building, social action and community development.  Some academics debated whether there was such a thing as local community and few local leaders were familiar with this debate.

A catalyst for the resident action movement involved plans by State governments to introduce slum clearance high rise public housing estates to replace 19th century cottage and terrace housing. Redevelopment plans in Melbourne and Sydney were based on assumption that new housing would create a safe environment and solve a range of social problems. Other pressures on the amenity of inner city areas included freeway extensions, resumption of parks and open areas for housing and compulsory acquisitions of land by commercial and educational agencies.  As contested spaces diverse cultural and social groups joined to opposed these policies. Residents were mobilised to preserve the character of neighbourhoods with their historic features and proximity to city centres.

Other locally based community development projects set out to address self-deprecating attitudes and long term social dependency. These projects encouraged residents to take initiative, become leaders of self-help programmes and strengthen and empower community networks.

Many inner city resident based projects involving congregations have continued more than 50 years while others have grown to become denominational community service agencies. The following projects are brief summaries of three community projects where congregations partnered with others in disadvantaged inner city suburbs. As case studies they demonstrate that community building initiatives are opportunities for congregations to work with others in their local contexts. These stories also illustrate the impact of social trends and changing attitudes over time. Locally based projects generate social bridging experiences, address social isolation, overcome fear of the other and were opportunities for residents to meet and work together for the common good.

South Sydney Community Aid

South Sydney Community Aid, (SSCA) Redfern formed in 1968 occupied several sites including St Lukes Church and is now located in the former Alexandria Town Hall. ( SSCA set the pattern for a number of other projects in the region and involved members of the local inner city parish. The parish included members from Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational denominational traditions. With the support of local government ALP councillors and residents, in 1968 a shop front presence at 142 Regent St Redfern was established and became a home base for other projects and programmes. Grants to support community building actions of the Whitlam government became available from late 1972 and this was a catalyst for new locally based social development projects.

Formed as voluntary organisation SSCA, provided premises and supported members of the first Aboriginal Legal and Health Services, a housing project named the Block, family support and pre-school education and the Black Theatre. Ownership of a Methodist property originally the site of Epworth Press at 33 Botany St was later gifted to a local Aboriginal organisation.

These projects were controversial and later opposed by right wing ALP members of the South Sydney Municipal Council. Some residents argued that existing services were for all people whatever their background. South Sydney Council was formed in 1968 by the decision of the Liberal State government in an attempt to regain control of the City of Sydney and provide opportunities for private developers to invest in nearby suburbs including Glebe, East Sydney, Woolloomooloo and Kings Cross.

SSCA sponsored a range of other services including financial counselling, tenants association, community information directory, emergency relief, the annual South Sydney festival, developed links with the local primary school and support for diverse multi-cultural traditions represented initially by Greek and Lebanese communities.  Financial support from the Disadvantaged Schools Commission made it possible to produce a local social studies text book and run vacation programmes.

While there was debate about conceptual models of community development, in practice ideas were modified and adapted in response to many cross currents and diverse expectations. While case workers were trained to assist on a one to one basis community organisers developed the skills to negotiate and take account of political pressures, local traditions and existing community networks. Some embraced the confrontational style to address racism and others work in a more cooperative way and encouraged residents to recognise advantages in working together.

SSCA committee members and staff were aware of and took into account other socially defined groups, street life, community traditions and the changing landscape. Political decisions in inner city areas were dominated by strong ALP branches and existing social services included senior citizen centres, kindergartens and sporting facilities. Cultural diversity was represented by religious and ethnic traditions including Irish Catholics, (St Patricks Day was often a local public holiday!), Greek and Antioch Orthodox congregations and others with Lebanese Maronite and Melkite traditions. In many ways the growth and decline of inner city congregations reflected the social changes that emerged through immigration, described by H. Richard Niebuhr as “the social sources of denominationalism (Niebuhr 1929).

Changes in the social composition of the community were also influenced by commercial developments involving the resumption of property for the Sydney Mail Exchange in Cleveland St and later expansion and resumption of property by the University of Sydney in Chippendale and Darlington.

The success of SSCA was due to the support it received from a range of groups and the continuing commitment of members from the Inner City Parish. I was secretary for the first eight years until a coup was organised by increasingly confident members to replace me at an AGM!

2.  The Junction Community Centre

The Junction Community Centre in Ottoway SA, an inner city suburb of Port Adelaide, was formerly opened in 1989. Until the early 1970s this site was the home of a strong neighbourhood Congregational church formed in the early years of the twentieth century.

From the 1960s the social composition of the western suburbs of Adelaide changed with the arrival of European migrants and later in the 70s from South East Asia. In the lead up to church union in 1977 a number of neighbourhood churches in Adelaide’s western suburbs were closed. With a declining membership, it was assumed that the Ottoway property would be sold as the four remaining members of the congregation agreed to merge with another nearby neighbourhood UC congregation. It was apparent that there were no other community meeting places north of a major road.

Growing up in the Port Adelaide region I was aware of the churchs history and its significance for local families and the potential it represented to be a community hub, a place for different groups to meet and work together. As growing working class suburbs in the Port Adelaide region, Ottoway, Rosewater and Pennington were originally the home of young working class families with strong social bonds.

In a campaign to retain the property for community use I approached a number of people to form a committee. While ministers are expected to focus on pastoral and worship responsibilities a few members of the UC Port Adelaide parish began to catch the vision. The first committee aimed to represent the community as a whole and members included the local state MP Murray Delaine, local government councillor Rex Searle, Josephite Sister Marie Victory, Child and Family Nurse Mary Foley and representatives of the Parish. Contact was also made with members of a new Buddhist temple and the nearby Pennington Primary School.

Uniting Church members and residents from other traditions continue to support this agency and remain involved nearly 30 years later. The centre in effect continues its earlier role as a meeting place, a visible community presence in a region with few other facilities. Up to 700 people a week continue to take part in the various cultural, recreational, educational and family support programmes. (

3. Braybrook Melbourne

In 1999 a Jesuit report, Unequal in Life, was released and received widespread publicity in the Melbourne media. The report ranked NSW and Victorian post codes by a range of social disadvantage indices (Vinson 1999). The press coverage focused on the poorest suburbs and towns in Victoria and NSW and several Melbourne suburbs were listed as the most disadvantaged communities in Victoria.

Neighbouring suburbs of the Uniting Church Sunshine Parish Mission were included in the top 10% including Braybrook which was identified as the most disadvantaged community in the State. At this time the six members of the Braybrook congregation were planning to merge with the Sunshine congregation and three members became involved in a series of local meetings that led to the formation of the Braybrook and Maidstone Social Action Group in 2001. Â

Again a wide range of interested government and community groups became engaged and worked on plans to address the challenges facing the community. Today a neighbourhood house continues to serve this multi ethic and diverse community and provides opportunities for people to meet, support each other and develop self-directed family support programmes. (


Each of these community development projects continues to draw support from residents, local and State governments and in some cases local churches.

Specific actions, events and community building programmes are informed by the awareness of social trends and changing context. While academic debate and research clarifies issues, highlights trends and tracks social change, those affected by change bring their experience, become involved and take action. Identifiable hands on projects invite residents to engage with others and neighbours join together in response to local quality of life challenges.

While social development and community building processes require conceptual models and visionary perspectives, practices and programmes demonstrate the art of the possible. Local community building initiatives involve listening to community voices, being aware and ready to act when opportunities emerge. Community development guidelines and how to lists are now available and assist those who are leaders and committee members.

Current community development models include, Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) with its emphasis on local collaboration and cooperation ( The Sydney Alliance has an emphasis on public campaigns with specific objectives. The Sydney Alliance brings together diverse community organisations, unions and religious organisations to advance the common good and achieve a fair, just and sustainable city.  We do this by providing opportunities for people to have a say in decisions that affect them, their families and everyone working and living in Sydney (

Community development projects are opportunities for congregations to use their resources and partner with others on Mainstreet and in the public square. By being involved, Sunday congregations connect to their weekday host community and pathways connect social groups in the neighbourhood. Renewed community life also brings residents from different backgrounds together and strangers meet on common ground. Church members have much to contribute to these networks through collaboration and by meeting others from diverse cultural and religious traditions. Local public ministry through community engagement becomes the face of the congregation to the wider community.

Commitment to community development is one expression of being led by the Spirit to work with God in the world. For the point of engagement is the inter relationship between the Gospel, (what God is up to in the world) and the culture of the West (Roxburgh 2015:33).

Local Public Theology

Steps taken to build bridges and pathways between congregations and host communities vary greatly. Many assumptions are based on the expectation that people will join the Sunday worshiping community and grow the church. Some programs emphasise mission as diakonia and others are based on a commitment to social justice. As an example, the vison statement of Pilgrim Uniting Church Adelaide expresses a prophetic stance, We are called by God to be a prophetic witness in the city of Adelaide so that new life and vitality will be generated in our city and in its people.”

Mission as community engagement with host communities begins with an appreciation of the local context and Schreiter suggests that, the description of the environment is not something extrinsic to the theological process, but is deeply part of it (Schreiter 98:26). Action steps then lead to naming the praxis a cycle of action and reflection that becomes a descriptive theology (Browning 83:31). In creating a contextual theology congregations are then being brought to the truth about our situation and ourselves and through this we are open to hear the gospel anew” (Roxburgh 1997:59).

Local public theology as story or core narrative describes the congregations commitment and relationship with its host community. Narrative is also informed by drawing on the meaning and interpretation of its sacred texts and traditions. Becoming a learning community in this way reshapes identity and illuminates strategies for the future (Schreiter 98:38).

Local public theology practices express underlying convictions and missional assumptions. As a deductive process assumptions cannot be imposed but emerge from the process of reflection on engagement, dialogue with surrounding culture, a genuine give and take where the world is permitted to speak for itself (Hall 91:79). Hall suggests that in creating a social vision congregations will discover their socio-historical habitat not only as a field to be investigated but partners in discernment and therefore a contributor to the theological task itself (91:80).

The urban setting involves working with people who have a multiple belongings, a hybridized context in a rapidly changing society that has changed a once stable habitat. Ministry in the context of radical pluralism and social diversity reflects the gospel practice of welcome, hospitality and discovers that local communities of nations are a gift. Ministry in the Australian urban setting involves forging links with neighbours in the wider community, being adaptive and embracing the challenges that arrive from the complex social mix.

A general or universal theology describes the profound ways in which the people of God have been formed and led in history. For congregations the specifics of social and generational change are generative. The time and place, the historical, social and cultural context is “the situation given by God” (Brownson 98:78).

The experience of congregations becomes good news for all as it stems from an ongoing dialectic, an evolving conversation about the encounter between cultural context, church and gospel. Objectivity, research, theological reflection and theoretical debate are appropriate for generalized flows or threads of conversations across the whole church. Day to day encounters and community engagement however informs and grounds this process. Local theology places high priority on the facts of the situation and on experience and Gospel meaning and interpretation emerges from actions taken in specific contexts (Schreiter 98:25).

The action-reflection cycle also has the potential to create a vision for the future, hope born of good news, a hermeneutic that calls members to imagine new possibilities. The way ahead cannot be imposed from above, by popular formulas or paste on solutions. Rather mission is generated from below, in praxis, a discernment process which is systemic, comprehensive and signifies new beginnings.

Mission studies are creative by taking account of the day to day experience of congregations, their street presence and their openness to others. Ministry and mission as engagement and reflection generates recurring vocational questions, could I, should I? (Morisy.2004:199). Congregations in urban settings discern their vocation by finding new identity in the context of multiple, hybrid and competing identities. By following Christ into community, congregations are on the road and not confined to a sanctuary. Here they discover again and again that they are called to share with God who is already at work in the world. Wayside theology is Pentecostal, a celebration of social diversity and mission as incarnate, grounded in reality when members find a home, welcome the stranger and take practical steps to bridge social differences and enhance living through local community development projects.


Browning, Don S. 1983.  Practical Theology: the emerging filed in theology, church and world. Harper and Row.

Butler Bass, Diana. 2004. The Practicing Congregation. Imagining a New Old Church. The Alban Institute.

Carey Holt, Simon. 2007. God Next Door. Spirituality & Mission in the Neighbourhood.  Acorn Press.

Cox, Harvey E. 1965. The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective. London. SCM Press.

Croft, Steven. 2002. Transforming Communities: Re-Imagining the Church for the 2st Century. Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.

Eland, Dean.  2000. Work for the Good of the City: Reflections on the Practice of Urban Mission and Implications for Current Priorities. Master of Ministry Thesis. Melbourne College of Divinity.

……………….. 2006. The Sunshine Story: Changing Identity in a Pluralistic Society. Doctor of Ministry Studies. Melbourne College of Divinity.

……………….. 2011. Action Research Project 2010-2011. Western Region, Adelaide. Presbytery Synod of South Australia.

…………………. 1988. Social Change and the Churches. A study of the relationship between Congregations and their community in the western suburbs of Adelaide during the post war period (1948-1988). Flinders University of South Australia, School of Social Science.

Eiesland, Nancy, L and R. Stephen Warner. 1998. Ecology: Seeing the Congregation in Context, in Ammerman, Nancy T. et. al. 1998. Studying Congregations: a New Handbook. Nashville. Abingdon Press.

Guder, Darrell L. Ed. 1998. Missional Church. A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. William B Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Hall, Douglas John. 1991. Thinking the Faith. Fortress Press. Â

Holland, Joe and Peter Henriot. Revised. 1998. Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice. Maryknoll. N.Y. Orbis Books.

Howe, Renate and Shurlee Swain. 1993. The Challenge of the City: The Centenary History of Wesley Central Mission 1893-1993. South Melbourne. Hyland House.

Howe, Renate, David Nichols and Graeme Davisson. 2014. Trendyville: The Battle for Australia’s Inner Cities. Monash University Publishing.

Langmead, Ross. 1987. On the Road. Sixteen Songs for the Christian Community to Sing. Ross Langmead.

Macleod, George F. 1956. One Way Left. Church Prospect. The Iona Community.

Morisy, Ann. 1997. Beyond the Good Samaritan: Community Ministry and Mission. London. Continuum.

__________  2004. Journeying Out: A New Approach to Christian Mission. London. Morehouse.

Niebuhr, H. Richard, 1929. The Social Sources of Denominationalism.  Henry Holt & Co

Roxburgh, Alan J. 2015. Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World. The New Shape of the Church in Our Time. Morehouse Publishing.

Schreiter, Robert J. 1985. Constructing Local Theologies. Orbis.

Sheppard, David. 1974. Built as a City. God the Urban World Today. Hodder and Stoughton.

……………………1983. Bias to the Poor. Hodder and Stoughton.

Uniting Church in Australia. 1985. Minutes of the Fourth Assembly.

Veiling, Terry A. “Theology”: A New Sensibility for Theological Education, Pacifica, June 1998.

Vinson, Tony. 1999. Unequal in Life: the Distribution of Social Disadvantage in Victoria and New South Wales. Jesuit Social Services. Richmond. Victoria.



Being good neighbours in our local communities.

Published / by Dean Eland

Being good neighbours in our local communities.

Sixty members of Urban Mission Network congregations met at Bridgewater UC on 25 May

from the start, we quickly became engaged with our heads, hearts, and spirit. We were introduced to the Godly Play method: being ready, encountering the story, wondering, responding and then the generous feast!

Well known South Australian musician Leigh Newton introduced the gathering to a number of new songs. At times we felt we were singing with the angels, then the mood changed with the deep sound of a Good Friday song based on an African traditional melody, What have we done? Representatives of several congregations shared stories about their commitment to become good neighbours in their local communities. Stories included many surprising elements when simple and straight forward acts of hospitality and generosity led to creative encounters and new insights.

The story of the green shed at Victor Harbor and the electrical repairs service being offered by retired volunteers. The impact and engagement with the wider community at Sandy Creek through their bush chapel. The intergenerational experiences developing at Bridgewater through the support offered to young families and teenagers through music. The importance of social support experienced through the Op shop and community garden at Prospect Rd, working together with The Experience Cafe. The hands across the sea singing group making a passionate statement of acceptance of refugees and new arrivals. Enfield’s story about what worked and what didn’t over the years and the spontaneous weekly group, Stevos that emerged by offering support to those who have become socially isolated. Pilgrim members shared the story of their weekly Sunday night teas for the city’s homeless community, and the growing ministry through regular art exhibitions and weekday lunch concerts. Blackwood distributed information about their Sunday 5.00 pm to 7.00 pm Occasional Series, The life and thought of people of Spirit. Members were reminded of the Q & A session being held as part of the National UC History Conference at Pilgrim on Saturday night at 7.45 10 June. The topic: The Church in the Public Square.

These stories became an invitation to others to join in this years local public theology program. This series has set out to assist and resource congregations learn from their shared experiences, what it means to join with God in love for the world. At the gathering, several references were made to the steps that lead to new insights and the way congregation vision statements were embodied in practical actions and events.

Resource papers were shared and a recommendation to study a recent publication by Alan Roxburgh, Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World: The New Shape of the Church in our Time (2015). Alan’s website can be found at We are a people of hope-in-action learning to participate with what God is doing in the local. TMN cultivates safe spaces, robust resources and processes to re-orient our Christian communities for the sake of the gospel and the transformation of Gods world. The next major event in the local public theology series will be the visit of Professor Linda Woodhead from the UK. Linda will lead a workshop for congregation leaders on Saturday 16 September and will be the guest speaker at Pilgrims annual symposium on Monday night 18 September. For further information about this series contact Rev Dr Dean Eland.

How does it work?

Published / by Dean Eland

Theory and Practice: How does a local public theology work?

2017 our 40th Anniversary Year

Congregations as learning communities are empowered by insights from the global Public Theology conversation and from our experience as we discover and ground our mission in the local context.

In 2017 Pilgrim Uniting Church Adelaide is collaborating with the Urban Mission Network, Mission Resourcing UCA SA Synod and Uniting College for Leadership and Theology Adelaide, to provide a range of opportunities for leaders of congregations to learn from experience and be informed by the wider global conversation.

Our collaboration will be guided by the discoveries we have made since the formation of the UMN 10 years ago when a number of congregations made a commitment to be public, hospitable churches on Main Street,

The overall aims and objectives of this program are guided by the UMNs original charter…

Encouraging each other in ministry and mission, sharing resources and providing mutual support.

Sharing our understanding of being called to give witness to the love of God in Christ as word and deed in environments which are primarily urban, secular and culturally diverse.

Having a sense of mission in the wider community and share a conviction that we must engage with that wider community in order that the Gospel may bring about both personal and social transformation.

These aims also reflect the original Inaugural UCA Statement to the Nation 22 June 1977, forty years ago.

We acknowledge with gratitude that the churches from which we have come have contributed in various ways to the life and development of this nation. A Christian responsibility to society has always been regarded as fundamental to the mission of the Church. In the Uniting Church our response to the Christian gospel will continue to involve us in social and national affairs.

The 2017 anniversary program includes four Saturday workshops…

Orientation and planning ahead 18 March with Prof Clive Pearson.

A Saturday evening Q&A session plus papers over the long week end 9-12 June as part of the National UCA History Conference.

A number of opportunities to meet Professor Linda Woodhead from the Lancaster University UK in the week beginning Monday 18 September including a workshop session on Saturday the 23.

A final session on Saturday 18 November.

Resources will include a reading list for local book groups, continuing informal conversations, field visits, a blog, and insights from guests from Australian cities and overseas.

For further information contact…

Rev Dr Dean Eland Pilgrim Church

see contact information here . . .

Hard Quiz

Published / by Dean Eland

Mission Partners in the Urban Setting 2017

Hard Quiz!

Here is a quiz for you… name the UCA churches in SA where the following programs and events are integral to their life and mission, places where members witness and serve in urban settings.

Poets’ corner, Mary’s Kitchen, Open Church and the Lounge, Hope café, Sunday night tea, Positive Parenting, campaigns for refugees including Standing with Refugees, English language classes, Circle of Friends, Environmental Action group, community garden, Bush Chapel, Op Shop, School for Seniors, art exhibitions, concerts and recitals, school chaplaincy, community education, art circle, community aid, Friendship Café, Wilks oration, Symposium, life planning conversations, community market, Hungry Hare café, bread programme, recognise campaign, playgroups, artist in residence, Goodies op shop, Kids hope, etc.

The above list is just some of the many activities where UC congregations express their commitment to mission in word and deed. This year congregations have the opportunity to listen, celebrate and reflect together on the many community building commitments generated by our gathered life, a rhythm of gathering and scattering, being called and sent.

The Urban Mission Network in partnership with Pilgrim Church and Synod resources are committed to developing the conversation about the nature of community engagement, developing partnerships with others and working for the common good.

The aim of this programme is to empower and encourage one another by telling stories, sharing insights, reflecting together and exploring our local theologies.

Check out with UMNs and Pilgrim Church web sites for stories and the latest news.

For further information contact…Rev Dr Dean Eland at Pilgrim Church 0419 112 603