Newsletter 25 September

25 Sep 2020 by Rev John Thornton in: Latest News

2020 Retreat

How good was it to gather face to face for the first time in months!  While there was a level of coming and going, over the weekend, in all we had 43 people with us, some day trippers and others staying on-site.  In fact, we could not have had more people staying at the centre as – due to COVID restrictions – we filled all available motel / cabin units.

We were very ably lead by the Saltbush team, Mark Faulkner, Geoff Wellington and Tim Jenson, who took us through ‘The Vineyard we find ourselves in’, based on Matthew 19:27 – 20:16.  The journey offered us plenty of space to reflect on the daily themes of Generosity, Re-ordering and Hospitality.

Our final morning saw us getting in touch with our creative side as we spent time in reflective prayer and had the opportunity to put our prayers into a sketch / painting rather than words.  These prayers became the basis for our closing – COVID safe – service of Holy Communion.

Many thanks to Marie Battle who once again made this event happen, sometimes against the odds!  Marie has organised the last three events and we are seeking a new coordinator for next year as she rightly thinks that three years is likely enough.  We also appreciated the work of the staff at Yarrahappini SDA Camp, who were most helpful and obliging considering this was their first time having a large group since lockdown.  The Centre is a spacious peaceful place with pleasant bush walks as a couple of my early morning photos illustrate. 

To all who attended my thanks for your great support.  I am aware that a good number of others may have attended but held back due to health concerns over the COVID virus.  We fully understand and my personal thanks for those who made contact to let us know.


Our Tertiary Chaplain Rev Tau’alofa Anga’aelangi is hosting an important webinar event coming up this Sunday which will be live on both Facebook and Zoom.  The full-size poster gives you all the details that you need, and it sounds like a very stimulating and informative event.

From our Insights website Lofa says: “The Black Lives Matter Movement is just one layer of a larger narrative of systematic racism that many of us live within, both in terms of our experiences, what we see and hear … the stories we tell or are told and the articles and books we read,”

“In Australia, the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted our deliberate societal ignorance of our history of colonialism, including our stolen generations and the massacres of Aboriginal peoples.  Confronting the ugly truth of our past situates all of us as the beneficiaries of these strands of interwoven systemic inequality.  As a church, what are the implications of the BLM movement for us as followers of Jesus Christ in the Australian context?  What does it mean to be disciples of Jesus, called to face the truth of our history of racial inequality in Australia?”

At the end of this newsletter is a piece put together by our Deputy Chair, Stephen Nicholson, it is a good read and I commend it to you.

Another important event also coming up this weekend is the SOLEMN ASSEMBLY called by Pastor Peter Walker and Indigenous Elders and supported by the Australian Prayer Network:

From the APN website:  ‘A number of Indigenous Elders have joined together to invite the people of Australia and other Indigenous Elders to join with them and together seek Gods face according to 2 Chronicles 7:14, and Joel 1:14, ‘for the healing of the land’.  Spokesman Pastor Peter Walker said “We have been working towards a National Solemn Assembly for the last nine years.  This is the moment we have been waiting for.  We are praying for ‘times of refreshing’ and the ‘healing of the land’ as the scripture says in Acts 3:19, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”  The ‘times of refreshing’ from the presence of the Lord that Peter the Apostle is talking about is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is found in Acts 2:1-21 That is what Australia needs.

“We are praying that Australia will get a revelation of the love of God through Jesus Christ.  Matthew 18:20 gives us the key, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I in the midst of them.”  We thank the National Council of Churches Australia and the National Day of Prayer & Fasting and other groups who are helping to facilitate the National Solemn Assembly on behalf of the First Nation People.  We encourage you to pray together in your churches, in your homes and on the hills as we lift our nation up before God.  Join us as you are able on Zoom between 9AM – 9PM any time on Saturday 26th September and/or Sunday 27th September at meeting room number 776881184:

You will recall a piece I shared a couple of weeks back regarding the mural for Coffs Harbour UC Soup Place?  Well they have made the local news with coordinator Phil Crofts able to tell a little of the story of this outstanding ministry.  Well done!

When the Thornton’s first arrived in New South Wales and I joined the ministry team at the then Coffs Harbour Parish the Soup Place had just started.  That was over 30 years ago!  A great example of resilient and yet adaptive ministry.

It is the little stuff that makes a difference.  Over lunch at the Presbytery Retreat I heard of a ministry in my own backyard that had passed me by.  When news of the COVID lockdown occurred and the need to keep washing your hands became such a vital part of our safety protocols, some people out of Manning UC asked the question: ‘What about the local toilet blocks that generally have no soap available?”  So, these good people lobbied the local council and as an interim measure made sure that they personally placed soap in each of the public toilet blocks.  It ain’t rocket science!

COVID matters

While we have a mixture of congregations opening for face to face worship or not, it might be useful to think about how some of us are working toward having our premises open for third party users or community use.  If users have a COVID Safe Plan and we put in place our own protocols, there is an opportunity for us to allow our groups to return.  As many are struggling with finances this may be at least one way of bolstering finances.

The Forster – Tuncurry congregation prepared documents used to welcome back their community users – you can download a sample letter and attendance form based on those documents.  If you have questions do not hesitate to contact your nearest ministry agent or I might be able to point you in the right direction.


Online Church

Our presbytery service is now merged with the Port Macquarie UC and should you want to connect, contact Rev Cherie Strudwick: or 0400 725 201 and she will send you the Zoom link.

Our services are recorded, and you can find them if you go to the MNC website:


You will know by now that there is a vacancy coming up at the Presbytery AGM for a new Chairperson.  Yes, the old boy is stepping down.

Perhaps a few thoughts might help in the discernment process and even provoke someone to think, ‘I would like to consider that,’ or, ‘I know someone who could do that.’

It needs to be said that we are in a much better place now than we were when I took on the role.  Within 12 months of my being appointed, all but one fulltime ministry agent had left!  Was it my deodorant, or something I said?

We were at an extremely low ebb.  So, I and several others have worked hard to try to bring this Presbytery to a place where we can more confidently address the future. In line with the strategic plan we now have a good ministry team and have recently appointed a presbytery Pastoral Relations Minister.

I mention the calling of Rev Cherie because her appointment has already lifted a significant amount of work from my shoulders.  More than one person has from time to time referred to me as the ‘presbytery minister’.  No, I am not!  AND THE NEW PERSON WILL NOT BE!

I am confident that the new chair’s role will be significantly different to mine.  First of all, you will not be silly enough to take on far more than you need to in shaping this Presbytery into a more viable body.  We, and I do mean we, have managed to do that.

Here is the official requirement for a Chair of Presbytery out of the UCA Regulations:

REG 3.6.2 (c)

The duties of the chairperson shall be to constitute, preside over and generally direct the business of the meeting of the presbytery, to exercise pastoral oversight and to perform such other duties as may be prescribed.

I have always enjoyed that last phrase!  The wording changes, but it is a stock standard phrase for most UCA leadership roles.

So, the role of the Chair, I think can be broken into three parts:

  1. The chair – with the collaboration of the Standing Committee – presides over and generally directs the regular business meetings of our Presbytery. It is not a given that the Presbytery Chair also presides over the Standing Committee (though possibly desirable) or the Pastoral Relations Committee (I do not attend PRC).  The business organisation has always been a collaborative task shared mainly by the SC and specifically the Presbytery Secretary. You need a good executive and we have a beauty!

The Chair will from time to time lead services of Induction, Ordination, Commissioning and Retirement / Closure of Ministry.  In my four years I have led 3 inductions (3 are pending!), 1 Commissioning and 3 closure of ministries.  This is not onerous but a great privilege.

  1. Pastoral oversight. This is now very much a shared task with the Pastoral Relations Minister.  While I receive a fair number of enquiries about matters, it needs to be said that congregations are quite ably led by wise and caring people, who take care of business quite well.  Yes, things do crop up because people are people, but we deal with them as they occur.  Crises in my time?  None that come to mind.
  2. Synod connections. In recent years, the 13 Presbytery Chairs have met on a semi-regular basis to share stories and concerns and prayer.  Before COVID we would met in Sydney four times a year.  The future??  Who can say?  Zoom will likely be a medium used to save travel, but it is always good to meet face to face isn’t it?  Mainly due to my having a strong Synod profile I have chosen to attend other matters, but they are not the role of a Presbytery Chair.  We regularly delegate different people to attend Synod driven meetings and issues.

As I read this it looks a lot, but I hope that you see that it is quite manageable.  Reimbursement for travel expenses is available for the work of the Chair.

What is not seen above, or written in the Regulations, is that this role is a calling.  I have been privileged to be called into places of leadership that I never dreamed of holding!  When I was appointed Acting Associate Secretary in 2017, many who knew me were greatly amused.  I had a reputation for avoiding meetings, not presiding over them!  I have proved over these last five years of ‘retirement’ that God has a most amazing sense of humour!

The role of Chair has been for me a privilege and I have got to work with some great people.  Please pray and ask others to pray as we seek to fill this important role.

A good friend, Mr John Williams, was Co-Chair of the Canberra Region Presbytery for several years and he found this to be a particularly useful way forward.  I think that this presbytery would be best served using a shared co-chair model.

Should you want to know more feel free to make contact and I will try to help.


We read historic passages such as our recent consideration of the Exodus story and can perhaps be guilty of skimming over it.  Forty years the people of Israel had been captive and enslaved by the superpower of the day.  Forty years of doing as you are told when you are told to do it and without question.  Forty years – a generation of slaves.  And God says to Moses and Aaron: ‘You had better get the people ready to move!’

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.  Exodus 12:1, 2

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.  You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.  Exodus 12:14

In between these readings we find instructions that, due to our own familiarity, can lose its wonder.  ‘This month shall mark for you the beginning of months.’  These people have been making bricks forever and now they must get their own straw.

Passover?  A remembrance of what?  All the people of Israel knew were days of drudgery.  One day looks just the same as another.

The Israelites went and did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. Exodus 12:28

Thursday, the 17th September was the 230th anniversary of a significant event in Australian history.

Following the arrival of the British First Fleet into Sydney Harbour in January 1788.  The Indigenous Gadigal people (“Eora”) literally avoided them like the plague. Within the first four years it is estimated that smallpox had killed around half of the Eora who lived in coastal Sydney.  However, Arthur Phillip abducted several Aborigines to show them how benevolent they were, though generally this was not a success.  Bennelong was an exception, of sorts.

As well as looking down on the Indigenous peoples, the British lacked understanding of their customs and the allegiances of the differing groups within the Sydney area.  Invariably they offended the Eora people in many ways. 

Which leads to 7 September 1790 – Bennelong had disappeared, and Arthur Phillip travelled by long boat to Manly Cove to meet up with him.  Phillip noticed that Bennelong was not at ease, and then another Aboriginal man threw a spear which went into Phillip’s shoulder.  Phillip instinctively knew this was traditional justice – payback - for his having ordered the abductions, and he and his men retreated.

Ten days later, with his arm in a sling, Phillip took a boat to Kirribilli and presented gifts to Bennelong, and apologised for the abductions.

So, the first national apology was given by Arthur Phillip on 17 September 1790. The apology wasn’t perfect.  Many worse things were done in following decades.

But this gives an illustration of what can occur – it starts with a recognition that in some manner you have badly treated the Indigenous peoples of the land.  And acknowledging it.

With hindsight we can see more is required: the need to take time to listen and understand exactly how the Indigenous people feel about what they have experienced.  And what they would like from us for a better shared future.

Recognition and acknowledgement of the past.  Listening.  Acting.

God took the initiative to reconcile humanity with Him.  As the Body of Christ present on earth, we His people are called to continue God’s work of reconciliation.

Let us recognise our need to listen to the stories of others, to learn how we can be engaged in reconciliation.  Stephen Nicholson


Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name
that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  Philippians 2:1-13

I will sometimes offer a reflection here, but you have more than enough local leaders wise enough for that.  As I look to the future there will be a need for me to step back from things in coming weeks.  Perhaps it is sufficient to allow the above words to just wash over us and be a source of refreshment and perhaps challenge.