Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Forty Years

N.B. Although I wrote this on June 22, the Uniting Church's birthday, I didn't get adequate access to the internet until the 27th. So here it is, a bit delayed.

Like many other Australians I know exactly where I was the day in 1983 when Australia 2 won the tacking duel that took the Americas Cup from American hands for the first time in 157 years. I was in my flat on the top floor of the guesthouse across National Highway 43 from the leprosy hospital in Salur, a town in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh where I was then starting a research laboratory that tested for drug resistance in different strains of the leprosy bacillus. It was about 4.30am in India when the race was decided, Sleepless with excitement, I was listening to equally excited Australian commentators whose voices waxed and waned, and were masked by that high-pitched whistling noise characteristic of short wave radio. This turned out to be one of the most frustrating events of my life. The next morning nobody in that rural, Indian Leprosy hospital had any idea what yachting was, let alone the significance of taking The Auld Mug off the Yanks. Except, perhaps, Elisabeth, the Cornish OT, who wasn't the slightest bit interested. I had no one with whom I could share my joy.

There was plenty of joy at the inauguration of the Uniting Church, 40 years ago today, and some 6 years before the the Americas Cup passed from American hands. There was joy aplenty at the official inauguration service at Sydney Town Hall, and joy at various regional events held around the country. The joy came, I think, with the sense of a long-anticipated and worked-towards union formalised, and the realisation that with this ecumenical act Australian Congregationalists, Methodists and Presbyterians were doing something deeply right and of God. That it sometimes has felt like the last 40 years have been equivalent to Israel's 40 year Exodus in the wilderness has not diminished my conviction that we did the right and godly thing back in 1977. Even though my major ecumenical memory of 1977 was in getting to know the young women (and some of the young men) of Pymble Presbyterian's PFA group, and I am celebrating the UCA's 40th anniversary once again alone and in an Indian guesthouse, there are many things about the Uniting Church that I love and am proud of.

One of them is the many partnerships the UCA has formed with sister churches, particularly in the two thirds world. The guesthouse I'm writing this blog entry in belongs to St Paul's School, an institution run by the Church of North India and situated in a town called Palampur, in the foothills of the Himalayas not far from Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan government in exile reside. I'm overnighting here. Tomorrow morning I'll continue my journey on a Royal Enfield Bullet (500 cc for those interested) to Amritsar where I shall join more than 40 other riders on this Ride for Peace which I've described in previous blogs. I'm not being charged for tonight's board or lodging. While I and my congregation think I'm on long service leave, realising my long-held dream of riding a motorbike to Ladakh, for the school Principal, Mr Virendra Pal Singh, I'm on Church of North India business. And for the Bishop of the Diocese of Amritsar I am an ecumenical guest. At points along the way the Rally will stop and hold meetings with local civic and religious leaders to promote peace. I and the 3 other ecumenical guests will undoubtedly be called upon to make speeches. 

So my contribution to the Uniting Church's 40th Anniversary celebrations will be to ride a motorbike to Ladakh as an ecumenical guest of the Church of North India, promoting peace along the way.
Today, while others have been celebrating I've ridden half way to Amritsar where this year's Ride for Peace will start. I have a huge weight in tools which along with the other luggage I've brought along makes the bike wobble alarmingly at the very low speeds one's often forced to accept in Indian traffic, and which I'll gratefully pass on to whatever service vehicle is attending the riders. I'm worried that that something will go wrong, and crave your prayers that nothing will. But the big adventure is under way.

A bit like the Uniting Church, perhaps!

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