The Uniting Church in Australia (Membership of Trust) Amendment Bill

17 March 2015

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 11:53 :17 ): I will keep my remarks quite brief, because I do know that the Deputy Premier wants to continue on with the bold legislative agenda for today. The Uniting Church bill which is before us provides the opportunity to reflect on the role of the Uniting Church in South Australian communities broadly, as well as the significant role churches of all denominations play in shaping, supporting and developing the communities which they are part of.

There are three Uniting Churches in the seat of Bright: at Hallett Cove, Seacliff and Brighton. All play important roles in their respective communities. The Brighton Uniting Church is led by the Reverend Dr Graham Vawser, and the Seacliff Uniting Church is led by the Reverend Peter Moss. In Hallett Cove, we recently welcomed a new minister at the Uniting Church and farewelled the Reverend Craig Scott and his wife, Sandra, who have dutifully served the community for many years.

The Reverend Scott's tenure at Hallett Cove Uniting Church was one characterised by committed community service even in the face of significant personal challenges. In 2013, Reverend Scott was diagnosed with lung cancer and endured the difficulties of the treatment for that disease, which he ultimately overcame. I wish Craig and Sandra well for their future, and thank them for the service that they have given to the community for many years. I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome Pastor Esteban Lievano and his wife Kemeri to their roles in the church.

I have personal experience of the good work that the Uniting Church does beyond the church buildings in its communities, particularly through the organisation of Resthaven, the church's aged-care provider, which my wife worked in for four years. It is an excellent example of the influence that church-based organisations can have in the service sector within our communities, often showing that they can stretch the public dollar quite a bit further than government institutions might be able to and certainly provide a very significant role within the service sector.

We often hear comments about the need for separation of church and state, but I believe that sometimes this can be a bit overplayed and has the potential to underdeliver for the South Australian community. While obviously we do not want churches exerting undue influence over political matters, there is something to be said for the church and state working together for the betterment of our communities. Churches often have strong links into areas of need in our communities, and political leaders can connect with churches to tackle these needs. Political leaders enjoy a unique role where we have connections with many organisations in the areas we represent and can often join the dots supporting churches to make the connections that they require to address need.

The member for Mitchell and I work together to host a twice-yearly church leaders' breakfast in which we bring together over 40 church leaders and school chaplains to eat, connect, talk, and understand each other's priorities. There is no agenda for these events, no political overtures; quite simply, we provide a forum in which people who do similar work serving our community can build relationships. It is a good event and a good example of the church and the state working together in an informal and successful way. Politicians should not be afraid of working with churches to meet their communities' needs and, similarly, churches and church leaders who balk at connecting with local community leaders are equally at fault. We can strike an appropriate balance here, and we should be endeavouring to do so.

I just want to take a moment to provide some insight into some of the great community work that the churches in my community are undertaking at the moment. I note the phenomenal work undertaken with Edge Church International, which serves the southern suburbs and which is in the member for Mitchell's electorate, but which is a catchment which stretches well into Bright. This church's community-based activism changes lives on a daily basis and I commend their upcoming event Ride for Hope, to be held on 9 May 2015. This event aims to raise $1 million for WorldVision, Transform Cambodia and the Childhood Cancer Association in one day, an example of the impact a church can have when they cast a vision, connect with their community and energise people to be part of something.

Other churches in my electorate that I would like to mention include the Hallett Cove Lutheran Church, led by Pastor Kevin Wood, and Hallett Cove Baptist Church, led by pastors Richard Jensen and Carolyn Atkinson. Both churches, which are side by side on Ragamuffin Drive at Hallett Cove, are about to see their precinct reactivated with the opening of the new Cove Civic Centre and the creation of a wonderful community plaza connecting the two churches with the new community centre, library and business enterprise hub.

There exists a great opportunity for these churches to connect with their community through this new facility and through their shared-use car parks, open spaces and plaza area. I look forward to working with the Hallett Cove Lutheran and Baptist churches as they work to maximise their outreach activities with the development of the community centre. Both churches are already involved in many community activities, including the incredibly successful annual carol service of combined churches held at Pavana Park at Hallett Cove.

The local Catholic Church diocese, led by Monsignor Ian Dempsey, has campuses at Hallett Cove and Brighton. Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the Men's Shed at Brighton Catholic Church, following an invitation from parishioner and Men's Shed member Brian Skeates.

The Men's Shed is yet another example of the brilliant community outreach that churches can develop and the important sense of community that they can build. They are a group of 20 or so men who meet each Friday, some with a church background, some without. They have spent the last couple of years working to redevelop the church's memorial garden, which is now a fantastic reflective space within the church precinct. After they finish their work, they spend time chatting and enjoying fellowship in the shed, which includes a delicious barbecue on the first Friday of each month.

Churches are not perfect. They will make mistakes and often will end up in the headlines for the wrong reasons—quite like politicians, in many examples, I note. But they are vital institutions within our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and they have a lot to give. Their activism and ability to build community should not be underestimated. They have opinions which we as political leaders should be attuned to. We should work alongside churches, building up what is good about them and giving them the confidence to work with us.

The Uniting Church stands as a symbol of what can be achieved when churches come together. In the case of the Uniting Church, this coming together was in a very formal, structured amalgamation but, regardless of the fashion in which this occurred, the Uniting Church is an enduring example of community action and the ability to impact many hundreds of thousands of South Australians throughout its history. I commend the legislation to the house and indicate my willingness to support it.

Extracted from Hansard