The inaugural meeting of the Middle East National Conference within the Uniting Church in Australia was held at the Armenian Evangelical Uniting Church in the northern Sydney suburb of Willoughby on Saturday 17 September 2016.
Around 30 Church members of Middle Eastern background from around the country were present. President Stuart McMillan officially opened the meeting, and a number of Assembly and Synod leaders were in attendance.
It has been a long journey to recognise the community of members who came from the Middle East. Rev. Gaby Kobrossi originally from Lebanon explained to us that the conversation to form a National Conference actually started back in 2007 but it has only been in the past 12 months that the conversation got momentum and became a reality.
The theme of the inaugural conference was ‘Peace I leave with you’ my peace I give to you’ from John 14: 27.
President Stuart McMillan preached on the importance of working together for peace in the world, reminding us that there is always help from God in the midst of our suffering. “From where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord.” (Psalm 121).
The people of the Middle East are very religious people. Having faith in God is very important for them. It’s as Paul said in Romans 8: 38-39, ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
This strong conviction was reflected clearly by the youth group who led the opening service with an Armenian song ‘I won’t forget my faith’.
Throughout the meeting it was very clear that people were very occupied with ministry to the Middle East. We heard powerful stories from Middle East National Conference Secretary Levon Kardashian, Rev. Hagop Sarkissian, Ps. George Fattal, Rev. Gaby Kobrossi and Rev. Dr. Krikor Youmshajekian about the contributions of UCA’s members to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Australia. For example, Bankstown Uniting Church in the past few years has been working together with the Australian Government in providing practical help for refugees.
Rev. Sarkissian also shared a story on how members of his Armenian Congregation sponsored Syrian refugee families of Armenian origin to enter Australia.
The importance of language to diaspora communities is a theme that is raised wherever I go.
Language sustains identity and unites generations. Rev. Sarkissian stressed the importance of keeping the Armenian language among first, second, third and even fourth generation Armenians.
Rev. Dr Emanuel Audisho from Perth also spoke about the need of the Arabic language for families who speak Arabic at home.
The Middle East National Conference is unique in the Uniting Church because it is a region-based conference.
People speak different languages: Arabic, Armenian, Aramaic and Farsi but are united in their faith in Jesus Christ, and in their open and honest conversation.
In this space for grace, faith danced among the many voices.