Induction of Rev Paul Turley

Paul's Response to the Congregation:

It is a joy for me to be welcomed into the community of Scots Church Adelaide and I thank you all so much for the welcome.

In 2018 a YouGov survey found that 40% of people believe that their job did not “make a meaningful contribution to the world. Other polls since have found similar results. You might be forgiven for thinking the job of an ordained minister in a Christian Church at the start of the Twenty-first Century is one of those jobs.

The Church as an institution is well passed the era of Christendom when it was for so long the preeminent institution in western culture. And while those days are behind it, the Church still operates in so many ways as if the turn from institutional religion is an aberration which, with the correct application of technique, commitment or piety will soon be remedied. But we are past all of that now.

We know this in our own denominational story. The Uniting Church in Australia is half the size it was 20 years ago. The average Uniting Church congregation is around 30 people and likely ten years older than the surrounding demographic. However, this is the institution of the Church.


Yet the Church is not an institution. The church has an institutional expression, but it is not an institution. The Church is an organism. We have an institution, but our institutional structure is our exoskeleton. An exoskeleton's purpose is to give shape, structure, and protection to the organism. But it is not the organism.

We often confuse the exoskeleton we need for the essence of who we are. An organism only has its exoskeleton for a season. To change and grow it must shed its old exoskeleton. The difficulty for the organism is that without the old exoskeleton and, while waiting for the new one to form, it is left vulnerable and shapeless. This is the Church now.

And not just the Church. Many traditional institutions are in this same uncertain, vulnerable place. For example, that venerable institution across the road from us, The University of Adelaide. The purpose and place of the academy in culture was once obvious and unquestioned. Today, we are asking society-wide questions as to the purpose of these entities. Is their purpose training or education? Is there a difference? Should university education be open to all or to only a select few? South of us too, the trade union movement on South Terrace must ask itself profound questions about its relevance and purpose. Over the last 20 years the union movement to has lost half its membership.

This is an unnerving and confusing time for the Church and a very strange time to be an ordained minister in the Church. Just as the Church as institution is losing its assumed place and purpose, so too its clergy.


But this is also an exciting time for all us who are ministers in God’s church. (And in the Uniting Church that is all of us.) As our institutions structure weaken and dissolve, our nature as organism and as community can, perhaps, be seem with more clarity.

Gatherings become communities through story. A shared story tells us who we are and how we are to be who we are. Jesus is our great storyteller. And he told a great story that he called the kingdom of God.

We are storytellers also. I am to be a storyteller in this community.

Our story is, like Jesus’s kingdom story, as big as the cosmos.
Our story tells us about Earth. Not as a resource to be exploited but as a God-given gift to all its inhabitants.
Our story tells us about humanity. Not as a nameless, numberless crowd, ripe for manipulation. But as unique, unrepeatable, individual miracles each of whom deserves justice, respect, and kindness.

Our story is that all of us, every last one of us is, to use religious language, a child of God.

It is our joy to tell this story here, each Sunday at 10:30 am. With all the powerful and precious traditions of our long history. It is to tell with the students and others to whom Jill is reaching out. It is to tell it in all the vibrancy and complexity of our city.

This is an easy task – to tell the breadth and depth of this story, how surprising and confounding it is, and how revolutionary and liberating it is.

And it is a hard task – we need to tell it to ourselves, constantly. For the truth that our lives are an unearned, free gift of grace, that we have been welcomed always and forever into the good energy of God’s love for all creation, and that there is nothing we can do to earn this goodness is so shocking to our systems, so countercultural that we can scarcely accept it and live fully in its truth.

But this is who we are. And this is the great story. We are the community that celebrates and lives out the little creed that the late Catholic Cardinal Basil Hume wrote:

WE BELIEVE that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and possesses a dignity and value which can never be taken away. 
WE BELIEVE that as children of the one God we are one family with mutual responsibility for each other.


The Sermon from Rev Phil Hoffman:

I ascend these stairs to this place acknowledging that I walk in the shadow of giants. In ministry Reverend Ian Tanner was my mentor and guide – he married Karen and I. So as I occupy this pulpit, I honour his guidance and support

And standing with me at the wedding was my friend of now forty years standing … your Minister being inducted today, Reverend Paul Turley.

We have shared being Uniting Church youth workers, members of a comedy troupe, ‘The Flying Fettucinis’, memorable celebrations and the inevitable weft and warp of being alive as fellow humans. You do know he’s Welsh, not a Scot though?


And the reading for the day is the Transfiguration of Jesus on an unknown mountain, somewhere we assume, jutting out of the Judean plain, or do we?

The account is told in all 3 synoptics; it’s a strong Gospel and early Church narrative.

Transfiguration is one of the highly mystical events in the telling of the story of Jesus.
• Events ‘up a mountain’, summoning dazzling white and changes appearances.
• Even Peter who was there did not grasp their meaning.

This is ‘the big one’, a stand out event, God’s grand design, a moment when it “all comes together”.

How are we to understand such an experience?

Matthew has his own subtle re-working of the tradition which must have been handed down in Mark’s account.
• For Matthew Jesus is ‘one like Moses’, who himself knew mountain-top voices of God.
• There are here echoes of Jesus’ baptism, his identification by Peter six days previously, his suffering as ‘Son of Man’ and the coming resurrection glory.
• It is a connecting point in Matthew’s Gospel, an integration of events and themes.

As biblical scholar and Emeritus Professor at Murdoch University Bill Loader has commented, “Like the baptismal story (of Jesus) this is a symbolic narrative which celebrates that in Jesus heaven and earth intersect”.

This is a story of encounter borne of theology, a moment of faith.

Many take it to be a post-resurrection event read ‘back’ into the life and ministry of Jesus.
• As such, it is not to be entered into rationally but relies on the faith we bring to its telling.
• The transfiguration is an event told in the life of the early Christian community for faith!

So what was that meaning?
A hint is provided by the timing of the story and its placement in the Lectionary [for which the lectionary must ‘jump’ from chapter 6 in Matthew to chapter 17!].

The transfiguration story is a bridge in the story of the life of Jesus between his teaching and the coming suffering of the Easter story...

just as the day of Transfiguration is a ‘link’ day in the Christian calendar between Epiphany and Lent.
• In Epiphany we have been encouraged to consider the appearances of God, where and how God ‘shows up’.
• Now in Lent we enter a season of reflection and contemplation in preparation for Easter remembrances.

We are bridging’ the ‘high’ experiences of knowing God, our Epiphanies’ with the reality of human suffering and distress.
• Transfiguration in both the story of Jesus and the Seasons of the church sits straddled between!
• To early believers it achieves the purpose of relating the ‘good times’ of faith with the lesser times.
• It is the hope that one does not negate the other.
• It’s a biblical ‘Yes’ moment, maybe just as it is a connecting point in the story it is the integration of our life moments.

The Transfiguration is the Divine Seal of approval, the stamp of endorsement, the Grand Tick, the Thumbs Up to the life and message of Jesus.

Recently I have read this book: ‘Say Yes to Life’
• now that might sound like empty sloganeering, like an Optus ad
• or the latest in positive thinking
• a motivational catch-cry to take opportunities

But it is far more profound here in the sense I want to use it

“Yes to Life: In spite of Everything” is a book of three published lectures of the Jewish Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl given nine months after his liberation from the Nazi concentration camps
• these lectures were given in German in 1946, published in that language by a small local publisher and largely forgotten
• Until, just three years ago an English translation became available … and from there, this book

Frankl of course wrote the wonderful “Man’s Search for Meaning” based on his concentration camp experiences and many of those themes are here in these earlier lectures.

Here I quote:
“The phrase “yes to Life” Frankl recounts, was from the lyrics of a song sometimes sung sotto voce (so as to not anger the guards) by inmates of some of the four camps in which he was a prisoner.

The song had bizarre origins. One of the first commanders of Buchenwald ordered that a camp song be written. Prisoners, often already exhausted from a day of hard labour and little food were forced to sing the song over and over.
“whatever our future may hold
We still want to say ‘yes’ to life
Because one day the time will come –
Then we will be free”

Daniel Goleman who wrote the introduction says,
“If the prisoners of Buchenwald, tortured and starved nearly to death, could find some hope in those lyrics despite their unending suffering, Frankl asks us, shouldn’t we, living far more comfortably, be able to say “Yes” to life in spite of everything that life brings us?”

We are, Goleman says, accustomed to our own expectations of life, as if we were asking the questions when in the experience of the concentration camps the realisation was that life was asking questions of the prisoners; life sets us tasks

In his wonderful book, “When Bad Thigs Happen to Good people”, Rabbi Harold Kushner says basically the same thing
He says though there will be no answers there is always response.
◦ To reach for the best in our living, not to succumb to bitterness and victimhood … to [and I quote] “draw upon a source outside ourselves for the strength and courage we need to survive life’s tragedies and unfairness”

This also has religious roots; trusting in our existence, in good and bad. Faith, I commend, is much more about the meanings we find in the circumstances of our lives than those circumstances and their outcomes themselves!

This is not meek passivity in the face of life’s challenges, it is strong realism! And, inevitably, it leads to growth; Frankl the psychiatrist recounts many tales of people who, in hindsight, valued their suffering because of what it taught them.
• Don’t you know that in your own hard times?
As you induct a new person to share the leadership of this community of faith today, we ask:
• What kind of people do we want to be? People who say “yes” to life, despite everything?
• And also ask, What kind of people together – as a church – do we want to be?

The last fifty years haven’t been particularly good for organised religion in Western societies generally, and certainly not in Australia.
• We have lost the dominance, authority and respect
that Protestant churches held in the Australian social compact until the end of the 1960s.
As former President Rev Prof Andrew Dutney has written … “Until then, being Protestant was the key to gaining the ‘social capital’ you’d need to succeed in politics, the professions or business. Those who aspired to or had succeeded in those areas sat in the pews and on the committees of Protestant congregations”. And this place—Scots Church Adelaide, shared in that.

But now in 2023, What kind of church is God calling us to be?
A sentence from the Uniting Church’s Basis of Union reads as the nearest thing we have to a ‘vision statement’:
God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation.
The Church’s call is to serve that end: to be a fellowship of reconciliation, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an
instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself. (Basis of Union paragraph 3)

We’re sharing the making of a story of numerical decline and the loss of privilege and influence. Yet it is also a story of transformation and the emergence of a different kind of Christian organisation, embodying an impulse towards diversity and innovation that has all the marks of a movement of the Holy Spirit… Maybe a transfiguration moment.

It’s a time for fresh thinking rather than tired reliance upon what we have always known. And in the person you induct today I know that you have a ‘thinker in residence’

It’s a time for engagement with the culture – critiquing it, grappling with it, contributing to it. And in the person you are inducting today you have an avid culture watcher, informed, thoughtful and imaginative.

It’s a time for saying ‘yes’ to life, in its wonderful mixed glory of achievement and failure, good times and sad, hope and despair. And in the person you are inducting today you have a person who truly and fully embraces life

May you, with Paul and Jill, experience together moments on the mountain, moments of transfiguration where earth and heaven draw immeasurably close, moments where faith finds its fulfilment.

In Hope in God AMEN

Rev Phil Hoffman.


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