We’d been considering proposed changes to the constitution of NCCA Ltd. They were now becoming urgent after a reorganisation of the National Council of Churches in Australia last year. We were all… governance, Corporations Act, Members, Directors, yadda yadda yadda. And we were hanging out for the morning tea break, now about ten minutes away.
But then the President invited Archbishop Zaia, Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon to speak briefly about the situation of his people in the Assyrian Church of the East – before we took a break.
We were blindsided.
Quietly, but purposefully the Archbishop drew us into his community and invited us to feel the weight of the burden of leadership that he carries. He spoke about the 135,000 Christians driven out of Mosul by ISIL to become refugees in Syria. He described the horrors of their flight and the gruelling deprivations of life for those who made it to refugee camps. He put it in context for us – a century of dislocation, an ebb and flow of persecutions since the early 20th century culminating in this most recent “final solution”. But it’s not just the Assyrian community that is being destroyed. He said, “The plight of Christians in the Middle East – from Egypt to Iraq – has reached the point of disaster.”
And now the young men are caught and killed by ISIL. The treatment of the women is “unimaginable” in its cruelty. Since the invasion in 2002 they have “raised a generation of young people who have not gone to school and therefore have no future.” That very day he was involved in negotiating with ISIL for the release of 220 hostages. He used people’s names. He told us personal stories – theirs and his. He spoke out of his life, constantly moving back and forth between Australia and the Middle East, caring for his flock. But that’s how it has to be for the Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon.
We knew a lot of this already, from the news and inter-church communications, but with Zaia’s testimony it’s suddenly just one degree of separation.
Morning tea was very late. We talked about more important things than governance over our coffee and gluten free slices. And as representatives of the nineteen member churches of the NCCA we had a foretaste of the unity that is Christ’s gift and will for the church. As if we were one body, we all felt the pain of this one member.
That’s what happened on Thursday morning.